At different times in my life I have confided in several bishops about various spiritual and emotional concerns. Throughout my youth, and young adulthood, I have never had an interview with a bishop where the topic of chastity hasn’t turned into an inappropriate conversation.
As a teen, in order to qualify for different rights of passage such as receiving a patriarchal blessing, participating in baptisms for the dead, and accepting church callings I would attend bishop’s interviews. On more than one occasion during these bishops interviews (with different bishops) I would not only be asked if I had any concerns that I needed to address in terms of morality/law of chastity, but I would be directly and specifically asked if I had participated in “heavy petting”, “sexual intercourse”, or “masturbation”. On more than one occasion, if my answer to any of the above was yes, I would then be asked to provide specific details.
In regard to masturbation I was asked how frequent. I was asked to describe what I do to myself and asked to describe the “impure thoughts” I would have while I was doing it. I was asked if at any time I used any objects on myself etc… In regard to heavy petting I would be asked if articles of clothing were removed, if the “inappropriate touching” occurred above or below my clothing, above or below my waist, above or below my underwear and bra, if any “penetration” occurred.
I remember more than once, I left those interviews feeling very dirty, ashamed, and emotionally violated. I remember feeling angry and wondering why the bishop needed to ask so many specific details. I also remember justifying it by thinking that he must need to put me through that so that I would have a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and that it must be part of the atonement process. I also remember feeling extremely uncomfortable seeing those bishops at church and church related events afterwards, because I knew that they knew all of the specific details of “what I did”. This made me feel very ashamed, and embarrassed, and judged. I felt that I deserved to feel this way because I committed “sins”. I felt like I was damaged. I felt like I was unworthy. I felt like something was wrong with me, because I was struggling to control my hormones and that meant that I was a bad, and dirty, person. I remember not knowing that all teenagers (even a lot of teenage girls like me) had trouble controlling their hormones. I thought I was the only one and that I was bad and perverted.
Then in my late teens/early 20s I had other experiences with even more bishops that were not ideal. I confessed more serious sexual sins. Again, I was asked to explain all of the explicit details. Penetration? How far? Naked? Under or over clothing? Above below waist? Above below undergarments? How many times? How often? Ejaculation? Orgasm? Oral? On one occasion I was told by a bishop that oral sex is a form of sodomy. I was told that it is a greater sin than regular sex because it’s a perversion of a sacred act. That sex is sacred and oral sex is of the devil. That the devil is taking a sacred act and perverting it by turning it upside down. I asked this bishop why this is? I asked him why more people don’t know this? I asked him if married people are committing a sin by engaging in this, and he said yes. He said it’s a tool the devil uses to destroy marriages. He said it’s his way of perverting a married couple’s sacred intimacy. He told me that sex was meant for procreation. He said anything outside of that is of the devil and is meant to destroy the family.
Then this bishop gave me The Miracle of Forgiveness to read. (This bishop was over a college/university ward in Utah around 2000-2004. I assume he was giving this council to a lot of 20 somethings at that time. I could not have been the only one.)
On another occasion I went into my bishop after being drugged and date raped. I knew that what happened to me could reasonably be considered date rape. I had gone to the police, and to a rape crisis center where I was told as much. The detective was trying to get me to come forward with names, and to press charges, but I didn’t want to. I knew I wasn’t able to make good decisions about what to do in my frame of mind at the time, so I decided to not do anything about it legally. I was struggling with this on an emotional and psychological level in so many ways, it’s indescribable. I had questions about what fault I had in this situation. I wanted to know if I was spiritually responsible for what happened on some level, so I went to my bishop. Unfortunately, that bishop told me that I was partially at fault for what happened because I wasn’t standing in holy places. If I hadn’t put myself in that situation in the first place, I could have avoided the situation entirely.
The result of this particular interview spear-headed a lot of reflection on my testimony and faith in the LDS church. I started questioning the legitimacy of my priesthood leaders and the LDS church standpoint on these matters as a whole. Why would the police and rape crisis therapists be telling me that I hold no fault for what happened, but my spiritual leaders are telling me something different? Who is right? My spiritual intuition is telling me that I’m not to blame, but my bishop says otherwise. Why would those sources be saying different things? Aren’t they both of God? Shouldn’t they be more aligned? Why aren’t they? Come to think of it, I’ve felt this conflict before. What about all of those times I went to the bishop as a teen and felt really uncomfortable? If this bishop is asking/telling me things that doesn’t seem right/appropriate, maybe others have as well. Isn’t the church true? I started going down a rabbit hole. It was very difficult to piece together what was of God and what wasn’t. What should have been asked of me in bishops offices and what should not have and why.
I still struggle to trust bishops. As a general rule, I don’t confide in bishops to that degree anymore. I don’t trust them and don’t feel they are qualified to advise me on matters that are this personal, and quite frankly, I don’t feel that most sensitive and personal things are any of their business. If I feel like a bishop could help me in terms of providing me information about church resources then I will go to them and ask questions, but I don’t “confess” to them. I don’t ask them where I stand in the eyes of the Lord. I just go to the Lord with those things.
I have had to repair so much damage and have had to sift through so much bad advice and misguided and toxic opinions from bishops throughout my life, that it’s just not worth it to me anymore. Now that I have children, I will never leave them alone in a bishops office. I understand that church policy isn’t what it used to be, but I also know from personal experience that bishops and other church leaders interpret church policy in a myriad of ways, and many of them either don’t know it, or choose not to follow it.
I don’t think there is any excuse for what happened to me as a teen and a young adult when I went to bishops for spiritual guidance and help. I should not have been violated the way that I was, and I should not have been blamed for being raped. I have forgiven all of the bishops that acted inappropriately toward me and gave me really bad advice and damaging council. Looking back, I understand that bishops are human, and they make mistakes, and many of them throughout the years have been ill equipped to answer many of the questions that have been asked of them. I appreciate greatly that the church is looking into ways they can improve the handbooks and policies. I believe these changes are taking place because of stories like mine. I also believe that these changes are divinely inspired. I truly do.
That said, I still don’t feel that my kids are 100% safe from inappropriate situations inside of bishop’s offices as it sits presently, which is why I will always insist on being present in their interviews until they are 18 and maybe beyond that, we’ll see. As a general rule, I don’t leave my kids alone with adult/older males (or many females) outside of my immediate family, bishops are no exception. This is a matter of my child’s personal safety. I don’t feel that as a parent I should be asked to put this at risk. Perverts come in all shapes, sizes, and religious rank and affiliation. In a perfect world, I could trust that my child is 100% safe in the hands of a bishop, but we don’t live in a perfect world and bishops aren’t perfect. I also don’t say things to my kids like “the leaders of the church are the Lord’s mouthpiece”. I don’t tell them that they shouldn’t question the leadership of the church. If at some point someone would have told me that it’s ok to question the bishop, and that bishops are human and screw up a lot. That men should not ever make you feel uncomfortable, and if they do, it’s not of God. I think my crisis of faith wouldn’t have been a crisis. I think I could have avoided having so many damaging thoughts about myself, my sexuality, and my spiritual well-being. I think I could have arrived at the healthy place I’m at now, despite the trials I have been through, a lot sooner.