I had the usual worthiness interviews starting at age twelve. Until I was fifteen, they were always on script. I never had anything to say to the contrary of any of the questions, I was never prodded. I did dislike the youth temple trip interviews being done during church hours being pulled out of class because the interview would be randomly with whichever counselor was free. I never really even knew who they were. I was taught very consistently that the bishop was my judge in Israel, that he represented Jesus Christ as my mediator to my Heavenly Father. I was taught that this included discernment of weather or not I was being truthful.
My parents split when I turned 14. It was messy and damaging from the start, leading to custody battles that lasted until the youngest sibling (I am the oldest of 4) turned 18. The night my parents sat us down to tell us the news, the bishop was in our home. My father asked him to be there, for support I guess. This was one of the experiences that solidified the authority of the bishop in my eyes as a child. My mother made it clear that she did not think having him there was a good idea, and my father claimed the right to make the decision as the patriarch of our family to invite the patriarch of our ward family to witness what ended up being one of the most painful experiences each kid had, up to that point anyway.
We sold our house and my mother got majority custody at first. We rented at a house in a new neighborhood. New ward, same stake. I was quickly interviewed for going to the temple for baptisms by a new bishop who also asked me to come to him if I needed anything, knowing we were in a newly split household. My mother left the church within weeks of the divorce, so I diligently took myself and my younger siblings to church on Sundays.
Custody switched back and forth with my parents once or twice a year. I moved seven times in high school, switching between four or five wards. The whole stake was very aware of our situation. I came to rely heavily on the church as my support system. I was and am still grateful for the wonderful leaders and friends from church who did their best to support me and my siblings. I do, however, feel only very lucky that we were not taken advantage of during these times. And over the course of all these years, not once was I ever asked by any leader, teacher, or bishop, if I was in any danger, we were.
My younger brother was very troubled. He was suicidal and destructive. He punched holes in the wall and broke objects in the home. He never touched me, but I feared for my safety and my other siblings. He would threaten us with knives and other threats. My parents were oblivious. My mother started working nights, leaving once I got home from school, end at one in the morning, party till about four, then come home as I would leave for seminary.
In the midst of all this I started seeing a boy in the new ward. The physical relationship escalated quickly and we became sexually active. I felt guilt the entire time, but also hated myself and life so much that I also felt I deserved the pain of my soul being damned. It became my form of self harm. Cutting or other forms of self harm did seem to be harmful enough to me, but the sin next to murder was what I used to very purposefully tear my soul apart.
My good friends helped me eventually feel hope about my life in general and I made the decision to tell my bishop so that I could make my way back. I went in and told him I was no longer a virgin. I was asked to name the boy as well. I was asked how many times I had sex, how long have I been sexually active. I was asked when I had the opportunity to have sex. I explained that he would come over anytime we wanted at night, because my mom was never home. He then asked if it was late at night, because that was even more dangerous apparently. I told him yes, my mom goes to work from five pm to one am, and stays out till about five in the morning with friends, so the house is unsupervised. He immediately talked to me about how being alone in a house with a boy is not ok, especially late at night. Not one word or question about my mother being negligent. The fact was that half the time I called my boyfriend over in the middle of the night, it was because I was scared, especially scared of my brother at the time.
I quickly came to the conclusion that my sexual sins were worse than being neglected, that through my terrible sinning I was the one putting my siblings in danger because if I didn’t do the worst sin possible maybe the bishop would have been able to talk to me about our home life and help us. But instead God needed to have him deal with me, it was my selfishness that made it so that the bishop couldn’t get to other issues.
Not only are bishops not trained to recognize sexual abuse and therefore should not be anywhere near discussing sexual matters with children, but they don’t recognize any form of abuse. It is negligent of an organization to set up a bishop as a stand in for Jesus himself, then not even give them training on their limitations, on when they are in over their heads. How dare the church try to pass the blame. Try to say well the parents taught it wrong, or parents are in charge of being in the office during an interview if that’s what they want. Children from broken homes are the ones who need protection, and they are the ones who are made all the more vulnerable to predators and spiritual abuse and coercion from leaders. My parents never even knew I was meeting with the bishop weekly to deal with my chastity “issues”.
Because my boyfriend at the time and I were “messing up” on and off the entirety of high school, I was in and out of bishop interviews all the time. With my family moving, that was a lot of bishops. I hated that every bishop in the stake knew about me. It felt worse than the actual guilt of my sins. My city had a lot of members, there was gossip, I was talked about everywhere I went. I was overwhelmed and overworked from keeping my family barely afloat, and the burden of shame was torture on top of it all.
I decided I needed to be perfect to make up for my sins. I made good with God, as embarrassing as it was to not take the sacrament in front of everyone. I joined choir and hung out with only Mormons. I went to early morning seminary. I got into BYU Provo. I was doing so great.
Then right before graduation I went too far with the boy again. I knew I would be destroying what I worked for, but I believed in being honest with God. I told my bishop. I was told I had to not attend seminary graduation, so I lied to my friends that I was sick that night. I had to postpone going to BYU for a semester, even though I would be “worthy” before school actually started. I lied that my family needed me at home a little longer. I was actually grateful that my family was messed up so that that was believable.
I was told by my bishop and then by my stake president that I needed to tell my dad the truth about why I wasn’t going to school on schedule. They said that being honest, completely, would help me be more fully clean of my sins. I did not want to do this. I told them I did not trust my dad with handling it. They insisted. My dad was and is extremely loyal and faithful to the church. I asked if I needed to tell my mom too. They said no, because she isn’t even a member anymore.
I told my dad. He did what I expected. He cried loudly for a week straight about how hurt he was. So then I was burdened with being the one who hurt my dad, on top of everything else. The bishop didn’t understand that my dad was emotionally abusive. I was never once asked why it was that I didn’t want to tell my dad. I will always regret that I told my dad. They didn’t know how to see how a child discloses abuse.
Many months later I was in college and I got a call from that high school boyfriend. We weren’t in contact really but he wanted to make sure I found out quickly that my dad had punched his dad in the church building foyer after passing him during stake conference. Apparently he felt justified because that Dad raised a bad son who turned me bad. All it really did was prove the rumors about me to be true. Even after all I had done and sacrificed to be the good Mormon girl at the good Mormon school to try to make life better for my siblings, I came home that summer terrified of having to confront my home stake. I still had many caring friends and leaders, but I was burdened again. Even after I had paid for my sins.
I am grateful that during my many many one on one interviews I was never probed as deeply as some about my actual sexual acts. It went about as far as “did you have actual intercourse?” But I was left vulnerable, my actual abuse was ignored, and I was spiritually coerced into putting myself in abusive situations with my father. The leaders weren’t malicious, they were ignorant. In my case, this was more damaging.
When I graduated BYU, I decided to serve a mission. I had to open up my last sins. I was told that serious sexual sins needed to be confessed again to determine if I was eligible to be a missionary. I was traumatized again. I went on a mission. I did not like that 19 year old boys were conducting interviews with investigators to be baptized.
When I met my husband I wanted to be honest, so I told him I wasn’t a virgin. He told me that he wasn’t either. I felt a lot of relief. I asked him about what he had to go through to repent. I was curious how it would be different for someone who had already been endowed at the temple. He told me he had to stop taking the sacrament for two weeks. That was it. I’m genuinely glad my husband didn’t go through what I went through. But it made it clear to me that I was put through a massive amount of pain that ended up being the whim of my leaders.