The Moral Dilemma of Telling

There is a stigma in our society towards any person that ‘tells’ on someone: if a person sees someone breaking the law, or sinning, and the act does not affect you personally—you simply saw the person commit the sin or break the law, there is enormous pressure to simply mind your own business. If you choose to ‘tell’ those in authority you become a tattle-tale, a snitch, a rat, a traitor, and/or many other denigrating terms that have been created to pressure people NOT to tell and to stigmatize those that choose to do so.

In my book “The Enhanced New Testament” I document the strict moral code of the Jews concerning this dilemma. The Oral Law of the Jews, as documented in the Mishnah, clearly states that a person is obligated to tell someone in authority if they see someone break the law, or sin. Whether it be a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or a stranger, if you see a law being broken (Church and Civil law was the same in ancient Israel), it was your duty to tell. In fact, if you didn’t tell, your omission became a sin. The Jews looked upon those with knowledge of crimes, who refused to come forward, as guilty as those who committed the crimes. If you didn’t expose those who broke the law you were aiding them in their actions:

               Next in importance to the choosing of judges was the reliability of witnesses. It was considered to be an honor and a duty to be a witness. Anyone refusing to act as a witness was shunned and felt to be under the condemnation of heaven.

               Perjury was such a serious sin, the liar would be punished in the same manner the condemned would have been punished. In other words, if a man lied in order to get another man put to death, the man caught in the lie would be put to death in his place!

The establishment of the truth depends not only on the competence and fairness of the judges, but perhaps to an even greater degree on the reliability of the witnesses… To help the cause of justice by acting as a witness was considered to be a sacred duty, and he who…does not testify, is…liable to the judgment of Heaven…

A perjured witness was treated with the utmost severity… ‘Ye shall do unto him as he had thought to do unto his brother’… If anyone be believed to have borne false witness, let him, if convicted, suffer the very same punishment which he, against whom he bore witness, would have suffered. (ET, 307, 309)

 

In my book “Becoming a Great Missionary” I broached the subject as it related to problems between companions:

What to do with a bad companion

Now that we have described what a bad companion is, it is time to talk about what to do with a bad companion. This is very difficult. First of all, you need to determine that the problems you are having with your companion are not just the normal differences that occur between companions. It must go beyond these differences and be to the point of being a detriment to the work. It is not enough just to have differences–a bad companion doesn’t just complain or have strange habits, he must refuse to work or inhibit the work. Then something must be done.

1. Don’t be afraid to tell.

One of the biggest problems that a mission president confronts is lack of information. We discussed how important it is to be truthful in your first interview with your mission president; being truthful about what is happening within your companionship is just as important. How can you expect the mission president to correct the problems that are occurring in the mission if he knows nothing of them? It is not only the right thing to tell the mission president about problems that are occurring, it is your priesthood duty! What is most important, our naive beliefs about “not telling” on someone or making certain the work of the Lord goes forward? If you know things about your companion or someone else in your district or zone that is hampering the work of the Lord, it is your duty to tell your mission president about it. He is the only one who can really deal with a bad missionary. Work with your mission president and lay the burden on him. He can also help you discern whether the problems you are having are things you should be working out between yourselves or whether they go beyond your responsibility. Differences of opinion should be worked out between yourselves, but where a missionary is willfully breaking the mission rules and causing havoc in his area or district, your duty is to inform your mission president of the situation. It is the mission president’s responsibility to deal with these situations (poor guy!).

You are not part of a prison system where evildoers agree not to snitch on each other. You are part of the Lord’s Army where truth is the banner and personal integrity is the flagpole. When I was on my mission, I had no problems, qualms, or hesitancy in talking to the president about what was going on in my life or anyone else’s that made a difference in my mission life. I had made a commitment to serve the Lord. That meant that the Lord’s work came first. It came before my own ego and problems, and it certainly came before any missionary who was not working toward the same goals as I. In any situation it is good to ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen? As I saw it, by my talking to the mission president the following things could take place: (1) I would be able to correct problems in my life that were standing in the way of my perfection as a Saint and my abilities as a missionary; (2) my companion would be forced to confront his own weaknesses and have the choice to reflect and change or choose to continue on the path he was following, and (3) others in the district would be confronted with the same choice—change and become better or continue to disobey and become hardened in a path that would not magnify.

