Changing Church Policy vs. Church Culture

I was very pleased to see the LDS church revise their interview policy so quickly to address the issues the recent sexual abuse story raised. The Deseret News had a good article today outlining the changes. A few highlights:

“When a member of a stake presidency or bishopric or another assigned leader meets with a child, youth, or woman, he or she should ask a parent or another adult to be in an adjoining room, foyer, or hall. If the person being interviewed desires, another adult may be invited to participate in the interview. Leaders should avoid all circumstances that could be misunderstood.”

Is this foolproof? No. But it’s an important first step. It gives members the option to have someone with the in an interview. A person of their choice, which is an important distinction.

“Members should never be encouraged to remain in a home or situation that is abusive or unsafe.”

While this one seems like a no-brainer, I actually see it as a pretty big step. As the Deseret News article points out, up until now Bishops were never supposed to counsel couples to divorce. While I suppose this still doesn’t necessarily mean a Bishop will suggest a couple divorce, he can now suggest the abused partner get out of that house or situation.

“When adults are teaching children or youth in Church settings, at least two responsible adults should be present. The two adults could be two men, two women, or a married couple. Where it may not be practical to have at least two adults in a classroom, leaders should consider combining classes.”

I could be wrong on this one, but up until now, my understanding had been this only applied to men teaching children in church. With this change, it appears all children and youth classes need to be team taught, though there is a bit of wiggle room left in the wording. (I would imagine that mainly applies to congregations that are so small it’s difficult to combine classes.)

So these are some important changes, and it’s great to see the speed the Church is (finally) taking to address this. Of course, changing church policy is relatively easy. Changing church culture is the trickier task.

Some of that will be addressed as stakes and wards follow the guidance of this document and discuss the changes together in councils. But my experience has been members can be very resistant to changes that go against The Way Things Have Always Been Done. Sometimes this means church leaders might just ignore this directive. Sometimes it means church members might resist having to change. (“We really need two adults in all youth and children classes? Why? Are you saying I’m going to molest them? This doesn’t apply to me.”)

I imagine some of the difficulty will come in actually believing women who come forward. As the MTC President example shows, people can be in important positions in the church and present themselves as fine upstanding men. But even fine upstanding men on the outside can turn out to be creeps on the inside.

So. Rule of thumb. If someone comes to you (whether or not you’re a church leader) and says she or he is in an abusive relationship, don’t tell them they aren’t. If someone describes something that shows they’re in an abusive relationship, don’t tell them they aren’t. As the policy notes:

Often a report of abuse will come to a trusted teacher or adviser. Members of stake and ward councils should help leaders, teachers, and members take proper steps in preventing and responding to abuse, including reporting the abuse to appropriate civil authorities.

Members need to be taught to recognize abuse so they can identify it when they see it happen in Home Teaching or Visiting Teaching visits. Really, the church is set up in a way that should make abuse difficult to hide (though sadly, not impossible). These changes should hopefully help prevent it even more.

But it will take more than a simple meeting to make the changes. They’ll have to be reiterated and checked up on. This isn’t a quick fix, but if it’s implemented consistently across the entire membership, it could be a very good change.

What do you think? See anything I’m overlooking?

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