Here are some thoughts on the McKenna Denson, Joe Bishop, MTC rape incident. As a self-appointed Mormon Apologist, I write frequently on the truth and beauty of the lived Mormon experience. There is nothing true or beautiful about this incident, but I have been asked my opinion several times and have some thoughts.

I do believe McKenna Denson fully. I believe Bishop raped her. I believe she told LDS General Authority Carlos Asay about it. I admit I’m not naturally one to always believe the victim, which should be a default practice, and I kind of didn’t want to believe her and at first felt a little unsure, but the evidence is pretty compelling. Her story is being corroborated. He admitted partially to it, and considering he has been a ‘half confessor’ his entire life, that’s as good as a confession for me.

Something I learned as a late-in-life convert to feminism is that rape victims are usually not believed. Yet are usually telling the truth. Very interesting fact. I did not know that. Now I do. I think the Church and many church members are learning along with me. Poor form for all of us not to know that. But let’s learn from this.

In the original audio and transcript, it was distributed with the description ‘attempted rape’ and Denson accused of ‘trying to rape me’ but stopping short because of not having an erection. I, being optimistic, was wondering if Bishop had decided not to rape her at the last second, which might have been interpreted by Denson as trying to but failing. But later reports show that he actually did rape her, penetrating before he stopped. This is not attempted rape. This is rape. And with this knowledge, I take back any of that original theorizing.

The Church has put out three official statements now. The first one where they referenced her as an Exmormon and as serving a partial mission and saying they were letting the justice system investigate Bishop (absurd since Church lawyers know there was no investigation due to statute of limitations). That first statement was really poor and hurtful. No excuse for it. We need to do better. Subsequent statements have been much better. School of hard knocks, I guess.

I do not believe this nonsense about the Church should have discerned he was a sexual predator and not called him to positions. I don’t think discernment, or any spiritual gift, is an ability to tell the future (or past) with certainty and act on it. This is one of those fundamentalistic views that need to be stamped out.

I’m not sure about the accusation that the Church knew Bishop was a sexual predator prior to being called to be MTC President. He said he confessed to Elder Wells, but he’s a half-confessor, and there is a difference between confessing more normal type infidelity, which it seemed like he had done, vs. confessing sexual predator behavior. I might be missing some information, but I don’t think any of his admitted behavior prior to the MTC would fall in the ‘sexual predator’ category.

I think there is ample evidence that the Church bungled things while Bishop was MTC president and asked Elder Asay for help. And later when Denson went to her bishop and church headquarters for help and for justice and was denied. That’s a hard lesson to learn. A lot of public embarrassment and $5M in a settlement or whatever it will be. But the Church did wrong and needs to repent just like it teaches its members to do. As much as it saddens me that my church is getting embarrassed over this, I’m glad Denson is suing the Church.

The whole leaked dossier thing is also a mess. Apparently the Church hired outside legal counsel on this, and part of that work was to put together a dossier on Ms. Denson, which after being sent to Bishop’s son acting as his attorney, got leaked to the public. In it was information attempting to smear Ms. Denson’s character and even included the name of a child she gave up for adoption. Horrible. Disgusting. It’s possible the Church is not directly culpable for this. But it’s possible they are. And at a minimum, they should have managed their outside legal firm better. Really bad.

Weaponizing. In today’s age of fiercely contested partisan politics, we in our society have a pattern of weaponizing every bit of news to slay the other side. It’s difficult as a Mormon to face this story humbly and admit fault the way we should, because some people are using it as a weapon to beat us just to beat us. So we get defensive and are inclined to defend a sexual predator and the church even when it’s clearly been in the wrong. We need to be better than that. Just because church enemies are capitalizing on this, doesn’t mean that there are not real victims and wrongdoing that needs addressed.

Demanding excommunication. I’m not on board with this. I’ve said before I don’t think the Church should excommunicate anyone for sin. This case is horrible and Bishop should be in prison right now, but I’m not swayed on my position on excommunication. If someone is called in and desires to repent, even if they’re not repenting successfully or don’t even seem very serious about it, I don’t think that person should be excommunicated. People want justice in a case like this, but our public laws and criminal and civil court system are for justice. That’s not the Church’s role, in my opinion. I just don’t see the New Testament Jesus excommunicating someone. I do absolutely think, though, that the Church should flag members who are deemed sexual predators or unsafe characters and not allow them to serve in certain callings.

Most of the details of this case are over 30 years old, and I hope the Church has changed its processes since then to reduce the risk of this type of thing happening. And also for bishops and others to be more responsive in responding to accusations of sexual or other crimes or wrongdoings. But some of the mistakes are happening in real time. That’s very discouraging.

