Hi and welcome back! Long ago, we established that Christian hypocrites in elected positions behaving badly no longer qualified as weird enough to remark upon, right? But this one all but cries out for our attention here. His case exposes some deep and old flaws in his end of Christianity. This one’s got it all: a cynical hypocrite arranging foreign adoptions to desperate families trying to achieve the fundagelical ideal any way they can — and then shafting the women helping to make those fever-dreams come true. Today, let me show you the case of Paul D. Petersen, Mormon-at-Large, and what it illustrates about his end of Christianity.
Everyone, Meet Paul D. Petersen.
Paul Petersen is a Mormon — and the son of a politician from Arizona who resigned amid financial scandals in 2006. The son performed his two-year mission thing in the Marshall Islands, a Micronesian country. It’s not a high-population country — less than 60k people spread across dozens of islands. They’re also almost all already some flavor of Christian, with about 8% being Mormon. It must have been quite a fantastic little vacay for young Paul, perhaps even on par with Mitt Romney’s strikingly similar Parisian fling.
After his mission trip ended, according to The Salt Lake Tribune, Paul Petersen stayed on there to work in an international adoption agency. I guess the foreign-adoption bug bit him, because he ended up going to law school and becoming an adoption attorney. All this seems to have happened well before Daddy had to resign his post and then plead guilty to a misdemeanor, of course — Paul’s about 45 now, so the mission trip had to have happened in the mid-1990s.
Petersen, a Republican, was basically gifted the job in 2013. The county board of supervisors, which appointed him, only spent about 10 minutes discussing the deal, choosing Petersen over 10 other applicants. (source)
In November 2016, he ran unopposed in the general election there, so obviously he won.
This past year, we learned that the Petersen apple hadn’t fallen far at all from the Petersen tree.
A Case Blows Open.
In October last year, the case against him blew wide open with downright dizzying numbers.
Three states brought 62 total charges against Paul Petersen and Lynwood Jennet, a co-defendant. These cases involved human smuggling in Utah, wire fraud in Arkansas, and various frauds committed in Arizona. The wrongdoing might have begun as early as 2005, but the charges allege crimes from 2015 only.
In essence, the charges alleged that Petersen flew pregnant Marshallese women to the United States to give birth (which is illegal). He put them up in substandard, crowded apartments he owned or rented. Then, he arranged adoptions to desperate families who paid him up to USD$40k per baby. The women who gestated these babies got about $10k, plus $1k/month stipends while living in his housing. (Notably, the Marshallese average income seems to range around $3k/year, so that all must have looked like quite a princely sum to them.)
After delivery, the women might go home, or else Petersen helped them to stay. This help included assisting them in filing fraudulent claims for various welfare benefits.
In total, authorities think Petersen made almost $3M from his schemes. The medical costs taxpayers bore for the care of these pregnant women total almost $1M.
And Petersen committed all these crimes, remember, while he worked in his county assessor position. In truth, he likely began this vile work well before that, so the take is probably considerably higher than alleged.
Aw, what an awesome TRUE CHRISTIAN™! Truly, a real testament to his denomination!
Not With a Bang…
At first, Petersen was all blood-and-thunder, beating his chest: oh no, never, he would not resign! No, not him! They couldn’t kick him out of his office, that was ILLEGAL! (Sure, so were his alleged and well-documented crimes, but hey. Terrible people in power feel that all forms of power are theirs to use.)
Apparently, the only way Arizona had to kick him out was to suspend him. They cited his greatly-reduced access to communication while incarcerated. Really:
The Board of Supervisors said Monday that Arizona law allows it to suspend Petersen for “neglect of duty,” citing his absence from the office during his incarceration and limited access to phone and email. (source)
But they couldn’t kick him out of office entirely. AZ Central began a counter-offensive immediately. Just in case Arizona couldn’t toss Petersen out on his ear, that meant someone had to run against him in 2020 and win. So far, a Democratic contender had thrown his name into the hat.
Despite Petersen’s bluster, even the Republican governor of the state, Doug Ducey, said he should resign. However, the Grand Ole Partisans hadn’t put anyone up to run in his stead in 2020.
So for a while, it looked like Petersen would be running, and as an incumbent running in a really Republican state it looked like he’d win again.
…But With a Whimper.