Now is the time, and your mission is the place, to learn once and for all to choose between good and evil and to stand by your choice. Hiding behind a false sense of brotherhood by not wanting to tell about the improper actions of others is a sign that you are weak in this area. After all, where do you draw the line? What if the others were swimming or dating or leaving their mission—would any of these actions prompt you to tell on them? Yet all of these actions are damaging both to the missionary himself and to the work of the Lord in his area and the entire mission. Small indiscretions lead to larger and larger ones. Better to tell immediately, and get the problem corrected, than to let it go until it reaches a larger transgression.

Let me say it very clearly: You should not feel guilty about telling your mission president about things happening to you or your companion, nor should you hide the fact that you are going to speak to the mission president about something. Honesty and integrity go in both directions. You cannot hide what you or your companion is doing from the mission president any more than you should hide from your companion your intent to discuss the matter with the mission president. Everything should be up front and above board. No lies, no secrecy, no hidden agendas. If you feel guilty about performing this priesthood duty, it simply means that you have an incorrect understanding of your responsibilities as a missionary and priesthood holder. It also means you have an incorrect understanding of how the Kingdom of God works. The time will come when all things will be known about people. Every act performed, every mistake, every good deed will be made known. If this “uncovering” is a bad thing, why will God make us all go through this process? It is because it is actually good. When everything is known, it forces ourselves and others to face reality. It will force everyone to accept the judgments of God as just, because they will be self-evident to everyone. The reasons this kind of truth is considered bad “in the world” are that (1) people want to hide their sins, and (2) we cannot fully understand someone’s actions unless we know all of the thoughts and events that led up to them—which only God can do. But the priesthood can bridge this world/heaven gap with the power of the Holy Ghost. We can both tell and hear the full truth because the Holy Ghost will help us put it in the proper perspective and understand what must be done. So, do what is right and what is good–and let the consequences follow.

Whatever you do, do not feel guilty about helping your mission president correct a bad situation. If anything, you should be happy that you were able to help correct a situation that was impeding the work of the Lord. The time will come when you will look for opportunities to cleanse the Lord’s church. Angels will come to reap the earth and gather the wheat unto the Lord and burn the chaff. They will not second-guess their actions in cleansing the earth prior to the coming of the Lord. You should not second-guess the actions taken to cleanse the mission and push forward the work. Your only concern should be to keep yourself clean and above reproach and to work with all your heart in bringing to pass the Kingdom of God on earth. If your mind and eye are single to His glory, you never have to worry about the outcome.

God forbid that there should be any of us so unwisely indulgent, so thoughtless and so shallow in our affection for our children that we dare not check them in a wayward course, in wrong‑doing and in their foolish love for the things of the world more than for the things of righteousness, for fear of offending them. (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 286)

One of the things you will learn is that there are times when you need to speak up about things that are wrong. As you grow spiritually, you will understand that there are times you must confront people and force them to deal with their problems. There is a reason the scriptures talk about “reproving betimes with sharpness,” (D&C 121:43) because as priesthood holders and spiritual leaders we are supposed to do this in order to correct and build the character of those whom we serve. You will have to do this with your investigators. You will need to show them where they have to change and repent. When done with love and the Spirit, there are few things more powerful or influential in a person’s life than properly and lovingly correcting them and helping them to change.

 

The reason this issue has come up in our current mission in the Congo is that the guards that work at the Mission Home complex have been caught stealing gas. We use a lot of diesel fuel at the Mission Home—all of the vehicles and the three generators all use diesel fuel. Ever week or so a fuel truck comes to fill the vehicles and about 40 bidons with fuel (a bidon is a plastic container that holds about 5 gallons). Three times we have discovered problems with the gas: once a person came and knocked on the gate and was asking to buy gas…with the understanding that this happened all the time; we then started counting the bidons, and noticed bidons of gas missing; after the increased scrutiny, they changed their tactics: we discovered that they were taking small amounts of gas out of each bidon, rather than a full one. When confronted again, they got angry and put water in the fuel tank of the generator.

