My sibling is on a mission and recently became unwell. When he told the mission president (who is not a medical professional), he was given something from a pharmacy. He had a reaction to this medication. He became cyanotic and extremely anxious because he felt terrible. His skin was blue and he had no idea what was going on so he contacted ME. They never took him to a hospital. They never referred him to a doctor.
Then, after 3 days of vomiting, they had him out laying cement at a member's house. I wish there was a safer why to address these concerns with the healthcare of missionaries. When they have to run these concerns through the Mission President, it can be dangerous and harmful if it is not addressed appropriately by a medical professional.
While serving his mission, my brother caught his companion with child pornography. My brother was physically threatened by the Mission President when he brought this crime to his attention. He was then told to stay quiet or get sent home early and it would be "dishonorably." They transferred the pedophile-companion to another zone.
My brother told my parents of this incident when he got home. My parents tried to take it up the chain but got gagged and were unsuccessful.
My story is a little different.
In puberty, I began to hallucinate and have psychotic symptoms. This was before mental health was taken seriously so I had zero treatment besides people unhelpfully pointing out that all my peers managed to not be psychotic. I did my best to hide things but it just got worse and worse until at 16, my parents just couldn't take it anymore. They sought help from the bishop. The bishop treated me like I was rebellious, obviously on drugs, definitely sleeping around, and possibly worshiping Satan. (Because this was when that was a thing.)
Now I know some people reading this will say, "But that's just one bishop." Yes, it was. Let me make this clear that the vast majority of my Young Women leaders went out of their way to make me feel loved (though they didn't understand the mental health thing.) My seminary teachers told me that they believed in me. I was surrounded by LDS adults who did not believe I was bad. In fact, the next bishop told me, "Nuts to him!" and signed my BYU endorsement.
But that's the problem with Mormonism. Even those supportive leaders were teaching me that the bishop had special insight, was in charge, and in essence a soothsayer - one who tells truths that others can't even perceive. So yes, even if the numbers are weighted in the positive direction, it only takes ONE man. It's set up that way.
I knew what he said was completely off the mark. But it made me wonder what I was doing to project such bad vibes. I wondered if I was so lazy and careless that I might as well be a junkie. I wondered if I thought too many lurid thoughts and I might was well be sleeping around. I knew that even though I read my scriptures, prayed, and spoke nicely, most of the time I certainly wasn't close to perfect. Maybe the bishop just saw how horrible I was really.
In the years that followed I had a string of very abusive, dysfunctional, and manipulative romantic and friend relationships. In every one I would see red flags, feel them disregard my boundaries. But I would tell myself that chances were that I was just bad and dysfunctional and they were normal. I mean, look at my track record! Every time I even started having symptoms I would engage in self-destructive behaviors. This just attracted more abusers, feeding the cycle. It took so many years for me to trust and care about myself and live life as a balanced, healthy, functional individual.
When I tell people this story, sometimes they ask me why I would blame a bishop for everything. Let me be clear - I don't. He didn't give me the bum genes (schizophrenia runs in my family.) He didn't create the atmosphere and culture where mental health was poorly understood. He didn't make the structure and culture of the church. He didn't even know it was wrong for him to spout off his untrained mouth. But his ignorance didn't make the situation any less abusive.
I also will object to anyone telling me I'm not taking responsibility. I was given no treatment before I was 18, remember? I had to ask what an "intake" was when I first went in to therapy. I had to pay for psychiatric treatment as a low wage earner in a time before health insurance covered it. I spent the hours in cognitive behavioral therapy to re-build my self-esteem. I spent even more time practicing meditation and other stress-relieving practices. I always knew that having a positive outcome rested mostly on me.
I often hear that I should have been mentally strong enough to understand that he was untrained and to discard his condemnation. Yes. And I went out and did exactly that - it just took years, money, maturity, therapy, and hard mental work. Those were things I didn't have access to at age 16. No one had prepared me to defy a bishop.
I'm not telling this story to shame or condemn him (though I'd love it if he were more sympathetic to mental health issues now.) I tell this story because it illustrates how the entire structure of the church is set up so that one cloud can overshadow the whole sun. I care about this because there are many adults who loved me in my darkest hours. They have children and grandchildren in this church. Tomorrow it might be them. If anything I say can make someone stop and think about the power we give the leadership, I will say it.
