Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

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.


Other sources used for this article:
Daily Herald, Associated Press

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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13 Responses to Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

  1. Interested says:

    In my own experience the mormon church looks out for it’s own. As many of you know, one of my children married a mormon and converted, taking along her children from a previous marriage. One of the children is having a really hard time. Of course, they are going to a counselor, mormon. They have talked to the bishop who asked to meet me. When I refused because I knew I would not be able to keep my mouth shut, he (the bishop) advised the family to limit contact with me. In this light, I am not surprised that the active mormon is being protected.

  2. Winyan says:

    I imagine it’s because the birth father doesn’t pay tithing anymore that the church isn’t willing to grant his wishes. It’s all about money.

  3. Neal says:

    While I claim no knowledge of this specific issue other than what I have read, I can tell you that in my experience in the church, local leaders — Bishops etc — most often TRY to do the right thing. People are people and mistakes can be made, but it is simplistic to say “it’s all about the money”. Local leaders in Japan where the boys were evidently ordained would not necessarily have any information about the father’s activity in the church or whether or not he paid tithing. They certainly wouldn’t be benefitted or harmed either way. And it is human nature to protect “your own”. Local leaders in Japan looking out for a family in their own congregation could easily err on the side of protecting their own. I’m not justifying or minimizing the father’s concerns — just saying their may be ways to sympathize with all parties. I can’t speak for the church, I’m just saying there may be another way to see this that doesn’t involve a conspiracy.

  4. rick b says:

    Neil, You said it is simplistic to say “it’s all about the money”. Local leaders in Japan where the boys were evidently ordained would not necessarily have any information about the father’s activity in the church or whether or not he paid tithing.

    If this person you are talking about, is part of the LDS church, and is an active member, then the LDS Church would now if he is tithing, it is asked of every member before they can enter the temple. Granted, the guy might not be but claims he is. Rick b

  5. Al Jordan says:

    Great article, Sharon.

    I loved the last line: “And all he asked for was an apology.”

    Has the church ever apologized for anything? Ever?

  6. Ginger says:

    To clarify something that neal said (although it seemed pretty clear to me):

    The local church leaders in Japan are not privy to information about every single LDS member, only the members of their own ward. My Bishop knows my status as a member, but certainly not neal’s.

    Also, before my children were baptized, they were interviewed by the Bishop in private. They had to want to do it themselves for it to happen. The same with being ordained to the priesthood, it doesn’t happen because the parents want it to. The only ordination that has happened to any relative of mine at the parents’ request without the consent of the individual it happened to is in the case of blessing new babies.

  7. Interested says:

    The same with being ordained to the priesthood, it doesn’t happen because the parents want it to.

    Ginger are you kidding? Kids don’t have a say in what they do when the mormon parents make a decision. I can’t believe that you would say such a thing.

  8. Ginger says:

    I’m a Mormon, interested, and my kids decide for themselves. I’m not the only one.

  9. Interested says:

    Ginger, I don’t know you but I know a lot of mormon families, including within my own family and their children have NO choice in what they do. They are not even aloud to skip a church activity to do an important school assignment.

    You may have had different experiences and I won’t contridict you about your own children, so far. But, if one of your children at age 14 said “I don’t believe any of this stuff and I don’t want to go to church anymore.” How would you react? I can imagine that you would call the bishop, set up counseling (mormon of course) and worry yourself sick that other in the church might find out. If I sound bitter, well I am. I am watching a serious situation unfold in my family and there is nothing I can do. I’m not good enough to help because I’m not mormon. I scared for this child and the only thing her parents do is continue to take her to the one place that makes her want to die.

  10. Al Jordan says:

    I’ve got to agree with Interested on this one, Ginger.

    I grew up LDS and although I may have been asked if I wanted to be baptized into the church, I had already been conditioned to believe that I did. It was all I knew.

    At no point was I ever given a chance to view any alternatives. Being baptized and then later given the “priesthood” was just expected of me, and from what I’ve seen, the same is expected from all the other children growing up in Mormon families.

    To say your children were given a choice and they then “chose” to join the church is disingenuous. Did you actually allow them to explore any other churches? Honestly?

    I do of a single exception: a good friend of mine had Mormon parents, but they were inactive and pretty liberal. When this friend turned eight, the so-called “age of accountability”, they actually did ask him if he wanted to be baptized into the church. They said he didn’t have to and maybe because his parents weren’t active, he was able to say no to the whole thing.

    From what I’ve seen within my own family, when a child approaches eight years of age, the parents start making plans for baptism. I can’t say any of them are ever really given an actual choice in the matter.

  11. Interested says:

    No answer, no comment, no argument from Ginger or Neal? I’m not surprised. You were so active on this site…what happened?

  12. Eileen says:

    Children aren’t given choices in the mormon church, they are told what, when and how to do in this organization. What child would want to take on the responsibility of destroying the eternal forever family? No, children and adults are given very few choices in this church. It is a falsehood to believe in “the free agency”.

  13. SouthernMan says:

    I don’t get it. A fourteen year old is legally not an adult – nor is an 8 year old. But an 8 year old can be held accountable for his or her sins, so what believing parent would not want to make sure their kids were baptised properly at that age and then given the chance to enter the priesthood?

    A 14 year old that hates church is nothing new. So what? A 14 year old is not an adult. What happened to the idea of people raising their own kids? Japan mom and dad had custody of the kids, legally or not it doesnt seem to matter to authorities in japan. What are the lds leaders supposed to do? Kidnap the kids and send them back to stateside dad?

    Allegations of abuse in a divorce are also nothing new. Who here knows why their marriage ended or who initiated the divorce? It sounds from the article like mom is more active in the church than dad. I’ve never served a mission but I am pretty doggone sure missionaries are VERY discouraged from entering into personal relationships such as this while serving, and the case above illustrates exactly why they should.

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