Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mormon Myths and Adoption Records

Lorraine’s post Mormons on Meeting Your (Birth) Child generated many comments about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ position on single mothers, adoption, and reunion. We encourage our readers to read the excellent letter on Feverfew from “M” correcting some of the statements about LDS beliefs. “M” identifies herself as a lifelong Mormon “who is currently attempting to live the precepts of the LDS faith while reconciling my adoption experience with the gospel of Jesus Christ. While I consider myself to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, I don’t consider myself to be a typical “Mormon” by any means because I tend to question with boldness the very existence of God.”

As many of you know, my daughter Rebecca was adopted by Mormons. Early in our reunion 12 years ago, I tried to learn about the Church. I’ve come to the conclusion that LDS Church leaders, like clever politicians, don’t take positions on issues when they don’t have to. Much like the platforms of political parties, the Church has core doctrines. These doctrines came from God via the first prophet, Joseph Smith, and have been “clarified” by subsequent prophets or presidents as they are also called.

Like political parties with their National, State and Local Committees, elected officials, candidates, precinct people, and the like, the Church has lots of “authorities”: second presidents, the Quorum of 12, the Council of 70, the president of the Relief Society, stake presidents, bishops, staff at LDS Family Services (which handles adoptions), and finally priests (every temple worthy male). These people (all men except for the president of the Relief Society) make statements about what Mormons should or should not do (have tattoos, for example – a definitely should not). But these statements are not Church doctrine and Church leaders disavow them if necessary. On the other hand, the doctrine is complicated and Mormons themselves may be confused about Church teachings or, in attempting to apply them, reach erroneous conclusions. Critics of the Church may twist statements by Church leaders much as Fox New Anchors distort remarks by Democratic party leaders, adding to the confusion.

As far as I can tell, the Church has no official positions on adoption or reunion although it strongly encourages adoption (“Placing the infant for adoption through LDS Family Services helps unwed parents do what is best for the child. Adoption is an unselfish, loving decision that blesses the birth parents, the child, and the adoptive family”) and discourages reunions.

As I have written here, LDS Family Services is a major player in the National Council for Adoption (NCFA), the leading opponent of open records legislation, comprising a quarter of its member agencies. The Church however, has never taken an official position on opening records, leaving it to LDS Family Services to carry the water. (Rebecca explained to me that opposition to opening records could not be Church doctrine because keeping records closed would not help prepare the world for the Second Coming of Christ).

I know that if the Church prohibited reunions Rebecca would not have spent over 10 years looking for me. On the other hand, the statement by a reader explaining why a Mormon woman might refuse contact with her surrendered child which started the examination of LDS teachings is undoubtedly also true. "I wonder if many of these (possibly) Mormon mothers still feel alone, isolated, and wholly unworthy of speaking out or seeking contact. The social stigma of being an "unwed mother" still looms large in the LDS church, even if you were an "unwed mother" decades ago - it is a label that will never leave you in this culture.”

Post script. The Church recognizes that members may be confused about church doctrine. After I posted the piece above, I ran into an article from the LDS Church News reminding Mormons to stick to Church-approved documents when preparing Church lessons and activities. According to the article, the Church has prepared a "correlation" in which "we take all the programs of the Church, bring them to one focal point, wrap them in one package, operate them as one program, involve all members of the Church in the operation — and do it all under priesthood direction." The article discouraged Mormons from consulting "unofficial lesson plans, resources and information found in books and on the Internet."

19 comments:

Melynda said...

Jane -

For not being LDS, you certainly nailed it on the head when you said, "I’ve come to the conclusion that LDS Church leaders... don’t take positions on issues when they don’t have to." I am terribly impressed as I could not have said it better myself.

In one way, it is a very good thing as it allows for each member to follow the dictates of his or her own conscience. On the other hand though, it leaves an awful lot of room for people to (mis)interpret the silence on various matters and then force their views onto others simply because they are in a position of authority or prominence.

