What Love Requires

As lines of people approached long tables filled with grilled tri-tip and baked potatoes, a small loaf of bread, sliced and ready for the taking sat by a large basket of rolls last night at the ward Christmas party. The paper laying next to the crusty loaf labeled it “Gluten Free”.  Cranberry filled Jell-O with a cream cheese underlay was cut into generous helpings and divided into lots. One was gluten-free, the others endowed with a crunchy pretzel crust. Trays of gluten-free, chocolate-oozing dessert were delivered to table after table by the Young Men along with slices of regular chocolate and vanilla sheet cakes from Costco. In addition, a moist gluten-free coffee cake was there for your indulgence. It’s one of the small things we do in our ward for the handful of people who suffer from Celiac disease. That’s what love requires.

We have a handful of brothers in our ward, suffering from diseases not of the body, but of the spirit that caused them to become part of the criminal justice system, and for a time were (or still are) incarcerated.  It’s not a happy thing, and tends to be uncomfortable, with infrequent whispers and queries from interested persons. I would guess that most people in our ward are unaware of these circumstances, months or years of absence and reemergence of sons to mothers into our ward.  One brother frequently brings two friends he met in prison to church with him.  While I don’t know what their crimes were, and I don’t think all people who have spent time in prison are dangerous, I am concerned about unknown risk there may be to our ward family. Another, a convicted child molester, now attends the local singles ward, but attends our ward and stake functions with his family.

Mormons are trusting folk, and it’s not uncommon to see unescorted five-year-old children leading smaller siblings to the bathroom or drinking fountain during sacrament meeting or roaming the halls during activities. I am aware of the games the children in our ward play as they dodge in and out of doors and hide in various classrooms or restrooms.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the potential for problems of the worst kind under these circumstances, but still they persist.  

A friend of mine has shared similar circumstances in her own ward. A brother, a convicted child molester, attends services alongside his wife every Sunday. By way of agreement with local leadership,  another brother has kindly been assigned to be with him. He goes with him into the hall, to the restroom, to Gospel Doctrine class and Elders Quorum. In other words, he’s never alone.  From my own careful observation, this does not seem to be the case in my ward.

 I believe these brothers should be welcome among us. I believe that if Jesus Christ can cover my sins, he can cover theirs too. But there are times I want to send out a warning call to all the parents in the ward. Three-year-old Jimmy shouldn’t be sent to the bathroom alone. Brother X just left the cultural hall after little Katie went to get a drink of water by herself.  I confess to keeping a watchful eye on children that are not my own, to feeling anxious to the edge of exhaustion watching these brothers roam free and interacting with the children around them.  Sometimes in our efforts to emulate the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, or in our subconscious pursuit of piety, we miss what forgiveness is. It is neither an act of faith nor an act of caring to fail to acknowledge disease that affects the spirit as much as physical disease affects the body. It would be unkind at best, to take an alcoholic to a bar. Love requires more of us.  Helping those who are sick and afflicted requires acknowledgement that the person suffers. It requires care to not to do things that aggravate the situation. And it requires that we protect our own.

I sit still with my family in a pew in the chapel every Sunday and accept the silver tray passed to me. I eye three men seated a few rows up as the tray is passed by them. As I place a small piece of bread with an unfamiliar texture in my mouth I am reminded this emblem is gluten-free, because that is what love requires.


  1. StillConfused says:

    Good for you for having a gluten free dinner option. I went to my ward party last night and it consisted of: ham with sugar drizzled all over it, some potato thing that had toxic doses of dairy in it, that nasty jello thing with pretzels, and salad with the dressing, sugared fruit and cheese already mixed it.

    I came prepared with unsugared meat, boiled potatos and a sensible salad. I just assume that there will be nothing remotely healthy at a church function and come prepared with my own food (plus a little extra for the other people who don’t want to have their hearts electrocuted before the night is over.

    Questions: 1. Why do LDS dinners always seem so fatty and unhealthy? 2. What the freak is with the jello contraptions? Pretzels with jello … I think that is illegal in many countries.

    p.s. What is even more horrifying on the pedophile scale is when your own bishop is a pedophile and rapes two of your sisters. You then learn he is a repeat offender and many people knew of his problem. Imagine what that does to a family.

  2. Um, that was awkward.

    ANYway, I thought this was great. The desire and effort to help members be safely included should be extended to all. We are often quick to make adjustments for physical ailments or disabilities, but shy away from infirmities that may cause some social discomfort as we try to understand how we can best serve those who suffer.

    I think there is a fear that addressing these issues will further alienate the person. While that’s a possibility, if done with a desire to extend fellowship and consider all involved, open conversations/solutions have a great potential to be inclusive rather than exclusive.

