So this is a draft I've been sitting on for over two years and have finally decided to just get out of my drafts file so the effort put into it won't be wasted. I wrote it early in the week to post on the weekend according to my habitual schedule but then had to keep updating it as more details came out in the news every day, and then because I was very busy with school I gave up and shelved it. This is how I left it the week of March 20, 2018, except for one brief interpolation denoted by brackets and a few tweaks to bring it into conformity with the revisions made to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Style Guide later that year.
Post Draft Begins
The good news this week is that I got [I don't remember what I was going to put here so obviously it wasn't that good]
The bad news this week is the scandal in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which of course thanks to my weekly format and busy schedule I'm writing about after everyone else, but maybe that's for the best as it's given me time to reflect instead of lashing out. Please forgive this recap that may well be redundant to you. And please read the entire post before deciding to hate me. I've had to revise a few times as additional information keeps coming out, so I apologize if I've missed anything crucial.
An anonymous woman who served as a Latter-day Saint missionary in the early eighties alleges that the president of the Missionary Training Center, Joseph Bishop, groomed and tried to rape her. She claims that she told Carlos E. Asay of the Seventy about it, and that he said he would speak to Joseph Bishop about it, but he never did and Joseph Bishop never faced any consequences whatsoever. Unfortunately, the late Elder Asay has not responded to requests for comment. The latest legal investigation started in January and closed because the statute of limitations expired thirty years ago and they can't actually do anything about it, but it has suddenly blown up due to the unauthorized leak of an audio recording of an alleged interview between the victim and Joseph Bishop, in which he admits to his alleged crimes in great detail for the better part of two hours and forty-four minutes. And since this woman was choosing to keep the whole matter mostly private, whichever "friend" leaked it without her permission and probably ruined her chance for a settlement is kind of a dirtbag.
Outside of the recording, Joseph Bishop has before and since denied all accusations except asking to see her breasts and giving a backrub to another missionary living in his home. His son claims that he told him about these things sometime before the accusations came. Admitting that much either increases or reduces his credibility, I'm not sure which. The breast thing in and of itself is a terrible and unacceptable thing for a man in his position to have done and should have cost him said position at the very least had it been known at the time, but far less than he stands accused of now. The Church's official statement can be found here. Some people whose view of reality is filtered through the assumption that everything the Church does or says is in bad faith have read such victim-blaming and negligence into this statement that I can only assume they aren't seeing the same one I am.
Of course, as with unsubstantiated claims regarding suicide statistics, there are those who want this to be true because they don't care about assault victims so much as they hate the Church and like having tragedies to weaponize against it. There are also those church members who immediately assume it can't be true because he was an MTC president. Both types are dangerous. The rest of us have two competing prerogatives: to take seriously women (and, in theory, men) who claim to have been abused or assaulted, and to take caution against ruining innocent men's (and, in theory, women's) lives. Most people these days seem to resolve this difficulty by just not caring about the latter item. It seems like men accused of abuse or assault are presumed guilty until proven innocent, just because the topic is so emotionally charged and people are out for blood. And that's disgusting.
Because I was so disturbed and needed the full context, I read the transcript while I should have been doing homework, and it looks extremely damning. And it probably is. Unless it isn't legit. As absurd as that may sound, an ex-Mormon skillfully crafting fake but convincing evidence to embarrass and/or extort money from the Church would not be without precedent. See: Mark Hofmann I'm willing to regard the accuser as acting in good faith unless and until proven otherwise, but I mention this possibility and perhaps focus disproportionately on it because many people haven't bothered to consider it at all - assuming, apparently, that modern recording devices are magic infallible purveyors of truth, even though many of these same people had no hesitation in dismissing the undercover Planned Parenthood videos as "deceptively edited" without watching them. Joseph Bishop's son Greg claims that the accuser has also made spurious accusations against at least ten other men without filing charges which, if true, obliterates her credibility. But I don't know if it is. No one has denied it, but if it's true I'd like to know why she isn't in prison for life.
Someone who knows Joseph Bishop personally asserts that he has dementia and espouses this hypothesis. His son, Greg, asserts that he was under medication for the heart surgery he mentioned having a couple days before the interview. Certainly it's obvious in the transcript that he isn't all there. He seemed like a rambling child, with the interviewer a (mostly) patient teacher guiding the discussion and constantly redirecting him back on topic. She said he had tried to rape her and he said he didn't remember that but spilled his guts about his other alleged crimes, with no resistance, despite knowing he was being recorded and despite denying it in before and since then. And he kind of rambled all over the place and sometimes he just talked about it as casually as the weather but other times he talked about sex addiction and tried to make himself the victim but other times he was like "I feel really bad about it" but when the interviewer talked about how her faith and her life were ruined, he was just like "Wow." He said he didn't remember some things, which people have taken as proof of his dishonesty despite how open he was about the other details. The whole discussion is weird. Something is off.
