Please read this first:
Dealing with real Church history and issues that arise isn’t always pleasant. Overall, our Church history is filled with near-countless stories of faith, integrity and service. For anyone struggling with doubts caused by individual circumstances with unworthy members or leaders, please hold on to the healing that can be found through the Lord Jesus Christ. He lives today and has the power to heal your situation just as He healed those anciently. Also, please consider staying in the Church, or, if you have separated yourself, please come back as soon as you feel comfortable doing so.
On March 19, 2018, MormonLeaks released an audio recording from 2017 of a man alleged to be “Joseph L. Bishop admitting to inappropriate interactions he had with female missionaries while he was President of the Provo Missionary Training Center.”
Three weeks later, on April 5, 2018, 55-year-old McKenna Denson held a press conference accusing former MTC President, Joseph L. Bishop, of rape and explained her role and purpose in creating the previously leaked audio recording. The sexual abuse allegedly occurred while she was serving as a sister missionary at the Provo Missionary Training Center in 1984.
In the audio recording, released on March 19, 2018, the voice of a man believed to be Joseph L. Bishop admits to multiple inappropriate relations, ranging throughout his life from
- “[w]hen I was a young missionary, in Argentina [inaudible 01:15:08], there was a lady.”
- “I remember one when I was in the Bishopric”,
- and “molest[ing]” at least one (and possibly two or more) sister missionaries at the MTC.
The leaked conversation also includes confessions to struggling with “sexual addiction” when serving as president of the Argentina Buenos Aires North Mission (1978-1981), president of Weber State College (1972-1978), and likely executive director of the BYU–Public School Partnership and Area Welfare Agent in Central America.
There is also acknowledgment to being “still very much addicted” when president of the Provo Missionary Training Center from 1983-1986. The voice of the man, believed to be Bishop, explains he worked with sister missionaries “who had been . . . traumatized.” and then laments,
“. . . I was not strong. The last person who should have been in that situation was me. I shouldn’t have been in that position.”1
Three days after the recording went public, a report released by Brigham Young University police revealed that Joseph L. Bishop has admitted to requesting the alleged victim to “. . . show him her breasts . . .” in his “. . . small MTC preparation room . . .” in Provo, Utah.
To learn more:
- Salt Lake Tribune – Former Missionary Training Center president admits to asking a young missionary to expose her breasts in the ’80s, BYU police say, March 21, 2018
- KUTV – Former LDS mission president tells BYU police he asked missionary to expose breasts, March 21, 2018
- Medium – Timeline of the Joseph Bishop Sexual Abuse Scandal
- Deseret News – “LDS Church says a second missionary made sexual abuse allegation against former MTC president”
How did this happen? We have someone who appears to admit to being a sexual “predator” for many years while holding high-level positions in the Church. Positions over thousands of vulnerable young women.
The majority of commentators have latched on to the MTC President scandal as ammunition against the Restoration of the Gospel in these, the Latter-days. We seek to turn the conversation back to the case in point. We do not condone sexual abuse of any kind and are adamant that any guilty party should be brought to justice, regardless of position. At the same time, LDS Answers is one of the foremost champions in defending the Restoration. Our mission is to instill faith in Jesus Christ and stand true to the Prophet Joseph Smith and his teachings.
The purpose of this article is to present a faithful perspective to the MTC President sex abuse scandal. We believe important lessons must be learned from the Joseph L. Bishop story.
1Lesson – We should not place blind faith in leaders.
If the allegations levied against Joseph L. Bishop are true, members must remember that this is not the first time a leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has committed serious sin.
There is evidence that an Assistant President of the Church attempted and likely succeeded, seducing the wife of a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.4
There is evidence that a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy sexually molested a 12-year-old neighbor girl. This leader dishonestly denied his actions until finally admitting his guilt a year later.567
There is evidence that, in Nauvoo, a member of the First Presidency and other high-ranking leaders plotted and schemed to kill the Prophet Joseph Smith10, even threatening young teenage boys with their lives.
Over two millennia ago, there is evidence that a member of the Quorum of the Twelve betrayed the Son of God and delivered him over to be crucified and put to death.11
The list could go on and on and on.
What must we learn from our history?
Our trust must be solely in God and not in man. In JST Mark 9, the Son of God warned against appointed exemplars and teachers that can fall. Even leaders who are in a position to guide the people.
The Prophet Joseph also consistently taught that we must never blindly follow any priesthood leader, even the President of the Church.
