Tuesday, December 9, 2008

LDS Missionaries and Children: Why Missionaries Are Discouraged from Contact with Them

Children have a natural fondness for LDS missionaries since they are like big brothers or sisters to them. Missionaries are seen as role models or heroes to LDS children. Recently two young elders came to my house for dinner. My nine-year-old daughter tried to step on one elder's shoe in hopes of catching a ride on his foot which was quite large since he was around 6 feet tall.

When my children were young they like to ride on the missionaries shoes who would accommodate them. The missionary would walk around with them on their foot laughing and having a good time. Another thing my children liked to do was to be flipped in a circle in a gymnastic move as a missionary would spin them one direction then the other. Having eight children three or four of them liked to pile on a missionary in harmless fun with the missionary being at the bottom of the pyramid. I as a father was there to make sure it didn't get out of hand. Even during the past few decades missionaries were required to have a chaperone with them if a father or male over twelve was not there to keep them from harmful allegations.

My wife knew that it was against the mission rules for the missionaries to touch my daughter or play with her and told her to knock it off. Not knowing of the rule I asked the missionary if that was really a rule. He said it was. I asked him why they had a rule like that. He said he guessed that someone must have gotten in trouble once but didn't really know just that he was asked not to do it. He said it was a hard rule to follow since kids like to horse around with the elders but most missionaries were obedient to the rule and discouraged the kids.

LDS elders who are nineteen to twenty-one years old have a natural fondness for children. In addition sister missionaries like to play with them or hold them or kiss them particularly little babies. My daughter who served in Korea says in that culture it would be a cultural offense or slight not to take a baby if the mother offered you to hold it or watch the young child for her briefly. Her mission president instructed sisters to do it but get it over with as fast as possible or find an excuse so as not to insult the mother.

Many missionaries come from families with several brothers or sisters or are used to interacting with them in the various congregations back home in which they reside. In a litigious world particularly in the United States and Canada that is no longer possible. Even in most countries in the world it is a no no as the missionary handbook clearly states missionaries are to have no contact with children.

I wondered why the church came up with such a strict policy so I did a little research. Missionaries today should know why the policy developed so they can be more strict about following it. Usually there is a basis for a rule. The Church doesn't come up with a policy without some reason.

Today missionaries are told to strictly keep their hands off of children and they should do it since it could cost them their reputations, money, and or freedom. In the past few years cases have legally arisen that makes it imperative that they not be with children in unchaperoned settings and should definitely not touch them. The Church has for decades said that missionaries should always be with their companions and never alone without a chaperone when a member of the opposite sex is there.

As to the reason behind the policy this is what I discovered on the Internet is a cautionary warning. In 2005 a missionary serving in the Las Vegas Mission was tried for sexual molestation. The former missionary maintains his innocence but the judge didn't buy it. The missionary apparently was watching them in a church setting. In 2008 his probation was revoked when he did not complete the terms of his agreement which called for him to get and keep a job, go to counseling, and serve community service. Now that his probation has been revoked instead of having his record expunged after five years he will face registration as a sex offender for the rest of his life. I discovered the church settled out of court with the mother of two girls ages 4 and seven for about $750,000 and if you add in legal fees about $1,000,000.

It is a traumatic situation for all involved and being the parent of eight children very troubling for me personally with seven daughters. A million dollars or more a case is a big deterrent for getting a missionary to follow a rule. I don't want to get in to the justice part but the church to came up with a policy to make the point emphatic. I am sorry for the trauma faced by both parties and it could have been avoided even with old policies but the new one stresses it outright no contact with children.

I don't know if the missionary in question was guilty or not. I do know the judge revoked his probation saying he didn't buy his story. From what I read at the least I think he suffered from bad judgment. It was not a good situation for all involved. The missionary will have to work out his innocence or guilt with the Lord. Lives were destroyed.

A few questions come to my mind about this case. Where was his companion or other church members when he was babysitting the girls in the cultural hall? Why would a single missionary be put in such a situation by local church members? Why didn't he follow the rule about having a chaperone when with a female of any age? Why didn't his mission companion stay with him? Why didn't he follow the conditions of his probation in his bargain settlement? Has he subsequently received Church discipline?

Another thing I ask myself is why would any other missionary want to put himself or herself in this position in view of what happened. You can debate the innocence or guilt of the specific person above. But no matter the guilt or innocence we have developed a no kid contact policy and everyone should follow it as closely as possible to safeguard the missionary and the church.

Most members have no clue about the rule nor the fact that missionaries themselves have no understanding for the basis of the rule. We need to have our consciousness raised since there could be potential future consequences. This rule is akin to looking at a serpent on a brass pole or conversely in this case not looking at the serpent to remain safe.

I myself think it is a hard rule since missionaries and children naturally have a pure affection for one another but a situation happened that created a problem. It is a shame that one bad apple or allegation about a bad apple can destroy something innocent like kids playing with missionaries. But we must understand and take a safe course.

My feeling now after finding out about this case is it is better to stay away from kids to protect yourself and save the church the potential of having to pay millions of dollars in legal fees. It is sad we live in a sick depraved world but we do. If a situation occurs the Church shouldn't have to suffer from the bad behavior of the person so I understand their having missionaries sign their understanding for the rule. The reality is that since the missionary represents them they have a liability or burden to protect everyone involved.

Missionaries and even mission presidents should rethink having their photos taken with kids in view of this former problem. That might seem like an extreme view but it could be incriminating evidence in a class action or individual suit.

Missionaries need to adhere to the policy more strictly as not all of them know about this former missionary and the cost to the Church. My daughter told me that the Church leaders take the rules in the missionary handbook very seriously and that leaders in the MTC sit down one hour in an exit interview with every missionary asking them to follow the rule and answer any questions after which they ask each to sign a legal document that they understood them and agree to abide by them.

Members need to protect the missionaries and missionaries need protect to themselves by observing the rule. Better safe than sorry. I know it seems to shows an untrusting spirit since Christ suffered the little children to come on to him but if we don't follow the rule the possibilities for damages could be staggering. If Christ lived today even he might be sued for inappropriate behavior in letting children sit in his lap that is the kind of world we live in.


Anonymous said...

The most detailed news article I've read on the case is here.

John Mansfield said...

"Another thing I ask myself is why would any other missionary want to put himself or herself in this position in view of what happened."

Answer: It is overwhelming and impractical to guard against every single bad thing that ever happenned to anyone anywhere. I heard the news yesterday that a man lost his wife, daughters, and mother-in-law when a fighter jet fell on his house. Should I take steps to make sure that won't happen to my family too? Maybe move into a subterranean burrow?

This weekend my wife attended cub scout training, and several people went on about how parents can sue you for anything, speaking mostly out of their hats and out from any direct experience. When they continued in this vein about the liablities involved in first aid or administering prescribed medications, a doctor there for training told them they didn't know what they were talking about; the law and the courts are not as foolish as people who love to be frightened make them out to be.

KingOfTexas said...

Canada and most states have a good samaritan. Some places you can go to jail if you don't help. (911 etc)
The Texas Good Samaritan law says that "A person who in good faith administers emergency care, including using an automated external defibrillator, at the scene of an emergency… is not liable in civil damages for an act performed during the emergency…"

I wouldn't push open heart sergery. Unless you stayed at on of those hotels...

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