  3. You offer some great solutions to issues that I hear people complaining about but don’t see them doing anything to address. Thank you.

  4. Natalie B. says:

    What a difficult situation.

    In general, I try to be very inclusive of people, but I had one VTing experience where I had to draw the line. I was assigned to someone with alzheimer’s, who couldn’t remember who I was once she let me in the apartment. Eventually she started lashing out at and threatening me. I was scared.

    Now, this is a far cry from being a being a child molester. But it made me appreciate that there are certain church situations that we can’t just send people into unaware. Assigning someone to always accompany the person with issues seems like a very good compromise.

  5. mmiles,
    Thanks for this post. We often talk about the Atonement in terms of individual growth and forgiveness–I was able to repent; she was able to forgive; etc… Certainly there is something truly special about a collective body, such as a family, a ward, or a relief society, repenting and forgiving, accessing the Atonement together and finding solutions together. As always, easier said than done.

  6. I think your thoughts on being safely inclusive of those with criminal backgrounds is great. I have to say, though, that I’m already impressed by the inclusiveness of your ward. We went to our ward Christmas party last night, and I brought mashed potatoes that were safe for my kids to eat. I put some in a big bowl to put on the potluck table, and kept some in a smaller bowl on our table for my kids. I also brought hot dogs, brownies and candy for my kids. Those were the only things that my kids could eat at the whole dinner. I find it hard to imagine someone else specifically bringing gluten-free food that my kids or I could eat to a ward function, and your first paragraph makes me wish I lived in your ward.

  7. You make some excellent points about what forgiveness actually means. Loving and accepting a person into a ward who is a child molester requires people to do what it takes to keep everyone safe. If such a person is truly trying to repent and change, then I’m sure that they would welcome all the help they can get to not end up in situations that might look bad or where they might be tempted to do something awful. It doesn’t do them any favors to pretend that their problem doesn’t exist.

    And also, let me add to the chorus of people who are seriously jealous of your gluten-free-friendly ward! My branch is pretty decent to those of us with celiac disease, but in my parents’ ward (all three of us have celiac), it’s nothing but, “Can’t you just pick the noodles out of the soup?” “Surely a little flour won’t hurt you!” “Can’t you give yourself the day off from your diet? One piece of cake won’t make you fat!”. Kudos to your ward for understanding that it’s a serious medical condition and not a fad diet!

  8. Thank you for this meditation upon some very difficult questions and Scott I thought your comment was an important elaboration. I currently live in a ward that has an unusual history regarding issues of this kind. My feeling is that we have not worked through these issues together. It has been important for me to see that a little more clearly.

  9. mmiles,

    I enjoyed reading your post here. I have lived in a ward where a lifetime child molester literally stalked the halls and nursery. The damage done was incalcuable. I think at a minimum you should have a frank discussion about the situation with your bishop and SP. Mormon chapels are a target rich environment for child molesters and we are far far to trusting as a people sometimes to protect ourselves.

    I have one big issue with the idea of assigning somebody to be with a child molester. If the offender gives the “minder” the slip and abuses a child I think that there are very far reaching implications from a liability standpoint.

  10. BBell-
    Where does the responsibility lay? I see how there could be liability issues if the guy gives the person with him the slip. But what else is there to do? I don’t think it’s appropriate to ban offenders from church meetings if they say they are really trying to change. Or is it?

    As far as being too trusting, it really at some point has to be up to parents to not be dumb and let their kids wander around the church alone. Not every sex offender is a known as such. Would it be appropriate to have a joint RS/priesthood meeting and explain to parents it simply isn’t safe to let your kids wander around the church? What about ward activities where kids are running all over the place? A couple months ago our stake activitiy was packed with kids running around from game to game. The person in question was there.

  11. Thanks for this post. Very thought-provoking. It seems that someone in your ward was kind enough to communicate clearly about the issues of Celiac disease in a way that people heard and understood, and others listened to those concerns. That’s a great thing.

    That idea of counseling together in the face of issues (whether dietary or criminal as in your OP) is the key to the recent training for ward councils. Would that we all could learn those lessons!

    (On the practicality of safety in the building, we have three wards meeting in ours — as a parent I have no idea who is there beyond our ward, and I don’t know everyone in my own ward. I am aware of a case in another jurisdiction where the offender is not allowed to attend church by the legal authorities.)

  12. Paul,
    You raise an interesting point. Different places (and different crimes) have varying laws as to how close offenders can get to children. I don’t know the legal constraints on this individual, I just hope priesthood leades do, and act accordingly.

  13. mmiles,

    its an interesting question.