“President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel–said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall–that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves. . . .” 12
President Brigham Young echoed the same counsel. President Young taught that no man is capable of entering the Celestial Kingdom who blindly follows his leaders.13
Some say, “I don’t put blind faith in my leaders because I know they won’t do anything seriously wrong.” This statement alone proves they exercise blind faith in their Church leaders.
Blindly following should never be part of the program in the true Church of Jesus Christ.
The Book of Mormon, in the words of Alma who learned wisdom through his experience with his wicked leader Noah, strongly counsels against leader worship.
“. . . trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments.” (Mosiah 23:14)
Note that we should only trust Church leaders who “[walk] in His ways and [keep] His commandments.”
Nephi, with perhaps even more power, counseled after seeing our day in vision:
“Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (2 Nephi 28:31)
Nephi knew by personal experience with one of the priesthood leaders in Jerusalem, Laban, that we must never place our trust in any man.
Is faith being placed in leaders and not in God?
Some testimonies have been shaken or even lost by the accusations levied against this former MTC President, Joseph L. Bishop. This trauma reveals that our faith is being placed in leaders and not in God. Trusting in man destroys testimony.
2Lesson – Leaders should be held accountable.
McKenna Denson, one of the women claiming to have been abused by the MTC President, maintains she reported the abuse to her bishop, Ron Leavitt, in 1984. Leavitt’s response to the press, when asked if he remembered this conversation was “Oh heavens yes,”.
However, Leavitt claims he did not pass on McKenna’s complaints to LDS Church leadership or police. Why? Leavitt explained,
“I didn’t think it had much credence. I wasn’t going to risk sullying the reputation of someone based on that kind of a report.”14
Leavitt’s feelings are representative of a dangerous attitude expressed by many who insist, “Denson’s claims cannot possibly be true. An MTC President would never do such a thing!”
Others wonder whether the wisest course of action is to simply ignore the abuse, cover it up and move on.
Is it permissible to question a man or woman in authority? At what level?
Should someone be condemned for “not sustaining their leaders” if they hold leaders accountable?
The Prophet Joseph Smith is, in our opinion, the greatest prototype of a righteous leader, excepting the Son of God. Throughout his life, the Prophet abhorred priestcraft and leader worship.
On April 6, 1843, a special conference was organized in commemoration of the anniversary of the organization of the Church. On this occasion, the Prophet declared:
“It is my object to ascertain the standing of the first presidency, (as I have been instructed) I present myself for trial, I shall next present my councillors for trial. . . .
“Are you satisfied with the first presidency, so far as I am concerned, or will you choose another? If I have done any thing to injure my character in the sight of men & angels — or men & women, come forward tell of it & if not ever after hold your peace.”15
The Prophet Joseph Smith was not afraid to acknowledge shortcomings or mistakes. He announced before the assembly of Saints,
“If I have done any thing to injure my character in the sight of men & angels — or men & women, come forward tell of it.”
Joseph Smith, the prophet of the Restoration, the head of the dispensation, the President of Church and the greatest man ever to live, excepting the Son, had a better right than any man to frown on criticism. However, even he did not consider himself above the law.
After requesting the Latter-day Saints to present any complaints or concerns, Brigham Young “arose & nominated Joseph Smith to continue as the President of the Church.” President Young’s loyalty to Joseph Smith was a theme that continued until his last breath.
Orson Hyde seconded President Young’s motion and then it was put to a vote. For the first time in the history of the Church, the vote was unanimous!
“Such a show of hands was never seen before in the church.
“—Joseph returned his thanks — to the assembly. & said he would serve them according to the best of his ability.”16
Sidney Rigdon (First Counselor) was then presented “for trial” and sustained.
William Law (Second Counselor) was then presented “for trial” and sustained.
Patriarch Hyrum Smith was then presented and the congregation voted in favor of Hyrum retaining his office.
At the conclusion of this action, the Prophet Joseph Smith humbly proclaimed,
“I do not know any thing against the twelve, if I did I would present them for trial.”
The Prophet Joseph understood that he and his fellow leaders were not “above the law”. To Joseph Smith, “defending the Church” did not mean defending his first counselor, his second counselor or even himself as President.
Defending the Church meant defending the Gospel of Jesus Christ and pointing the Latter-day Saints to the Father and the Son. Here, the Prophet begged his people to place their trust.
Joseph Smith built his foundation on God, not man.
If the members knew of anything he had done wrong, he asked them to “come forward tell of it” that he might rectify the issue. Joseph Smith understood that holding leaders accountable would not threaten the Church, for the foundation he built was founded on God, and not man.
3Lesson – There is a difference between power and authority.
Another important key is the difference between Priesthood power and authority.