Much like human nature itself, there seems to be a duplicitous, paradoxical nature to this whole LDS Family Services adoption stuff. Clearly it is a systemic issue, but is it doctrinally bound? I am still trying to figure it out and if/when I do, I will certainly "return and report."

M.

maryanne said...

Good post, Jane. An added complication for Mormons is that they have no trained clergy, unlike other churches. Their Bishops (similar in duties to a pastor in other churches) are laymen who are "called" to the post by "inspiration" of the next higher level. They have no training in doctrine, counseling, scripture beyond that of any other male LDS member.No seminary, no degree, just a calling! They are, to say the least, a mixed bag.

They maintain their full-time jobs as accountants. dentists, executives, plumbers...while also serving as Bishop of their ward (congregation). They are just guys, and they are not bound to secrecy like Catholic or Anglican priests in confession.

One of the duties of these untrained Bishops is "worthiness interviews" starting around age 12, where these men ask young teens pointed questions about their sex lives, among other things! This is a recipe for abuse and disaster, and also a reason why any young LDS person who has committed any sexual sin might well feel unworthy, guilty and judged, Getting pregnant and Homoseuality are the big ones, although masturbation is also condemned and makes one "unworthy" of getting a Temple recommend which is needed to participate fully in Mormon ritual.

The Improper Adoptee said...

"(Megan explained to me that opposition to opening records could not be Church doctrine because keeping records closed would not help prepare the world for the Second Coming of Christ)."

What does that mean? Is she saying that having the record's open is part of what would make the world so evil, that Christ had to come back? Myabe you could help me understand what your daughter meant if I am wrong. Ty

Jane Edwards said...

Improper Adoptee asked what I meant when I said: Megan explained to me that opposition to opening records could not be Church doctrine because keeping records closed would not help prepare the world for the Second Coming of Christ."

According to Megan, the LDS Church is preparing the world for the Second Coming. The only matters the Church takes positions on are those which would in some affect His return. Thus, it supports things that would hasten the return and opposes things that would retard the return. Opening records would neither hasten nor retard the return.

Consequentially, Megan was sure that the Church had taken no position on opening records. Allegations that the Church opposed opening records were false.

Anonymous said...

As far as I know, the LDS policy on adoption was published in a Letter from the First Presidency in June 1998.

I have not found a direct copy of that letter, but I have found this:



Ensign » 1994 » September
Guidance for Unwed Parents
By Elder Monte J. Brough
Of the Seventy

"Every effort should be made in helping those who conceive out of wedlock to establish an eternal family relationship. When the unwed parents are unable or unwilling to marry, they should be encouraged to place the child for adoption, preferably through LDS Social Services. … Unwed parents who do not marry should not be counseled to keep the infant as a condition of repentance or out of an obligation to care for one’s own. … When deciding to place the baby for adoption, the best interests of the child should be the paramount consideration.”

So, LDS policy is that babies born out of wedlock should be surrendered, and that mothers should be bullied until they do surrender. This happens frequently at the hands of the LDS agency in my area, who do everything they can to prevent mothers from keeping their babies, including all sorts of emotional blackmail.

David Frey said...

I am a man (and a husband), a Mormom (member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) and an adoptive Dad of two wonderful children.

My name is David Frey. You can email me at hdavidfrey (@) gmail.com.

We adopted our children through LDS Family Services.

Here is my personal experience.

1. Yes, LDS Family Services encourages unwed young women to put their child up for adoption. After many many many years of experience, it has been found that the best place for "most" babies is to be raised by a mother and father in a home where there is a stable relationship and adequate financial resources. Young women are lovingly counseled, not bullied.

2. Bishops might be untrained in the sense that they didn't attend a "bible training school." But having been a member of over 30 years and working side by side with many Bishops, I can tell you first hand that they fulfill their roles as church leaders as good or better than any non-LDS church leader.

