The enclosed is one of the chapters in a book I’ve been working on. Until this year (twenty years after leaving) I had remained silent. It’s time to speak.
O! My Father!
O my Father, thou that dwellest
In the high and glorious place,
When shall I regain thy presence
And again behold thy face?
In thy holy habitation,
Did my spirit once reside?
In my first primeval childhood
Was I nurtured near thy side?
I had often heard about the Heavenly Father and how much he loved us. From my earliest days I recall hearing about this Heavenly Father who brought my spirit into existence, though we had no idea how he did this, we believed it anyway. He loved us, we were told. He intended for us to be born into “this dispensation”. In fact, everyone born after Joseph Smith restored the gospel was born into “this dispensation”. And all of us were related as spirit children of the Heavenly Father. Once, when I was very young, I asked my Primary teacher if I was a spirit child of the Heavenly Father, and if my Mom was also, wouldn’t that make my mother my sister? She told me that there was no need to speculate on such things. “Just believe”, she said. And I did. And I never asked again.
It wouldn’t be until much later in life that I would understand the ramifications of the concept of a Heavenly Father that begat us all as spirit beings in a pre-mortal world. Like the concept of reincarnation, nobody who believes in this pre-mortal existence can remember any of its details. We were told, however, that we had this spiritual existence prior to being physically born on earth.
We were not the only beings to go through this though. We were told that our Heavenly Father did so as well. That at one time he, like us, had a pre-mortal existence. That he came to earth to keep his “first estate” (a requirement for godhood) and eventually died and, having lived worthily, became a god.
That synopsis bothers many Mormons and, when I was LDS, it bothered me, too. It was too simplified, thus making it sound almost comical, if not sci-fi. But that was basically how it was taught to us. No specifics nor details. No explanations as to how this all happens. We were only told it was true and we believed it was true.
We also heard the God of Christendom mocked as a being without “body, parts and passions”, as if His being superior to the race He created was somehow ridiculous. Supposedly the Christian God was too far removed from His creation whereas the LDS god, Elohim, was very much like his creation.
We were not told that the creed often cited to prove the LDS view of Christianity’s God was the Westminster Creed (circa 1646) nor that there was a context:
“There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal most just and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty”.
The above section from the Westminster Creed was making a distinction between God and Man and in accordance with the Bible. But we were told this was all wrong. Not surprising, given that the LDS Church taught us the Bible wasn’t accurate. We were told that many “plain and precious things” were removed from it. I suppose the information we were told about the Heavenly Father was among those things removed from the Bible’s pages.
We were taught that Satan actually told the truth when he said Adam and Eve would “surely be like God…” and that the Bible was in agreement when Elohim, stating to Michael the Archangel and Jesus (the “we” of Mormonism in Genesis chapter two) that man had become “one of us…”
I was a teen the first time I heard of the King Follett Sermon. Given by Joseph Smith in 1844, this was a sermon preached at the funeral of Elder King Follett, who had been a close friend of Smiths.
I first read the sermon in 1971 in the Church’s official magazine, The Ensign:
“I will prove that the world is wrong, by showing what God is. I am going to inquire after God; for I want you all to know Him, and to be familiar with Him; and if I am bringing you to a knowledge of Him, all persecutions against me ought to cease. You will then know that I am His servant; for I speak as one having authority.
“I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of a being God is. What sort of a being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and to tell you the designs of God in relation to the human race, and why He interferes with the affairs of man.
“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another.
“In order to understand the subject of the dead, for consolation of those who mourn for the loss of their friends, it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how He came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.
“These ideas are incomprehensible to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another, and that He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did…” [Ensign, May 1971 p. 13].
The Heavenly Father I knew as a Mormon child, teen and adult, was really just a mortal who became an immortal. While nobody directly said that our earthly fathers were just like the Heavenly Father, there was a sense that, somehow, the two were a lot alike. The comparisons were always drawn. Your Heavenly Father loves you and so does your earthly father. Your Heavenly Father protects you and so does your earthly father. Your Heavenly Father meets your needs; so does your earthly father.
