The demographic of the Bloggernacle and the Facebook groups that feed off it skews to the young. For most of the participants, if something happened before Al Gore invented the Internet, it may as well not have happened at all. But for those of us a little bit older, we actually remember those pre-Internet days. We used to read, you know, dead trees and stuff, not just pixels.
In the early 90s, the concept of spiritual or ecclesiastical abuse was a thing. A group of people, including Lavina Fielding Anderson, Janice Allred, Paul Toscano (and I assume Paul’s wife Margaret), and perhaps a few others formed a nonprofit corporation on July 4, 1992, named the “Mormon Alliance.” (This became a precursor to some of the September Six excommunications a little over a year later.) Lavina and Janice coedited a series called “Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance,” which used to be available on the internet but now so far as I can discern after determined searching are not. That’s too bad; there was some really interesting (and almost always sad) stuff in those publications. I in particular remember reading the ones about Steven Epperson, David Wright and George Pace.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Mormon Alliance and this chapter of recent Mormon history, here are some readings to get you started. I am intentionally not going to provide links, in the hope that readers will become accustomed to finding articles like this on their own:
Lavina Fielding Anderson, “The LDS Intellectual Community and Church Leadership: A Contemporary Chronology,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Spring 1993): 7-64.
Paul James Toscano, “Dealing with Spiritual Abuse: The Role of the Mormon Alliance,” Sunstone (July 1993): 32-39.
Levi S. Peterson, “Lavina Fielding Anderson and the Power of a Church in Exile,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Winter 1996): 169-78.
I mention the above partly to open a window to a specific time and place in recent Mormon history that I believe most of our young internet cohort knows next to nothing about. My second motive is the hope that some web wizard might be able to point me to readable copies somewhere online of the Case Reports. But my third and main motive for raising all of this is to set the context for a personal story.
When this was happening in the early 90s, I remember asking myself whether I felt I had ever experienced or been harmed by spiritual abuse. And I recall thinking the answer was “no,” but there was one incident that came perilously close. That is the story I wish to share with you today.
My last area on my mission was in Pueblo, Colorado. I was there for three months just prior to returning to my home in Illinois in 1979. I then got a job and started working to make money so I could return to school at BYU in January 1980.
At some point after my mission, a few months I want to say, I received a letter from my MP. Essentially it said that there had been extensive damage done to that Pueblo apartment; they didn’t know who had done it; so to be fair, they were allocating the repair costs among the last so many missionaries who had lived there (6 or 8 or 10, I don’t recall anymore, and I don’t possess the letter). I don’t recall exactly what my allocation was, but it was something like $600 or $800. Being financially tapped out after two years on a mission, and working like a dog trying to get back to school, that was not an insubstantial amount of money to me.
I wrote him back, and calmly informed him I would not be paying. I had not damaged the apartment in any way, and I cited two lines of evidence toward that conclusion. First, the apartment was a duplex, and the son of the owners lived in the other unit. He was disabled, both physically and to an extent mentally, and part of the deal for missionaries having the other unit was that we were supposed to keep an eye on their son/our neighbor. We were happy to do this and visited with him almost daily and became good friends with him. He would have been a witness that our apartment was in good order during my time there. Second, my MP must have forgotten that we hosted a district meeting in our apartment which he and his wife attended just shortly before I went home. If there were thousands of dollars worth of damage, one would think he or his wife would have noticed.
He sent me a response, saying something lame about his recollection being that the apartment was not as clean as it should have been (which was probably true; we were, after all, missionaries), but that was basically the end of it. Since I was already home he had zero leverage over me, and that was that.
Later in Provo I ran into my last mission companion from that apartment, and I asked him about this, and he gave me the straight skinny. The set of missionaries one or two after us were the ones who trashed the apartment (they had knives and took them to drapes, furninshings, walls, etc.) [They also ignored or possibly even made fun of our neighbor.] The owners were beyond mad, they were furious, not the least for the treament of their son. My comp told me that the MP knew exactly who had done this, but the damage was so extensive that they couldn’t recoup the cost from just those two elders. So he had conferred with his file leader in the 70, who told him to do what he did as a way of spreading the cost around.
Now, I didn’t feel abused by this situation because I stood up to protect myself. Even if I had still been in-mish when this happened, there was no way in hell I was going to pay that charge levied against me. He could have made my life miserable or sent me home, but I’ll never know what might have happened if I hadn’t been gone already.
John C.’s recent post is what got me to thinking about this story. Because what these church leaders did was wrong, but I can understand their thinking. My MP was following the instructions of his file leader. The 70 was trying to protect the tithing funds of the church, normally a good thing to do. To do it on the backs of innocent misisonaries was in my biased view unquestionably wrong. But, as John expressed, I didn’t put men like that on a pedastal far above me; they were just humans who made a human mistake. It didn’t end up harming me, so I was more than willing to let it go.