For example, note the instruction given in the official handbook of the Church that brethren give ordinances and blessings “by the authority of the priesthood.” Notice that there is no mention of “by the power of the priesthood.”
A leader may hold a certain position, he may be given authority, but whether or not he executes that duty with power depends on one thing: personal righteousness. This is true for fathers, Bishops, Stake Presidents, Members of the Seventy, the Quorum of the Twelve and even the Presidents of the Church. It is their duty to live worthy of their calling but the sad truth is that many do not.
The oft-repeated verses from section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants remind us:
“Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
“Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson —
“That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.” (D&C 121:34–36.)
Is the Son of God warning that many leaders are “called” to positions of leadership, but few live worthy of these callings?
As the Prophet Joseph Smith taught,
“The power, glory, and blessings of the priesthood could not continue with those who received ordination only as their righteousness continued, for Cain also being authorized to offer sacrifice but not offering it in righteousness, therefore he was cursed.
“It signifies then, that the ordinances must be kept in the very way God has appointed, otherwise their priesthood will prove a cursing instead of a blessing.” 17
Cain was called to give sacrifice. He was given authority, but he did not live worthy of his calling.
This principle is reiterated in D&C 107. In a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord taught:
“. . . the duty of a president over the office of a deacon is to preside over twelve deacons, to sit in council with them, and to teach them their duty, edifying one another, as it is given according to the covenants.”
Note the important wording here. The Lord did not say the deacon’s president always performs his duty to sit in council with deacons, to teach them their duty and edify one another. Only that it was his duty.
Is this also true for other callings such as MTC Presidents? Could it be possible that Joseph L. Bishop be called to serve as the President of the MTC and not fulfill his duty?
While we have no specific revelation on MTC Presidents, we do have revelations on positions of leadership such as the Quorum of the Twelve and the Presidents of the Church. For example, the Son of God clarified that when a man is called as a President of the Church, it is his duty to be (among other things) a prophet, seer and revelator.
“the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses—
“Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church.” (D&C 107:91-92)
The Lord always declares the leader’s duty but never promises priesthood holders will live worthy.
Note that the wording for even a position considered high, such as President of the Church, is identical to the wording of what is considered to be a lower position, like the deacon’s president. In every case, the Lord declares the leader’s duty but the Lord never says that priesthood holders will live worthy of their duty. This is true for the deacon’s quorum president and it is also true for a position like President of the Church. Again, the Lord did not say the President of the Church was a prophet, seer or revelator. Only that it was his duty to be such.
As we illustrated earlier, Richard L. Lyman who was excommunicated in 1943, lived in an adulterous relationship while serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the previous 18 years. Was Elder Lyman living worthy of his calling to be a prophet, seer and revelator?
We know John C. Bennett “was seducing young women”18, the very same behavior Joseph L. Bishop is accused of, while serving as Assistant President of the Church and mayor of Nauvoo.
Do all leaders fulfill what is expected of them? A few verses later, the Lord clearly states that some succeed. Some fail.
99 Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.
100 He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand. Even so. Amen.
The Lord has made it unmistakably clear in the revelations that any leader, high or low, can fail in his station. The Lord has even made provision to try leaders, including presidents of the Church.
82 And inasmuch as a President of the High Priesthood shall transgress, he shall be had in remembrance before the common council of the church, who shall be assisted by twelve counselors of the High Priesthood;
83 And their decision upon his head shall be an end of controversy concerning him.
84 Thus, none shall be exempted from the justice and the laws of God, that all things may be done in order and in solemnity before him, according to truth and righteousness. (D&C 107:82-84)
Too often, many members imagine that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints operates by “magic”. Somehow, every leader is perfect. Every calling is inspired and every man fulfills his duty. No agency is exercised, no freedom of choice allowed. In contrast, the testimony of history testifies that many are called, but many do not live up to their calling.
Would the Lord truly call a man who, in the end, failed his calling?
Why did the Lord call Judas Iscariot as one of his Twelve Apostles? Was the Son of God deceived by Judas’ true character? Or was He instead reinforcing: “Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm . . .”? (2 Nephi 28:31) The Lord knew at the time of the calling that Judas was a devil, or would become so. (John 6:70)
Some of our leaders are placed there to lead us and others of our leaders are placed there to test us.
4Lesson – Victims must be protected.
Sexual abuse is a horrific ordeal for all victims. The First Presidency and Presidents of the Church have been extremely clear that sexual sin is next to murder, in seriousness.
Those whose purity is violated, against their will, should receive our deepest compassion and unflinching defense. Sexual abuse should not be ignored or covered up.