I was living in the East working as a Flight Attendant, raising my only son and really proud of myself. Some church members and leaders looked down on me for being a Flight Attendant. But it worked for me. I loved being home for several days at a time and the bishop’s wife in my ward was my babysitter for many years. I started dating a Pilot. No, he was not Mormon. I liked that actually.
One day I received a letter from my Bishop.
It read “If you don’t leave this relationship with this non-Mormon pilot and straighten out your life you will be taken by Cancer” and“God will take you home.”
I was beyond devastated. I had been through Cancer twice and didn’t need to hear that I was so bad that God would take me off the earth. I was so angry because I loved this pilot. We’d been together for three years and had a wonderful future ahead of us. But, I broke up with the pilot and then confronted the Bishop. I found out that The Bishop wrote that letter in an attempt to bring me back into the fold. I don't personally believe this was his only motive.
The Bishop lost his job position, and he had hired me to write for his family company, as I was also a songwriter singer. I quit the airline. He promised 100k a year.
This is where it gets bad.
I never got paid. Seven months and he never paid me. He had hired others in the ward and got all their money. Then spent it. I told my Stake President about this fraudulent activity.
Bishop was removed. An attorney was put in his place.
They sent him to jail and his cousin to prison. The ward was falling apart.
I went home to my mom and dad’s house with my son and looked for a gun to use on myself.
My career was over.
My boyfriend went on to another relationship and got married.
I was so lost.
I opened up the yellow pages and found the first therapist and set an appointment. I eventually got back up again and started a new career as a Flight Attendant.
That bishop and his family of ten, moved to Missouri, to usher in the Second Coming. He ruined my life. He used his position to manipulate and coerce me, and as he was my leader and I followed him.
I was sexually abused by more than one person as a child. I learned early on that extreme compliance was the best way to keep safe. When I was 7 years old, I was sexually abused by a teenager in the ward who regularly babysat while my parents were in mid-week church meetings. When I told my mother, she and my father (who was in the bishopric) talked to the bishop about what to do with the teen. They decided to forgive him rather than report, and the teen suffered no consequences. When I saw my abuser passing the sacrament the next week, I internalized the belief that since he wasn't punished, everyone must've thought that I was the one to blame. At a young age, I was convinced that I was a bad girl. (The teen who abused me went on to abuse 13 other girls.)
From ages 7-9, I compulsively prayed every night for forgiveness for an unrelated white lie I had told in second grade. Looking back, I realize that the deep shame I experienced during those prayers had less to do with the white lie and more to do with the self-blame I internalized because my abuser was never held accountable. I had hoped that my baptism would clear my conscience, but it did not. In fact, the bishop's interview I had at the time, as well as the routine bishop's interviews I experienced as a young teen, made me feel as if I was lying every time I claimed to be worthy. This, combined with some really harsh early bishops asking sexually inappropriate questions, started a cycle of shame that led to eating disorders and on-going suicidal ideation as a teen.
Later, when I was 16, I was raped by my boyfriend. I went and told my new bishop about it. Actually, I don't know that I was even able to call it rape at the time, but I told him that I was physically held and kept from leaving and that my repeated 'no's were ignored and that I cried through the whole thing. I remember desperately hoping at the time that he would tell me that it wasn't my fault. Instead, he asked for explicit details. He then told me that men can't be held fully responsible for their behavior because their urges are too strong and that it was my job, as a 'guardian of virtue,' to make sure that my 'no's weren't ignored. He read me the passage from The Miracle of Forgiveness that said that it was better that a woman die defending her honor than that she be raped. I was told to read the entire book, which was a shame-fest in and of itself. The most painful thing was that he then told me that I needed to write an apology letter to my rapist for putting him in a 'bad situation.' The whole conversation was thick with shame, and the cherry on top was that I was to be publicly humiliated in front of my congregation for seven months, not being able to pray publicly or take the sacrament, and having to relinquish my calling in YW. I left that night being absolutely convinced that God hated me.
I came home drowning in shame and, after helping my mom do the dishes and telling her I loved her as a sort-of goodbye, I went and wrote the apology letter to my rapist and then swallowed around 150 Aleve, intending to kill myself and go to hell (knowing that there was no way God would ever accept me into heaven, given the sort of girl I was.) After about 1/2 hour, I heard a crystal clear voice in my head saying, "Please don't kill yourself, Mommy." Believing that this was the voice of my future daughter, I ran to the bathroom and made myself throw up the pills.
