Matthew, Mark, Luke, James, and John–all apostles and disciples of Christ–all authors of books in the New Testament, must have been touched by Jesus’ interactions with children; because all five of them wrote about it. At first glance you may not think that’s a big deal, but when you consider that Matthew and Luke are the only ones that wrote about the birth of the Savior of the World in the New Testament, it garners a little bit more attention. FIVE apostles wrote of Jesus Christ’s interactions with children.
This is significant.
Matthew wrote that when the disciples gathered and asked Jesus who the greatest was in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus called a little child unto Him and set him in the midst of them (Matthew 18: 2).
Matthew, Mark, and Luke were so impacted by that same instance, that all three wrote of it. Matthew and Luke wrote that when people began bringing their children to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them and bless them, the disciples of Christ tried to rebuke them for it. But Jesus stopped them and taught:
Mark continues by writing: And He took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them. (Mark 10: 16)
John writes about the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, where the Savior fed five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish. Of course we marvel at the miracle when we read about it in John Chapter 6:9. Today as I was pondering the event, it struck me differently. Out of the 5000 people that were gathered, I’m pretty sure there were others that had brought food for the long day. The time was close to the Jewish feast of Passover after all. But out of the 5000 that were gathered, Jesus chose a child’s humble offering to perform His miracle.
In fact, ALL of the recorded miracles Jesus performed when He was here in divine/human form was done in the presence of the least of these (Matt 25:40). He never performed them to the religious leaders, the privileged, the powerful. He performed His miracles and shared His Gospel in front of the most vulnerable, least powerful, least privileged, most oppressed. He valued, talked to, taught, and validated the women, the children–the outcast and discarded peoples of society. The ones that were seen and not heard, the servants, not the served–the homeless and the nameless sent to the outskirts of their communities by the societies that oppressed and bore them.
Everything Jesus did while He was here is a constant lesson to us.
When Jesus performed the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, he did it in front of two women–Mary and Martha. But before He performed that miracle, He mourned with them. He participated in their anger and grief. He felt what they felt. He heard their laments. He knew how important it was for them to be heard and listened to, validated and mourned with. Later on, the Savior of the world revealed the most important truth of the New Testament to the woman Martha: I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. (John 11:25)
When the Pharisees haughtily brought the woman before Jesus and told Him she was caught in the very act of adultery, I think first: “Pharisees…ummm, where is the dude?” But when that passes, I consider the things Jesus did in comparison to the things the Pharisees did in contrast:
- The Pharisees apparently went out looking for an adulterer to trap Jesus with, and knew where to look, because they found one “caught in the very act.” Jesus was hanging out and teaching people at the Mount of Olives.
- The Pharisees brought only the woman before Jesus, and repeatedly called her an adulterer and a sinner. At no time did Jesus call the woman a sinner or adulterer. In fact, Jesus ignored what the Pharisees were saying.
- The Pharisees mocked Jesus (by calling him Master, something they did not believe) and then tried to trap Him by quoting the Law of Moses and asked Jesus what to do. Jesus ignored the mocking, and continued what He was doing.
- The Pharisees kept mocking and pushing. Jesus kept ignoring the Pharisees; in fact, He calmly stooped down, went eye level with the woman, and started writing in the dirt.
- The Pharisees did not let up, so Jesus finally rose up and said He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her, and then He went back down to the woman’s eye level and continued writing in the dirt.
- The Pharisees took their time to realize what just happened; then one by one, being pricked by their own consciences, left, until it was just Jesus and the woman. Jesus addresses the woman directly and said woman where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? When the woman said No man Lord (recognizing He was Lord by the way) Jesus said Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
- The Pharisees put the personal responsibility of sin and the judgement of another’s sin with themselves. They took another person’s condemnation upon themselves. Jesus put the sin and responsibility for that sin with the owner of that sin and Himself, and He Himself did not condemn her.
This is particularly significant to me today.
My dear friend Sam Young, founder of ProtectLDSChildren.org, a cause I believe in very much, and support with my whole heart, was sent a disciplinary council letter of excommunication day before yesterday from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He is invited to appear before the council on September 9; although it is not necessary that he attend.
I have a huge problem with others thinking they have the right to make eternal decisions about a person in a “disciplinary council” without necessarily feeling it appropriate that the person in question even needs to be present for.