In 2015, a study was released claiming that “Americans have grown increasingly tolerant of people with views or lifestyles that differ from their own, even when those views are highly controversial . . .” However, in our quest for tolerance, have we made friends with sin while betraying the victims?
We would recommend listening to the leaked audio recording between McKenna Denson and the man believed to be Joseph L. Bishop. You will witness sin and its horrific consequences, through the lives of its victims.
According to the audio recording, the man believed to be Bishop confesses to struggling with “sexual addiction” and being “still very much addicted” when the president of the Missionary Training Center from 1983-1986.
Man: I have this sexual addiction, what can I say? . . . I kept fighting, and I kept trying to pray and this and that and everything else to get over it. . . . I think at that time I was still very much addicted. . . .
McKenna Denson: You were really struggling?
Man: Oh my. I have struggled. I have struggled my whole life on this very issue. . . . I used to say to myself all the time, I’m a hypocrite.
Have you ever heard someone ask, “Why is God so angry and vengeful in the Old Testament? Why is God so harsh, so vindictive against sin in the Doctrine and Covenants? Where is the loving, unconditional god our culture advertises?”
Why is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob angry and vindictive against sin?
We would submit, God and His laws care for and protect the victims. Our culture has deserted them.
In the audio recording, the following exchange between Denson and the man believed to be Bishop reveals:
McKenna Denson: Did anybody from Salt Lake ever tell you that you were accused of sexual assault.
McKenna Denson: You were never disfellowshipped, had a counsel?
Man: I felt I’d repented. I’d confessed.
. . .
McKenna Denson: You confessed about me?
Man: I don’t know about I confessed all of my sins to Elder Wells when I was in the mission. But anyway, let me apologize.
If the allegations levied against Joseph L. Bishop are true—what would have happened if someone had put an abrupt end to Joseph L. Bishop’s leadership in the Church? Instead of covering up immorality, what if it had been dealt with?
What life could McKenna Denson have had?
What life could Denson’s daughter have had?
What about Joseph L. Bishop and his own life of regret, misery, and shame?
What kind of life could Bishop’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren have to look forward to today, if sin had been taken seriously?
Whose testimonies would not be shattered and broken?
What would have happened if sin had been “cut off”, as the Son of God advised?19
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana20)
Though this ordeal is heartbreaking, this is an important time for members of the Church to evaluate true principles and doctrine.
In a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith on September 11, 1831, the Lord appointed every member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with the duty to judge and purge iniquity from the Church.
“For it shall come to pass that the inhabitants of Zion shall judge all things pertaining to Zion.
“And liars and hypocrites shall be proved by them, and they who are not apostles and prophets shall be known.
“And even the bishop, who is a judge, and his counselors, if they are not faithful in their stewardships shall be condemned, and others shall be planted in their stead.” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:38-40)
It is easy to point fingers, to complain regarding the actions of this member or that leader. Each of us could re-evaluate what we are doing personally to help build the Kingdom of God, in the way the Lord desires.
- “Transgression in the Latter-day Saint Community: The Cases of Albert Carrington, Richard R. Lyman, and Joseph F. Smith. Part 2: Richard R. Lyman.” Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 37, no. 4, 2011, digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1067&context=mormonhistory.
- “Richard R. Lyman.” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_R._Lyman
- For more information on the adulterous affair between John C. Bennett and Sarah Pratt, see the documentary film, “Unlocking the Mystery of the Two Prophets.”
- Fletcher Stack, Peggy, and Kristen Moulton. “Former LDS Leader Dies – George P. Lee » Navajo Rose to Prominence before Being Ousted for ‘Heresy’ in 1989.” The Salt Lake Tribune, 29 July 2010, archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=10413194&itype=storyID.
- “George P. Lee.” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_P._Lee.
- “Former LDS General Authority George P. Lee Passes Away.” GOOD4UTAH, 29 July 2010, www.good4utah.com/news/local-utah-state-news-/former-lds-general-authority-george-p-lee-passes-away/218648123.
- Matthew 26:14-16, 24-25, 47-49; John 13:2; Mark 14:10-11; John 12:4, Luke 6:16
- History of the Church, by Joseph Smith, Vol. 5, p. 19. Address of the Prophet to the Relief Society, reported by Eliza R. Snow Smith.
- “The Privileges and Blessings of the Gospel.” Journal of Discourses, by Brigham Young and George D. Watt, Vol. 1, p. 312.
Full statement from President Brigham Young:
“Who has influence over any one of you, to cause you to miss salvation in the celestial kingdom of God? I will answer these questions for myself. If brother Brigham and I shall take a wrong track, and be shut out of the kingdom of heaven, no person will be to blame but brother Brigham and I. I am the only being in heaven, earth, or hell, that can be blamed.
