Repentance and Forgiveness in Sexual Abuse Cases

My biggest frustration with being Mormon at the moment is how little the people who surround me understand the conditions of repentance, and how different that is from receiving divine forgiveness.

Repentance is the process through which a person makes an honest moral reckoning of their own actions and takes full responsibility for those actions. Not just before God, but openly with others as well.

Forgiveness is the absolution of sins by God, in exchange for full and sincere repentance. That is the condition upon which you receive repentance from God.

God does not forgive people for heinous sins when their repentance is unreal or unfinished. He has no obligation to do so.

Let's talk about this in the context of sexual assault and rape. Because "how can God possibly forgive rapists and sexual predators in a way that would ever be fair and just to their victims?" is a question I've lived with my entire life, long before I ever had the words.

Victims of sexual abuse live with the consequences of those actions for a lifetime. The idea that their abusers could apologize to God once and be forgiven is a farce. That's not justice. That's not repentance.
How is repentance measured then? How does God measure the sincerity of someone else's repentance? 
One word: Restitution

To whatever degree their victims suffer, abusers have to personally give that degree of restitution to their victims if their repentance is going to be real and just. That's before forgiveness, whether from God or from the institutional church, can even be on the table as an option.
God is not stupid. He is not mocked by abusers who care more about avoiding the consequences of their actions than the harm they've done. Abusers who are repentant don't deny the harm they've done. They don't expect cheap forgiveness because repentance is not a cheap experience—not for Christ who made it possible, and not the innocent person he suffered for.
If you advocate for easy forgiveness and repentance for rapists and perpetrators of sexual assault, you've imagined a God who would allow mercy to rob justice. Such a God wouldn't be worth the price of the paper his name is printed on.
There are a lot of bishops, stakes presidents, and abusers who are going to be in for a rude awakening when they see God turn away countless men who were formally "forgiven" by the Church for abuse. God is not bound to accept fake apologies and shoddy repentance, just because a church leader declared a predator to be in good standing. There is no power in that declaration except what God will accept, and he does not accept liars into his kingdom.
Repentance and forgiveness are two of the great Christian imperatives. We cheapen them at our own peril. We lift up counterfeits to them to the detriment of our own souls.


Have you ever find yourself sitting alone in church, and it's only in a moment of honest self-reflection that you realize what you must look like to other people?

I am in a deeply painful, vulnerable, and sensitive place with my own faith right now. I don't like the place/role that has been decided for me as a woman. And the anguish on my face, I realized for the first time, was visible to everyone else.

They can see that I'm not okay, that I'm not happy, even if they don't understand why. My anguish is not a secret.

It takes a lot for me to even go to church anymore. It comes with so much labor with other people and the stupid things they say and do. I can't deal with listening to the youth make gay jokes. I can't listen to the high councilman say that pain isn't real and that there's "no such thing" as being damaged. I can't listen to the sheltered ramblings of privileged people.

I can't do the labor of reinterpreting, recontextualizing, and trying to forgive anymore. I'm tired of giving correction for people who never engage in meaningful self-examination of their own behavior, because they're so obsessed with everyone else's sinfulness.

I feel like every time I show up, it's like sticking my hand in a blender, and I have no choice but to wait and see if someone else is going to turn it on this week.

I'm tired and sad, and everything I've internalized keeps telling me to just go, to just keep trying to make things work. And every time I leave because of some nonsense, I just end up more sad and angry.

I don't know what I need. I just know I don't have the strength to get myself out of where I am. I've been waiting on God, and he's just not showing up. The answer is always the same. 

"Just keep going. You're where you're supposed to be."

Needless to say, God and I have a very different interpretation of what is a livable and doable for me. And I'm tired of him and everyone else making that choice for me.

"Either help me or go away."

That was where I was during the sacrament today.

We talk so much about why we should never disappoint God with our words and actions. I was never taught what to do when God disappoints you.

And at this point, I don't know that I care to learn.

Understanding Sexual Abuse Cases in the Church

Listened to this interview early this morning. If you don't know who Tim Kosnoff is, and you have children in the Church, you really need to hear what he has to say about our sexual abuse reporting process

He's an attorney who has handled criminal cases of sexual assault victims, specifically when those cases involve the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members. He has also done litigation for victims whose cases involve the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America.

Tim Kosnoff has been representing sexual assault victims for decades. He has, out of necessity, had to work against the Church for most of that time. His experiences are reasoned and measured, and unapologetically honest.