    I see two kinds of sex offenders. Dangerous ones and the non-dangerous. How to determine the difference is really hard. I generally speaking lean towards banning dangerous sex offenders from Church buildings. I have actually been involved in and successful at getting local authorities to ban particular sex offenders from Church buildings. After my exp in my old ward I am much less trusting about this topic. I and a few others in PH leadership in my area actually run background checks anytime anybody raises a concern about anybody or we get suspicious.

    As far as liability is concerned I can imagine that juries in civil cases would be inclined to grant large awards to plaintiffs who were the victims of sex offenders who had lost their minder and gone out and abused a child say up on the stage. I could see personal liability for a SP, Bishop, Bishops Counselers etc whomever had a hand in permitting the Perp to attend and designed a program that failed to contain the Perp. In the current legal environment leaders need to be really really careful and the fact that your leaders are not actively pursuing anything with the perps in your ward is a real recipe for disaster.

  14. What about being home taught by a brother on a sex offender registry? Though we have no minor children in our home at present, I am uncomfortable with this particular situation. The home teacher in question frequently arrives sans companion. Am I being unforgiving when I make myself unavailable for appointments?

  15. prometheus says:

    re: 14

    The way I see it, home teaching assignments that makes one or both parties feel uncomfortable ought to be changed. There is a difference between not connecting with a person and genuinely making another person feel uncomfortable and I think that in the latter case, the assignment just needs to change.

  16. StillConfused says:

    I married and LDS man in May and we were the cooks on the Trek in June (the whole reenactment deal). When spouse said what the food was going to be, I asked “What about the gluten free folks, what about the lactose intolerant, what about the vegetarians, what about the vegans?” As this trek was out in the middle of no where, the participants were at our mercy for the food. I took over the “special needs meals” — quinoa noodles instead of spaghetti, coconut milk yogurt, rice bread, vegan meat and cheeses. It was so popular that we had a run on our boca burgers but the non-vegans! We have received tons of compliments from the entire stake about our sensitivity to those with dietary restrictions. Makes me happy.

  17. I absolutely agree that we need to be conscientious of the special needs or dietary requirements of our ward.

    However, I draw the line at child molestors and rapists. I absolutely can. not. go. there. I was raped as a child and then later as a teenager (twice). For any member of the church to insist that I must take the sacrament in the same room as one of these monsters to truly be a disciple of Christ is spiritual and emotional abuse.

    Sexual assault is similar to murder. There is absolutely no way to deliver restitution to the victim. And without restitution for the victim, forgiveness is nigh impossible–at least it is for me. I have permanent and irreversible damage done to my physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies. I don’t believe that I will ever be able to completely recover or heal from what happened to me.

    I will never knowingly attend church in the same building as a rapist or child molestor nor will I allow any of my children to attend as well.

    And for the point raised in #13, I can guarentee you that if there was a register sex offender who assaulted one of my children or myself on the church grounds I would certainly take legal action against any church leadership who knowingly allowed this individual to attend our ward without providing the members protection.

    I do not think it is unreasonable to expect my church, as well as my children’s schools, to provide a safe environment.

  18. MD,
    I’m sorry for your pain. I hope you find some peace.

  19. Thank you for the reminder in this post. I have become lax of late. What about Primary teachers who let children leave the classroom to go to the bathroom themselves? I was walking down the hallway at church one day when I saw one of my young children running to the bathroom by himself. Considering that I don’t let my children leave Sacrament meeting to go to the bathroom by themselves, I was concerned. This is a hard issue. After reading the comments, I think I am leaning toward court-ordered banning from church buildings for some sex offenders. I really appreciate what bbell does. I would hope that someone in our church building is doing the same.

  20. However, that is not a substitute for any other precautions, and I think it might provide a false sense of security because, as someone else pointed out, you never know who is in the building. I just can see the benefit in some cases.

  21. I’m just a bit uncomfortable with the idea we should, across the board, ban people who “might” be dangerous from fellowship with the saints. It’s true that sex offenders are the most hated in all of society-but some of them I really don’t think would be a threat at church. That doesn’t mean precautions shouldn’t be taken.
    If we did ban them all, are there other sins that we find so repulsive or dangerous as to ban them too?

  22. I don’t think anyone ever said to ban *all* sex offenders.

  23. #22: See #17.

  24. Steve Evans says:

    So there’s no forgiveness for a sex offender, then? What of the rapist who repents — should the congregation not let him back in?

  25. I stand corrected.

  26. Repeat offense among child molesters is common. The recidivism rate for child molesters is nearly 50% over 20 years (rates go up as time goes on), and that only counts offenders that are caught. I believe it is assumed that child molestation is often not reported due to fear and misunderstanding on the part of the children, so I imagine that repeat offense rates are significantly higher than recidivism rates.
    There are some categories that are at a higher risk of recidivism (for instance, those who were never married, chose boy victims, whose victims were extra-familial) as high as 77%, but even the lowest risk categories are near 20%. So with any previous offenders in the low risk category, you still have almost a 1 in 5 chance of recidivism (and probably a higher chance of repeat offense).
    (data source)

    Of these people Jesus said it would be better that a millstone be hung around their neck . . . .

