In part 1 of Voluntary Tithing and Mis-Informed Consent, we explored the question of whether or not a person who enters into an arrangement voluntarily can ever be considered a victim of a crime. The examples of Sherlock and the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme clearly establish that just because someone does something voluntarily does not absolve a third party to the action from guilt under certain circumstances. Deception and threats transform a consensual transaction into something unethical at best and criminal at worst.
As discussed previously, to the extent that the payment of tithing is done because of fear of the negative consequences, it may be said to be the result of coercion. By definition, such payment is not a sincere expression of a cheerful giving heart, because if the threats were not there – the member would not pay. While those who no longer view the church as a legitimate authority for spiritual matters may look back to their tithe paying days and only see a system of coercion, most members would likely state that they do not pay tithing primarily because of those negative consequences (softer term for threats). They would state that their obedience to the Law of Tithing is a sincere expression of their love and devotion to God and would do it despite any positive or negative promises. The mere fact that it is God’s Law is sufficient for them to comply.
At this point it is important to examine just how people come to the knowledge that tithing is, in fact, God’s law. If a person chooses to obey such a law it is because they have been informed of it from a source that they trust. Their compliance with that law is then a voluntary action made out of informed consent. What exactly are the components of such informed consent?
A few of my readers may know that I am a doctor. As a physician, when I recommend that a patient undergo a medical procedure it is incumbent upon be to inform the patient of the risks, benefits and alternatives of the procedure so that they can voluntarily choose or refuse to undergo the procedure. This is called obtaining “informed consent” from the patient. It is an essential aspect of an ethical patient-physician relationship. If I willfully provide faulty information or fail to provide pertinent information which may have led the patient to make a different choice, then I may be guilty of negligence or assault.
There are many aspects of my interactions with patients in this regard which help inform them adequately in giving their consent. This includes the trust that they place in me to be a competent medical professional with adequate knowledge and experience as well as the validity of the medical research that informs the risks and benefits that I review with them and the accuracy of diagnosis for which the procedure is recommended. All of these are essential elements in obtaining permission to enter the relationship with the patient where I as a physician see them at their most vulnerable and work to practice the healing arts in which I am trained. I can illustrate this by providing some alternative scenarios.
Suppose that I was advising a patient that she should have her leg amputated be cause of a serious infection. I inform her of the various studies which show that while there is a small risk of complication associated with the amputation procedure itself, there is a much greater risk of the infection spreading in her bloodstream to the rest of her body if she doesn’t undergo this amputation. After weighing the decision, she decides to voluntarily undergo the amputation.
Trust the physician?
Now suppose we look at the same scenario with one difference. I provide all of the same information as above, only I also inform her that despite the white coat that I am wearing and my horn rimmed glasses and clean cut appearance – I have never been to medical school, never actually treated a patient with her disease and have never performed this procedure before. Would she still consent to allow me to perform the procedure? Would you? If it was in fact true that I did not have the training or experience to qualify me to operate, but I did not inform her of that, she would still voluntarily choose to undergo the procedure. In reality, as soon as I undertake to intervene on her physically – I have committed a form of assault.
Trust the provided information?
Now suppose that we look at our baseline scenario, but again change one element. I provide all the same information about the risks and benefits, but I also tell her that the studies I quoted risks from were fictional and that there was no real data about the risks and benefits of the procedure. Would she still consent to the amputation? Would you? If those studies were fake and I failed to inform her of that fact, she would voluntarily choose to undergo the procedure. In reality, again I would have committed assault upon her by proceeding.
What is not provided?
Now suppose that we again look at our baseline scenario, but again change one element. I provide all the same information about the procedure, but this time I also tell her that there is another study which shows that simple administration of an IV antibiotic would have a 99% chance of healing her leg good as new. Would she still choose to undergo amputation? Would you? Clearly this very pertinent piece of information would dramatically change the decision the patient would make. If I deliberately withheld this information, she again would have voluntarily consented to the procedure. In reality, again, I would have committed assault by operating on her.
“Voluntary” is not the issue
In all of the above deceptive scenarios, the patient voluntarily chose to have her leg amputated. This was because the same information was given to her in each instance. In each instance we changed certain features which made the representations of the doctor fraudulent in regards to data which is essential to the patient giving informed consent. Whether or not the patient consents of their own free will does not matter. The thing that matters is whether the physician honestly and completely discloses all of the information which can allow the patient to make a decision from a position of knowledge rather than a position of ignorance. For a physician to deprive a patient of this knowledge is malpractice.
Assault is the crime of the physician if they operate in this example because they would be affecting physical damage to the patient’s person against the standard of informed consent.