“This will equally apply to every Latter-day Saint. Salvation is an individual operation. I am the only person that can possibly save myself. When salvation is sent to me, I can reject or receive it. In receiving it, I yield implicit obedience and submission to its great Author throughout my life, and to those whom He shall appoint to instruct me; in rejecting it, I follow the dictates of my own will in preference to the will of my Creator. There are those among this people who are influenced, controlled, and biased in their thoughts, actions, and feelings by some other individual or family, on whom they place their dependence for spiritual and temporal instruction, and for salvation in the end. These persons do not depend upon themselves for salvation, but upon another of their poor, weak, fellow mortals. “I do not depend upon any inherent goodness of my own,” say they, “to introduce me into the kingdom of glory, but I depend upon you, brother Joseph, upon you, brother Brigham, upon you, brother Heber, or upon you, brother James; I believe your judgment is superior to mine, and consequently I let you judge for me; your spirit is better than mine, therefore you can do good for me; I will submit myself wholly to you, and place in you all my confidence for life and salvation; where you go I will go, and where you tarry there I will stay; expecting that you will introduce me through the gates into the heavenly Jerusalem.
“I wish to notice this. We read in the Bible, that there is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars. In the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, these glories are called telestial, terrestrial, and celestial, which is the highest. These are worlds, different departments, or mansions, in our Father’s house. Now those men, or those women, who know no more about the power of God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, than to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding, and pinning their faith upon another’s sleeve, will never be capable of entering into the celestial glory, to be crowned as they anticipate; they will never be capable of becoming Gods. They cannot rule themselves, to say nothing of ruling others, but they must be dictated to in every trifle, like a child. They cannot control themselves in the least, but James, Peter, or somebody else must control them. They never can become Gods, nor be crowned as rulers with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. They never can hold scepters of glory, majesty, and power in the celestial kingdom. Who will? Those who are valiant and inspired with the true independence of heaven, who will go forth boldly in the service of their God, leaving others to do as they please, determined to do right, though all mankind besides should take the opposite course. Will this apply to any of you? Your own hearts can answer.
“Do you know what is right and just, as well as I do? In some things you do, and in some things you may not know as well; but I will explain what I mean, in the following words—I will do all the good I can, and all I know how to do, and I will shun every evil that I know to be an evil. You can all do that much. I will apply my heart to wisdom, and ask the Lord to impart it to me; and if I know but little, I will improve upon it, that tomorrow I may have more, and thus grow from day to day, in the knowledge of the truth, as Jesus Christ grew in stature and knowledge from a babe to manhood; and if I am not now capable of judging for myself, perhaps I shall be in another year. We are organized to progress in the scale of intelligence, and the least Saint by adhering strictly to the order of God, may attain to a full and complete salvation through the grace of God, by his own faithfulness.”
- Jones, Chris. “Woman Who Accused MTC President of Sexual Assault Has Been Telling Her Story for 3 Decades.” KUTV, 22 Mar. 2018, kutv.com/news/local/woman-who-accused-mtc-president-of-sexual-assault-has-been-telling-her-story-for-3-decades
- JS, “President Joseph Smith’s Journal,” Journal, 4 vols., Dec. 1842–June 1844, p. 50-51.
- Ibid., 52.
- Sermon 5 October 1840 Monday Morning, Original Manuscript, in the hand of Robert B. Thompson
- “one charge was seducing young women, and leading young men into difficulty—he admitted it—if he had let young men and women alone it would have been better for him.” “Municipal Court.” Times and Seasons, 15 May 1844, p. 539. Brigham Young testimony in Multiple.
- Joseph Smith Translation, Mark 9:40-48
40) Therefore, if thy hand offend thee, cut it off; or if thy brother offend thee and confess not and forsake not, he shall be cut off. It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, to go into hell.
41) For it is better for thee to enter into life without thy brother, than for thee and thy brother to be cast into hell; into the fire that never shall be quenched, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
42) And again, if thy foot offend thee, cut it off; for he that is thy standard, by whom thou walkest, if he become a transgressor, he shall be cut off.
43) It is better for thee, to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell; into the fire that never shall be quenched.
44) Therefore, let every man stand or fall, by himself, and not for another; or not trusting another.
45) Seek unto my Father, and it shall be done in that very moment what ye shall ask, if ye ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive.
46) And if thine eye which seeth for thee, him that is appointed to watch over thee to show thee light, become a transgressor and offend thee, pluck him out.
47) It is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God, with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
- The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense. Scribner’s, 1905: 284.