Sam is a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Church I also belong to. Sam is a bishop in Houston Texas. He has served in the Church for most of his life. He started a grassroots movement from a simple desire to set right a damaging policy that the church has of adult men (bishops) meeting with youth alone for “worthiness interviews.” When two of his daughters were asked inappropriate sexually charged questions behind closed doors by bishops in his wards (of course without his knowledge), he became infuriated and galvanized to action.
Being a faithful church member, he did what he was taught: to respect the hierarchy, and go up the chain of patriarchal command. But nothing happened. The interviews and damage kept happening. Nothing changed. He tried for years to provoke positive change for this damaging policy using “the appropriate channels.” With time, he learned of the larger, significant ugly culture of abuse, shaming, unhealthiness culture and sexual abuse that stemmed from the worthiness interview policy. Sam saw no other choice but to start his grassroots movement called ProtectLdsChildren.org; and garnered immediate support from people like me all over the world. Stories started pouring in from all over the world–thousands of people signed the petition he had penned; to end the practice of adult ecclesiastical leaders meeting with children alone behind closed doors. Along with signing the petition, people shared horrific stories of sexual abuse and sexually charged and inappropriate experiences. Hundreds and hundreds of stories piled into his website about church-protected chronic sexual abuse. Many hours were spent reading and sobbing over these harrowing stories. Experts, therapists and organizations weighed in with education; supporting what we already know about this toxic and damaging policy. There is no reason for a child to be alone in a closed-door room with an adult leader (who is not the child’s parent). I have seen articles touting research that shows benefits of ecclesiastic and religious leaders in a youth’s life, and I am all over that, but in no way does the research include having children alone in a closed-door room with an adult that is not the child’s parent. We don’t allow this in ANY OTHER SECTOR of our lives because of safety for all concerned. We don’t allow strangers to do it. We don’t allow teachers to do it. We don’t allow coaches to do it. We don’t allow physicians or other medical professionals to do it. Why? FOR THE SAFETY OF OUR CHILDREN.
Sam knew and understood this.
He decided to put our stories in three bound books. He organized a march, and presented the books to be given to any of the apostles or prophet (via a church employee). Sam’s Stake President called him to his office and told him that Elder Christofferson had read them.
This is awesome news. When you know better you do better right? At very least Elder Christofferson knows now.
I am story #521.
There are more coming in every single day. As of this writing, 664 accounts of sexual abuse have been reported to the website.
Six hundred and sixty four accounts of sexual abuse have been reported to the website.
There are hundreds more that go unwritten and unreported.
On July 27, 2018, Sam started a personal hunger strike–a fast–for all of the children that had been hurt, abused, or even committed suicide. He had a simple request. He brought two chairs to a location across from temple square in Salt Lake City, one for himself and one for an apostle or the prophet. And each day, he called on them by hierarchy (from the junior apostles to the senior apostles, then the presidency and prophet) to come sit with those who had been hurt by this policy, and with him; so we could feel heard and validated by the apostles and prophet.
He wanted the apostles and prophet to mourn with those who mourn. (Mosiah 18:3)
He invited them one by one to come, like Christ would, to the least of these, and administer the balm of healing and listening.
Sam did what Christ would have done.
None of the apostles or prophet showed.
Sam fasted for 23 days. I joined him for three of those days.
After they did not show up, and after he had looked into the eyes of so many people who had come by to tell Sam their own personal abuse stories, and they mourned together, he decided impromptu one evening to wash the feet of the people who were sharing their harrowing stories of abuse. He thought that it was the least he could do for us, to show us that we were deserving of this healing. Many tears were shed. Healing began and things were let go of from people who had been carrying around the pain of abuse for decades. He continued washing the feet of the survivors for the remainder of his fast.
The church has said that children are always allowed to request an adult to accompany them in their worthiness interviews, but I am living proof that is a lie. They did not do this for me, and did not do this for our two older girls. They did release the following statement:
First of all, the last part of this statement is glaringly incorrect. “Further meetings with him?” Sam tried to get meetings with any of them for years. He spent thousands of dollars trying to gain an audience with them. Our church leaders are unattainable to us members. How in the world can church members agitate for change when there is no system in place to do so? Bishops and stake presidents are bound by what the policies are from higher up the patriarchal chain. It always, not just sometimes, always stops there. This is a serious issue. Members of our church cannot meet with our own prophet or one of the apostles. Surely their calendars aren’t that booked solid. Sam was willing to wait months…a year. The best a member of our church can do is call the public relations office. That’s it.
