Last week I was talking to my daughter who lives in Eagle Mountain Utah. I have written about Eagle Mountain before, and how Mormon it is. My daughter was diving when I spoke with her (hands free via Apple Play) and told me she was going to the school to get fingerprinted. She said she was going on a field trip with the Kindergarten class (she has twin girls in the class), and she needed to be fingerprinted and have a criminal back ground check before she was allowed to ride on the bus with 40 rambunctious 5 year olds.
I asked her when the Church would start doing the same for Primary teachers and Bishops, as they were alone with kids all the time. She did not hesitate, and said “I know, they need it too!”
So how would that work? If the Church decided to do this, how would the mechanics work? For a Primary teacher (or YM/YW leader) , the Bishopric member could call them in, say they are being called to teach Primary, contingent upon them passing a background investigation. If the person accepted, they would be handed an official Church form they would fill out, and then turn into the Bishopric. Next they would be directed to the local police department to get a background investigation.
For a Bishop, things would be trickier. You would need to do this before the Bishop is called. As I have written about before, the new bishop is not supposed to know anything before he is called. Paper work is submitted to the First Presidency, and the new bishop cannot be called until the Stake Presidency receives a written letter authorizing the calling. My SP gave me the letter after I was called. I suppose the letter from the FP to the SP could say “You are authorized to call, sustain and set apart Bishop Bill contingent upon him successfully completing a criminal background check. Any criminal activity must be communicated with the Office of the First Presidency before the call can be made”
If one of the most Mormon School districts in the world (Eagle Mountain) requires this, should we demand any less for our kids at church?
What do you think? Is this doable? Should it be done? How would this work in other countries? In developing countries?
Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay
The church would also have to pick up the cost of the fingerprinting and background check. I imagine this is a big sticking point, since they don’t like paying for anything, ever.
If big US corporations start fingerprinting their leaders, the COJCOLDS may start doing so.
We’ve been doing this in Pennsylvania for at least 4 years because the state requires it of anyone who works with children, even in a volunteer capacity. There are two parts: a criminal background check completed online, and in-person submission of fingerprints. The ward offers to reimburse people the cost of the fingerprinting—I’m not sure if the funds come from ward, stake, or other budget. I had it done as I taught primary for a while.
About 90% of the text of our weekly ward email newsletter consists of a standing request for all active members to complete the background check to be eligible for primary callings or substitute availability.
On the one hand, I’m glad it’s in place. On the other, as I’ve posted about before: a person with no convictions will pass any background check, and you have to be caught and convicted to fail it. Any person who has abused children or adults but never faced scrutiny for it will appear “clean.” I’m sure there are many offenders who will squeak under the radar.
Potential disqualifier beyond criminality::
– involvement in multi-level marketing schemes pushing hideous textured vegetable protein for Last Days food storage. “Hey, the Bishop bought half a ton!” – or is this just Utah?
(Health tip: powerful laxatives should be included in any TVP order. Just sayin’ …)
Heh heh, “fingerprinting the bishop.” Is that what the kids are calling it?
An FBI fingerprint check (Identity History Summary Check) costs just $18. It’s not perfect, but it will pull up most serious things people have been charged with in the U.S. Stake centers in the U.S. could easily run a fingerprinting station and then send the results to the FBI.
There are also security programs available that will tell you almost everything about a person–their history of addresses, their criminal history, their history of marriage and divorces, etc. The church should absolutely be using these programs when they call someone into a leadership position.
On Bro Jones point, checks that have been passed, whilst important, should not be seen as a reason to reduce vigilance. I am aware of two instances in my former stake where members in leadership positions have been convicted of possession of images of the worst kind. One was a bishop, the other had served multiple times on bishoprics and in the high council. Both worked in schools and would have been subject to background checks. One was principal of a primary school.
re: Scouting – it always seemed to me most members would do the bare minimum of training, including Youth Protection, even though most stuff was online. Damn the torpedoes, the callings were issued before the training was completed. 10 years ago there also seemed to be a big push towards Wood Badge completion. Additionally, it always freaked me out to see photos of a beaming Chuck Dahlquist or Cheryl Lant wearing their full scouting regalia at Philmont or somewhere like that. It’s like they had a uniform for a secret and possibly sacred scouting super hero job.