We believe that we know which one of the three guards is actually stealing the gas and causing the problems, but there is no way to prove which one is doing it, and the others refuse to say who it is…so we have no choice but to fire all of them.

But, then there is the dilemma brought up at the start of this blog: if we find out which one was actually stealing the gas, are the others free of guilt? The others obviously knew what was going on, but they refused to talk. Does this, in fact, make them accomplices in the crime? Even if you fired the one who sold the gas, could you continue to trust those who knew but refused to step forward and tell you what they were doing?

I have not always been so clear about my own obligation to expose the sins and crimes of others. In fact, for most of my younger life I believed like the world believes: that it is somehow wrong to tell on others. But an event occurred specifically dealing with this moral dilemma that forced me to make a choice and as a result completed changed the course of my life:

I was married with 5 young children. I was working for my father’s company with the understanding that someday I would perhaps take over the company. I had been accepted into an Executive MBA program at the University of Utah, and we had just bought our first home. Life was good, I had a great future ahead of me, and there were no dark clouds on the horizon. Then something unexpected happened.

Although I was a supervisor over other men in the company, I often was asked to do field work myself. On one occasion I was asked by my father’s partner to install a new roof on the home of a client. He specifically asked me to use discarded materials to do the job (my first red flag!). We kept extra, or left-over material from jobs in the yard to use on small jobs or repairs; but we never used them for new work or larger jobs as they were a mix of types and colors, so the end product would not look right. But as a dutiful employee, I followed his directions and began installing the new roof with these ‘extra’ materials from the yard.

It did not take long for the client to see a problem with the work. He immediately complained and stated something to the effect that even though he was getting this work done for free it didn’t mean that we could use inferior products on the job…(second red flag!). Who was this guy, and why was he getting work for free? After just a few questions during our conversation I discovered an astonishing fact: he worked for the LDS Church in the construction department. He worked in the construction department of the Church, where contracts were given out to local businesses, and he was getting a free roof on his house…hmmmm

When I returned to the office I decided to do some investigating of my own about the situation. As a supervisor (and one of the owner’s sons) I had access to most files and information in the office. I confirmed my fears: we were giving this man of influence a free roof. I confronted my father with the information. He said he would look into it and get back to me. Later he admitted that his partner’s son had offered the man a free roof, admitted that it was wrong, and promised that it would not happen again.

My first reaction was to feel as though the issue was now resolved. But my conscience tugged at me: what do I do about the Church employee? To try to resolve the issue I made an appointment with a General Authority friend of mine: Elder Hugh Pinnock. Elder Pinnock had been my mission president and we had become friends. At the meeting I explained the situation and my concerns—specifically about my knowledge that this man from the Church seemed to be taking bribes. The problem I had was that if I went public with this information it would cause a huge rift in the company, and perhaps put my own job at risk—and I had done nothing wrong! Put simply, I had a guilty conscience (I knew what I should do—expose the Church employee) but I was afraid of the consequences. I wanted my friend to relieve my conscience and tell me it was okay NOT to tell!

Looking back, it was an interesting conversation. Elder Pinnock obviously knew that I knew what I should do, but there was no way he was going to tell me what to do—he wanted me to come to that conclusion myself. So, he let me off the hook. He told me that I had done nothing wrong, so it was up to me whether or not to expose this individual. I left assuming it was okay NOT to tell, NOT to expose this Church employee. I felt relieved there would be no further consequences. After all, my father had promised me it would not happen again, and since I had not been personally involved, I did not have to do anything, or suffer any consequences.