Since when was an ecclesiastical leader in the bible required to be a guru in doctrine or scripture. Jesus called men of faith, conviction, and love. The Bishops I've served with fit that bill.

And Yes, there are "Bishops interviews" in the LDS church. These interviews help our youth to understand what God expects of them and it also impresses on them the seriousness of violating God's commandments. It's no wonder that "most" LDS kids are drug free, sex free, and gang free. Bishops interviews are just one very small part that contributes to the success rate of LDS teens. I thank God EVERY DAY that my son and daughter are a part of youth program of the church. I'm not sure my wife and I could do it alone.

3. Finally, I'm not familiar with the open records issue and how it affects church doctrine (or vica versa). But I can tell you from one LDS parent that I look forward to the day that our children get to meet their birth parents. Not only do I look forward to seeing my children hug and kiss their biological Moms and Dads, but I will hug and kiss them too. They gave me something that we couldn't give ourselves. Two of the best children that God has ever sent to this earth.

All the best.

David Frey

P.S. Here is an online video that I created (The Dad a daughter are me and my daughter!)

www.25DollarMovie.com

Lisa Cornia Taylor said...

I am a Mormon and a birth mother. I placed my baby through LDS Family Services 25 years ago. Two and a half years ago, my son and I were reunited. Both my experience to place my son and to be united with him have been supported by family and friends in my faith. There is no opposition from the Church to opening adoption records. I was given wonderful help with the records of my son's adoption through LDS Family Services. I was never bullied or coerced in any way to give up my baby for adoption. In fact, when I told my LDS Family Services counselor that I wanted to place my baby, we spent several sessions talking about all the options possible requiring me to seriously consider keeping my baby.

I came to this site looking for a place to connect with other birth parents and to give support to young girls and boys who are currently struggling with this decision. Instead, I feel that my faith has been ridiculed.

Thank you, David Frey, for clarifying some things.

The Mormon church is not the only church out there with untrained clergy, and I am aware of many Christian faiths in which the pastor of the congregation talks candidly with his parishioners. Why single out the Mormons?

Yes, the church encourages single, pregnant girls to either get married to the father or place the baby for adoption, but only because that is in the best interest of the child. However, the statistics for the church are similar to the world - the vast majority keep their children. Those that keep their children are welcomed and loved and given the same support as any other parent in the church.

I hope this helps in some way.
Lisa Cornia Taylor

Jane Edwards said...

Thanks to both David and Lisa for their comments. I hope you will speak out for allowing adults adopted as children the right to obtain their original birth certificates (OBCs) if a bill to unseal birth certificates comes before your state legislature.

While you are correct that the LDS Church has not taken a position on openning records, LDS Family Services and many Mormons have. LDS Family Services' local offices constitue 25 percent of the membership of the National Council for Adoption. NCFA's lobbies throughout the country against allowing adult adoptees to have their original birth certificates.

In 1998, voters in Oregon passed a measure to allow adoptees to have their OBCs. A Mormon attorney representing LDS birthmothers filed a lawsuit to stop the law from going into effect. On appeal, NCFA, represented by the attorneys who represent the LDS Church in Salt Lake City filed an amicus curiae brief opposing the law. Fortunately for thousands of adoptees born in Oregon, the lawsuit was unsuccessful and they have been able to obtain to their OBCs and, in many cases, reunite with their original families.

Suzy said...

I believe that LDSFS only opposes opening adoption records in a time when the placement was mutually understood to be closed in nature. Adoptees and birth parents can have access to non-identifying information according to the statute and policy at the time of the placement. The older the adoption, the less information. I believe that opening sealed information, when all sides were originally assured information would remain non-identifying, would be unethical. However, in the last 10 years or so, LDSFS placements have included differing levels of openness which will probably be reflected in the post adoption search information given when those adoptees/birth parents request records when the time comes. LDSFS also has a clear policy of supporting the mutual consent registry in the state of placement, relinquishment, or finalization.

Jane Edwards said...