If the father figure isn’t quite so grand, then what does that mean about the Heavenly Father? In 1954, a year before I was born, President Joseph Fielding Smith said:
“”Christ Not Begotten of Holy Ghost …Christ was begotten of God. He was not born without the aid of Man, and that Man was God!” (Doctrines of Salvation, Joseph Fielding Smith, 1954, 1:18).
He wasn’t making this up. The concept of a heavenly father, who has a body of flesh and blood, having been literally part of the begetting of Christ was not new to LDS teaching:
“God, the Father of our spirits, became the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh…. The fleshy body of Jesus required a Mother as well as a Father. Therefore, the Father and Mother of Jesus, according to the flesh, must have been associated together in the capacity of Husband and Wife; hence the Virgin Mary must have, for the time being, the lawful wife of God the Father…. He had a lawful right to overshadow the Virgin Mary in the capacity of a husband, and beget a Son, although she was espoused to another; for the law which He gave to govern men and women, was not intended to govern Himself, or to prescribe rules for his own conduct” [Apostle Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 158 ].
I grew up believing that God had a body of flesh and bone; that all of us were his spirit children (including Mary); and that this Heavenly Father was the agent of the conception of Jesus. While the term “incest” has never been used by LDS leaders (nor would it be), the implication is there.
I’m fairly certain that, if asked, LDS leaders would say that any man who had sex with his own daughter should go to prison. And I am also fairly sure that most LDS leaders, at least on a local level, would recommend excommunication for the man as well. The LDS church has not openly taught the concept of spiritual incest since 1972. But as late as 2009, the Kindle edition of the Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, quotes:
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God our Eternal Father. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was he begotten of the Holy Ghost. He is the Son of the the Eternal Father”.
Throughout my time growing up LDS, and later in my LDS adult life, I had to cope with the concept of incest. Though I didn’t realize as a small child what it was that was going on, once I did realize it, coping with it became difficult. A child may cooperate out of ignorance, but how does one reconcile the fact that their own father was the one doing this to them? How does one reconcile that an activity was going on that was so horrific that even a fairly wicked society still viewed it as a taboo?
To be honest, I never did reconcile it. I never wanted to deal with “the Heavenly Father” after realizing that He wasn’t the perfect father after all. My focus became my “Elder Brother”, Jesus who like my elder brother Al (the oldest of my brothers) was kind, and gentle and would never, not in a million years, harm his little sister in any way. It would be many years, even after becoming a Christian, before I could accept the concept of God the Father as part of the Holy Trinity. Apparently I wasn’t alone with this issue.
In 1996 a research project was conducted using the interviews of seventy Mormon women who were survivors of childhood incest. The perpetrators varied, however, some of the women had been molested by fathers:
“Twenty-five women recalled going through a period of anger toward God, either because God didn’t stop their abuse or because God was cast in the image of the ‘father-perpetrator’” [Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse: The Case of Mormon Women, Affilia, Spring, 1996].
In his book, New America, William Hepworth Dixon recounts an interview with early Mormon leader, Brigham Young, on the topic of plural marriage, and made this observation:
“Perhaps it would be too much to say that in the Mormon code there is no such thing as incest, and that a man is practically free to woo and wed any woman that may take his eye.
We had a very strange conversation with Young about the Mormon doctrine (of polygamy). I asked him whether it was a common thing among the Saints to marry the mother and daughter…
“…Young said it was not a common thing at Salt Lake.
‘But does it occur?’
“’Yes,’ said Young. ‘It occurs sometimes’.
“’On what grounds is such a practice justified by the Church?’
“After a short pause he said, with faint and wheedling smile: ‘This is a part of the question of incest. We have no sure light on it yet. I cannot tell you what the Church holds to be the actual truth– I can only tell you my own opinion; but you must not publish it– you must not tell it– lest I be misunderstood and blamed….
‘Incest, in the sense in which we use the word– marriage within a prohibited degree– is not regarded as a crime by the Mormon Church…”
“I asked the President whether … he saw any objection to the marriage of brother and sister. Speaking for himself, not for the Church, he said he saw none at all” [Mystery of Mormonism, circa 1920, pgs 119-120].
