Friday, February 9, 2018

Big surprise. Mormon bishops were no help to Rob Porter's ex wives...

Only yesterday, I became aware of the latest scandal in Washington, DC.  This time, it involves rising political star Rob Porter, Harvard graduate, Oxford graduate, and former LDS missionary in London. Until a couple of days ago, twice divorced Rob Porter was serving as the White House Staff Secretary.  He was presumably "brilliant" and "very good at his job".

But then allegations came out about how he'd abused his ex wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby.  Porter was forced to resign his position.

This morning, I read an article in the Salt Lake Tribune about how Mormon bishops were "no help" to Porter's ex wives when they sought assistance.  Although the LDS church claims that it has "zero tolerance for abuse of any kind", apparently the women were advised to consider Porter's "career ambitions" when they reported his abuse, which was documented in police reports and photographs.

Frankly, it doesn't surprise me at all that the bishops weren't that helpful.  Mormon bishops are typically upwardly mobile church members who don't necessarily have any professional training in counseling or providing aid to abuse victims.  Many bishops are successful doctors, lawyers, or businessmen.  They aren't schooled in providing social services or therapeutic interventions.  Moreover, all Mormon bishops are men.  These guys are good at making money, looking successful, and serving as "leaders" to their flock.  They don't have a problem being confrontational toward those who stray.  When it comes to providing compassionate care toward those who really need it, most of them are probably lacking the skills and insight.

This doesn't necessarily mean that I think Mormon bishops are universally bad people.  I'm sure there are many good men who are Mormon bishops.  It's just that their life's work isn't in the clergy.  They are, first and foremost, people who usually work outside the pastoral field.  Those who are businessmen would naturally be focused on ambition and moneymaking.  That's what has brought them success.  If they were interested in providing counseling, they would have become counselors.

For its part, the LDS church's spokesman, Eric Hawkins, states that "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."  Okay... but how much instruction do they actually get?  And is that instruction really a substitute for what professional clergy get when they go through school?

Although I have never been LDS, I have been pretty close to the culture for many years now.  It seems to me to be a very patriarchal belief system.  All of the highest leaders are men, mostly white people, who have enjoyed successful careers and "look the part".  Because Mormonism requires so much participation among church members, the men have the chance to interact in church and community activities.  They may form friendly bonds which might lead to sympathy toward the man.

Professional counselors are trained not to be sympathetic.  Instead, they are trained to be empathetic.  There is a difference between sympathy and empathy.  Many people are naturally sympathetic.  Case in point, I saw a lot of sympathy directed toward Kelsey, the thirteen year old whose hair was chopped off at her father's behest, and her mother, Christin Johnson.  Sympathy is feeling sorrow toward someone who is experiencing hardship.  There is nothing at all wrong with that, of course.

Empathy, on the other hand, is the ability to put yourself in another person's place and understand why he or she took certain actions.  A counselor must be empathetic so that they can understand why a person does what they do.  It doesn't mean they agree with the action.  It just means that they have the objective insight to understand it.  Someone who is sympathetic cares about another person's suffering.  An empathetic person "gets" why they are suffering and is available to help them solve the problem that causes the suffering.

It's often a lot harder to be empathetic than sympathetic.  Professional counselors-- people who make their living helping others with personal problems-- are trained in empathy.  Mormon bishops may be well-meaning and get rudimentary training in counseling techniques, but most of them aren't experts in compassion.  A lot of them are, instead, experts at making money.

Also, the LDS church has its own "family services" staffed with people who are probably appropriately educated; however, those working within the church's family services are bound to present assistance in accordance with its teachings.  In fact, on the church's official Web site for its Family Services program, it's even written "LDS Family Services helps Church leaders care for individuals with social and emotional challenges by providing resources that are in harmony with gospel principles."  In other words, any help you get from them will very likely be entirely church approved.  Given that the church is very concerned about its image and rewards people for looking and acting the part, it seems to me that legitimate help might be hard to come by, particularly if a situation involves a high ranking or high profile man like Rob Porter.

Now... that doesn't necessarily mean that there aren't competent and caring counselors working for the LDS church.  I'm sure there are some fine people who provide counseling to church members.  However, since they are working for the church and are bound to provide help that is "in harmony with gospel principles" and the church is very patriarchal and image conscious, those counselors may be hamstrung as to what they can do without risking their jobs.

Anyway... Rob Porter claims that these two women are lying about being abused.  He claims he's being "smeared".  There is evidence to the contrary... and... he is certainly working in an administration that seems hell bent on promoting the interests of white males.  It'll be interesting to see where the truth lies in the coming weeks.


  1. This is compelling.

    I'd love to hear what Mitt has to say about this (even if what he said wasn't necessarily what he really thought). Still it would be interesting. My guess is that Mitt would come down hard on the guy to avoid making the church look any worse than it already looks because the evidence itself is enough to smear the guy. He doesn't need the ex- wives to do the job.

    Way back in the day - as in before the mid 1960's -- new bishops and I think their wives as well were sent to SLC for training of some sort for roughly two weeks. It's hard to duplicate what is learned in two years or so that would be a minimum requirement of a candidate for a pastorate at a mainline church (I'm not talking about the fundie Baptists and everyone south of there. all they have to do is type and print up a certificate of some sort) in as little as two weeks, but at least it what SOMETHING. I don't know if they train them at all anymore other than telling them to read the handbook. The new bishops possibly have to sign the "mandated reporter of child abuse" document that child care workers, teachers, coaches, and others have to sign, but I don't really know. In some cases a person has to sit through a short computer video before signing the document, then take an exam that most people's dogs could pass, but some bishops probably just tell their wives to take it for them.

    1. I think a lot of lip service is paid about not condoning abuse. It’s not unlike things that go on in the military. The official word is that abuse isn’t tolerated. The reality is that it is tolerated and even celebrated sometimes.

    2. Where LDS Inc. is concerned, I would suspect,without having read nearly as much about him as I would like to read and will read in the next month, that rob Porter has not been a very devout member of the LDS church for several years at least. The church is happy to use the publicity of him being lDS as long as things are going well, but chances are that they'll distance themselves from hium fairly soon. I wonder if he and either of his wives were devout enough as church members to even have consulted a bishop. (Not having read as much as I should, I haven't read the official accounts. Did both marriages or either marriage
      take place in the temple.

      I'm now veryintrigued by this story,most of which is really none of my business except that porter served in a high government position, and we as citizens have some right to expect people we're paying to fill such positions to uphold the law.

      Gawd, I'm really curious now.

    3. According to the Salt Lakr Tribune, both ex wives consulted their bishops. They either weren’t believed or the bishop took no action.


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