The church currently asks primary teachers to take part in an online training. It is “required” but it’s difficult to get some people to complete it, for variety of reasons. People are not supposed to serve in the primary until this training is complete. The two-deep rule is also a “requirement”. Both of these rules are regularly ignored in my ward to keep the primary and youth classes running (the primary president tries desperately, but lack of willing volunteers makes it an impossible numbers game).
All this to say, unless it were legally mandated I can’t imagine enforcement levels would be very high for primary callings.
The scenario in which the bishop is checked before being called should work logistically. I’m honestly surprised it isn’t already the case.
How would this work internationally?
A couple of thoughts I will throw on the fire here:
Something about this post reminded me of the “gold standard” comment the Church PR machine made a few years ago (before the Church had officially adopted its own YPT program complete with 2 deep leadership requirements). At the time, a lot of the criticism was based on how ignorant the Church seemed. My thought this morning, though, was about how overconfident the Church seems. We don’t need to adopt society’s (the world’s???) standard best practices for YPT because we KNOW that we can’t be wrong about these things. Testimony meeting shows us that the Church seems to really thrive on the certainty of knowing, I wonder if that breeds a sense of overconfidence in what we’re doing that we become completely blind to how it can or should be done better.
Maybe related to the former, but does that overconfidence lead to a disdain for “worldly” best practices in YPT. I was in BSA during those last few years before the Church disaffiliated with BSA. I could be overstating it, but it seems that there was a long running tension in Church unit discussions about YPT. Was YPT a good thing that we did to really protect kids, or was YPT a bureaucratic “hoop” we just had to jump through to get people into youth callings (I wouldn’t be surprised if the same tension exists or has existed in the past outside the Church). (I want to ask @Br. Jones what he sees as the attitude towards the Pa. legal requirement. Do Church members see it as a valuable part of the overall YPT program, or is it seen as mere legal hoop that must be jumped through but is otherwise insignificant?). It seems to me that our overconfidence in our own collective righteousness might be the major impediment to implementing and seeking to improve a best practices YPT program.
Fingerprinting? Definitely. I would also advocate for a psychological evaluation for Bishopric members. There have been suicides and other serious mental health issues in my area. Leadership callings can unhinge some folks. Releases from leadership callings can also be difficult.
Biship Bill, congratulations for your mention in the SL Trib. Next week New York Times.
Bro Jones, I did not know that PA was doing that. I wonder what other states require the background check. I can see one day all states requiring that, with Utah being the last because the Church will quietly push back against it, just like they did with with Clergy exemption as mandatory reporters in child abuse cases, and requiring two party consent for recording conversations.
Faith, maybe the Fresno Bee next week, I’ll save the NYT for next month!
And if Mormon corridor members hesitate for reasons of “Freedom/None of the government’s business” – just tell them it’s for a concealed carry permit and they’ll line up.
Just poking fun – I have a CCP myself.
When I lived in Europe there was a move to do this in England based on a newly-passed law there. The Church strongly resisted. I can’t remember what came of it.
I’m fine with background checks for people who work with children, but I’d prefer we simply abolish worthiness interviews, stop pretending leaders can’t do bad things, and take precautions against 1:1 situations between kids and adults. Which remains an issue – even though they call primary teachers two-deep, I often see just one adult there if the other hasn’t shown up.
Eliza, the government decided not to make it mandatory for volunteers, unless they were going to be alone with children in specific circumstances, which apparently didn’t include large groups of children provided there was some distant oversight. Even volunteers in schools.
I had to jump through a lot of hoops to get and to qualify for a volunteer background check when I volunteered with the brass band in my kids school. And I had to go out and get it on my own initiative which was incredibly difficult to do. I had to find a pay a third party service to submit it for me.
I’m very much in favor of fingerprinting/background checks. As was stated earlier, it won’t catch all potential offenders, but it will at least weed out the worst of the worst. I had to submit to a background check just to serve as a one-time chaperone on my daughter’s 3rd grade field trip that lasted half a day. No such screening for church callings, including those working directly with children/youth week after week.