In fact, in Utah it was allowable for siblings to marry one another up until the year 1892. Just how many of those marriages there were, nobody knows. Incest, it seems, was a problem “back then” and remains a problem in Mormonism today.
In 2011, a famous Mormon family, the Five Browns, made headlines as the daughters, Desirae, Deondra and Melody, spoke out about the sexual abuse they endured at the hands of their Mormon Elder father, Keith Brown. Brown did not deny having molested his daughters and received eleven years to life for his deeds. The case reopened old wounds for Mormonism and the state of Utah. According to an article in the Salt Lake City Tribune, nearly 1/3 of all respondents surveyed in a study of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse had been sexually abused at some time in their life. And some 79% said they were sexually abused before age eighteen [SLC Tribune, May 5, 2013].
There were more problems than the incest aspect of the LDS teaching of the Heavenly Father. There was never a biological explanation for any of this pre-mortal spirit creation stuff. As a very young child I didn’t know anything about sex and biology. But when I took sex education as part of our required health class, there were some things that didn’t make sense. For example, if it requires blood for a man to be able to obtain an erection so as to have sex to begin with; and if blood is required in the manufacturing of sperm; how exactly does a god who doesn’t have blood (he only has a body of flesh and bone – D&C 130:22 – ) make babies? Joseph Fielding Smith, one of the prophets of the LDS Church, taught:
“Our Father in heaven and our Savior and all those who have passed through the resurrection have physical bodies of flesh and bones, but their bodies are quickened by spirit and not by blood, hence they are spiritual bodies and not blood bodies. The immortal body is quickened by spirit, but the mortal body is quickened by blood… . Now when Adam was in the Garden of Eden, he was not subject to death. There was no blood in his body and he could have remained there forever. This is true of all other creations” [Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, pp. 76-77].
But there’s an additional issue here. The emphasis on personal purity that was stressed when I was growing up made things quite difficult for those of us who were affected by incest. “Better dead clean than alive unclean” was how rape was addressed when I was growing up. In the book, “The Miracle of Forgiveness”, Spencer W. Kimball stated:
“Also far-reaching is the effect of loss of chastity. Once given or taken or stolen it can never be regained. Even in a forced contact such as rape or incest, the injured one is greatly outraged. If she has not cooperated and contributed to the foul deed, she is of course in a more favorable position. There is no condemnation when there is no voluntary participation. It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.”
This book, first published in 1969, became a source for teaching us young people about the virtue of our virtue. Please notice the exception “if she has not cooperated and contributed”. This assumes that a child would necessarily know that what’s happening is wrong and sinful. Over the years, and in the course of dealing with my own sexual abuse, I have come to the conclusion that many survivors of incest did not have any idea that what was happening to them was wrong, unless it was done violently or with threats.
Yet incest usually isn’t accompanied by physical violence, especially when the perpetrator is a blood relation. Violence and threat are more commonly seen with step-relations, but not necessarily. It all depends on the age of the victim, the perpetrators’ access to the child, and the perpetrator’s state of mind during the incestuous activity itself. An inebriated or drugged perpetrator is more likely to cause pain to the victim than a perpetrator seeking sexual gratification through slow, methodical seduction. The latter is often called “grooming”.
Grooming doesn’t have to be an every day occurrence. All the perpetrator has to do is start the child out young, normalize sexual interactions (infusing them into a daily ritual, such as bath time or bed time), and neither say or do anything that alerts the child to the unnaturalness of the act. Even if the child has a sense that something isn’t “right” per se, because they cannot identify what it is (due to age or lack of knowledge about sexual matters) they still will not fully be able to fight off the perpetrator and, believe it or not, the attention they receive may well be worth it to the child.
That last part will likely bother some people. I look back over my own molestation. Growing up in a rather large family of five children, it was often difficult to get attention. Especially from my Dad, who worked many hours and who, to me, was the smartest man in the world. There was nothing my Daddy couldn’t do! He grew beautiful gardens, fixed things around the house, told us really great stories, he knew all about math and science and languages. He cooked. He was a Scout leader. And everyone who knew my Daddy liked him.
