March 10, 2019
Dear President Nelson,
I’ve heard that it doesn’t matter if I write you or not because my letter will get kicked back to the Area 70 that the postage is from and I’ll get contacted directly. I hope that by not using my name, that won’t be the case and you’ll actually read it, but I know you very well might not ever see this.
I need you to be aware of my situation. I need you to know how I was treated. I loved the Church you lead. I wanted nothing more than to follow every commandment and suggestion that was put forth by the Church. I wanted nothing more than to find a worthy priesthood holder to take me to the temple. And then, I was raped and assaulted by two of your priesthood holders. One of them was a high priest. Your church didn’t teach me about consent, and didn’t teach my parents to teach me about consent, so although I had a long talk with God, and he told me I would be okay, and he told me that it wasn’t my fault, I still went to my bishop. My assaulter also went to his bishop. Mr. High priest barely got a slap on the wrist and a temple recommend in 4 weeks. I was told it was all my fault, God didn’t love me as much and was threatened with excommunication at least twice a week for six weeks while the bishop and stake president put together a disciplinary council. I could barely leave my bed for those six weeks. I was truly wracked with torment and spent most of the day crying and pleading with the Lord to not be excommunicated, and to help me understand and do whatever it took to be forgiven. At the end of my disciplinary council, where I had to relive what had happened for at least the fourth time and felt compelled to divulge private and very personal matters involving my abusive ex-husband in order to help the council understand background. These are matters that I should never have to discuss unless I Want to, especially not with men twice my age that I’ve met only a handful of times. These are things that my own parents don’t even know, and like a good little Mormon girl, I told them everything. At the end of my council, they told me “Sister, we actually looked it up in the handbook and you didn’t need a council, but we felt you didn’t take it seriously, so we decided to have one so you can see the magnitude of your sins.”
President Nelson, I’m aware that the church leadership is comprised of humans that make errors. But, where was God in my disciplinary council? Why didn’t God tell these men that what I had actually experienced was sexual assault? Why did God not comfort me? And, when I moved shortly after my disciplinary council into the ward that my assaulter was in and we met with the bishop together, why did God tell the bishop that yes, Mr. High Priest was worthy for a temple recommend, but I was still at fault. I was not forgiven. I had major repenting to do.
At this point, I couldn’t believe what was happening. I felt so confused and angry at the Church, but like a good Mormon girl, I just threw myself in deeper. Finally, after months of meeting with the bishop every single week to go over what had happened again, (literally, I had to tell the bishop everything every week for 6 months. If I did not, it was met with, “Well, I know you want your recommend, and if you want that recommend, you’re gonna have to tell me everything. I know there’s more. I’ve heard the story. Tell me again”) he finally deemed me worthy to have a temple recommend interview. I passed, and went to the stake president. I was told that the stake president was not allowed to ask me questions about what I had been through, but he did anyways. Like a good little Mormon, I answered them honestly and ended up being denied my temple recommend because the Stake President didn’t believe me that I didn’t masturbate and view pornography (two things that I had truly never thought to do, much less had been tempted to do or actually done). When I hesitated about answering personal questions that extended far beyond the scope of “Do you follow the law of Chastity” I was told, “We know you want your recommend, so you better answer, or you won’t get it.” Where was God in my interview? Why didn’t God give them the spirit of confirmation that I was telling the truth?
I finally got my recommend over a month later, and instead of a giant feeling of relief, all I felt was resentment. But, I still tried. I tried to rise above it, and “doubt my doubts before I doubted my faith.” And then, the big bomb dropped. I moved in with members of my ward and noticed how they used very specific language with their children regarding the word “No.” They would frequently tell their children, “Listen to what they’re saying. Did they say no to you once? What does that mean?” and “No means no, it doesn’t mean you don’t feel like stopping so you get to continue.” I asked them why they talked to their children like that and they said that they never want their kids to be confused about consent, and what it actually means. I didn’t understand. So, they taught me about consent. I learned, after everything was said and done, and I had spent 8 months convincing myself that I had consented to these things that had happened to me because I went on that date, because I fell asleep on his couch. Turns out, I didn’t. Turns out, when I said, “No, we have to stop. This is making me uncomfortable.” And he didn’t stop, that was assault. Turns out, when you wake up naked and there’s a 300 lb man on top of you, but you fell asleep full clothed and innocent, thinking you were safe, that’s not consent. He took off my garments in my sleep but, “you were kissing me back, so I thought you wanted it.” Turns out, when that 300 lb man is on top of you, and you say no, but you aren’t physically strong enough to do anything about it except use words, that’s not consent. I was assaulted. And I had to pay dearly for it in disciplinary action for 8 months, while he got to walk free and easy after 4 weeks.
