By, John Dehlin
SUMMARY: While I am pleased to finally see extensive news coverage of Mormon Bishop/Stake High Councilor Steven Murdock’s voyerism story, I feel strongly that the reporters are missing the most important part of this story: basically, that Mormon church leadership explicitly knew of Bishop Murdock’s history of sexual harassment as early as 2017, but chose to ignore the reports, kept him in as bishop for several months after the firing, and eventually “promoted” Steven Murdock to the Stake High Council in spite of at least three different direct reports regarding his pattern of behavior.
The following report comes from personal interviews with over 20 individuals who have personal relationships with Steven Murdock, either as friends, co-workers, neighbors, or ward/stake members.
Disclaimer: In advance, we begin by expressing deep sympathies for all of the victims of Bishop Steven Murdock, as well as the family members of Steven Murdock – none of whom deserve to be dragged through a public story like this. Our biggest hope is that all of the victims, Steven Murdock, as well as his family receive the support they need to heal and grow from these experiences.
On August 14, 2019 I began receiving reports about a former Mormon Bishop and current Holladay, Utah Mormon Stake High Councilor named Steven Murdock (55) – who was arrested last week in Nashville, Tennessee for illegally video recording a woman undressing in a fitting room. News stories can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here,
The basic facts of the initial story (as best as I can gather them) are the following:
- 8/13/19 – Steven Murdock and his wife, Amy, were at an H&M store at Opry Mills Mall in Nashville, TN.
- A woman named Alondra Alcala was guided by Steven Murdock (posing as an employee?) into a dressing room to try some clothes on. As Alcala began undressing, she noticed an iPhone pointing down at her from the top of the dressing room (held by Murdock).
- Alcala immediately moved to the stall that Murdock was in, noticed him trying to delete the photos from his phone, then slapped the phone out of his hand, grabbed it, and ran to store security with the phone. By her account, “I was kind of cornering him, kind of grabbing his arms, and I did watch him delete photos of me on his phone. Thankfully I was able to slap it out of his hand and take it and run out.”
- According to an affidavit, Murdock’s wife, Amy, asked Alcala to not call police, and suggested that things be settled without police involvement.
- Once police arrived, Murdock was arrested. He posted bail after his arrest.
As soon as the story hit the news, some of my listeners reached out to me requesting that I report on the story. They were mostly angry because:
- Steven Murdock recently served for approximately 4 years as the bishop in the Holladay, Utah Olympus 8th Ward in the Salt Lake Olympus Stake. Ward members were confused that an entrusted Mormon leader would act in such a violating way, and sickened to think that their children and youth had sat alone with Bishop Murdock, behind closed doors, being assessed as to their “sexual worthiness.”
- They were deeply concerned that as a Stake High Councilor in the Holladay, Utah Salt Lake Olympus Stake, Murdock would continue to have access to vulnerable children, youth, and women in his stake.
As soon as I shared the story on Facebook, the story went viral (Facebook shows that my post was shared 129 times). Immediately thereafter friends, ward members, stake members, and co-workers of Steven Murdock began reaching out to me to provide additional details to the story (which are quite disturbing). I have now directly communicated with over 20 individuals who know Steven and Amy Murdock personally, and the details that have been reported to me include the following:
- Several reported that Steven Murdock has long been known for giving “long hugs,” making inappropriate sexual comments, and displaying “grooming behaviors” at work, with friends, and at church.
- It has been reported to me that Steven Murdock had at least one 1+ year extramarital affair BEFORE he was called as a Mormon bishop of the Olympus 8th Ward – by someone with firsthand knowledge of the relationship. This fact is not mentioned here to condemn or shame. It is only noted as an oddity, given that Steven was (only a few years later) called as a Mormon bishop, without repenting or receiving any church discipline for the affair (to anyone’s knowledge). My guess is that most orthodox Mormons would not expect their bishop to have had an unrepentant extramarital affair only a few years before becoming bishop. I also guess that that top leadership certainly would not approve of such a calling, which perhaps calls into question the perception and/or teaching that Mormon Bishops are called of God (Note: I have been provided with the name of the person with whom Steven is reported to have had an affair from a person with direct knowledge of the relationship).
- Steven Murdock reportedly has a long history of sexually harassing and at times groping women in the workplace.
- Through a number of sources, I have been provided with the names of several victims who claim that Murdock harassed and/or groped them in the workplace, some of which have now confirmed these facts to me directly.
- From one source: “Every work party he would hug, rub on my breasts and touch my behind. Every damn time! He ended up crossing the line more than once with other women. It was crazy how Amy (his wife) would just sit and watch. It finally came to the point where I would avoid him at all costs.”