    Of us it is asked to forgive all men. But I think forgiveness can look different in different circumstances. I think in the case of child molestation and sexual offenders there are circumstances where they should be welcomed back to church meetings, but very cautiously. We have been commanded to not turn anyone away from our Sacrament meeting, but we haven’t been told we need to welcome dangerous people into our sunday school program, home teaching program, ward activities, etc. and I think there can be differentiation.

    However, sometimes we don’t have the final say in who gets to meet in the same building as us. In those cases, I think the points raised in this post are very valuable.

  27. #20, yes Stephanie that is my preference. I believe that churches, like schools, have an obligation to protect children from violent criminals.

    If a child molestor or rapist were to attend my ward, my children and I would stop attending church. I would not feel safe for myself or my children–especially for my children.

    Honestly, I think the rights of my children are more important than the rights of a sex offender who has broken criminal and moral laws.

  28. MD,
    I worked in a clinical setting with children. Some children in treatment were not only victims, but had become offenders. One girl age 10 was caught molesting other kids (and hence was in treatment). She grew up-and I think in cases like hers (and many adults) it is entirely reasonable to expect they will not reoffend. Would you disallow these kind of offenders in church too?

    I think it’s understandable, especially in your situation, to be uncomfortable with offenders in the pews near you. However if we can expect in the afterlife to sit with the Lord with all things forgiven, I fully expect people who have done really terrible things to be nearby if they have fully repented, and I’m sure many will. So I’m not sure why we shouldn’t take a step toward that here in life. Certainly, we shouldn’t put people in harms way, but I think we can invite even the vilest of sinners in and do so in a very responsible and protective way. The question is how to do that, and who decides who is not a threat at church.

    I do think the circumstances and feelings of members of a ward, like you, should be taken in to consideration when questions like this arise. It would probably be asking too much, for instance, to ask a victim to sit with his/her perpetrator in church and take the sacrament together, though I’m not sure.

  29. With respect, understanding and sympathy to MD, I don’t think it’s too much to ask members of our wards to try to find a way to forgive and co-exist, even with sex offenders.

    This doesn’t mean we don’t take precautions. We can and must make our churches as safe as possible, but nothing and nowhere is 100% safe, and banning all sex offenders does not ensure that there will be no sex offenses that ever happen in our churches.

    Extending some forgiveness and tolerance to those who victimized others in a similar way that you were victimized might be extremely difficult, but it is a commandment, no less than any other commandment.

    I do know something about this subject, as someone in my family was molested as a child by someone in my ward. It is not easy to forgive. But it is required.

  30. 29: I think that there is a difference between the personal response and the institutional response.

    Individually we are commanded to forgive, but some may take an eternity getting to the point where that can happen. Would that we all had sufficient faith to do it immediately, but that’s part of what this life is for — to LEARN to be like the Savior. And for someone who has been injured, that healing will come through a variety of venues, including spiritual, emotional, psychological and even physical ones. While a trusted friend or priesthood leader might help with some of those, competent medical and mental health professionals may need to help with some, as well.

    Institutionally we have a responsibility to facilitate repentance (through church discipline if necessary), of course, but we also have a societal responsibility to provide a safe place for worship. As has been noted in other blogs, specific guidance to bishops and stake presidents can help with the providing of safety in our buildings.

    It is probably not safe, for instance, to assume that a person who has met with a bishop and confessed is also therefore reformed and “safe”. There’s plenty of literature out there to suggest just the opposite.

    I have no solutions to offer, I’m afraid. I’m not smart enough for that.

  31. It is probably not safe, for instance, to assume that a person who has met with a bishop and confessed is also therefore reformed and “safe”. There’s plenty of literature out there to suggest just the opposite.

    Yeah, whats up MCQ? You just assume that a confession makes a former sex offender “safe”? C’mon!

  32. 31: I did not intend to suggest that was MCQ’s understanding or intent; I apologize if that was unclear. What you quote is just one example of the complexity of the interaction between the ecclesiatical function of the church (eg, helping a sinner to repent) and the providing of a safe place for worship.

  33. It's Not Me says:

    With respect to MD’s perspective, I have to remind myself that victims of sexual abuse heal differently. My wife was violently raped about a year before we met. She moved on with her life, and we’ve been married 20 years. It’s easy sometimes to forget that my wife is probably the exception.

  34. It’s Not Me
    I bet your wife is actually the rule.