The LDS Church has found itself in the middle of a custody battle.Mike Gulbraa served his LDS mission in Japan. Later, while attending BYU, Mike met and married a Japanese woman, Etsuko Tanizaki. They had two sons, Chris and Michael, before their marriage fell apart and the couple divorced. Etsuko remarried soon after. When Etsuko’s second husband came under investigation for abusing his own child, Mike Gulbraa obtained a temporary restraining order which required that his sons remain in Utah. Nevertheless, in November of 2001 Etsuko and her husband took the boys to live in Japan. Both adults were charged in Utah with custodial interference. A complaint was filed in U.S. District Court accusing them of international parental kidnapping, resulting in the issuance of international arrest warrants. But, according to the Salt Lake Tribune:
Japan has not signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which would allow Japanese citizens to be charged with violating U.S. custody rulings. So, no arrests were made and the Gulbraa boys remained overseas.
Mike Gulbraa was awarded sole custody of his children in April 2002 and has been trying to get them back ever since.
So where does the LDS Church come into this? Mike Gulbraa, as custodial parent, wanted the LDS Church to get his consent before performing any ecclesiastical ordinances on his boys. He contacted Church officials in Asia and alerted them of the situation. Mike says he had a “written and implied” contract with the Church agreeing that his wishes in this matter would be respected. But the boys’ mother and step-father wanted Chris and Michael to be ordained to the LDS priesthood, so the Church complied.
Deseret Morning News reports:
An attorney for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said the church was forced to make a choice between the wishes of two feuding parents, one in the United States and one in Japan, regarding the ordination of their two sons into the LDS priesthood…”The church respects the right of family and rule of parents in making these kind of decisions,” said LDS attorney Matthew Richards. “There was no middle ground, and the church had to decide whether to allow the ordinances or not to. And it’s really not a surprise that with these Japanese clergy, with respect to a Japanese woman, allowed her request to allow these ordinances to proceed.”
After asking for an official, written apology from the LDS Church and being denied, Mike Gulbraa has taken the issue to court, seeking an injunction against the Church which will prevent it from similar actions in the future.
As if ordaining Chris and Mike against their father’s wishes was not troubling enough, Mike Gulbraa says LDS Church officials also instructed other Latter-day Saints to withhold information from Mike regarding his children.
LDS Church attorney Matthew Richards told the appellate court that Mike’s legal claim of emotional distress should be dismissed because no evidence has shown that the Church has engaged in any “outrageous behavior.” One judge responded:
“You don’t think concealing the well-being of children who are allegedly kidnapped doesn’t rise to the level of outrageous?”
Mr. Richards argued that it was not the Church that kidnapped the children; the Church, he implied, is an innocent third party. When the judges reminded Mr. Richards that the Church instructed members to conceal information about the children from their father, according to Deseret Morning News,
Richards said the church has a right to minister to its members the way it sees fit — including how it shares information about its members.
I’m sure there’s more to the story than has been reported, but it’s pretty hard to understand the LDS Church’s utter lack of compassion for the dad in these circumstances. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Mike Gulbraa is an inactive member; maybe that fact has contributed to the Church’s “outrageous behavior” choices. I don’t know, but as a parent I can understand Mike’s response much more than the position the LDS Church has taken. Mike said,
“Stick another dagger in me. You go to an organization that is family based, thinking they’re going to help you and they do something completely opposite. It was really hard to understand. It was painful.”
And all he asked for was an apology.