I really don’t have a great sense of exactly how to communicate just how damaging these one on one bishop interviews involving sexual topics by untrained men with authority for and from the church have been to me so this will probably come off long and not very concise. I think those that read the stories shared here will have a better sense of why they were damaging especially the stories that involve things I never had to face. But my story is my story and here it is.
I was a convert to the church. I was baptized on my 18th birthday just about a month before I graduated from high school. This wasn’t something my family was very happy about. We grew up mostly in nondenominational Christian churches. But I was taught some parallel teachings on sex and sexuality within those churches as well. So I came to the church already having a negatively slanted view on sexual topics. I had already been grappling with feelings of guilt about masturbation. I had already wondered if it was a sin and had basically come to a conclusion it was a sin based on what I was hearing from people within my Christian churches before ever even hearing of the Mormon church.
But a series of events led me to the church that I won’t get into here. So here I am at 18, an excited and enthusiastic new member of the church. It was a quick and real connection to the church and it’s teachings. As it relates to masturbation specifically I actually believed/hoped that by finding the “true” church I would now have the strength and ability to resolve my feelings and struggles over sex in general. But looking back I still didn’t have a good grasp on just how far the churches positions on sex went. I thought this would be a personal thing that I’d work through between me and my God.
Soon after my baptism I was asked to the bishops office for a temple recommend so I could attend it for the first time. This felt like a big deal. The temple for most people in the church is a big deal but as a new convert, living in Minnesota and at the time the closest Temple being in Chicago the whole thing felt massively important in my mind. I didn’t grow up with interviews about my situation in regards to god/worthiness as it’s just not a thing in general Christian churches. I was taught it’s a personal thing between god and so this was always an uncomfortable thing for me once within the church. I looked at bishops as measuring sticks of worthiness not as trusted “father figures” or Shepard’s as some do within the church. I was always very intimidated by authority figures and now that I was in the true church even more so. In this temple recommend interview there’s the question about the law of chastity and he was much more specific about what that meant and much more probing than I had expected. When he asked about masturbation I remember this feeling of doom hit me. I already had wondered to myself and worried to myself that I was a sinner and wrestled with god about it. But now my new church and it’s leader confirmed to me by asking this question I was correct in feeling shame about maturation and sex in general as well. I was a sinner. I felt broken. But I couldn’t get the nerve to admit I had indeed already broken this principal as it was only weeks after my baptism. So I swallowed hard and told my first lie to the bishop. I went to the temple with my youth group and while there I begged god to forgive me, to fix me, to take away this desire. I offered all kinds of bargains up to him and left feeling if I just never violated the law of chastity again God had forgiven me. I also vowed to never lie to my bishop again.
So the feelings of shame around sexual topics was further cemented by joining the church and then even more within bishop interviews. So life went on and before I knew it I was asked to the bishops office again maybe 6 months into my membership. This time it turned out he wanted to meet and discuss his feeling that I was called to serve a mission. He invited me to begin preparations to that end. In that interview I again felt so overwhelmed by my lack of experience in the church and all that a new church and community involves and feeling I knew hardly enough to be a missionary. I was also extremely shy. But the bishop said he felt I could and should serve a mission so I was convinced I needed to begin to prepare. As the weeks went by I studied and prayed and took part in every church activity I could, listened and read the scriptures. I felt I was doing all I could to become knowledgeable and worthy to be a missionary. But all that just wasn’t enough, I slid back into a struggle with masturbation. I felt extremely broken. I couldn’t understand why god wasn’t giving me the strength to overcome it. But there was also the external pressure beginning to build up within the ward. Everyone knew me, everyone loved my conversion story. I was to a degree a project for the entire ward because of my shyness and my desire to learn it took all kinds of people to help me learn and also feel comfortable within just the social construct of the church. So as the time came to enter the temple for my Endowments I once again couldn’t own up to my bishop about my struggle with the law of chastity and again bargained with god that if he’d just help me get in my mission I knew I’d then have the strength to overcome. I left for my mission a year and 3 months after having been baptized into the church. This issue and struggle became a pattern that each time turned the screw deeper and deeper and harder and harder to back out. Now if I ever were to come clean on this issue with my bishop or mission president I’d not only be exposing a whole line of lies but just how “depraved” I was. I tried to make up for this struggle in so many ways. I was a sincere believer who felt there was no hope for me. Fast forward a few years and a series of severely damaging family issues led to me going inactive in about 2003 in my mid 20’s and I never fully went back again. I still felt the church was true and did till about 2011 but just knew I was broken and couldn’t live up and decided if I ever got my life “together” I’d return in a heartbeat.
So outside of the church I moved on, met a girl while living in Florida who I married in 2007 and began married life. I was now, in my mind, allowed to enjoy sexual feelings and experiences. But I couldn’t. I tried. I tried hard. The shame was too deep, it was ingrained. Logically I knew in marriage sexuality was good and right but I couldn’t internalize it. This created huge problems with my wife. She wasn’t Mormon, or really religious at all. She just couldn’t understand why sex and sexuality was such a difficult thing within our marriage. We never could find a even footing when it came to our sexual needs. I couldn’t let myself be free and loving and tender. I could only still feel dirty and bad. Needless to say it ruined our marriage. We eventually got divorced after 7 years of time together. We were best friends. We couldn’t connect physically though and it poisoned and doomed a marriage I wanted to keep so badly but couldn’t.
So I wasn’t molested or overly purposefully abused by these bishop interviews. But I wanted to share because it doesn’t need to go to those extreme degrees to have profound consequences to someone’s life. I was taught by social conditioning within a Mormon concept and specifically by my bishops in interviews that I was a sinner and I could either come clean with them or suffer spiritual, religious and social consequence. It taught me to lie in order to feel I could participate in a church I whole-heartedly believed in. It taught me shame, sexual shame. It twisted my ability to have and feel healthy sexual relations with my partners. It still does today. In 2012 I went through a faith transition and don’t have a belief in the church or god really even but I still somehow feel shame around sex. I have with several therapists tried to work through these issues and just haven’t been able to break through. I continue to participate in regular therapy to this day. But for now I’m single by choice and have been since 2011. I do that intentionally because I don’t want to hurt another partner like i did my wife with my sexual hang-ups. At only 40 I have to face that at least for now and I’m quite sure the rest of my life I need to remain single and celibate because it’s just all to difficult and impossible for me. Who knows that’s not set in stone but I am basically resigned to the fact it’s better for me and any potential partner to avoid the mess that would come from a relationship.
In sharing this I hope to add my voice to a force that eventually dismantles these one on one interviews with untrained men of a sexual nature. I feel highly betrayed and let down by a church I gave my whole heart and soul to.