On a few other occasions, with different bishops, I was questioned in explicit detail about my sexual indiscretions (most of them involving men who pushed past my 'no's, as I tended to freeze if my objections were ignored more than a few times.) I was asked if I had an orgasm, if they had an orgasm, if oral sex was involved, and told that I couldn't be forgiven until I had explained everything in vivid detail. Every time I felt dirty and humiliated. While I did have a couple of respectful bishops who were embarrassed at the idea that I should go into detail, the others made me feel like it was totally normal to have to share with a bishop every last dirty detail and to take their shaming pronouncements as gospel. Ironically, the fact that I was drowning in shame most of my teenage years (largely due to the actions and attitudes of these bishops), made me feel less and less like I even had the right to say 'no.' This shame carried on, well into adulthood.
But my troubles with ecclesiastical abuse did not end there. I had married a return missionary at age 19 (on the suggestion of a bishop who was worried that a couple of occasions of petting would lead to more serious sexual sin). My husband quickly became both emotionally and physically abusive and ultimately raped me at 22 when I told him I was leaving him. After a few months of separation, I dutifully went to my stake president and asked permission to get a divorce. He told me that I should stay and make my marriage work, even though I had told him about the rape and the abuse. I went home that night and fell on my knees and begged God to set me free, but told him that ultimately I would do what he wanted and stay in the abusive marriage, even if it killed me (which at the time, I was fairly sure that it would). The fact that I believed 100% that this untrained clergy-member's pronouncements were the explicit word of God on the matter had everything to do with years of conditioning from my parents and the Church to ignore my own feelings and intuitions and to trust completely (and blindly) everything these men said and did, even if it seemed inappropriate to me.
Having initially left my husband and then reuniting with him on the advice of that stake president put me in a very precarious position. My-ex husband was so angry at my attempt to leave him that things escalated, and he threatened to kill me. In the midst of this volatile and dangerous time, on the advice of my stake president, we went to marriage therapy with a LDS Social services therapist. Trained professionals understand that marriage therapy is not a good idea when one spouse is abusive, since the abuser tends to charm the therapist into not believing the victim. This is exactly what happened to me, as I was gaslighted by my ex-husband, the LDS social services therapist and my stake president, all while fearing for my life and the life of my daughter.
Eventually, maybe a month or so later, after seeing my abusive ex-husband's behavior with his own eyes, the stake president finally believed me and told me to go ahead and get a divorce. But that experience of involuntarilly reuniting with my abusive husband was so terrifying. Now, I have PTSD, partly from enduring extra trauma that I shouldn't have had to endure.
I know that there are children in the Church who are taught by their families to be strong and stand up for themselves. My fear is for the vulnerable boys and girls, like myself, who are very compliant or eager to please, whose parents taught strict obedience to the "Lord's anointed" no matter the cost, or who may already be prone to shame, and are indoctrinated early to treat untrained bishops as if they represent God himself in all things. Shame has no place in the gospel of Christ.
My brother molested me as a child. He went on a mission, supposedly confessed his sins to his leaders, and claims he is a sex addict. He conveniently doesn't remember molesting my sister or I, believes us that it happens, but feels confident that he will never do it again. He has confessed more recently what he has done to his bishop but no leader has reached out to me, as the survivor, to see if I am doing okay or how they can support me.
My daughter was sexually abused by her uncle, an LDS youth. He was barred from taking the sacrament for a time but it is my understanding that he is now a member in full standing, passing the sacrament weekly and will likely go on a mission soon. He has not apologized to my daughter, no leader has reached out to see how they can support her or our family, and we have been counseled by mormon family members to "forgive." We reported this to the police but the judicial system also largely failed us by settling to an attempted count of sexual misconduct when what actually occurred was three counts of sexual misconduct with a minor, They were also able to convince the system to allow his mandatory counseling to be with an LDS therapist.
As a youth I was asked extremely probing an inappropriate questions by bishops, one of whom was excommunicated for infidelity.
When I confessed to sexual activity with my boyfriend my senior year of high school, my bishop cried, disfellowshipped me, refused to give me my young women medallion that I hard worked 6 years for, and told me that I cheated on my future husband and that I needed to feel more bad than I did for what I had done. The same bishop gave a lesson with the chewed gum analogy.