The relationship between a church member and ecclesiastical leadership has many parallels to that of a patient and physician. Both have protected confidentiality status. Both are built upon notions of trust. In both instances, the individual is exposing some of the most vulnerable aspects of their life to another person. The concept of “informed consent” does not begin and end at the sliding doors of the hospital entrance. It is an essential part of any ethical ecclesiastical relationship. To illustrate this, lets examine an analogous religious scenario.
Baseline scenario – The Church of Lunology
Suppose there was a religion called “The Church of Lunology” in Australia founded on the teachings of its founder Luno Hubber. Luno claimed to have received hidden knowledge about the origins of the Aborigines and produced a book describing the events of that history and doctrinal teachings from God about how to live and the means of salvation. He declared himself to be a prophet. The Church of Lunology grew in size and numbers till it filled the land of Australia – every city had a local parish.
As part of it’s doctrine, the Church of Lunology taught that the pinky finger was Satan’s contribution to the creation of man and was the primary source of man’s corruption. When teaching a potential new convert, the parish leaders and instructors would inform the investigators of all of the various aspects of church doctrine, the means of salvation, God’s plan for his children and the afterlife, but the pinky finger prohibition was one of the last points of doctrine taught. Church members could only join after agreeing to have their pinky fingers removed, surgically, as a rite of initiation. Members born into the church had their pinky fingers removed after 12 years of age, since this was considered the time at which a child could weigh the options and choose to officially join the ranks of church membership.
Members who take the lessons and agree to join knowing full well the requirements of membership can be said to be voluntarily consenting to the demands of the faith. There are few things that can be done with a pinky finger that cannot be done without one. Any difficulties are considered sacrifices that prove devotion to God. If you can purge evil in this manner and join in fellowship with others who you find to be inspirational and give you strong community support – then why not. If all the pertinent information has been given to potential members and they still choose to undergo pinky finger amputation, then their informed consent is legitimate and there is no element of fraud or deception.
Now lets look at some hypothetical scenarios to illustrate the duty of informed consent on the part of the church leaders instructing potential members. Keep in mind that the principles illustrated pertain to existing members as well, since informed consent is a concept that does not disappear once someone has joined a group.
Trust the Founder?
Take the baseline scenario and modify it one way. Suppose that Luno Hubber, the founder of the church who produced almost all of the doctrine and scripture of the church – including the requirement for pinky amputation, had a court record of being found guilty of having practiced fraud on people in the years before he declared himself to be a divinely called prophet. Suppose that the method of his fraud in that case was the same as the method he used to produce his book of ancient scripture. Suppose that Luno was also known to be engaging in counterfeit of currency and marrying multiple wives without the knowledge of his first wife (against his own teachings). If these facts which directly relate to the trustworthiness and character of the founder of the religion were disclosed to those people investigating the church – would they still join and get their pinky fingers cut off? Would you? If they deliberately withheld this information from investigators who then joined and underwent the amputation voluntarily, have they provided informed consent?
Trust the claims?
Now take the baseline scenario and change a different aspect. Suppose that included in the teachings of the Church of Lunology was an ancient scriptural story that the Aborigines were descended from Vikings whose great knowledge of ship building allowed them to traverse the vast oceans a thousand years ago when they populated the island continent giving rise to the vast aboriginal civilization. They brought many types of animals with them.
Now imagine that Luno Hubber himself and subsequent leaders have taught this claim and used it to inspire faith and membership among the aborigines. Modern scholars in genetics and archeology find that there are absolutely none of the genetic markers that would be expected from Viking ancestry in the DNA of the aborigines. Furthermore, they do find close genetic markers from south Asian ancestry – closer both in geology and geography to the aborigines compared to the vikings. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the various animals described in Luno’s ancient scripture existed on the continent since tens of thousands of years before the time depicted in his scriptures. It was a commonly held belief that those animals existed on the continent at the time Luno produced the ancient record because the first colonists had brought them with them and they spread through out the continent well before Luno had even been born. The Church of Lunology knows this because their own funded scholars find the same conclusions.
Suppose that they disclose all of this information to any potential investigators. Would those potential converts still believe that the ancient record is a true text and that the man who produced it was of divine calling and authority? Would you? If they deliberately withhold this information from those investigators, have they provided adequate informed consent?
What is missing?