Then in December, Petersen’s co-defendant Lynwood Jennet pleaded guilty. Worse (for him), she agreed to testify against him! That seems like it was a watershed moment in the case. It’s easy to imagine that Petersen saw some writing magically appear on his soon-to-be-cell wall.
In January 2020 and after extensive “ongoing discussions,” Paul Petersen resigned his position. His resignation letter (available at that link) must be seen to be believed in its audacity and bravado.
And then a few days ago Petersen pleaded guilty to four felonies in Arizona: three counts of fraudulent schemes and 1 of forgery.
He faces some prison time for these charges, but the sentencing hearing hasn’t even been scheduled yet. Jennet’s begins in August. This isn’t the end of Petersen’s legal troubles, of course. Officials are still investigating the various frauds that he helped the Marshallese women commit.
Predators Go Where the Prey Grazes.
To me, this case reveals quite a few flaws in his end of Christianity.
Many fervent Christians labor under the Happy Christian Family Illusion — which requires many facets that weren’t workable even in the magical happy 1950s that these families seek to emulate.
First of all, though, it requires quite a lot of children.
However, infertility runs through many people’s lives like a secret epidemic of its own. As our health continues to deteriorate, infertility rates only rise higher and higher. Between the rising age of first seeking conception, a rise in lifestyle choices causing infertility, and environmental factors worsening over time, many very industrialized countries (like Australia) are having increasing problems with makin’ babies.
Since there’s no real difference between the lifestyles of normies and TRUE CHRISTIANS™, I wouldn’t expect their fertility to be any better than the norm.
That’s where Paul Petersen and his schemes came into play.
The Christian Connection.
Most of the adoptions took place in Utah — that not-so-happy land of well-indoctrinated Mormons. Thus, it seemed very likely to me that most — if not all — of the couples involved were Mormons like Petersen.
Going off that hunch, I soon found this bit of info:
Adoptive parents said Petersen was regarded as a family man and a trusted source for adoptions, particularly among the Latter-day Saint [Mormon] community in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas.
Family bonds are cornerstones of the Latter-day Saints faith, which until 2014 helped arrange adoptions through its own Family Services agency. (source)
At that link, we learn that the Family Services agency stopped offering adoptions because it got overwhelmed with requests for a decreasing number of available babies. Other legal adoption agencies similarly had stopped as well. That would have left a huuuuuge vacuum amid rising need.
Family Services didn’t refer couples to Petersen, but they didn’t need to. Petersen didn’t specifically advertise his services using his religious affiliation, but he wouldn’t have needed to. Word of mouth alone in these communities would have done the trick to bring couples to him.
And if all these parental couples lacked was the baby part of their Happy Christian Family equation, then he could offer them a baby — for a steep price.
The Rise of Overseas Adoptions Among Right-Wing Christians.
When these baby-hungry couples can’t find newborns enough in America, they look to foreign countries with an apparent glut of them.
In 2013, Mother Jones called this rise in foreign adoptions “orphan fever.” Evangelicals generally sought orphaned babies from war-torn countries plagued by poverty and strife, then raised them as shining-faced testaments to their godliness and piety.
Behind the scenes, though, the picture looked really and catastrophically different for those children. Often, these TRUE CHRISTIAN™ parents treated these adopted children like live-in slaves — forced to work, fed as little as the parents dared, given next to no schooling (if that), and even beaten to death.
And then we found out that a lot of those kids weren’t actually orphans at all.
(And the Subsequent Rehoming Scandal.)
If adopted foreign children prove intractable or too difficult to raise, of course, these adoptive parents simply “rehome” them.
This practice involves handing these children over to a set of poorly-vetted (if at all vetted) new parents. Often, these new parents once sought adoptees through the traditional system but got turned down for various reasons — which often involved their own past crimes against children. So instead, they seek children through back channels like rehoming communities. In effect, rehoming parents offer to take difficult-to-raise children off their legal adopters’ hands.
The legal adopters, who often had no idea what problems foreign adoptees can come with or the challenges often involved in raising them, accept these offers with relief and gratitude — and not much investigation into their gift horses’ mouths.
I’m absolutely certain now that I more carefully investigated Bumble’s new cat-daddy than these adopters do their kids’ new parents.
