We don’t usually discuss current events on Gospel Tangents, but we’re going to make an exception. Jennifer Roach is a former Anglican pastor, and experienced sexual abuse from her Baptist clergy as a teen. She has a unique perspective on the latest AP News article about a sexual abuse case in Arizona. She is also a counselor, and we’ll get her opinions on the case.  We’ll also get her opinion on LDS women’s ordination in the LDS Church. Does she support it? I think her answers will surprise you. Here are some short snippets of our conversation.

Anglican Pastors converts to LDS

Jennifer:  I am Jennifer Roach. I am a licensed mental health counselor. Before I joined this church, that’s true, I was ordained as an Anglican pastor. I have a master’s in divinity. I also have a master’s in counseling or therapy.

Jennifer  04:34  I actually grew up Evangelical.

GT  04:36  Oh, really?

Jennifer  04:36  Broadly Evangelical. It was only maybe in the last 10 years before I joined this church, that I was an Anglican.

GT  04:44  Okay. Well, very cool. So, because I remember in your story, you said you knew somebody who was LDS, and they talked about this scripture that you’d never heard of. Tell that story.

Jennifer  05:01  So, I was involved in a lawsuit in California, and one of the reporters who was most writing about it, he’s a member of the LDS Church. He and I had worked together a lot. There was a bunch of stories that came out, and so he and I were getting to know each other. I kind of had this sense of like, “Oh, I know, he’s a church-going guy.” I didn’t know anything, really, much more than that. The lawsuit involved a church where I grew up that I sued for my sexual abuse. So, I took them to court and won. That church decided to give a response to the initial stories about this lawsuit in a sermon. So, the pastor chose for his text to use Moses, and his sermon really was awful. It was basically, “Well, Moses messed up and God seems to forgive him. So, when leaders mess up, we should just forgive them.” I was angry about it. I was all worked up. The plan was, my reporter friend and I were going to talk later in the week after both of us had listened to this. So, we’re on the phone, and I…

GT  06:17  So, the sermon was recorded or something?

Jennifer  06:19  The sermon was recorded. This was pre-COVID, but they still had their sermons online.

GT  06:22  Okay.

Jennifer  06:24  So I’m telling the reporter, his name is Garth Stapley, by the way. He won some awards for his reporting on my issue. [He did a] fantastic, absolutely amazing level [of] reporting accurate, good, fair, honest. So, I’m telling him all the reasons, on and on and on and on and on. He says, “Yeah, you know, I didn’t like that sermon, either, but for different reasons.”

Jennifer  06:49  [I’m] like, “Really, you’ve got to tell me why.”

Jennifer  06:53  He says, “Well, I have different scriptures than you.”

Jennifer  06:58  It’s like, “No, you don’t. What are you talking about?”

Jennifer  07:03  “I have more information about Moses than you do.”

Jennifer  07:06  I was riveted. I had to know what he was talking about. Unfortunately, it’s the middle of a workday. He’s working in a very typical newsroom, that open floor plan, all the reporters are sitting around. So, he’s like, “I’m not talking about Scripture with you at work.” 

Jennifer  07:25  I said, “Okay, that’s fine.” I think as soon as we hung up the phone, I’m immediately texting him of like, “Okay, text it to me, then.” He sent me a link to the church’s website where I read the Book of Moses. That’s the first Latter-day Scripture I ever read.

Women & Priesthood

GT  17:17  I’m sure you probably had to ask about–well, women and priesthood, right?

Jennifer  17:20  Women and priesthood, absolutely.

GT  17:21  I mean, that had to be a big deal for you. Right?

Jennifer  17:24  The day that I sat in an LDS service and watched the boys serving sacrament, is when I had the real realization of, that boy’s 12, maybe 11. I’m a full-grown woman, a completely over-educated adult woman who has all kinds of power and responsibility, and that boy has more than I do in this context. That took a minute. However, if you asked me, “Do I want women to be ordained?”  Hard pass.

GT  18:00  Oh, really?

Jennifer  18:00  Hard pass. We can talk about that. But that’s where I’m at.

GT  18:03  Well, let’s talk about that. That’s where I wanted to go, because I can imagine that would have been incredibly difficult for you. How did you overcome that?

Jennifer  18:14  Well, I mean, it was difficult. There are different versions of difficult. The initial version of difficult was, I mean, maybe that’s prideful, or maybe anybody in my position would have felt a little bit about like, “Wait, what, if I join all of you? I’m losing an awful lot,” right? I have current friends in this Church today who are fighting for their lives to get women to be ordained, right? And here I am voluntarily giving that up. So, the personal piece was one part. The social piece is another part, though, which a lot of LDS women don’t understand what it’s like to be an ordained person in another denomination. So, my initial forays into that conversation, there was a disconnect for me around, well, only some people are ordained in the evangelical church. You get a handful, four or five, maybe 10 people in a church who are ordained. Nobody else is. Compared to the LDS Church, every eligible man can be [ordained.]