Where was God, President Nelson? Where was my protection that my garments were supposed to provide? Why wasn’t God on my side? Why didn’t God tell SOMEONE, in all those meetings, with all those old men, that I didn’t give consent? That it wasn’t my choice? Why was I less important than the men in my life? Why didn’t God protect his daughter? What kind of Father doesn’t protect his daughters?
I moved again, relieved to finally not have to visit the bishop’s office every week, but met with the bishop as a “you’re new to the ward” interview. I have food allergies that prevent me from taking the normal sacrament, and they are severe enough that my sacrament cannot even touch the tray. I was told by a previous bishopric member (that was also my doctor) that as long as I got permission from each bishop, I could hold my sacrament while it’s being blessed so I can still partake of the sacrament, but remain healthy. My new bishop told me, “I know you have to choose between the sacrament and your health if I say no, but I’m saying no. You have to make that decision. It’s not okay for your sacrament to not be on the tray.” Where was God, President Nelson? I had worked for 9 months to take the sacrament and be a fully participating member of the Church after being assaulted, and now I can’t because of a food allergy? Another man that has not ever met me before gets to define my relationship with God because of a health problem I have no control over? This was yet another crack in my testimony of the Church.
My little sister got married in the temple shortly after. At this point, I was pleading daily for peace. Every thought, action, word, and minute was consumed with, “Don’t do/say/think/be ____, or you will have another disciplinary council. Make sure you do/say/think/be ____, or you will have another disciplinary council.” I was no longer doing the things the church advises because I believed it, but because I was scared. I was threatened. The decision I most regretted in my life was my endowment, because that meant I couldn’t step back from the Church to heal without a disciplinary council if I returned, and I knew I wouldn’t survive that. After all I have been through in my life, I was so sad that the thing that I had taken such great solace in was the thing I regretted the most.
I went to the temple, to my sister’s wedding, broken, pleading harder than I ever have to have some sort of major spiritual experience- some reassurance that it was all worth it, that I was taking on this struggle for a good reason, one that I could find some peace somewhere. And then the sealer started talking about how “This only happens once for people. This is it, you don’t get another chance at marriage.” I don’t get another chance at happiness because I had an abusive ex-husband? What? And then I noticed that my sister covenanted to her husband, but he didn’t covenant back. It’s not a triangle like I had believed all this time, it was a line. I don’t want to be at the end of a line. I want promise back that I’m not going to be mistreated again. I want before God, Angels, and witnesses my sweetheart to have to promise that I’m important, and he’s going to take care of me. But, that’s not how it works.
I felt glass breaking in my head. I couldn’t do it anymore. Two days later, I decided that peace with God without the Church was better than turmoil, anxiety and fear if I stayed. And I took off my garments. This was the hardest decision I have ever made. I tried to talk with my parents about it, but they think there are only two reasons someone steps back from the church- laziness and being offended. I am neither of those. I was abused by priesthood leaders, and by members of the priesthood that were supposed to protect me. But they can’t see that. Now, my family that I was so close to barely speaks to me. They think that I took the easy way out. They don’t see that this is the hardest thing I will ever go through.
President Nelson, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Matrix, but in it, a man is at a cross roads and he is told he can either take a blue pill and return to his life the way he knows it, or he can take a red pill and see things for how they really are. I feel like I was forced to take the red pill, and all I want is that blue pill life back. My life in the Church was far from easy, but there was so much comfort. I tried to go to Church a couple weeks ago, and just focus on the things that I still believe in, and I couldn’t. There’s too much that I can’t handle now.
I decided to write you this letter now, because I know I’m far from the only one. There is much work to be done, and people’s stories should be heard. People should recognize the problems, so things can change. I’m lucky. My bishop/stake president/mission president/President of the MTC didn’t assault me. But at the same time, my relationship is forever altered with my family. They continue to support the leaders that abused their power over me. They sustain their leaders over standing by their daughter, in a church where “Family is first.” I call bull. Family is not first in this church. If family was first, my parents wouldn’t have stepped away from me when I told them of my experience and they agreed it was wrong. They would have supported me and should have, not continue to victim blame.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get to a point where I feel like I can come back to the LDS Church. I hope so for the sake of my family, but I doubt it because of my experience. If there is a God, I know He looks at our intentions, thoughts and actions, and I really think that His heart is broken for me, and He knows that I’m just trying to do the best I can.
Please, change things for those still trying to make it work. Stop the subtext that that those that are different are less. Stop the hatred that is springing from people’s hearts for choosing different from you. You have the control to change the rhetoric, and yet, you do nothing. You should be better than those that came before you, not continue in the ways of hatred and bigotry. Please, change. Change so people feel like they can come back.
Someone that used to be Mormon