In summary, the whole thing stinks. Jordan Peterson, my new favorite religious philosopher, says that to be Christian we need to take on the sins of the world, feel them, repent for them, and redeem them through right action. As a Mormon, I need to take responsibility for this great crime that’s been committed and perpetuated by my church and repent for it.

My paradigm of Mormonism and my testimony of the goodness of the church doesn’t rely on my leaders being perfect. But it does rely on the Mormon lived experience being true and beautiful. It wasn’t for McKenna Denson. I hope we can face this head on, and do the right thing for her, for others who have experienced similar things, and to stop it from happening in the future.

  1. ‘Apparently the Church hired outside legal counsel on this, and part of that work was to put together a dossier on Ms. Denson, which after being sent to Bishop’s son acting as his attorney, got leaked to the public.’

    Are we even sure that it was the church who hired ‘outside legal counsel?’ This doesn’t sound plausible to me… More accurately, it was Bishop’s son who did in the attempt to clear his own father’s name. Not the LDS Church.

  2. Where was the woman’s missionary companion when all this was going down? During my church mission in 1979-80, my mission president left me alone for a week on two separate occasions due my companions’ becoming ill. But, in the MTC, I went everywhere my companion went, and vice versa. It is almost inconceivable to me that a sister missionary would get called out of class at the MTC to go meet with the MTC president without her companion (or at least ~a~ companion) accompanying her and being in close proximity at all times. And yet, of necessity, these one-on-one interviews would have had to be kept secret from the companion for them to have had such a vile motive. When is someone going to identify and interview the companion?

  3. I knew this woman when she was going by the name June Denson and was married to Todd Denson. She has known issues with this kind of allegation and has spent time in jail for her own fraudulent behavior. If you notice, the news story has disappeared. That’s because at least one call was made to church lawyers to inform them of the pattern of illegal and dishonest behavior from Ms. Denson. Despite whatever weaknesses or indiscretions Mr. Bishop may or may not have participated in, I for one cannot trust what June (aka McKenna) says because of her pattern of behavior. She has gone by many aliases over the years and has hopped all over the country likely due to her own legal and fraud issues. She is not emotionally or mentally well. I feel badly for everyone involved and hope the full truth will come out.

  4. Wow, what great writing. You really put into words how I feel about the church position on Prop 2. I was just reading that 45% of temple recommend holders like me still support Prop 2. Our leaders are very fallible.
    My husband used to be very gullible because he is totally honest and grew up in a good home. Priesthood holders like him are more easily hoodwinked by bad people be they perps or be they pharmaceutical companies trying to protect their turf. This does not negate the Mormon life or experience. Thank you for your writing

  5. Sorry, your article doesn’t convince me. Your church claims to have a prophet who is a seer and revelatory. So your prophet is supposed to see the future. How come he didn’t see this coming? And leaders are supposed to receive their calling by inspiration and discernment. I think the reality of life has shown us in many times that many leaders called by revelation turned out to be bad apples. Just recently some stake president scam a bunch of members from their money using his position in church for trust. It was on KSL news.

    Also, your church has excommunicated a bunch of people in the past few years for apostasy. People who voiced their discontent with church policies and some doctrines. They didn’t rape anybody. Just complained about leadership and policies. How come they can’t excommunicate this man? Yeah, it’s an X file.

  6. Here is a long to an official church document that was leaked showing how the church handles abuse. They don’t contract the authorities. It’s private/kept in secret.

    You can also click on the little icon below on the left corner to see a picture of the document.

  7. All rapists, predators and other sexual miscreants need to be outed, punished and kept away from other human beings. They do not change. Their need for power, control and creepiness is insatiable. It has nothing to do with religion other than a good place to hide. Predators in professional positions of trust are often hidden by those around them, who know, ignore, don’t want to deal with the ugliness or who are guilty themselves, as we have proven in the Catholic Church. We live in a deeply-embedded rape culture. To see 2 grown men removing McKenna Denson from the microphone/stage is sickening. They are the cowards who perpetuate sexual abuse. They protected an obviously guilty rapist and the audience (who needs to know who their leaders really are) from shame. This is wrong. Very wrong. Thoughtless. Criminal. Everyone needs to pay close attention – reading, listening, researching – about sexual abuse. Everyone is learning now. Join in. Wake the fuck up. It could be you, your daughter, your son, sister who is next. Or perhaps they just haven’t told you, yet, that they were assaulted. No accuser wants to live through assault, hiding someone else’s secret, dealing with PTSD (a given) or a court case where the men protect the men. And the laws were written decades ago, when it was legal to rape your wife. Rape is not a religious issue. It’s a human issue.

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