Jennifer  19:23  So, presumably, if women were ordained, every eligible woman would be presumably, and that’s a different setup, and how does that end up actually playing out? I don’t know. But in the evangelical world where women are ordained, even in the churches that fully 100% accept and support them, they face an incredible, incredible backlash, sexist, awful, awful comments from their own congregations because of their gender. That is no cakewalk for any of them. The pushback is intense. So, part of why that was easy for me to overcome was, I know what’s on the other side of that, at least the evangelical version of it. And I am not eager to sign up for that again, right? The theological piece I got through by saying, I mean, it’s, it’s not a super sophisticated way to think about it, but, like, “Okay, if this is true, and then this true, and then this is true, I can understand how not ordaining women is true.” If you don’t have all these other things before it, it doesn’t make sense. But in this larger context, it makes sense to put aside my own pride. I can put aside the social piece, whatever, and it becomes okay for me.  But it was a struggle.

Should Clergy Meet with Teens?

GT  35:18  Well, and it’s interesting, because, you’ve kind of touched on this, and I would love you to share as much as you’re comfortable with. Because you mentioned earlier that you were involved in a sex abuse lawsuit with a Baptist pastor. Is that right?

Jennifer  35:34  Yep.

GT  35:36  And there’s the whole issue with Sam Young. Kids shouldn’t be talking to the bishop without parent present, or whatever, which has changed.

Jennifer  35:46  Yep, it has.

GT  35:47  So, can you talk about this issue? Is it okay for a woman to be alone with a bishop and confess sexual sins? Is that a way for grooming to happen?

Jennifer  36:04  Well, first, let me refer back to two years ago, I gave a FAIR talk on this. It didn’t focus on adults, but bishops and teenagers. So, if you want the longer answer, that’s a 45-minute talk. If the question is, is that a way, potentially, for bishops to groom people? Of course. However, I’m going to change and talk about teenagers, just because this is where I’ve done the research more.

GT  36:34  You’ve had unfortunate personal experience, as well.

Jennifer  36:40  Adults in every other church that exists are also talking with teenagers about sex. There is no church, where teenagers don’t need to talk about this as a subject. How does sexuality fit in with my faith? That is an appropriate developmental task for them to figure out. What happens in a lot of churches, I’m going to talk mostly about evangelicals, is that the youth leaders, who sometimes are trained, usually there’s one trained person and then a whole bunch of volunteers. So, they’re not any more trained than LDS people are. The volunteers will pull a kid aside, “Hey, gosh, let’s talk about what’s going on with you and your boyfriend or let’s talk about what’s going on,” you know, whatever, “with your porn viewing.” They have those conversations with kids on the regular without informing the parents. Parents never know about those conversations.

Jennifer  37:01  In our church, the bishop meets with the kid. The parents certainly knows that that’s happening. It’s probably scheduled. There is no, “Hey, let me pull you aside for a little private conversation, and oh, by the way, I’m never going to tell your parents we discussed graphically your sex life.” So, is there a danger there? Of course, there’s danger there. It’s better than—it’s safer than in other places. It’s not as bad as it could be. There is no risk-free way to live in the world. What are you going to do, lock kids in their homes? They’re actually more in danger in their homes when it comes to abuse. It’s family members and close friends of the family that abuse most often. Lock kids out of their homes and just keep them at school? 24/7? Well, there’s your second biggest source of sexual abuse is schoolteachers. So, we send our kids to school. We let them live in our home. Those are high risk activities for children. But there is no way to live in the world without risk.

AP Sex Abuse Story

GT  41:00  Because this all kind of leading into this AP story. Let’s talk a little bit about the helpline. There’s a big thing out here. There’s a terrible story in Arizona, where a father was sexually abusing his daughter, and it went on for at least seven years.

Jennifer  41:23  It’s horrific. It’s the worst case I’ve ever heard of in my entire life.

GT  41:28  So, there’s this helpline that bishops are supposed to call. Now, the way the Church frames it is, “We have a lay clergy. These are marketing majors and construction managers. They’re not psychologists, like you, generally speaking.

Jennifer  41:46  I’m not a psychologist, I’m a therapist.

GT  41:47  A therapist.

Jennifer  41:47  A psychologist is a PhD or Psy D level.