There needs to be some kind of screening for investigators too. I used to live in an urban ward in SoCal that contained a state-subsidized inpatient psychiatric facility, which in practice was more like a revolving-door homeless shelter. The missionaries regularly tracted into these mentally unstable homeless people (easy targets when you are desperate for numbers) and often brought them to church. If they had done a quick check of the state database, it would show that some of these people had histories as sex offenders, and I wasn’t comfortable with them sitting a few rows behind my family. I brought this problem up to the bishop, who just told me that I needed to learn more about forgiveness and “the redemptive power of atonement”. Though I believe in Church being a place to learn about individual redemption, that also has to be balanced with the need to make it a safe place for families.
Which brings me to my next point: enforcement. If the Church started implementing fingerprinting/background checks everywhere (not just where its required by law) would a bishop/SP have the prerogative to make exceptions, like issuing a calling to someone who gets flagged? I’m aware of too many instances of bishops who were aware of abuse or other wrongdoing but willfully ignored it, allowing the offender to continue serving and enjoying all the privileges of membership. I am personally aware of a bishop who fought to help a convicted child sex offender get approved for rebaptism and get his blessings restored, because “atonement/forgiveness”. Such leaders would also likely turn a blind eye to any unfavorable results of a background check. How do we balance a need to preach repentance/forgiveness with a need to keep our children safe?
@Mr. shorty — nobody seemed to take issue with the requirement, but 1) it was only softly enforced, ie “We’re still waiting on your background check Sister Jones, tsk tsk tsk, now go teach your class!” vs “You cannot receive a calling until you complete this.” 2) the background check part was not a problem, the fingerprinting was a huge hassle. There were no offices nearby our ward, and they only had appointments during daytime business hours. Even those appointments were extremely hard to get. I wound up going to the next county over to complete mine, and it took me a while. (Wasn’t just for this. I had to do a similar process when I got my TSA pre check clearance, and I had into a sketchy part of Philly to get it done.)
That said, I don’t recall anyone openly refusing to complete the process, and at this point the bishop encourages all adults to do it regardless of calling.
Several years ago (2016) our Bishop was called into the Stake Presidency and we went about a month without a bishop. Eventually they called a new bishop and I was called as a counsellor. The reason for the lack of local pastoral leadership, we are told, is because there was a new process in place wherein the Bishop-elect was being subjected to a background check and because this was new, the result was clunky and took longer than they expected (they clearly expected a quicker response or they probably would have held off on making the change). All I know is what we were told. This was in California.
As someone who has been primary pianist several times, yes I had to take the online training. But as others mentioned, this was loosely enforced. Our ward seemed to try really hard to follow the two-deep rule though I’m sure we weren’t perfect. A lot of men teaching older kids leave their door open as well. We were trying at least.
The rules are insufficient, but a good start. Knowledge of these rules, including enforcement, can also act as a deterrent.
This was also required 8 years ago when I wanted to chaperone my daughter’s middle school trip in Scottsdale. EIGHT years ago. So much for the so-called “gold standard’ the church wants to claim. Sam Young was spot on in his criticisms.
I’m in Utah. I’ve never been asked to do a background check or get fingerprinted to teach Primary. I also didn’t have to do anything like that to chaperone Elementary School field trips, or to be a one-on-one reading tutor with Elementary school-age children. My experiences are all three or four years in the past, or more, so there may have been updates since then.
@Br. Jones. My impression when I was first called into Cubs was that the Church/local leaders would have preferred to extend the calling and let me start immediately while waiting for BSA’s background check. But, the Church deferred in my case to BSA’s stricter policy that said I could not work with the boys at all until my background check was completed. In my case, BSA undertook the background check (did not need a fingerprint), so I only needed to submit the application and BSA took care of the rest.
I know there are some among the permabloggers here who have experience in business management, and they could probably speak to (and maybe have spoken to) the importance of leader and/or middle management buy in to make something like youth protection work best. In my last year (right before the disaffiliation), I got to take both BSA’s new YPT and the Church’s YPT. Other than differences in length, one thing that really stood out to me in BSA’s YPT was the enthusiasm BSA’s CEO (forget his name) expressed towards youth protection. Someone in the Church’s top leadership made a statement in their YPT, but it seemed less enthusiastic. Perhaps BSA’s CEO’s enthusiasm stemmed more from the legal troubles BSA was in at the time over abuse cases, and the Church isn’t under the same pressure, so maybe a cynical view is that the enthusiasm comes from those troubles, but I preferred a less cynical interpretation — that BSA’s CEO was generally enthusiastic and concerned for the youth in his organization. I believe our top leaders are also genuinely concerned, but the enthusiasm was still less memorable.
