Last week Rob Porter resigned as White House staff secretary because two ex-wives accused him of domestic abuse. My first thought was wondering who was telling the truth. Are the ex-wives being honest about the alleged abuse, or is he a victim of the culture of attacks on men. I cannot imagine the women claiming abuse if it was not there, but I hate to think that it really happened. The thing that upsets me the most is the affect that this will have on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It does not really matter whether Porter abused his wives or his wives are lying about being abused. The end result is that the Church will receive bad publicity. This is what upsets me! This article by Tara Isabella Burton is an example of what we can expect.
Last week, White House aide Rob Porter resigned from his position after it emerged that both of his ex-wives had accused him of domestic abuse. But his ex-wives’ accounts, shared in the media, don’t just tell the story of two abusive marriages. They also reveal the structural and institutional failure of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or, the Mormon Church) to protect women from toxic and abusive relationships.
According to Burton, the Church is responsible to “protect women from toxic and abusive relationships.” How is the Church supposed to do it? As far as I know, no one in Church leadership positions ever tells members who to marry or who not to marry. They give counsel on how to choose wisely, but they do not force anyone to marry or to not marry. Each member is responsible to take the matter to the Lord in prayer and to follow the promptings that come. If we make a mistake, we have to live with knowing that we made a big error. Marriages can be saved and improved most of the time, but sometimes divorce must take place. However, we are each responsible for the decisions we make.
Burton also blames “Mormon culture and theology” for reasons why priesthood leaders gloss over issues of domestic abuse. Mormon doctrine teaches the blessings of the ideal marriage, one that is within the reach of all couples, but only if both the husband and wife live righteous lives. Burton writes the following in an effort to blame Mormon doctrines and culture for covering up abuse.
In the Mormon tradition, only couples who have been married in a Mormon temple are capable of reaching the highest echelons of heaven. Moreover, a family that has bonded in this way will remain in heaven together.
Divorce or separation, in this theology, thus threatens a Mormon woman’s chances at heaven, not just for her but for her entire family, including her children.
The first paragraph is true. We are taught the doctrine that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God” and that “Marriage between man and woman is essential to [God’s] eternal plan” for the happiness of His children. We are also taught that our marriages can last for all eternity and that our families can be together forever –IF those marriages are performed in the proper place and by the proper authority AND if we live worthy of that blessing.
Burton’s second paragraph is totally false. Once a man and woman go to the temple and make sacred covenants with God, they are each responsible to keep those covenants. If one spouse is abusive, unfaithful, or in any way breaks their covenants, a divorce can take place AND leave the blessings for the innocent spouse and the children entirely in place. Each person is responsible to keep the covenants he or she has made, and each will be held accountable for doing so. This does not mean that divorce is easy or pleasant or even good for the innocent spouse and children. It only means that eternal blessing remain in place for anyone who keeps their covenants.
Another total falsehood that Burton writes is that domestic abuse is a normal part of Mormon community because women are taught to be submissive. As a woman in the Church, I know that women and girls are not taught to be submissive to the point of abuse. We are taught that we are daughters of God and are royalty. We are taught that men have the responsibility to preside, provide, and protect their wives and children, and we are responsible to support them in their righteous works. We are never taught to support them in unrighteousness. Men and young men are taught to treat women and girls with respect and kindness. Any man who uses priesthood authority to abuse wife or children is exercising unrighteous dominion and will be held accountable by God.
Before anyone blames the priesthood for telling women to stay in abusive marriages, I must say that I have known many bishops, stake presidents, and other leaders. All of them encourage us to strengthen our marriages, but none of them tell us to stay in abusive marriages. They will encourage marriage and family counseling by qualified counselors, and they will continue to love and support both husband and wife. However, the decision to stay in the marriage or to get a divorce is left up to the individual.
The Church has a zero tolerance policy for abuse. Eric Hawkins, Church spokesman wrote the following:
It is difficult to speak to specific circumstances without complete information from all involved, but the position of the Church is clear: There is zero tolerance for abuse of any kind. Church leaders are given instruction on how to prevent and report abuse and how to care for those who have been abused.
I am sorry that the Church is being blamed for the behavior of one or more members of the Church. Jesus Christ stands at the head of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and faithful members of the Church try to follow His counsel as given through His prophets and apostles. Christ is perfect, but the people that He works with are imperfect. All of us are sinners in one way or another and stand in need of His grace. Members of the Church who behave in such a way as to bring untrue and/or unfavorable attention to the Church will be held accountable by God.