- It has been reported to me that Steven has a “type” – described as women who are short, very thin, “pretty,” and are in their early twenties.
- According to reports, whenever Steven was confronted about his sexual behaviors as a “faithful, married Mormon man,” he would assure his friends and co-workers that Amy Murdock (Steven’s wife) had full knowledge of his past indiscretions, and that Amy “was fine with his behaviors.”
- In 2013, Steven Murdock was inexplicably called as a Mormon bishop (one of the most sacred, and sensitive positions within Mormonism) by Mormon Stake President Scott Buie. Olympus 8th Ward. Salt Lake Olympus Stake.
- I have communicated with at least one ward member under Bishop Murdock who reported receiving long, unwanted, non-consensual hugs from him as bishop. This person also indicated that Bishop Murdock felt it important to tell her her multiple times (both while her husband was present, and while she was alone with Bishop Murdock) that he (Bishop Murdock) and his wife Amy had a “healthy sex life,” which felt like an inappropriate disclosure to she and her husband given the context, and his particular “grooming” style.
- Another member reported to me that Bishop Murdock would stare inappropriately at her chest, and send her inappropriate texts that her husband also felt were strange and inappropriate.
- I just got off the phone with one of Bishop Steven Murdock’s final workplace victims (a recent college graduate at the time in her early 20’s). She reported to me that while Steven was serving as bishop:
- Bishop Steven Murdock would try to keep her after hours to work alone with her.
- Bishop Steven Murdock would use his position/title as a Mormon bishop to shame her about her private life, and to wield undue influence over her as someone who was raised Mormon, all while continually trying to instigate sexual conversations in the workplace.
- Bishop Steven Murdock would show her pictures of himself without a shirt on.
- Bishop Steven Murdock would stroke her legs under the table during business meetings.
- When considering Bishop Steven Murdock’s time alone with young girls in the bishop’s office, the victim wondered, “I can only imagine the things he talked about with girls, or the way he tried to touch them.”
- In summary, this interviewee, along with several interviewees that I’ve now communicated with directly, report feeling harassed and terrorized by Bishop Steven Murdock.
- In March, 2017 – One of Bishop Murdock’s victims filed a formal report about his harassment, which led to Bishop Steven Murdock being terminated from his job with NFP .
- Concerned about Murdock’s access to youth and young women, it has now been confirmed to me that THREE SEPARATE FAITHFUL LDS CHURCH MEMBERS promptly reported Steven Murdock’s firing and details of the harassment to President Scott Buie. Nonetheless, and totally inexplicably, Bishop Murdock was retained by President Buie as a Mormon bishop for five additional months after his firing.
- August, 2017: Approximately 5 months later, Bishop Murdock was finally released by President Scott Buie (after approximately 4 years of service – even though Mormon bishops normally serve for 5 years). Again, inexplicably, President Scott Buie called Steven Murdock into the Salt Lake Olympus Stake high council – a position of even broader influence – where he served for another 2 years. Ironically, part of Murdock’s responsibility as a Stake High Councilor was to participate in disciplinary councils of adults in his stake who were accused of marital infidelity and/or sex outside of marriage.
- Side Notes
- Bishop Murdock was replaced by Bishop Trent Murray, who remains as bishop of the Olympus 8th Ward.
- November, 2017: President Scott Buie was released as Stake President, and replaced with President Keith White.
The Needless Victim
- August 13, 2019: Steven Murdock was charged with voyeurism in Nashville, as a result of his secretly taking photos of Alondra Alcala while she was undressing in a mall dressing room.
- August 14, 2019: News reports began emerging about Steven’s arrest.
- August 16, 2019: I posted the news story of Steven’s arrest on Facebook. The story went viral on Facebook within the Utah/Mormon community.
- August 17, 2019: Fox 13 News of Utah reported on the story.
- August 18, 2019: Steven Murdock was released from his calling.
- Audio of Steven Murdock’s release from the Stake High Council.
- Comments from ward/stake members who were present during the announcements of Steven Murdock’s release:
- “He was released today. But we were asked to give a vote of thanks to a “great man.” I did not raise my hand because ‘what in the actual hell?’ (Not his ward)”
- “The current stake president asked his ward today to forgive him and talked about repentance.”
- “The stake president stood up, got teary and announced that Steven Murdock has been released and then asked for a show of support for his service, him and his family by raising our hands. I had just planned just to keep my hand down and say nothing. But tying support for his family in with support for his service!?! Of course we support the family! But why not just announce his release? It hurt.”
