I’ve had a few incidents of bishops shaming me or somehow making me feel responsible for my first divorce or for being abused by my husband, but this story is about my children. When I found out they were being sexually abused by both their grandfather and their father, I went straight to the police. I only told my bishop on the phone as an afterthought that I was leaving my husband. I was close to members in my ward, and I just wanted them to know why we were picking up and leaving the state without notice or saying goodbye.
So fast forward a few years. We had moved from Nevada to Idaho (which I call Little Utah), and my children were in counseling and were slowly healing, although child abuse always leaves lasting scars. I want to say that few people understand or are prepared to deal with the years of trauma that follow child sexual abuse. If my new ward members weren’t treating me like some hussy who was out to steal their husbands (as if, and I’d just ignore these ridiculous women), they seemed to think of me as a victim. Like I was someone who needed protecting and saving. I did and still do appreciate the very few members in my ward who actually did treat me as a friend and offer their support, but most seemed to have me on their “ward project” list. I was starting to get good at telling which members were insincere in their ministering. They never knew the real me. The mother who’d given up a comfortable life and left behind everything and risked losing her kids to save them. The mother who had to learn how to support her kids on her own and go back to school when her ex wasn’t paying child support. The mom who’d been emotionally abused and beaten down for 20 years and secretly hated and blamed herself, but had turned into an angry mama bear when she found out her kids were hurt, and fought tooth and nail to ensure her kids never came into contact with their abusers again. I was a superwoman, but my new ward members saw me as weak and incomplete, a divorced mom who had failed her family.
Not long after my divorce, my oldest daughter came out as gay. I’d been suspecting it for a while. At first I was devastated and worried for her eternal salvation, but soon I began questioning and researching. I joined a Facebook group for members of LDS-related trauma. I began to realize that my poor treatment by leaders and ward members was far from being the only case.
I tried to stay in the church for a while, but the cognitive dissonance was too great. I chose to love and support my daughter. I couldn’t stay in a church that professed to love and accept LGBT people, but only if they followed the rules and chose a miserable celibate life or to live authentically.
A while after my kids and I began to unravel ourselves from the threads of Mormonism, my boys’ friend came out. His parents didn’t take it well, to say the least. When his father, who was in the bishopric, texted me to explain that his son wasn’t allowed to come to our house because he believed he had a crush on my straight son who is his best friend, I told him I understood and admitted my daughter was gay and that I’d be there for support if they needed it. I thought at the time that they were just trying to come to terms with their beliefs and loving their son.
I was very wrong. Everything blew up after that. Other parents decided to ban my kids from being friends with their kids. Rumors flew about my kids’ sexuality. I’m so glad I didn’t have to deal with any of these parents face-to-face, since I was more or less inactive by this point.
Then my boys told me about the things the parents were saying when they attended youth activities. One father said that my older son was beyond hope, but he still had hope for my younger son’s salvation and bribed him with donuts if he went to church for three weeks straight. When he didn’t go to church, the next opportunity this dad had, he chided my son and said, “I guess no donuts for you.” I’d never spoken to this man in my life, only seen him at church and he didn’t know me personally. What right did he have to try to judge and parent MY children?
Then came the icing on the cake. The moment I told my kids to never, EVER be alone with any adult in the ward. Another ward activity (my kids still enjoyed going because most of their friends are in the ward), and my older son was in the car with one or two other boys and this father in the bishopric – the one with the gay son. This man took the opportunity to lecture my son and his friends about the evils of masturbation, to question them about their sexual purity, and to tell them that homosexuality is evil. My son came home very upset, because this guy knows my daughter is gay and said things to upset him and make him think his sister is going to be punished by God.
HOW DARE any other parent in the ward try to step in and take over my parenting duties? These men weren’t even the bishop, yet they were ward and youth leaders and seemed to have it in their heads that it was within their bounds to be my kids’ moral compass and to judge me as a mother who was failing in her responsibility to raise righteous children.
I wish I’d had the nerve to say something to these men. But a lifetime of conditioning, fear, and shame are still firmly rooted in my mind. The people in my ward know my parents, who are very active church members and would make our lives hell if they knew we no longer believe the church is true. I felt I could protect my kids better by not making waves, but telling them to stay away from these adults from no
I’ll be damned if I let my kids be shamed or intimidated one more time by these men wielding unrighteous dominion, or pushed my kids to keep this cycle of abuse going for another generation.