So when Daddy came to me at bed time, it was special time. When he bathed me, it was special. I do not recall pulling away from him, regardless of where he touched me. It never physically hurt. And he was just washing me, or drying me, or tucking me in. Only later would I lean over the railing and call downstairs for Daddy- not Mommy- to come say good night to me. And he usually did. And when he did, things happened. And they felt good. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know what it was. But I had all of Daddy’s attention and that was the best thing.
I was all of fifteen when I came to the realization that the things I had remembered all these years were sexual things. They stopped happening when I began menstruating, around age twelve. From then on, Dad and I had a normal relationship without sex being involved. I will admit that his sudden cessation of this just didn’t make sense. And I am guessing that, because he didn’t suddenly stop showing me other attention, my silence was maintained. Years later I would find out from him that he stopped out of fear that things would go too far and I could get pregnant if they did. He also began to realize that what he was doing wasn’t normal and sought help from a counselor at a local university psychiatric department. Back then they assumed the children didn’t remember. But I did. It wasn’t a recovered memory at all. It was something I always knew happened. And it didn’t happen every day or even weekly. But it happened.
At fifteen the teaching about being better dead than defiled was still strongly taught in the Church. Girls were advised to fight like a banshee if attacked. Cooperation meant that you were filthy and could not be forgiven. Your chastity was forever revoked never to be restored. This wasn’t something taught by some obscure person in the Church. It was a recurring thought:
Heber J. Grant taught:
“There is no true Latter-day Saint who would not rather bury a son or daughter than to have him or her lose his or her chastity”.
So there I was, realizing that I was no longer chaste. I didn’t call out. I didn’t fight off the person taking my chastity and, to make things worse, I cooperated! One day the guilt got too difficult to deal with. I wanted to die. I felt I should be dead. And I tried to overdose on psuedoephedrine. When the fuzzy feeling began and some heart palpitations, I decided I didn’t want to die and went downstairs and told my parents.
Mom flew into an instant panic when I told her I thought I took too many pills and didn’t feel so good. Dad, with his knowledge of chemistry, assured Mom I would be okay but she insisted they rush me to the hospital. Once there, I was secreted into a curtained area and promptly administered syrup of Ipicac with an activated charcoal chaser. But something else happened. A young doctor, before he let my parents in to see me, leaned over the gurney and asked: “why did you try to kill yourself?” How he knew, I will never known. I just denied it. He went and got my parents and sent us on our way with instructions to not leave me alone for a while to make sure I didn’t “accidentally overdose”. And to dump the rest of the medicine as soon as my sinuses cleared.
Please try to follow my thinking on this. Here I was, a defiled child. And there he was, my father, a worthy Mormon Priesthood holder. He was admired. I was defiled. He could walk away. I had to face being unworthy and filthy. I blamed myself because it was my duty to fight him off. And I did not resist. Not once.
I didn’t begin trying to undo the damage until many years later. By my teens, my parents had mellowed. Dad had ceased the abuse. And the Mormon church? I didn’t blame the Church at all. I blamed myself. But maybe, just maybe, I could prove myself worthy to God somehow. Still looming in my mind, however, was the idea that I could never recover the lost chastity. So, in my mind, I had nothing to lose in that area and, to be blunt, I became promiscuous. Not to the extent of going “all the way” with boys. But myself and more than a few good, worthy Aaronic priesthood holders had some tickling the tonsils moments in the bottom rooms of the Ward house.
I wasn’t alone. During my teens I knew at least two young girls who were experiencing the same issues as I was. One of them was very rebellious, much to her parent’s chagrin. She didn’t care what they thought. She was going to wear her funky pants suits, listen to the Archies, grab a smoke now and then, and flirt with boys. The other one, well their family was on the outskirts. Like myself, this girl tried to fit in but was always on the outskirts of the “in” crowd. Not that the others knew we were survivors of incest. In fact, none of us talked about it until we were much older. But we all felt different and outside the circle.