I can't hope to summarize his entire message and all of his experiences in a thread. But what I wanted to share today was what I learned about the sexual abuse reporting process in the Church, and how I intend to handle myself in response to it from now on.

When accusations of abuse or sexual assault is brought to the attention of local leadership, they are taught by policy not to contact police. Even when local laws mandate the report of sexual assault to law enforcement by clergy. The Church, by policy, doesn't respect those laws. Instead, local leaders are instructed to contact a Church hotline for sexual assault, which they claim will field them to mental health professionals and legal counsel, to know how best to help the victims. 

However, the process doesn't focus on victims at all. Not one bit. 

Instead, the hotline exists solely to determine and mitigate the legal liability of the Church in these cases. And with the victims Tim Kosnoff has represented, the Church's priority has been to protect and defend the perpetrator, as a means of legally defending themselves.

The real salient message here from Tim Kosnoff is that the Church cares so much about protecting themselves and their capacity of forgiving and atoning for predatory men, there is no victim they will not throw under the bus in the process. He has observed, having worked cases involving both institutions, that the LDS church is no different from the Catholic Church in its issues with sexual assault. If anything, he suggests we're worse because our power is more consolidated into a single governing entity. 

The only place Kosnoff shows unjustifiable bias is against the general membership of the Church. Many church members don't understand the magnitude of this problem, and wouldn't have the institutional access to address it if they did. He underestimates how much many of us would care if we only knew, how much we would want to change things if we could.

I don't have kids in the Church and may never have that experience. But knowing what I know now, I still gotta look out for me first. Which I suppose is the first take-away message. Don't assume the institutional Church has your best interest at heart on this issue.

Secondly, the last person on earth I would go to if my kid told me someone molested them is the bishop. Not for all the money in the world. I would go directly to the police myself because the Church just isn't going to do that reliably. Period.

Lastly, the most important thing I can do to confront and stop this kind of behavior in the Church is not through internal messaging or pressure on Church leaders, or external confrontations in court. That simply doesn't work. It hasn't worked for decades now.

What would make a huge difference would be to change the mandatory reporting laws in states like Utah and Idaho, where they're ridiculously lax. Those are the laws the Church uses to avoid being fully legally accountable for their actions, which Kosnoff details in-depth. Clergy in Utah and Idaho are not legally required to report sexual abuse, even when it involves children. This is not normal, and many states have much stricter laws than that. And even when there are laws, there need to be stricter punishments for institutions who break them.

I would personally love to see state laws that revoke the tax exempt status for any institution who habitually and knowingly endangers children through failures to report and punish abusers.

Punishments for covering up sexual assault need to go beyond writing a check and making victims sign NDAs so they can never tell their stories again. Of all the heinous activity that goes into this, that's the one that bothers me the most. Perpetuating the silence of sexual assault victims through NDAs is wrong. It is an act fully devoid of compassion. It is moral and institutional cowardice. And I'm openly ashamed to know my church engages in that behavior.

So if you care about this, add it to the pile of letters y'all write to your elected officials. Contact your state-level legislators about how to get the laws changed in your state. We are not powerless to protect our kids from abuse. We can hold our own institutions responsible.

On Dissent, Criticism, and Correction

I love how so many of the beliefs about dissent, criticism, and correction of leadership are based in the language of scripture and the temple regarding "evil speaking of the Lord's anointed."

Where did we get the idea that this phrase only applies to leadership?

"Evil speaking" is defined so narrowly in our community, more so than the scriptures ever defined it. 

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

Eph. 4:31-32

These were universal instructions that applied to all members of the Church, independent of any position they might have held.

And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking;

And see that the church meet together often, and also see that all the members do their duty.

D&C 20:54-55

This behavior doesn't become acceptable just because a church leader, or someone attempting to defend a church leader, engages in it. But who is holding them accountable when they do this behind closed doors? It still happens because it shields leadership from scrutiny and indemnifies their "evil speaking" against others. It has created a culture that perpetuates abuse and prevents repentance in our leadership.

Every single person that has ever passed through the temple has been anointed. It is just as wrong for church leadership to speak evil and spread misinformation about other members as it is for us to do it to them.

The fact is, I have also been anointed by God. I don't need a leadership position in the Church for that to be true. But how easy it would be for one all-male council in this church to completely destroy my name and credibility. 

It bothers me that this doesn't bother more people.

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