Suzy wrote:

"I believe that LDSFS only opposes opening adoption records in a time when the placement was mutually understood to be closed in nature."

Suzy, I appreciate your sincerity but the facts are not that simple. Many mothers were told nothing about confidentiality. Others were told they could learn their child's identity when he turned 18 or 21. Many states did not even seal original birth certificates until the 1950's. Even after the states sealed OBCs, they allowed adoptees to access them. If was not until adoptees began searching in the 1970's that states closed records, largely because of lobbying by adoption agencies and adoptive parents who feared adoptees re-joining their birth families.

Most mothers want desperately to have contact with their children. The adoption industry lies when it says that mothers oppose opening records to their adult children because they fear being "outed."

"I believe that opening sealed information, when all sides were originally assured information would remain non-identifying, would be unethical."

All sides were not assured information would remain non-identifying. Adoptees were infants and had no choice.

Finally assurances which may or may not have been based on the law at the time cannot bind state legislatures for eternity, any more than a statement from a car salesman that a car meets air pollution standards should d prevent states from increasing air pollution standards.

The need for all people to know where they came from is primal. It is cruel to deny this information to people because of ungrounded fears about how others would react.

Jane Edwards said...

Suzy,

Let me add a few more points. Many states passed retroactive laws sealing birth certificates. That is, they sealed birth certificates for adoptees who had been born many years earlier.

Mutual consent registries don't work. People don't know about them and the fees are high. Some states allow confidential intermediaries. Again the fees are high and CIs may effectiely discourage contact.

The issue for many adoptees isn't reunion. It's having that vital piece of paper which is available to the non-adopted.

Oregon, where I live, unsealed birth certificates 10 years ago. Over 10,000 adoptees have gotten their original birth certificates and none of the horrible things that were predicted have happened.

Bruce said...

This is for Lisa Cornia Taylor:
My wife placed a baby for adoption in 1987. We have had no success in finding this child now. LDS Family Services does not seem cooperative. How did you get them to be cooperative? What was your approach, what did you ask for? Thank you
bsmcluster@gmail.com

Stephen Kanzee said...

The LDS church has taken a position on finding birth family members. The Spring 1980 issue of Public Welfare on page 43 reads:

"In Missouri in 1978, an adoptee attempted to gain access to his original records claiming it was a prescription of his religion to do so. In the case of Application of Paul Robert Gilbert 563 S.W. 2d 768 (Supreme Court of Missouri en banc, 1978), the adoptee petitioned the circuit of Jackson County claiming that as a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon)he believed that "in order to be saved and exalted after death every person must trace their ancestry and preform certain ordinances for their blood relatives." Countering this claim was a letter introduced at the original trial from the executive assistant of the Mormon Genealogical Society stating that "the Church accepts the mandate of the law and recognizes that a proper legal adoption constitutes a complete substitution of parents and thereby the obligation of the adopted children is reverted to the adoptive parents." Therefore, the church took no official position in the trial. The petition was denied and the Supreme Court of Missouri affirmed the decision. However, the case was remanded to the to the lower court so that additional evidence could be produced by the adoptee. The case was not pursued."

I think that with the LDS Social Services support for the National Council for Adoption (strong opponents of open records) and the clearly stated "complete substitution of parents" opinion, the LDS Church has been one of the strongest opponents of open records.

Stephen Kanzee
kanzee@comcast.net

violet said...

My name is Danyel, I'm LDS, and I relinquished my son for adoption through LDS Family Services in 1999 (at the time it was LDS Social Services), to a family I love and adore and am so grateful to be connected to now, particularly to be reconnected to my dear son. Since relinquishing, I've married in the temple and had 3 children with my husband. Through the process of trying to understand why I've spent the last 13 years in and out of depression, battling suicidal thoughts, struggling to bond with my babies when they come into our family, etc., etc., I am enduring the pain of realizing I was coerced into relinquishing my son.