I'm not advocating per se for Joseph Bishop's innocence, which I haven't the expertise to declare, but all I'm saying is that we can't immediately rule it out as so many have done. This is why we try to have fair trials and lawyers instead of just convicting people as soon as an apparently damning piece of evidence comes to light. If the recording is discredited, which unfortunately won't be a matter for the police or court system to resolve since the statues of limitations is up, I won't have made an ass of myself and slandered a (mostly) innocent man. It's worth a reminder, too, that both our secular legal system and the church discipline system are imperfect necessities for maintaining some semblance of order. Both will inevitably overlook people who should have been punished and punish people who shouldn't have been. We can only look to God's final judgment for any hope of true justice - and then, of course, we can also take comfort that He will be far more merciful to all of us than any of us deserve. Without this, life is irredeemably and irrevocably unfair.
If true, the mere fact of a high-ranking church leader doing something terrible, however tragic and unacceptable it is, has little or no bearing on the legitimacy or integrity of the organization. Everyone has agency and any good man can choose to no longer be a good man. Far more problematic in my view are a couple other aspects of the alleged situation. First, Joseph Bishop claims in the interview that he struggled with sex addiction and unresolved sexual sin before beign called as MTC president. If so, why would God allow the selection of such a man to a position over vulnerable young women? And second, of course, the alleged unwillingness of Elder Asay to do anything about it. I suppose that too would mostly reflect on him as an individual, but it would sure make the institution look bad. On both of these questions, though, the other men whose sides of the story could enlighten us on the answers are deceased, so any speculation from detractors or defenders of the Church seems to me of limited value. I'm not going to worry about it. I have the Holy Ghost for myself and how anyone else deals with Him is not my concern.
But regardless of the outcome of this one person's guilt or innocence, it should serve as a wake-up call and an urgent reminder that no one - no one - is incapable of doing terrible things simply by virtue of his religion or his status within it. If you ever catch yourself saying "He couldn't have done that, he's a good Latter-day Saint", stop. Just stop. See: Mountain Meadows Massacre Other instances of abuse and assault unquestionably happen within the Church. I don't think we have an exceptional problem with it, and we'll never be able to stamp it out entirely because humans will be humans, but we have to do what we can to address the instances that have happened and prevent future ones. This doesn't happen to be one of the myriad problems in the world that I've channelled my limited time and resources into addressing, but I hope that mentioning it here will be some small help to those who are working on it. This article from Leo Winegar and this site from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops that he recommended to me are good resources. And I would generally recommend going to the police before religious leaders who have no legal authority.
End of Post Draft
I already went into more detail in a post last year, but to recap the rest of the story since then: the woman, McKenna Denson (who changed her name from June Hughes after her reputation started to catch up with her) does, in fact, have an extensive record of trying to extort money from people and institutions with false accusations and fraudulent lawsuits - including but not limited to the aforementioned rape accusations - going back about four decades to before her mission. Oh, and she also solicited donations by pretending to have cancer so basically she's Satan. When the Church's lawyers documented these facts, they were evil scum-sucking victim blamers promoting rape culture. When McKenna's partner and biggest supporter Mike Norton documented these facts, he was a hero acting with courage and integrity. A couple days later her own lawyers quit for undisclosed reasons. So mysterious. The last news about her was in February when she dropped the lawsuit and the case was sent to settlement instead, but for the most part, she's dropped off the face of the Earth and her support has evaporated.
The story hits a bit closer to home now that I've also faced false accusations from a pathological liar. Fortunately, I was "only" accused of stalking, and all that happened was Officer Jackass chewed me out for a few minutes and then forced me to go to the hospital to talk to the world's most apathetic social worker. At no point did either of them ask a single question about my side of the story or give the slightest indication of considering that I might have one. Thinking back on it I've fantasized about giving Officer Jackass a piece of my mind, telling him exactly what I think of him and explaining in detail, even though he didn't ask, why pretty much everything he thought was completely wrong, but at the time I was too confused and scared to do much more than sit through his abuse. I worried that it might cause additional problems in my life and was prepared to file a lawsuit if it did, but it doesn't seem to have gone on any sort of permanent record so that saves me some hassle. So that was my admittedly one-sided experience with the culture of hashtag believe women.
Besides my original question of why McKenna Denson isn't in prison for life, which still stands, I now have two more: how many people left the Church because of her, and how many of them came back after her career of lies was exposed? Knowing what I do about human nature, I'm guessing the answer to that last one is zero, give or take.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.