Sam said that a general authority called him on July 27th to talk him out of the fast. Finally, after years and thousands of dollars trying to go through “normal channels,” he gets a call from a general authority. But Sam quickly learned that the policy would not be eliminated. Further, there were caveats: Sam was never to disclose who the general authority was. Sam has stayed absolutely true to his word, and the church got to release the above statement saying that “further meetings were not necessary” (I suppose a telephone call now counts as a meeting. Good to know).
No matter your views or how you feel about Sam’s actions, the excommunication letter and the way the church has dealt with all of the above, this has brought up some key issues that center around some contrasts and comparisons.
How the church deals with things versus how Christ deals with things.
Disclaimer: obviously this is my interpretation, and I only have the church’s actions from official statements and actions, and the teachings of Jesus from the King James Version of the Bible and my upbringing in the mixed faiths of Mormon and Lutheran traditions to pull from. I know none of the church leaders personally, nor am I a biblical scholar. I haven’t read any other texts that relate to the life of Jesus outside of my mixed faith scope (although I am reading everything I can get my hands on by a biblical scholar by the name of Bart Ehrman).
I begin with a series of honest inquires:
Would Christ have let a member of His flock starve for 23 days? Even if you think Sam is a “lost sheep,” wouldn’t Christ have still gone after The One? Further, what if church leaders were to consider at least 664 of us as the “lost sheep” that have been separated from the flock. Would Christ not come looking for us and be concerned about each one of us?
With us is where Christ is.
When one of His sheep were lost, Christ would leave the rest of His entire flock, sometimes for days and days, so He could search for The One. That one individual sheep was THAT IMPORTANT to Christ.
It was particularly touching to see McKenna Denson joining Sam throughout his Salt Lake City fast (She was there all three days I attended). McKennah is the woman who filed a lawsuit back in April 2018 after tapes leaked (not by her) that proved what she has known for over 30 years–that Joseph L Bishop, the leader of the missionary training center in Provo Utah at the time, sexually assaulted her, another woman, had a history of sexual assault; and the church knew and covered for him for decades (As of this posting, Joseph L Bishop is still an active, temple-recommend holding member of the church). McKenna is articulate, intelligent, assertive, kind, and genuine. Her face showed real sincerity when I shared my story with her, and she hugged me tight each time we parted. She connected with me on Facebook and checks on my well-being from time to time. This genuine love and concern is coming from a woman that is under the most brutal of all microscopes: the Mormon Judgement Microscope.
Anyone that has been excommunicated or labeled an apostate by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints can probably confirm that along with this “Court of Love” and harsh title comes the honorary title of “Anti-Christ.” Ask any news savvy true blue Mormon what they think about John Dehlin, Sonia Johnson, The September Six or Kate Kelly, and I’m sure you will hear vilification at its “cruelest and nicest.” (Bless their hearts). Anyone that has gone through the excommunication process (or similar), especially in the public eye, has faced the loss of community, family, livelihood, and personal worth. It takes a toll on their overall health. It is an act of violence, not love. Unjust excommunication is to love as rape is to love. Non-comparable, wrong, and should be ripped out of the world. There’s no reason for it.
So as I personally ponder this entire issue, and wonder what I should be doing myself, I ask: “Where is Christ?”
Because that’s where I should be.
Is He unavailable to meet with me, even though I may have tried for years to do so through my bishops, Stake presidents, area authorities, and general authorities?
Does He send a general authority at the last minute to speak with me, but only for His church’s best interests, not mine or His, with caveats that I not tell anyone who the general authority was?
Does His PR department then issue the incorrect and disingenuous statement saying “I already know how you feel, thanks,” and then wave me off?
Is He willing to let me go hungry and suffer for my cause, even if His church may not agree with it?
Is He asserting to the world that He never needs to apologize for anything ever?
Is He taking away my eternal membership in His Church for standing up for what I really believe is an unjust and damaging policy instead of rebuking and removing the child abusers and rapists currently still holding leadership positions in His Church?
Is He putting the personal responsibility of my eternal judgement upon other imperfect human beings instead of leaving it to me and Him alone?
Is He still willing to allow His children to continue suffering abuse and potentially die under a harmful policy whose effects has now been brought to light by experts and thousands of people who have personally experienced it?
I believe Jesus would not do any of these things. I believe Jesus would rebuke those who wouldn’t be there for His people, especially the most vulnerable. I believe Jesus would not want His church to allow children to be in danger at any time for any reason. I believe Jesus would be out on the streets washing the feet of the survivors; listening, validating, healing. I believe Jesus would call the children unto Him and set them in His midst.