This is Brother Pratt.
This is Brother Pratt in the Utah County Jail (as seen in the Deseret News).
Michael Jay Pratt - just saying the name puts courage in the hearts of hundreds of Orem High Tigers who remember him as the great seminary teacher. He was not just an inspiration to us, he was the closest thing some of us had to an actual general authority. People described him in terms of actual salvation. "Brother Pratt changed my life" or "Brother Pratt saved my life." He was a hero in almost titanic description; his spirituality, tracing back to Parley P. Pratt, was believed to be penultimate perfection. A short guy with a big heart who had just the answer for your problems and the right shoulder to cry on when he didn't.
And he has been arrested for sexual assault. A 16-year-old girl from his current teacher (and principal) position at Lone Peak's LDS seminary.
Brother Pratt - the man, the myth, the legend. It all sounds like gross exaggeration. Like me, and others, have blown things out of proportion. And that's precisely because that's what it is. A fiction. A man mythologized.
Michael Pratt's life story kinda sounds like something that came out of a seminary movie. He had a troubled past as a teenager fiercely rebelling against the Church he was born into until, one day, he was dared to read the Book of Mormon. It changed him into a spiritual powerhouse causing him to go around spreading love for Christ long before he ever blew out the candles on his nineteenth birthday cake. His mission yielded endless stories for what would inevitably be his life's work: teaching in seminary and Sunday schools.
He had a life on the go; he and his family would pack up and move whenever he came to a high school and stay for a few months before picking up again and going to a new school. But he left his mark all over the county. He could get the quiet kid to raise his hand and the talkative jocks to shut up. The door to his office was always open long after school got out for the day and, oftentimes, there was a line of people waiting to lighten their latest load on his shoulders, seeking his advice. His lessons kept you awake and energized; people could repeat the main points from his lessons by topic or memory...and, of course, everyone who took a class from him remembers his "Puddy Cave fieldtrip" lesson.
Like I said - a man mythologized. And I'm certainly no different; Brother Pratt is the reason I almost became a seminary teacher. I was one of a few who could comfortably call him Michael - he had been a lodestar in my life since I was fifteen, being the only church-related figure I felt I could talk to about my struggles with my same-gender attractions in high school - and even years later when I became inactive and began dating my first boyfriend, he came to visit me at my apartment and took me to dinner. There are several stories - from funny anecdotes I even tell co-workers to a curious winter night miracle I still can't explain to this day - that describe my friendship with Mike, and my journals from high school feature him and his advice frequently. He was one of my closest friends, down to his current position as the second counselor of the singles ward I inactively belong to.
What's interesting now is not just his arrest and this scandal that follows; it's the reactions from all my old high school friends. One friend said, "Bullshit. It's all bullshit - the girl was troubled and has destroyed his life." Another remarked, "I'm shocked. He was...well, everyone thought he was so perfect." Even my sister expects that sooner or later we may yet discover this all to be rumor. Some have already begun attributing "this tragedy" and "this dispicable man" to the subjugation of the devil. "All I can say is blame Satan," said one commenter on DesNews' website.
Not many seem to want to examine this for what it is: a beloved church-related figure who is now alleged to be a felon. Instead, all wait in nearly breathless anticipation to see how innocent Brother Pratt will escape and get out of this one intact and precisely as everyone remembers him. The response is largely disbelief, but most of all denial and paranoia. "We'll find out the truth sooner or later - this has all been blown out of proportion."
But proportions larger than life have surrounded and romanticized this short-of-stature man for years. We've put him in a light that, perhaps, doesn't truly exists. And now may be the right time for us - especially me - to admit it. It'll be better for any healing that needs to occur to keep the facts straight from the stories we tell...for such is the stuff that heroes are made of. In this important time, remember him not as that mythic hero-god...but as a human being. Like the rest of us. And in that way, maybe he can continue to inspire us. Brother Pratt can be both hero and felon.
And I think I know how it will all end. This will undoubtedly stain Brother Pratt's reputation for years. But in time, this will be seen as one other spiritual trial Brother Pratt "bravely" passed through. It will become part of the stories he'll tell in devotionals (which I'm either sure of or hoping) he'll be asked to speak at. "You know, when I spent those hellish nights in jail," he'll start, and the room will quiet. And this will all become hushed controversial apocrypha, like most LDS Church scandals.
But - "Do you think he really did it?" people ask me. I answer: "If you love Michael, does it really matter?" Loving doesn't ever mean seeing just the *good.* It means seeing the *person* in spite of the *bad.* And counting in the good. So let's allow God (and the laws of the land) to decide Brother Pratt's innocence or guilt. It need not concern us and is nobody's business but the families and people involved; the rest of us, let's follow C.S. Lewis and "get back to the business of loving." Which is precisely what, as Michael has taught us, Christ is all about.
Mike's mythology is too strong amongst too many people for him to pass away into bare naked factuality. This story could break Brother Pratt's heroic narrative among us old Tigers, as well as his other former students. We needn't completely let go of that inspirational myth surrounding him but we do need to break from any dependency on such hero fiction. We, all of us, have been writing the story from the very beginning. He never came to us claiming he was our hero. We did. ...I did. And I will always - always - love him dearly.
And so it is with all our gods.