By all accounts, my childhood was pretty perfect. I grew up in the church, had awesome friends, leaders, and experiences.
My dad was my bishop until my early teens, then a friend’s dad was called and he was my bishop throughout high school. I went to him a few times after going “too far” with a boyfriend. The conversations were always really positive. He focused on god’s love for me and I always left feeling really positive and loved. I don’t think I was every FULLY truthful about EVERYTHING that had happened, but after making sure we didn’t have sex, the bishop never probed or asked me to be more specific. I was never punished or asked not to take the sacrament.
I really have no complaints about talking to the bishop in high school, but here are some problems I see now: I was taught from birth that the bishop is called of god and he’s my judge in Israel. God speaks to me through the bishop. We sang songs in primary about how much we love our bishop. We wrote him cards and did service projects in his honor. It was always a Special Day when the bishop came to visit us in primary! I felt like I HAD to go to my bishop to fully repent of things that I wasn’t even comfortable talking to my parents about, but was willing to sit in a room with the door closed with a middle-aged man and tell him that my boyfriend and I had taken off some clothes together. I didn’t even tell my parents about these meetings or that they were happening. And I believe my bishop kept everything super confidential, so he never would’ve disclosed to my parents that I’d asked to speak with him, so they never even had to opportunity to ask me what was going on or if they could be there. My parents absolutely trusted him and never would’ve thought to ask to be informed about interviews or meetings or ask to be in the room with me. I was lucky, in high school, that my bishop was so amazing. Other kids have not been so lucky. And even though I had some good experiences, is it really okay to teach children that you MUST love, support, and trust this older man to the point that they are willingly going behind a closed door and revealing private things that are sexual in nature? Parents are horrified to think that their children may be doing similar things with any other adult, but when it’s a man called of god and it’s in a church setting, we turn a blind eye. The church is true and this is the way it works, so this is what we do. No questions asked. What if he HAD been a pedophile???? When you believe a bishop is called of god, that question never even enters your mind because that obviously would never happen. But it obviously does.
As a freshman in college, I was dating a boy. We “slipped up” a bit, but it was all pretty normal stuff. No clothes had come off, and I didn’t feel guilty about it, so that was that for me. We were in the same student ward and after we broke up, my former boyfriend went to our bishop to confess what we had done. I was then called into the bishops office and he told me that he had spoken to my former boyfriend and that he needed to talk to me to make sure I could repent as well. I was floored by this. I thought it was MY choice to come to the bishop and I did not appreciate being coerced to confess. I was then asked very specific questions. What time of night were we together, where would we go to hang out, would we sit up or lay down when we kissed, would I ever get on top of him, did clothes ever come off, where would he touch me, over the clothes or under the clothes, where did I touch him, did I touch him under his garments, did he have an orgasm, did I know what happened when boys orgasmed or was I surprised, did I ever orgasm, and did I have a problem with touching myself. I was told that every time I masturbated, I took something away from my future relationship with my husband. I was given the Miracle of Forgiveness and I think I was supposed to go back and see him every month or something like that, but I just stopped going to church. I didn’t want to see him or my ex boyfriend in sacrament meeting. I didn’t feel loved or forgiven after leaving the bishops office, I felt weird and uncomfortable. I didn’t think I should have to talk about things when I myself didn’t want to or didn’t feel guilty about it. There were a lot of factors that went into me becoming inactive at that time, and that interview was one of them.
I’ve since gone back to church, gone inactive again, gone back, and then left the church for good. The crazy part is, whenever I haven’t been going to church, I’ve been so happy! All this guilt and shame and feeling like I wasn’t good enough that I experienced (sometimes without realizing it, or just not realizing where it came from) since childhood would just disappear. It was like this huge weight I didn’t even realize I was carrying around until it suddenly left. Despite my perfect childhood, I was really depressed as a kid and thought about suicide a lot and I had no idea why. Despite my loving bishop in high school, I had a lot of weird days when I would go back and forth between really loving and caring about my boyfriend and feeling like this sexual part of myself was natural and normal, and then being crushed with this guilt and shame that I was messing up and offending god. Even though I didn’t like my bishop in college and thought he was wrong, I couldn’t shake those words that every time I touched myself, i was taking away something from my husband. I was so confused and so unhappy while at the same time being totally happy and not confused at all because I was a member of the TRUE church. I was never really taught about sexuality as a woman or how to communicate, how to consent, how to enjoy having sex. There was always this gross, dirty part to sex while at the same time, it was beautiful and when you’re married you’re supposed to love it and have so much fun. It really messed with my head as a child and young adult.
When I met my husband, I found that I really did enjoy sex, but it wasn’t at all what I thought it would be and I still didn’t know how to communicate or ask for what I want. I’m still dealing with accepting myself as a beautiful, sexual being and totally, fully enjoying and wanting sex with my husband.
I had great experiences with bishops, I had a bad experience with a bishop. I will not be raising my children in the church, but it is so, so important to me that some actual policies and training get put in place so the children growing up in the church don’t have to play bishop roulette. No child should grow up thinking they’re not good enough. No young adult should feel forced to go into detail about sexual things. No child should be taught that it’s okay to go behind closed doors and talk to a middle aged man about things they’re not comfortable telling their parents. This is unacceptable and it needs to stop. Now. Before anyone else feels shamed or worse, gets molested.