Confidential annotations on membership records

One day what4anarchy told me that every membership record has a place for a bishop’s eyes only, in which a bishop can put comments about the member for other bishops to read. In this way, the thoughts of the bishop can be passed on to the next bishop. This means that if a certain bishop didn’t like you or had suspicions about you, he could put those suspicions in the annotations of your membership record so that when you get to your next ward and bishop, the new bishop can then look upon you with the same suspicions that the previous bishop had. In other words, you became blacklisted.

Now, I’ve never seen such an annotation, never having been a bishop, nor have I confirmed this with other people, but I did ask my own bishop about it and he said that it’s not really a place to write remarks about the member, but a check box to call the previous bishop for concerns about the person.

Who did I believe? Well, to be honest, my bishop was young and brand-spanking new when I asked him, so I assumed that he still didn’t know all about it. My trust remained with what4anarchy, but also expanded to believe that there was also such a check-box that my bishop described. I left it at that, as I still didn’t have confirmation of what4anarchy’s assertion.

That is until tonight. I just came across an LDS Newsroom – Child Abuse article, in which two paragraphs in particular caught my attention:

Since 1995 the Church has placed a confidential annotation on the membership record of members who previously abused children. These records follow them to any congregation where they move, thereby alerting bishops not to place them in situations with children. As far as we know, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the first religious institution to create such a tracking mechanism. We hold the family sacred and protect its children. This explains why the Church is one of the few denominations that imposes formal ecclesiastical discipline on mere members (as opposed to official clergy) for sexually abusive conduct.

Our Church applies this tracking system because of our core beliefs. No court in the United States has held a religious institution responsible for failing to protect its members from abuse by other members. To do so would turn religious institutions into police instruments, its leadership into law enforcement officers. The Church voluntarily tracks its membership, not because of the law or fear of lawsuits, but out of its own concern for families and children.

I find it interesting that the newsroom article calls it tracking. What makes me wonder is if the tracking system is used for more than just convicted child abusers. Are other convicts also tracked? What about people who have not been found guilty of any crime, civil or religious, but who are held in suspicion by their ecclesiastical leader? Does he write a note in the annotation section to the next bishop concerning his suspicions? The newsroom article doesn’t say. But I find the whole tracking system worrisome. Surely, the potential for such a confidential annotation to be used to blacklist suspected or disliked members is there.

This talk of tracking also brings to my mind a new trend in the church: temple recommends with bar codes. Are we seeing an emerging pattern?

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