Why does Heavenly Father allow men, who He knows will sexually abuse youth under His stewardship, to be called to positions of authority in the Church?
Hi there Roger,
This is a very valid question and indeed a troubling one at that for a large number of Latter-day Saints and even just people in general. The fact that you ask it shows how seriously you take the Law of Chastity and I applaud you for that. Any priesthood leader who holds authority (i.e. Priesthood Keys), be it a Bishop, Branch President, Young Men’s President, Stake President, Mission President and so forth, are certainly held to a very high standard of obedience since a part of their calling is to be the example of obedience to everyone over whom they are appointed as stewards.
I wonder if another way to phrase your question might be “would God really knowingly put someone in a position where they will most certainly harm those under their stewardship?” Either way, I believe the answer is no. Trust is a huge thing with God and He knows who He can trust and who He can’t. Keep in mind that there’s a difference between 100% certain revelation from God in a calling and a church leader mistakenly thinking he has received revelation to call another priesthood leader who (unknown to the one giving the call) will grossly violate that calling. As President Holland has said before, “Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we. And when you see imperfection, remember that the limitation is not in the divinity of the work.”
But the fact that you used the word “allow” in your question suggests that you have a firm faith that He doesn’t cause evil, but merely allows it; that the evils that God allows to exist sometimes does not equate to Him making those bad things happen or being responsible for them. Another explanation of this is in answer to the question that ideologically wraps around this one, “Why does God allow evil in the world?” In the context of callings of Authority, there are a few reasons.
One is to expose sin at it’s worst in a manner consistent with the severity of the sin.
There was a double mission fireside in the mid 2000’s where then Elder Nelson was presiding over the reorganization of a Stake. One of the members of the new Stake Presidency was a man who many in the Stake knew had grossly abused his stewardship as a Bishop over tithing funds and even defrauded and manipulated several members of the Stake over a number of years. When Elder Nelson announced his name over the pulpit, several members loudly expressed their horror, raised their hands in opposition and some even stormed out saying they would never come back to church again. Afterwards, when things had settled down, those members who opposed, as encouraged by church policy, approached the current Stake Presidency about their concerns, the man was found out, was immediately released from the calling and was excommunicated along with his entire family.
That man likely would never have been found out if the option to put him in as a member of the Stake Presidency had never been put forward. It was the Lord’s divine engineering of exposing his sinful behavior in the most embarrassing manner possible, proportional to the severity of his transgressions.
Another reason He allows it is to show that no human flaw or sin is beyond the scope of the healing power of our Savior Jesus Christ.
One young man in Utah, who I’ll call Gary (not his real name), had a particularly harrowing experience. True story. He lives in Utah and many years ago his dad had co-ownership in a business that ended up going very wrong. The other two co-owners chose to make some decisions that were very morally and financially unethical and when the IRS found out, those two fled, abandoned the business and left Gary’s father to try and clean things up. Because the man had integrity, he did not run away but tried to clean up the mess and negotiate with authorities. The authorities didn’t believe him and the attorney who was assigned for the prosecution was the Bishop of Gary’s aunt. The Bishop had previously been approached by the aunt who asked for financial help with her own problem and the Bishop offered an exchange that if she would testify against Gary’s father (her brother) he would help her. When she found out it was her brother she was being asked to testify against, she of course refused, but the Bishop was still able to falsely manipulate the case against this Gary’s father and he was jailed for several years for a crime he didn’t commit. Because of this Bishop’s poor ethics, Gary’s dad was put before a Church Disciplinary Council to see if he should be excommunicated. He was found innocent before church courts and right before he was jailed, he was able to baptize his son. Naturally, through the remainder of Gary’s childhood he had a difficult time with feelings of anger toward the Bishop who wrongfully got his dad imprisoned.
The happy ending to this story? When Gary was on his mission, he felt the transforming power of Christ’s atonement in the counsel from a modern prophet, where he read that in order to fully repent of his own sins, he needed to forgive others of their own committed against him. It hit him like a ton of bricks and in his heart he found the ability to truly forgive, not just the unethical Bishop, but others in his life he didn’t want to feel at odds with anymore. He and his dad have a good relationship today, he his happily married with at least one child and his faith continues to thrive and God was able to teach him how to more fully forgive his enemies.
I would also recommend reading the talk “Infuriating Unfairness” by Elder Renlund in April 2021. He talks about how Christ compensates for the injustices caused by people in authority.
The examples you have seen that inspired your question – where the God allowed someone to be called who lead to disappointment, trauma and pain in others’ lives – are certainly intensely heartbreaking and frustrating, but regardless of the circumstances, the one thing we know we can be assured of is that, as Preach My Gospel teaches, “All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” Every leader in a position of authority who abuses that authority, if they don’t fully repent, will pay a much harsher price than those who commit that same sin without authority. As you already know, God does know everything from beginning to end. He also knows every single possibility that could happen with each choice we are presented with and has, through the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ, already provided means for complete healing for every sexual sin any person in authority commits (or that anyone at all commits). This preparation is because He knows that mortal weakness will cause some bad things to happen, but He has planned ahead for every possible outcome and has provided us as His children a means to prevent or, if not, overcome or balance out (with Christ) every injustice that we or anyone else commits.
Thanks for having the courage to bring this up.