I was 18 when my bishop called me in for an interview to discuss my prospective missionary service. I really didn’t want to serve a mission at that time, and when I admitted this to my bishop he quickly expressed his disappointment in my selfishness. He explained that if I failed to serve a mission there would be people who would never get an opportunity to accept the gospel and that the fault would be mine. I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but now that I had it made me feel so guilty. I realized then that, whether I liked it or not, I had to serve a mission.
My bishop then set up weekly interviews where we would meet to discuss worthiness issues and read from the Book of Mormon together. In one of these meetings, I confessed that I had been somewhat sexually active with my girlfriend. I explained that although I wasn’t comfortable discussing the details of this relationship, there had been no sexual intercourse. To my bishop, this was an incomplete and unsatisfactory confession. I was then asked to specifically identify which sexual acts me and my girlfriend had performed on each other. I felt extremely uncomfortable discussing such graphic details with a man I hardly knew and was at least three times older than I was. But my bishop insisted, and believing that he was the Lord’s appointed servant, I collapsed under the pressure.
“We had oral sex.” I hated saying those words. I felt angry and ashamed. After a brief pause, my bishop asked me to explain what I meant by that. I hesitated in frustration before replying, “Her mouth was on my penis.” I felt disgusted. I wanted to stop. I thought about leaving. But my bishop persisted, suggesting there was more. “And your mouth was on her…” I stopped him before he could finish, explaining that I hadn’t done what I was now being accused of doing. He didn’t seem to believe me, but I was telling the truth.
I thought it was over, but it wasn’t. My bishop now seemed to regard me with extreme disappointment. “What else?” he asked. This part of the story is particularly painful for me, but I proceeded to explain in the most explicit terms possible the extent of the sexual relationship I had with my girlfriend. My bishop asked how much clothing was or wasn’t being worn. I told him. He asked how we positioned our bodies. I told him. He asked where and how our bodies made contact. I told him. He left no stone unturned, thoroughly exploring every sexual experience I’d ever had. When it was finally over, I was left with a profound sense of personal failure and discouragement. I hated myself.
This should be the end of my story, but it isn’t. In fact, what follows is by far the worst part of it.
Months later, my bishop was giving a talk in our ward sacrament meeting, speaking about the nature of sin and the need for a savior. As he was addressing the topic of repentance, he stressed the importance of making a full confession to ecclesiastical leaders, promising that individuals who followed this pattern would be blessed with forgiveness from the Lord. He then slowly turned in my direction. After finding my face in the crowd and locking eyes on me, my bishop called me by name in front of the whole congregation and said, “Steve, keep working on it. You’ll get there.”
I was mortified, publicly humiliated. My bishop had just announced to the whole congregation, my next-door neighbors and closest friends, that I was repenting of personal immoralities, ones that were severe enough to require confession before the bishop. This was a deeply hurtful experience. I felt embarrassed, judged, betrayed.
In hindsight, I’m glad all this happened to me and not someone else. I’ve been fortunate enough to move past this experience, but it’s not hard to imagine how something like this could have led someone else to depression, self-harm, and maybe even something worse than that. My hope is that this experience will help church leaders recognize how harmful some of their most basic practices can actually be, leading them to positive and meaningful changes.