Of course, middle management (Council, committees, and troop/pack leaders in BSA. Bishops and Stake and Area Presidents in the Church) is really where the rubber hits the road. If middle management is less than enthusiastic or views youth protection as a barrier to progress rather than an integral part of the program, then I would expect youth protection to be weakly implemented. We need bishops and primary presidents and youth group leaders to take this seriously, so that everyone will take it seriously.
The idea of a process involving background checks and fingerprinting is an interesting one. I think as a church we also need to think more holistically and ask ourselves what kinds of environments enable an active or latent abuser or predator? Worthiness interviews are one such mechanic that create an environment of awkwardness at best, and a pervert’s paradise at worst. Having the “bishop as judge” creates the kind of power imbalance that invites abuse. Bishop as pastor fundamentally changes that paradigm and might lessen the risk of problems from the start. I’m not arguing against background checks, but they don’t screen for perverts or predators who have no record. And I’m going to assume there are far more in the former category than in the later. It’s one deterrent but not a complete solution. If the core problem is structural in nature, background checks and fingerprinting may trap those with a record, but will not solve the problem or fundamentally protect the vulnerable in our church.
It seems to me the church is not effective at implementing complex processes at a local level, and that’s a problem. Years ago I was in a bishopric at the time the stake presidency decided to put windows in every classroom door (this was following an abuse scandal outside our stake). At the five year mark, windows were finally installed. Talk about bureaucratic atrophy!
Lastly, have any of you closely read the church’s privacy statement on its website? If I recall correctly (and maybe it has changed) the policy used to say it (site administrators aka The Church) can use any data it collects on your account, including your account use behavior and other data, and can use that data to–among other things–inform local callings. So my question is this: What, exactly, is the church tracking on each member already that may inform local callings at senior leadership levels (bishops, stake presidency members, etc.)? Does anyone want to venture a guess if they run a submitted name for bishop through an algorithm that weights certain variables, including money contributions, temple recommend data, temple attendance data, how often you buy garments or look up general conference talks when logged in or by using your machine ID/fingerprint when visiting lds.org, and does it use that data to score members in some way? I know that sounds a little far fetched, but I can’t decide if I’m giving the church way too much credit for assuming it has this level of data science agility and the lack of ethics to do this without being transparent about it, or if they are working towards measuring church engagement, loyalty and spirituality quantitatively based on data gathered on individual member, measurable behavior? Call me paranoid, but for many years I believed the Strengthening Church Members Committee was a complete myth. Then I found out indeed it existed and was used against members.
What if getting a temple recommend renewal required a background check. It could be understood that any calling requiring a recommend – including bishopric- would have been precleared. Plus it would cover a whole bunch of other callings.
BigSky: What if the church used how many times you read the Essays on their web site as a “disqualifying ” factor in becoming a Bishop? “We don’t want him as bishop, he knows too much!”
While I mostly support the many due diligence efforts described in the comments, I also want to point out (with plenty of snarky sarcasm) that ALL callings are from God. Doesn’t he know each of us and any “evil” proclivities we have toward children? Or, have I, due to my lack of full activity for the past 10 years, missed the memo that repealed the “our leaders are led by God in all things” claim?
Hedgehog, that is really a very high percentage of problematic leadership,. I would appreciate knowing what stake that was, but also appreciate you may not be comfortable telling me. I’d like to avoid living there.
Australia requires it. You get a card saying you’re safe to work with kids. While it’s true that many abusers will skid under the radar because they’ve never been reported and action taken against them, had the background check requirement been in place a few years ago, the Elder’s Quorum President in Minnesota, who was on the national lifetime sex abuser registry because of a conviction in Utah, would have been tagged before he was called and abused a 13 yr old. He was recently convicted, but not until the branch and stake president wrote affidavits on his behalf.