GT  41:50  Okay. They’re not therapists like you, that are that are used to dealing with these sorts of things. So, in theory, it sounds like, “Hey, let me call the Church. They’ll help me with this.” And that sounds like a great idea. But, the problem, at least in this Arizona case, is it looks like the Church said, “Don’t call authorities,” and from what I understand, there’s a little bit of a gray area in Arizona about whether you can call authorities. But this bishop was instructed not to call the authorities.

Jennifer  42:31  It’s unclear if he was instructed not to call or that it was up to him, if he called. I have not gotten clarity on that.[1] I don’t think that there’s a document that reveals [that.]  I’d love to know if there is.  Did they tell him, “Do not call?” Or did they tell him, “There’s an out and you can take it, if you want?” I don’t know.

[1] Jennifer clarified in an email:  “Late last night {Aug 8, 2022} the AP released video of the Bishop Herrod, in his own voice, saying that the helpline told him he was not allowed to call, his hands were tied. He then goes on to say that he passes this information along to the next bishop. This is a helpful piece of information to have as previously it was unclear what he was told. It helps explain why the bishops did what they did. But questions remain. The primary one I’m concerned with is, “Why did the system break down this time when it’s worked well so many times before, and how do we fix it?”  But I also think it’s fair to point out that this 9 min video is intended to give an emotional punch. Every visual image, piece of music, and word spoken is carefully chosen to drive home the same emotional point.  It’s actually rather well done if that is the goal. But they certainly are not going to include any information that takes away from their point, including things the Bishop may have said that show a wider view of what happened. We get 1 short quote from him and nothing else. It is also fair to mention that an Arizona Grand Jury took up this question last year in case GJ21-0072.  They asked, “Did the bishops do anything legally wrong?” and while their conclusions are secret, we can observe that as of today the bishops have not been charged with any crime. “

GT  1:07:42  Yeah, I mean, I think that’s just the thing. It just seems like, and maybe this is a stereotype, but the Church can fix this stereotype, I think, by putting in the handbook, because it seems like you said there were some states where they were not supposed to [report.]

Jennifer  1:08:01  So this gets a little–I wish I would have said this clearer. I said this to Kurt, and I said this in a couple of other places where I think I said it in a way that made it seem like some states have it so that you cannot [report.]

GT  1:08:01  Yeah, that’s what it sounded like.

Jennifer  1:08:02  [That] you’re legally barred. And that’s not true. That’s not– I don’t know of any–if someone knows of a state, I’d love to know. But there are states where…

GT  1:08:22  There are 46 states where it’s either mandatory or optional for clergy to report.

Jennifer  1:08:27  Yeah, and I think the remaining states don’t have a, “We’ll legally prosecute you, if you report.” Right? However, the states that have a clergy exception, have a clergy exception. Was that the wise thing to follow in this case, looking back from everything we know now? No. What did the bishops know? When did they know it? They haven’t spoken. I don’t imagine that we will hear from them. It’s completely unclear in the court paperwork what exactly they knew, when because they’re not the focus of it. I would love to know that. It just should be an open question, instead of saying, “Oh my goodness, that bishop knew from day one, that this little girl was being raped. And then he just sat on his hands and did nothing for seven years.” That’s not what happened.

GT  1:09:14  Yeah, there’s somebody, a former bishop on Facebook posted, “In my experience, the first two things that were never part of any conversation, the entire call centered around making sure that I, as an ecclesiastical leader, didn’t say or do anything that would put the Church in legal jeopardy.” Now, this is a person who has been a bishop within the last 10 years. “I was told not to talk to law enforcement and that if law enforcement happened to contact me about the situation, I was to say that I was, ‘Represented by counsel’ and to direct them to the Church’s law firm. I was offered no advice or resources for how to stop the abuse or how to help the victims. When I asked about those things, I was told to talk to my stake president who was the one who told me to call the Church’s helpline.”

Jennifer  1:10:05  That’s a failed system. It should not have happened like that.

GT  1:10:07  “With absolutely no training in this sort of thing, whatsoever, I had to figure out, on my own, how to get help for various members of the family. It was gut wrenching.”

Jennifer  1:10:17  Yeah, of course.

GT  1:10:18  And so, this is within the last 10 years, and this is a former Bishop. I know some bishops have had good experiences. But there was a Twitter thread about a bishop in Texas who had a good experience, and did everything they said and got help for the victims. But, in this Arizona case, the bishop condemns that sort of reasoning. We need to be helping the victims. You know, Jesus said, “Those who offend the little ones, a millstone should be hanged around [their neck.]”

Jennifer  1:10:48  Matthew 18.