I had been raped, but in my guilt believed it was my fault that I allowed myself to let that happen. No one asked me how I became pregnant and all assumed it was my choice. I was punished, being told I would not be allowed to take the sacrament until I was no longer pregnant. My self-image was shattered. I believed no one would ever want to marry me because I had committed the almost unforgivable sin of having sex outside of marriage. Therefore I believed if I parented my son I would deny him the blessing of being sealed in the temple, not only destroying his earthly existence, but also his eternal existence.

Upon breaking the news to my parents, they scheduled an appointment with our bishop on my behalf. Feeling nothing but guilt, I was under the impression this was so I could begin the repentance process. The bishop then referred me to LDS Family Services which I assumed was also part of the process of making things right. I told my family when I was 4 weeks pregnant (early I know) and had intended to parent up until I was seven months pregnant when I finally conceded I would be incapable of providing my son anything other than a substandard life after months of “counseling”. My LDS Family Services counselor, the late Ken Christensen, first asked if the father and I could be married. That was obviously not an option. Then he wanted to talk to about abortion which I told him I was strongly opposed to, to his relief. Then he proceeded to tell me about the “realities” and challenges of parenting. He had me make lists, had me consider what I could and could not provide for my baby. To be succinct, yet complete, this link http://www.exiledmothers.com/adoption_facts/adoption_coercion.html outlines what took place to get me to believe it would be best to relinquish my son.

Out of space. To be continued...

violet said...

Post 2 of 2 from Danyel:

I have more to say, but this is the first time I’ve shared this story and I’m spent. I will say I was “advised” by multiple church leaders (multiple because I kept wanting a 2nd opinion) to never speak of my experience, which not just silenced my voice, it silenced my soul. I am now on the path of rediscovering who in the world I am. I will also say that all the statistics presented to me that adoption works out best for the child and the natural mother have proven to be false. I’ve been emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually traumatized. I’ve struggled to not be afraid to fully love anyone after such a horribly unnatural and unnecessary loss, most especially my children (thank goodness for my wonderfully supportive and patient husband!!), and that includes the son I relinquished. My relinquished son and my children I’m raising are all too young for me to measure the consequences of my choice in their lives. Given its effects in my life I know it can’t all be positive. I’m disappointed the statistical marker for measuring positive outcomes for natural mothers in LDS Family Services is achieving a temple wedding. It is not satisfaction with one’s decision, not future emotional stability and wellbeing, not the ability to move forward in life free of emotional disabilities or mental illness. It’s not even temple MARRIAGE. Just make it to the alter. According to them I am a success story. Thank you for providing a platform where I can speak for myself and say this has been a dismal failure. I’m happy to say I’m committed to being a support and advocate to both my son and his adopted family, helping any of them through the difficult process of facing the harsh realities of having unnecessarily removed my son from his natural family. I love him so much.

Lorraine Dusky said...

Violet Danyl: Your comments are so sad; there is no way for my simply words to stop up the grief, and I won't pretend otherwise. I have asked one of our readers (who also has a blog) who is LDS herself, and a first mother, to respond more fully. She is the Melynda of earlier quotes.

This post is two years old; I hope you will come to the more recent discussions (hit Home) and follow our blog. You may find some solace is just knowing that you are not alone. Our blog is read by (we believe) as many adoptees as mothers, and you may relating to both sides helpful, if not at least interesting.

Thank you for telling your story here. Someone else in your position in LDS may find it and learn from it.

take care--lo

Melynda said...

Violet Danyel - Your story is my story, just fast forward a few years. I relinquished in 1993 and had a very similar experience. **Every** single word is one I could have written myself. I have asked Lorraine to forward you my contact info - please email me so we can connect. Perhaps we can find a way through this together.

M.

Lorraine Dusky said...

Violet Danyl: Let me put you in touch with Melynda, email me at forumfirstmother@gmail.com.

Jane said...

I know that this is an older post. But I have to respond to Danyel and Melynda. Thank you for sharing. My experiences were identical as well.