Of course it didn’t end there! A few months later, during the slow months of winter, I was assigned to follow-up on past due accounts and try to get them paid. One day I was trying to find a file and wandered into my father’s partner’s office, thinking perhaps he had the file on his desk. I noticed a stack of files behind his desk and began to go through them. To my surprise I found a file that actually had the heading ‘Bribery’. With the recent events still fresh in my memory I had to look in the file! It was full of information about the State and Federal laws of bribery, and, of course, information about the Church employee. It also had some notes that suggested that he had been given much more than just a new roof!

I had been left alone in the office for about a week while everyone was on vacation, so I spent time looking through cancelled checks and other files to see if I could find a document trail. After some digging I discovered that this Church employee had been given at least $60,000 in cash payments, as well as numerous under-the-table gifts of one kind or another. I copied everything and made my own ‘bribery’ file. Then I had a decision to make.

As I prayed about going to the Church authorities about this evil employee, it was revealed to me in an astonishing way what would happen to me if I chose to expose him: I would lose everything. I would lose my job, which, in turn, would create a domino effect of losing my career, my new home, and even the relationship I had with my father and parents. Rather than be blessed for doing what was right, I would lose everything.

Most of those with whom I discussed this perplexing situation were against my moving forward to expose the Church employee. They were of the same opinion that I had been just months before: I had done nothing wrong, therefore I was under no obligation to throw away my life and career because of the sins of others. Their opinions made my decision all that more difficult.

Finally my conscience won the day. I would do what I thought was right, and let the consequences follow—whatever they might be, even if it meant losing everything.

I knew that there would be no staying with the company after exposing their actions to the world, so I prepared two letters and envelopes. In one was my resignation from my position with my father’s company, the other was a letter to Elder Pinnock, along with all of the documents I had gathered showing the bribes this Church employee had taken. Then I simply chose the day my life would change.

I went into work, gave the secretary the letter of resignation and asked her to make sure both my father and his partner received a copy (they were both still out of town), then I cleared out my desk and left. On my way home I stopped by the Church Office building and dropped off the letter to Elder Pinnock. Then I went home to tell my wife what I had just done, and to wait for the consequences to begin.

The next week I was to meet with Elder Pinnock, and members of the Presiding Bishopric concerning the Church employee. Elder Pinnock simply said to me: “I knew you would be back!” I never found out what happened to the Church employee, I only know what happened to me.

Everything that was revealed to me came to pass. Not only did I lose my job, but my father’s partner sent word out so that no one in the industry would hire me. As a young family with five children, we had little savings, so it didn’t take long for us to fall behind on our mortgage. Our phone was cut off for lack of payment and everything seemed to be sliding into some dark abyss.

I had an uncomfortable meeting with my father at his home where he tried to get me to come back to work. He would ‘fix’ everything! He refused to see that he had done anything wrong (again, the same opinion as others—I did not do it, someone else did, I just knew about it and did nothing…), but accused me of wrong because I had gone through company files and exposed them to the world. Needless to say my father and I remained estranged for some time. Interesting side-note: a few years after I left the company my father discovered that his partner was stealing money from the company—to the tune of $600,000. The partnership broke up, and our relationship began to mend.

Because of the lack of opportunity locally, I began looking for work outside of Utah. Of course, this would also mean that I would give up on my dream to obtain my MBA. As fate would have it, I was notified during this time that the MBA program was going to be cancelled for this year (they were reorganizing it). This just pushed us further into seeking work elsewhere. Then the call came.

Keep in mind that our phone had been cut off for weeks due to lack of payment, but somehow a call came through to my home. My wife answered, and it was a job offer with a company in Connecticut. She got the information and the time to meet, and hung up. She was so excited she picked up the phone to call me and her mother, but found that the phone was once again not working!

Long story short, we moved to Connecticut, were blessed beyond our wildest dreams, and have never looked back. But I did learn one thing for sure: it is our duty to expose sin, crime, and evil. If we do not, we add to the sin and sin ourselves.

So I guess we will be getting new guards at our compound. We hate to see one guard go (Scammo). We all like him a lot, and we are all convinced that he had no part in the theft. But we also know that all the guards know who was stealing, and have refused to tell. So we had no choice. Guilt by association?

What would you do?

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