FairMormon has a service where questions can be submitted and they are answered by volunteers. If you have a question, you can submit it at http://www.fairmormon.org/contact. We will occasionally publish answers here for questions that are commonly asked, or are on topics that are receiving a lot of attention. The question and answer below have been edited to maintain confidentiality.
Why would God allow someone who has a hidden history of sexual misconduct to serve in callings such as a Bishop, Stake President, MTC President, etc.? Wouldn’t the Lord warn those making the call?
Answer from FairMormon volunteer Greg Smith:
Thanks for writing FairMormon. I speak only for myself, not FairMormon or the Church.
You ask an important question, and in a sense it is a version of probably the most difficult question any believer in God confronts. Some have said that it is the only decent objection against a belief in God. The question turns on the “Problem of Evil”–that is, if God is good, why does he allow or tolerate, or permit, evil?
As LDS, we have a fairly robust answer to this–we are in a telestial world, which God sent us to with our permission (and even our shouts of joy) to learn and develop in ways we were unable or unwilling to do so in his presence. This necessitates that free moral agent choices be relatively unconstrained–there isn’t much of a test or much of a show of what we’re really like if God swoops in to prevent or punish any abuse of moral agency.
This principle extends, I think, even to Church leaders. We remember, as you note, the case of Judas–Jesus chose him to be an apostle, and yet Judas would ultimately betray him and cause his death. Could God or Jesus have forseen this? Certainly. Yet, Judas was still permitted to make his own choices, and go his own way. Many of the early leaders of the Church also fell into these sorts of difficulties. John C. Bennett in Nauvoo was able to exploit and abuse many people before he was finally discovered.
The Lord warned the prophet Joseph Smith that this principle was in operation in our day. As D&C 10:39 puts it: “But as you cannot always judge the righteous, or as you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous, therefore I say unto you, hold your peace until I shall see fit to make all things known unto the world concerning the matter.”
The Lord typically does eventually reveal (or allow to be discovered) the actions of evil people in positions of leadership, or anywhere else, for that matter. But, they aren’t always prevented from evil acts, and punishment and consequences do not usually come immediately. (In some senses, we ought to be grateful for this, since you and I have likewise made mistakes or even committed serious sins–we are granted a period of time in which we can recognize and repent if we choose to do so. An immediate punishment, discovery, or consequence would reduce the chance for genuine, sincere repentence–when consequences come, people often sorrow, but as with the fallen Nephite nation, all too often the sorrow or regret of being caught and exposed in sin is “sorrowing…not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin.” (Mormon 2:13)
So, those are the sort of ideas that I think need to factor in to any sort of answer or perspective we gain on this type of issue. As I say, it is a difficult one–ultimately, only our trust in God’s justice and mercy can reassure us, along with the knowledge that Jesus suffered for just this type (and all types) of betrayal in our behalf. He is, thus, able to be what Elder Maxwell called “a fully comprehending Christ.” We want and need mercy, but I think these cases show how we couldn’t worship a God who simply overlooked or waved aside all such crimes in others. We want and need justice too. A God who gives a pass to childmolesters and abusers is not one we’d want.
None of this, of course, excuses abuse or bad behavior, or means we shouldn’t expose it. As Joseph Smith told the saints, “Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them…These should then be attended to with great earnestness….Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.” (D&C 123:13,14,17)
Even in Church discipline matters, we don’t just rely on “the spirit”. You cannot simply say, as a bishop, “The spirit has told me you should be excommunicated.” That way lies things like witch trials–accusations against which one cannot defend, and where the innocent are all too easily swept up into condemnation by either the overzealous, or the wicked. One must have witnesses, and evidence, and the accused are permitted to respond to and question witnesses and evidence.
And, we should not overlook the possibility in some cases that a call may be in error, but the Lord permits it to stand because it will reveal necessary truths about the person called.
I hope these thoughts at least provide you the raw material to develop your own answer to this question.
Please write back if we can help further.
Raymond, Alberta, Canada