On July 10th, police arrested Michael Pratt, the principal of the LDS seminary at Lone Peak High School. Pratt, who is married and has three children, allegedly had a several-month long sexual relationship with a 16-year old student. Pratt taught for several years at Orem High School, where a number of my friends took classes from him. It has been fascinating for me to observe the Facebook statuses of his former students, as they're aflutter with sorrow, shock, and disbelief. A group called "Pray for Brother Pratt," boldly displaying the famous painting of Jesus cradling a lamb, was launched within hours of his arrest and features more than 350 members and 129 posts to the group's wall. These range between adamant, firm denials (including one from Pratt's sister) and harsh indictments and references to Pratt's 16-year old lover as an "innocent child." As of this writing, no group called "Pray for the 16-year old girl that Brother Pratt [allegedly] slept with" exists.
However, the most interesting of all of these reactions are the former students whose faith has been shaken to its foundation. Students that spent hours being counseled or befriended by Pratt when he was their teacher have nothing but kind, generous things to say, and many female former students are providing anecdotal evidence that his behavior with them was never anything but professional and compassionate and in no way questionable or inappropriate. Nevertheless, despite their own admittedly positive experiences with their former instructor, their conscience weighs heavy at the sight of a spiritual role model of theirs falling from a rarefied air of grace.
As Pratt was an employee of the LDS Church and a professional instructor of its doctrines, I would certainly consider him a member of the clergy--especially in the small minority of paid clergy within the LDS Church, as the vast majority are volunteers--and members of the clergy having inappropriate relationships with their congregations, students, or followers is not as new (or rare) as some of us would prefer. But if someone's faith in a religion that simultaneously believes in the imperfection of Man-with-a-capital-M and the perfected of God can be shaken the evidence--including sexually explicit text messages between Pratt and his student that were recovered by detectives--of illegal, adulterous behavior of one of the church's representatives, did that person have faith in the religion at all? Or did they have faith in a man?
Any organized religion, especially one with a central organized authoritative body like Mormons, Roman Catholics, etc., has its fair share of darkness in its history. A central tenet of Judeo-Christian belief is that man is imperfect and makes mistakes, so I cannot see how criticism of a church's practices (or the unsanctioned practices of its members) equates to a criticism of a church's doctrine. But the issue at hand seems to be that some think that because they "felt the Spirit" or were encouraged by his counsel and support, Pratt's alleged mistake--which he has yet to publicly deny making--either negates all of the good that he did and all of the lives to which he contributed, or could not possibly have occurred.
There's a widely unchallenged--if not accepted--understanding that Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS church, had only one wife, Emma. However, it is documented in several biographies and histories that Joseph himself practiced polygamy and married, among others, Helen Mar Kimball in May of 1843, when she was the tender age of 14. The circumstances, of course, are wildly different; Smith had founded a church while Pratt was representing it, Smith had parental consent while Pratt faces federal kidnapping charges, Smith's relationship wasn't widely kept a secret while Pratt hid his from his wife and family, etc. But knowing about Joseph Smith's extramarital (or perhaps supermarital) relationships should not shake a true faith in a religion, just as Bill Clinton's several dalliances should not shake faith in the United States.
I never had what I have told is the privilege of meeting or learning from Michael Pratt, and a video of him at the courthouse, choking back sobs and fighting back tears, appears, to my unfamiliar, untrained eye, to be an imperfect man who made a terrible mistake and is willing to pay the price for it. He has not made a claim, explicit or otherwise, to either innocence or guilt, but simply hoped that the "whole truth" would come to light.
For the sake of all, let us hope with him.