- One interviewee noted that Steven Murdock has a personal relationship with Mormon prophet and president Russell M. Nelson and President Nelson’s daughter, Marjorie Nelson Lowder – and wondered if this relationship had anything to do with the church’s treatment of Murdock..
- I have just been informed by another source that Steven was recently fired from yet another company …. in addition to his termination from NFP a few years back. The source related that Steven was not terminated most recently for sexual harassment, but clearly indicated (based on Steven’s worplace behavior) that he would not be surprised at all that Steven had a history of sexual harassment.
Steven appears to have removed any access to his LinkedIn profile.
The main questions of interest pertaining to the LDS/Mormon Church include the following:
- Why was Steven Murdock called as a Mormon Bishop by President Scott Buie AFTER a reported 1+ year extramarital affair, for which there is no indication that he ever repented, nor received church discipline, and in spite of the fact that Murdock had a history of sexually harassing women in the workplace PRIOR to being called as bishop? Mormon church members are taught that their leaders are called of God. Did God make this call? How did President Buie miss this crucial fact during his “inspiration” process?
- Why was Bishop Steven Murdock retained as bishop for five additional months AFTER President Scott Buie was informed from three different faithful sources that Bishop Murdock had been terminated for sexual harassment/groping of a co-worker? This gave Bishop Murdock 5 additional months of direct access to children, youth, and women in a one-on-one setting to discuss intimate sexual matters.
- Why was Bishop Murdock released after only 4 years of service? Typically Mormon bishops serve 5 years.
- Did President Buie consult Mormon Church headquarters, higher level church leadership, or the Kirton McConkie lawfirm to consult with on this matter? If so, what was their recommendations? If not, why did he fail to report/consult?
- Why was Steven Murdock immediately called to serve as a Stake High Councilor by President Scott Buie – a position of INCREASED visibility and influence – even though he was released from Bishop one year early, and even though President Scott Buie had been informed by three separate faithful sources that Murdock had been terminated for sexual harassment? A Stake High Councilor is a position of great respect and authority within a Mormon stake, and this position provided Murdock with additional power, influence, and access to victimize more ward/stake members.
- Why have so many witnesses reported, including Steven Murdock himself, that Amy Murdock was “ok” with Steven Murdock’s sexual indiscretions? Is this true, or has Amy been misrepresented?
- Is it true that Amy Murdock immediately sought to prevent voyeurism victim Alondra Alcala from notifying the police of Murdock’s behavior? If so, a) Why, and b) What other “incidents” does Amy know about, and has Amy covered for?
- To what extent is Amy Murdock the victim(s) of an abusive, smooth manipulating husband/father, vs. complicit in the apparently serial harassment/abuse?
- How many other victims of Steven Murdock are out there? How many of these victims could have been spared if Steven had been released as bishop when President Buie knew that he had been terminated from his job for sexual harassment? What is the responsibility of the Mormon church to warn family, friends, and community members when they know a sexual predator is amongst the membership?
- Has Steven Murdock made secret videos of visitors to his house, including friends of his children or ward members who came to visit his house, or of neighbors?
- How will Mormon church members be protected from Steven Murdock in future years? How will his membership records be annotated? What callings will be be allowed to hold vs. not hold?
- How do the doctrines of Jesus Christ’s atonement and repentance apply to repeated sex offenders within Mormonism? Should known sex offenders be “forgiven” within a church context, when we know that repeat offenses are highly likely?
- How many other abusers like Murdock have been protected/promoted by Mormon church leadership? What other children, youth, and women are currently vulnerable in similar ways?
- Does Steven Murdock’s reported relationship with Mormon Church President Russell M. Nelson and his daughter, Marjorie Nelson Lowder, have anything to do with the church’s treatment of Murdock to date, or of who this story has been handled in the media?
- Why was Steven Murdock fired from his most recent job in addition to his job with NFP?
- Does Steven Murdock have any other legal convictions or charges on his record?
- What type of psychological support will the Mormon church be giving the Murdock family and ward/stake members who have been traumatized by this event?
To be clear – our desire in coming forward with these details is NOT to shame the Murdock family. Instead, it is to shine a light on long-reported Mormon Church practices of:
- Problem #1: A lack of appropriate background checks and training for Mormon clergy. Is the “follow the spirit” approach used in priesthood training something that ultimately amplifies these types of problems?
- Problem #2: The Mormon church’s long history of protecting and (at times) promoting known abusers at the expense of past and future victims. When abusers are not held accountable by the church in a way that also notifies other church members of the risks, this opens the way for future victimization. For additional examples of this behavior, see the recent cases of:
- Lowell Robison – Allowed to serve as mission president and stake president AFTER numerous reports of sexual abuse.