GT  1:10:48  Yeah, and so it seems like the Church really needs to do a better job on protecting children.

How do young Abuse Victims Disclose?

Jennifer  1:15:56  So, when kids confess something, they do it one of two ways. One is they do the breadcrumb method, and they’ll say something that they know is a little off. They know, it’s the tiniest little bit of the iceberg, and they want to see what you are going to do, adults. And if you blow past it, they are not trying again with you. If you pick it up, and be like, “That’s a weird thing to say. Tell me more about that.” Then, maybe you get the privilege of 12 more conversations with them, and then they tell you what happened.

Jennifer  1:16:30  That’s the standard. What I did is actually a little bit fast. The other way, and this is the vast majority of abuse that’s revealed by children or teens is by accident. The kid says something that an adult can pick up on and the kid didn’t know that what they said just revealed something. Here’s my best example is a girl who says something weird to her Sunday School teacher that her dad knows all about her underwear. “Well, gosh. You’re 11. What’s your dad doing knowing about your underwear? You’re a little old for that.” That’s the conversation that comes of like, “Weird, tell me more. Why does your dad know about your panties?”

Jennifer  1:17:14  But as adults, we’re really afraid. Especially my heart goes out to men, bishops, especially, who get put in this situation. A kid drops some little nugget like that, in a youth interview. The bishop wants nothing more than to just move on to the next question on the list. Because he doesn’t want to be the middle-aged creeper who has to lean forward and go. “Wait, what?” But that’s actually what that kid needs. You want to you want to save kids from abuse, adults, you need to open your ears in a different way. This kid isn’t going to sit down and tell you, “Here, let me give you the times and dates of all of my abuse and exactly what happened.” They’re going to say weird stuff. And kids say weird stuff all the time. So, you’re going to get a lot of false positives, that you’re going to go down on a trail. And if you’re like, “Oh, that’s just something dumb.” The other piece is this. It is impossible to know what the state of abuse is today, whether in our church or in any other church. And here’s why. If abuse happened in childhood or in adolescence, what do you think? When is the first age that a person might report that?

GT  1:18:31  How young?

Jennifer  1:18:31  Yes.

GT  1:18:33  Maybe 8, at the earliest.

Jennifer  1:18:35  What do you think is average?

GT  1:18:39  Probably 20.

Jennifer  1:18:40  According to Child USA who does work in this space of reporting and statute of limitations laws, the average age is 51 of first disclosure, 51.

GT  1:18:54  Wow.

Jennifer  1:18:55  Meaning, a 10-year-old kid who’s being abused today, we are not going to know about her abuse for 40 years. So, are we doing better? Yes, I hope so as a society, and there’s still stuff we don’t know. There’s still news happening that we don’t know about. If adults could learn to listen to kids in a little bit different way, that number could drastically come down from 51 to maybe 21. I’m 51.

GT  1:19:27  Has the #MeToo movement helped with that kind of stuff?

Jennifer  1:19:30  That’s an interesting question, because this statistic is actually pulled, I think in 2017 or 2018, which is just when the #MeToo stuff is beginning. So, probably. However, are we accurately catching that yet? Probably not. Because a lot of these cases are too old to report on, so people don’t go report to the police. Like when this happened 40 years ago, they’re not going to want to hear about it. So, it’s complicated. We, as a church, we could do better with the Helpline. We could do better around policies. As adults in this church, we could do better at how we talk to kids and teenagers about abuse. We could do better about how we follow little suspicions.

Better Training for Clergy?

GT  1:27:22  Do you wish we offered better training for our bishops? One of the things that you said, which I thought was very interesting on Kurt’s podcast, was, when you’re an Evangelical, you don’t get that much more training than a Mormon bishop.

Jennifer  1:27:37  Yes.

GT  1:27:37  And I was surprised to hear that.

Jennifer  1:27:39  Yeah, not on abuse issues. You get some. But mostly people who become pastors in the Protestant world broadly, and certainly in the Catholic world, they’re bookworms.  They’re interested in learning dead languages. They’re more comfortable in the library than in the social hall.

GT  1:28:03  What about, like, marriage counseling? Don’t you get some training in that? Because that’s a big part of being a pastor as well, right?

Jennifer  1:28:09  It is, but that’s done from a very specific, like, here’s what, in their case, the Bible, or here’s what God might want you to do. That’s not at all what we mean by what a therapist does. That’s not what I do as a therapist. Right? They’re acting as, “Let me be the deliverer to you of what God has said about marriage and how you should work at marriage.” That’s all they’re doing. That’s what biblical counseling is. So, yeah, they’re doing it. They probably took one class in Div school.

What are your thoughts?