Over time the Church’s stance and stress on purity has barely changed. “Blame the victim” seems to be a key factor:
“The victim must do all in his or her power to stop the abuse. Most often, the victim is innocent because of being disabled by fear or the power or authority of the offender. At some point in time, however, the Lord may prompt a victim to recognize a degree of responsibility for abuse. Your priesthood leader will help assess your responsibility so that, if needed, it can be addressed. Otherwise the seeds of guilt will remain and sprout into bitter fruit. Yet no matter what degree of responsibility, from absolutely none to increasing consent, the healing power of the atonement of Jesus Christ can provide a complete cure” Apostle Richard Scott, Ensign magazine, May 1992.
What responsibility does the abused person have? A child? Yes, now the LDS Church realizes that children are limited as to their responsibility in these matters. But why didn’t the Heavenly Father reveal that long ago? Surely the Father of all our Spirits would be willing to protect us enough to reveal that it’s not the fault of any child when these things happen. Or maybe not. After all, He had sex with his own daughter, according to LDS teachings. Can we blame the Mormon church directly for these acts perpetrated on children by a parent? Yes and no. The Mormon leadership has yet to either repudiate the teaching as false. They cannot do so without making their founders appear as false prophets. Nor have they had a new revelation to abrogate the prior revelation. The message remains: it’s okay to have sex with your daughter as long as she is willing. The father god of Mormonism didn’t rape Mary, he got her to be a willing participant.
No, I did not leave the LDS Church over this. Instead it drove me to try and be worthy in those areas in which I could still be worthy. The healing would come. Not through the LDS Church, but after leaving it. After coming to know Christ as my Lord and Savior. After taking it to Him and reading the Bible. It came as a comfort to me to know that Jesus takes the abuse of children quite seriously:
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” – Mark 9:42.
When I went to get my Temple Recommend, I told the Bishop that I didn’t believe I was worthy because of the incest. It was the first and only time I spoke to any member of the local leadership about the abuse. The Bishop, a military man, assured me that I was not at fault for the incest and advised me to contact the Stake President and pursue the matter with the leaders in my Dad’s Ward. When I asked why, the Bishop said that my father needed to go through the excommunication or at least the dis-fellowship process so that he has an opportunity to repent and receive forgiveness.
In theory that sounded good. But I also knew, from experience, that its never quite as easy as its painted to be. When men were accused of sexual misconduct with their daughters there was always a doubt about the person making the accusation. I had seen women who were concerned about their husbands, being told not to doubt him because he was a priesthood holder and “worthy” and would never do such a thing. I heard adult survivor stories scoffed at as just fabrications or delusions. And in the meantime, lives and families were torn apart.
I could see that happening as well. I could see my Mom being harmed. My siblings being harmed. And I could see that it was doubtful I would be believed. He didn’t look the look of a child molester. He didn’t act the part of a confused, sexually abusive man. He fit none of the profiles that existed at the time. And he was, after all, a worthy priesthood holder. No worthy priesthood holder would do such a thing.
A few weeks later, in Relief Society, the topic of child abuse came up as part of a lesson. I remember one part of the lesson was that we need not worry about our husbands ever harming our children because, as priesthood holders, they’re endowed with the Holy Spirit. One sister asked: “what if we think it might be going on?” She was told not to be suspicious, and to trust. Probably the only time I ever spoke out against a lesson response was that day.
“So if there’s smoke coming from the neighbors yard, we should just hope they’re having a barbecue and not a house fire?”
Later on I was informed by the Relief Society President that I wasn’t offering a faith-promoting support for the advice of the Church leadership. By this time I was a little older, a little wiser, and a little bit spunkier. I told her I would always report abuse of children. There’s nothing faith-promoting to be found when a child is being abused. And I walked away.
Have you been sexually abused as a child? Allow it to be covered by the healing power of Christ. Know that your worthiness comes from Christ and not yourself. You do not have to remain a victim because you are made whole in Christ. You become a new creation, not a restored one. Not merely a “fixed” one:
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” 2 Corinthians 5:17.