In 1987 I was a single 19 year old BYU student. I can fairly confidently add that I was an intelligent, savvy, and questioning young woman, who, despite serious misgivings about the LDS church, had decided to whole-heartedly commit to living the LDS gospel in the hopes that I could gain a “testimony” of its truthfulness.
In 1987 I had moved into a new BYU ward and found myself invited in a routine introductory interview with my new bishop, a religion professor with several books to his name. By that time, I had committed a few pathetically mild “necking and petting” infractions (it breaks my heart now, 30 years later, to think that I wasted even a minute of my life feeling guilty about such things) but when my new bishop launched into a tirade about the importance of full confession of sexual sins, I began to wonder if I had been lying to myself about the severity of my situation. He launched into a shockingly explicit list of increasingly graphic “sins” from which I was apparently supposed to chose my confessions.
I sat there in horror, and sat there and sat there, listening to a middle-aged man I had never met before aggressively trying to engage me in explicit sexual conversation ostensibly for the sake of my salvation. In my most rational heart, I felt that what he was saying was probably “off script” and maybe even highly inappropriate, but the part of me that was trying so hard to be a good Mormon reminded me that he was called by God to be my “Judge in Israel” and that he, not me, had the mantle of the Priesthood and the spirit of discernment and that it was entirely consistent with Mormon teachings to think that my own feelings of embarrassment and discomfort were evidence that my sins had opened me up to the influence of Satan and had driven away the Holy Ghost, so how could I possibly be a good judge of what was happening in that tiny room?
Oh yeah…there was also the fact that I knew he could end my college career if I didn’t answer “correctly,” and by the end of the very long and bizarre conversation I was also convinced he could have exposed me, via disfellowship, as the depraved sinner that perhaps I really was. In the end, he forbid me to take the sacrament for a few weeks, and I went home feeling disgusting and dirty, crying on and off for days, weeks, months, feeling vaguely guilty…but more importantly, feeling what’s taken me decades to recognize as a sickening sense of sexual violation.
These days, my 50 year old non-Mormon self is pretty clear that what happened back then was that a gross sad old guy was super high on the fact that having the mantle of the Priesthood granted him access to and authority over 19 year old college girls – an endless captive audience with whom he could engage in explicit lurid talk about their sexual experiences. Nothing even remotely in the ballpark of being raped in the basement of the MTC, but the religious manipulation of young vulnerable woman sure feels familiar.