- Joseph Bishop – Sexually abused a female missionary in the Mormon Provo Missionary Training Center, and was allowed to continue serving for years in church callings without any punishment.
- Sterling Van Wagenen – Allowed to serve in various callings, including Stake High Councilor and director of Mormon temple videos, after it was known by the church that Van Wagenen had sexually abused at least one child, and after Van Wagenen had engaged in numerous extra-marital affairs with both men and women?
- Michael Jensen – Allowed to serve as Mormon missionary after a long history of sexually abusing children. This enabled Jensen to abuse many more victims.
- Problem #3: The Mormon Church teaching members that leaders are called directly by God through divine revelation. I believe that such teachings encourage members to trust, defer to, and empower leaders far beyond what is healthy. This teaching makes members more vulnerable to abuse. It also makes church leaders much more afraid/reticent to release an offending church leaders when abuse happens – for fear of members questioning the inspired nature of Mormon church callings and leadership.
- Problem #4: The continued practice of Mormon Church leaders sitting alone with children and youth behind closed doors conducting “worthiness interviews” that often entail the discussion of sexually explicit content. This practice becomes a grooming playground for perpetrators like Steven Murdock.
- Problem #5: A general culture within the Mormon Church of sexual obsession, repression, and shaming that leads to a church-wide culture of lying, deception, split lives, internalized shame, and (at times) extremely unhealthy covert sexual behaviors – even amongst church leadership.
- Problem #6: A clear tendency of the church to care more about its reputation than the health and safety of the membership, which would lead to the suppression of stories like this, the protection and promotion of perpetrators like Steven Murdock (at the expense of the safety of ward, stake, and community members), and the tendency of Mormon church PR to gaslight and deceive the public regarding the facts, depth, and merits of the stories.
PR Damage Control, Deception, and Gaslighting by Mormon Church Spokesman Eric Hawkins: Finally, I and many of the victims were deeply disturbed to read Mormon Church PR Spokesman Eric Hawkins attempt at damage control with this story by claiming that the church has a zero downplaying the sacred and extremely powerful role of bishop within Mormonism. In this article, Hawkins is quoted in the following ways:
“Church spokesperson Eric Hawkins confirmed Monday to WKRN-TV that Murdock was a high councilor and former bishop with the church. Both are volunteer positions, said the spokesman.” “This type of behavior is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated from any church member,” Hawkins said. “When local leaders learned of the arrest and charges, he was immediately removed from all responsibilities.””
There are two major problems with these statements:
- Hawkins omits the fact that higher church leadership knew about Murdock’s troubling pattern of sexual harassment as early as 2017, but chose to retain and even promote Murdock to a position of greater responsibility after his firing for sexual harassment.
- Hawkins appears to try to downplay the sacred and powerful role of Mormon bishop and Stake High Councilor by referring to them as “volunteer positions.” According to Mormon doctrine and policy, the men in these positions were called directly by God, and were not voluntary.
This feels deceptive to me, and to the victims who were under the influence of “Bishop Murdock.”
After reading Eric Hawkins statements, one of Bishop Murdock’s victims expressed the following concerns:
- She was surprised that this story had not received more in-depth, thoughtful coverage within Utah, particularly exploring Steven’s long history of sexually mistreating women, and the role of the Mormon Church in protecting/enabling Bishop Murdock. The victim worries that the Church has been successful in either suppressing and/or manipulating this story with reporters.
- She would like to see Bishop Steven Murdock and the LDS Church held accountable for protecting people who do these sorts of things, so that predators aren’t protected by multi-billion dollar organizations.
CONCLUSION: In summary, we are asking the following via this deeply unfortunate case study:
- How can the Mormon church improve its leadership policies/practices to prevent such cover-ups or mistakes from happening again?
- How can the Mormon church better prepare its members to protect themselves from potentially abusive leaders?
I/we welcome any additions or corrections to the details in this report. Again our intent is not to shame or mislead, but instead to provide the Mormon church and the public with a case study from which the church can learn to do/be better.
If any additional victims, friends, family or ward members would like to share their experiences with Bishop Steven Murdock, please email us at: email@example.com
Also, if any news reporters would like to obtain further details on this story, please reach out to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S. I would be remiss to not take the time during this story to reflect upon how I have been complicit in ignoring or supporting abusive patriarchal systems throughout my life. We all (myself included) play a role in enabling such systems, where women: a) feel dis-empowered, b) are harassed, and c) do not feel safe reporting their experiences to management. I hope that I (and each of us) can do our part to make the world more safe for women in the workplace, in our churches, in our communities, and in our homes. I encourage all men who read this story to consider the same sort of introspection.