Indeed, I suddenly wonder how carefully Petersen vetted the parents participating in his scheme. For that matter, was he honest about how much prenatal care the birth mothers got while gestating? All signs point to disturbing answers.
Still A Problem.
As the saying goes, hate the game rather than the players of it.
Utah’s officials already have declared that they won’t overturn fully-completed adoptions that have already taken place; those children will remain where they are, for good or ill. They’ve stopped incomplete adoptions and prevented any more from happening, but that’s the extent of it. That’s still dozens of babies trafficked in a system that can’t assure the safety or good care of the children in it.
Sure, the Mormon Church’s leaders have unequivocally declared Petersen’s crimes “sickening” and are even considering the revocation of his membership in their tribe. All the same, they have a lot to answer for here regarding how Petersen could get as far as he did with their flocks.
However, I doubt this case will cause Christians chasing the Happy Christian Family Illusion to second-guess their desire to participate in it. Nobody wants to think that they want something just cuz they were strongly indoctrinated to want it. And, too, knowing that it’s an indoctrinated need wouldn’t lessen the desire, either, I wouldn’t think.
If someone wants a lot of children, like down to their core, that’s a need that’s very hard to shake or even argue with.
Rays of Light and Hope.
We may have to look to the newest generations of kids growing up without religion in their lives to find an end to the trafficking of pregnant women and babies.
As well, the children growing up in stressed-to-hell-and-back huge religious families seem increasingly to reject many aspects of their indoctrination — sometimes in vehement ways. The next generation of children growing up looks set to be the least religious in history. So there’s that at least. The Quiverfull era comes with an expiration date.
But they’ll need help. I don’t think kids can convince any parents to stop adopting foreign kids they can’t handle from sleazy traffickers operating on the borderline of legality.
That help will not come from the hucksters selling the Happy Christian Family Illusion to their flocks, either. All those bumbling theocrats can do is react after the fact when a hypocrite is unmasked in their sheepfold. Mormon leaders’ labeling of Petersen as “sickening” hardly rises to the level of deterrent.
Indeed, not long ago, a YouTube star named Myka Stauffer rehomed her own adopted autistic son. It generated considerable backlash against her, but she probably didn’t break any actual laws. That reality speaks volumes about just where we are in terms of fixing our adoption system’s problems.
Helping The Fighters.
Instead, we need the law-enforcement and legislative ends of government to step up. Even now, after extensive exposes of practices like rehoming, adoption laws and lawbreaking consequences remain largely the same.
However, Republicans at least seem very unwilling to anger their base of baby-hungry voters by going there. Since the big rehoming expose in 2013, only a few states (some Republican-led, in fairness, like Arkansas) have passed laws stiffening or creating penalties for rehoming at least.
Meanwhile, I’ve seen several instances of Democratic lawmakers introducing such legislation in their states — like Craig Hickman of Maine did in 2015.
If you live in a state where rehoming isn’t treated like any other form of abandonment and/or trafficking babies isn’t taken seriously enough, please consider speaking up to your lawmakers to let them know you advocate such laws.
Where Christianity Bleeds Into Culture.
I take stories like that of Paul Petersen seriously. They illustrate the various ways that toxic Christian teachings bleed out into lawbreaking and opportunism.
Indeed, this isn’t specifically a Christians Behaving Badly type of story. Nobody’s saying this guy is some grand representative of Christianity. He’s a bit player in his faith, nothing more really: a true-blue Mormon missionary now grown up and making his way through the world. World’s fulla them, and boy oh boy do Mormon scammers seem to like affinity scams. A past tour of missionary work would only add to the scammer’s likelihood of tricking the flocks.
(Missionaries are to Mormonism what Eagle Scouts are to the Boy Scouts of America — except more so. To get anywhere in Mormonism, especially to make a good marriage match, a Mormon man needs to have done missionary work.)
Instead, y’all, Petersen is just a rank-and-file hypocrite operating within a broken system to get as much as he can out of it before the gravy train pulls away once and for all. And to do that, he takes advantage of his denomination’s most important indoctrination point: the Cult of Family. His criminal activity illustrates the weaknesses in this illusion as surely as evangelicals’ divorce rate does.
NEXT UP: Unchurched tells evangelicals to offer a coin that their marks simply don’t accept. It’s one heck of a ruse — and one evangelicals just won’t recognize. See you tomorrow!
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