Now take the baseline scenario and modify it another way. Suppose that one of the scriptures that Luno produced was a translation from a 1,000-year-old aboriginal parchment which was found in a cave in the desert of Australia. It was written in a form of aboriginal writing which was unknown at the time that Luno acquired and translated the documents. Years later, a separate tablet was found that had examples of this old aboriginal writing as well as other written languages, all stating the same thing (similar to the Rosetta Stone). Since scholars knew the other languages – they were able to crack the code of the ancient unknown writing and were then able to translate many of the old parchments, cave inscriptions and engravings which were previously indecipherable. When these scholars then looked at the parchment that Luno Hubber had translated years before – they discovered that the translation was completely different from what Luno said that it was. Absolutely unrelated.
Now suppose that the modern day Church of Lunology knew about the disparity between Luno’s translation and the modern scholars translation, because they had trained and hired many of the scholars who translated them. Suppose that they disclose all of this information to potential new members. Would they still want to join the church? Would you? If they deliberately withheld this information from potential converts, who then joined the church and had their pinkies amputated, did the leaders provide informed consent?
In each of the above scenarios, if the Church of Lunology had disclosed the information, chances are that many investigators would choose not to join the church and lose their pinkies. There would likely still be a few who find the truths of the doctrine and the fellowship of the members and their own feelings about the church to be sufficient for them to choose to still join, pinkie free. Those individuals would have chosen under informed consent. To the extent that any of that information was not disclosed to the investigators, informed consent was not obtained.
It should be clear that The Church of Lunology is just an analogy of the LDS Church in the above example. I apologize for the laborious effort to displace the example from the mormon church, but adherents to any religion tend to view other people’s religions with a different standard from their own. I was hoping to allow faithful members a chance at seeing things from a more neutral perspective. Revisit the above scenarios and substitute Joseph Smith for Luno Hubber, his ancient texts for the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham, the Native Americans for the aborigines and the ancient Jews for the Vikings. To complete the picture, replace the amputation of a pinky with the payment of tithing.
Some people might argue that paying tithing is not the same as having a pinky amputated. I agree – but they are equivalent from the perspective of an individual’s rights. Each of us has life, liberty and property. Any time we are deprived of any of those through deception or misrepresentation, a crime has been committed against us. A surgery taken under false or misleading representation would be considered assault and money or property taken under such deception would constitute fraud.
LDS members are instructed in honesty from the Gospel Principles manual as follows:
” When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest. The Lord is not pleased with such dishonesty, and we will have to account for our lies. Satan would have us believe it is all right to lie. He says, “Yea, lie a little; … there is no harm in this” (2 Nephi 28:8). Satan encourages us to justify our lies to ourselves. Honest people will recognize Satan’s temptations and will speak the whole truth, even if it seems to be to their disadvantage.” (“Honesty” Gospel Principles Manual, LDS.org)
If the church withholds pertinent information that bears directly on the trustworthiness of its founder and prophets, it’s scripture and it’s authority, then they have not met their own standard of honesty. Apostle Boyd K Packer has famously stated:
“There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.”
(“The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect” Boyd K Packer, byu.edu)
If something is true and it may effect the decision of an investigator or member to join or continue in the church, then it is a violation of their free agency to withhold it from them. It is the moral responsibility of any church leader to disclose any such information. For any leader to chose not to do so is to exercise a paternalistic attitude towards the members, believing that the leaders own choices supersede those of the members in matters that are personal to the members themselves. True free agency can only be exercised when people are given a true choice informed by all the pertinent factors. The tree of knowledge of good and evil can only in fact empower men to legitimately choose if they are given sufficient knowledge to make an informed decision.
Anything less is misinformed consent and a violation of the members rights.
The recent fraud case brings up many challenging issues for faithful Mormons. Many have tried to simply dismiss the case because they believe that since the payment of tithing is voluntary, the church cannot be held accountable for what it teaches. This mistaken conclusion is based on the idea that when something is “voluntary” then the person who makes that choice bears all of the responsibility for the decision. I hope to have demonstrated that this is not the whole picture. The example of informed consent in the medical profession provides a clear framework for understanding how the honesty and openness of an organization in providing all pertinent information to investigators and members is essential. As a Mormon when you are interviewed for personal worthiness to obtain a temple recommend you are asked if you are “honest in your dealings with your fellowmen?” If the Church wishes to set the example for it’s members in honesty it will disclose “the whole truth, even if it seems to be to their disadvantage.” (lds.org)
At this point I want to invite any of my readers, present or former Mormons, to add their names to an open letter which is a plea to the Church leadership to increase in openness and transparency in dealing with these challenging issues for members and investigators alike. As the church begins to do so, families divided over such issues will have an opportunity to heal and the church members will increase in knowledge and their continued involvement in the church will come from a position of informed consent.
Please read and sign the letter at MormonOpenLetter.com