I was born into an LDS family. Throughout my childhood and youth, my father served in major positions of leadership, respect and trust, including bishop, stake high councilman, branch president and Gospel Doctrine teacher. Throughout my childhood and youth, my mother served in major positions of leadership, respect and trust, including Relief Society president, Young Women’s president, Stake Relief Society counselor, and seminary teacher. Yet they are my original abusers.
My parents practiced unrighteous dominion against their children full-force, as a unified, mutually-justifying team. “Bad Cop” was my mother, who ruled the roost and was viewed by all of us kids as the primary abuser. My father never defended his children against her but instead always enabled her and condemned us for disobedience and passing unrighteous judgment. My siblings and I endured daily verbal, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual abuse at her hands. “Good Cop” was my father. We grew up thinking that Dad was the only one who loved us. The truth was that he was also physically, psychologically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally abusive. I have some sketchy memories which indicate that he may also have rage-raped me once, but I remember so little of my traumatic childhood that these memories are hard to trust.
Many people in my extended family and LDS church ward family either knew about or suspected that there was abuse at home. Nothing was done. I believe this was because nobody believed anything COULD be done. White collar abuse is so tricky that way, leaving little-to-nothing to photograph.
I learned various coping mechanisms, but the main ones were dissociation and suicidal ideation. Every day was guilt, shame, self-loathing, worthlessness. I was called stupportn, lazy, disobedient, fat, ugly, slut. But at least I was smart, which helped me to survive, especially because I could at least obtain praise and acceptance from my teachers at school. Healthy disagreement or debate were deemed as dissension and sass. It was not tolerated and punishments were severe. It was just the constant daily drumbeat of obey, obey, obey. Good girls never say no.
This was my first round of experiences behind LDS-sanctioned closed doors. Negative.
I was a teenager who, at heart, really DID want to be righteous, but could never seem to feel good about myself. I carried a lot of guilt and shame. I think my siblings and I became such expert appeasers, people-pleasers, over-achievers, sneaks, dissemblers and liars in order to just survive the suffocating environment at home. Rebelling, however passively or openly, WAS how I kept from disappearing; from being utterly swallowed up into the demands and wills of my parents. I honestly grew up not wanting to be in the Celestial Kingdom, as I was taught that God loved me, because if they were so righteous (obviously the Church callings said so) then God must be like them. Furthermore, if being in the Celestial Kingdom meant that I had to be trapped with my parents for eternity – and my dad told me it would be as his plural wife if I never married – then I’d rather be in a lesser kingdom.
I did some things in my youth that I had been taught were wrong, and was ashamed of. I stopped doing those things, but had been taught that if my sins were “of a serious sexual nature”, they still needed to be confessed to a church leader to be truly forgiven. Not knowing what was serious and what wasn’t, and feeling incredibly guilty, I contacted my stake president to confess, since my father was my bishop. With the help of a female teacher friend, and an office staff member, my stake president met with me alone, at school, during school hours, so my parents would not have to know. I think now that this teacher helped me because I was so full of self-loathing that she felt this confessional would somehow help me. I was SO relieved when the stake president told me that because I’d stopped the behaviors and confessed them to him, I was forgiven. What a RELIEF that was! I’d thought for sure I would be disfellowshipped or maybe even excommunicated.
That was my second round of experiences behind LDS-sanctioned closed doors. Positive.
Most of my memories of my junior and senior years of high school are so jumbled that I can’t easily put them in chronological order. It was a time of great trauma and greater betrayal. Though the memories are fragmented, I have pieced enough of them together now to know that I was drugged and medically sexually assaulted by a doctor who attended my ward. I know that my parents did not believe – rejected outright – my confusion and distress when I tried to tell them of that horrible, disorienting, terrifying experience. They even made me keep seeing him for appointments. I know I discovered that my parents had found its hiding place and were reading my private journal. So I began writing it in another language. I know I was suicidal to such a point that my teachers were alarmed at my personality change. I know I ran away from home because the abuse had gotten so bad that I just couldn’t STAND it anymore. I know that I was believed by the stake presidency and not my parents and that my father was especially furious about it. I had surreptitiously tape-recorded how we were treated. I know that my parents were threatened with church discipline and that my father was shortly thereafter released from his major church leadership position. But nobody ever contacted any civil authorities about it. Maybe because my father already worked for them.
That was my third round of experience behind LDS-sanctioned closed doors. Positive.
In order to keep me under control, and keep their costs down, I was not allowed a car nor a driver’s license when I started college at barely age 18. One winter evening in my freshman year, I made the mistake of staying too late on a double-date movie night with LDS friends. When it appeared that we were snowed in, I should have walked across campus to my own dorm, anyway. But we all agreed that we were adults and upstanding LDS and so nothing would happen if we just camped out in my friend’s room for the night. Naively, I believed that. A few hours later, I woke up to discover my date, who was scheduled to leave for his mission, with his face and hands all over me, even inside my clothes. I fought him, and in the process, woke up everyone else in the room. I left in a fit of indignation and immediately called my bishop to report him. The young man’s departure, already publicly set and known, was delayed, which was a great embarrassment to his family, who blamed me more. The thought never crossed my mind that this was an assault, bordering on attempted rape. Nor did it cross my mind to call the police. Nor were the police ever called by the bishop. They should have been, but god forbid “wrecking his life for a small indescretion”.
That was my fourth round of experience behind LDS-sanctioned closed doors. Positive.
Fearing to return to my original abusers and to give up my two on-campus jobs, I sought for a way to remain in my college’s town. The Relief Society president and her husband, whom I will call “Olaf”, a member of the bishopric in part IV, offered me a job as their live-in housekeeper. I accepted it, much to the fury of my parents, which delighted me even more.
In hindsight, I can see the dangerous and helpless situation that I, unknowingly walked right into. I still had no transportation or driver’s license, and their house was way out in the country. Yet there were individuals in leadership and among the membership that knew the dark history of that couple’s relationship. A history of childlessness; great contention; a foster son who got into fistfights with Olaf and ran away rather than be adopted; and worst of all, an adultery very early in their temple marriage, committed by Olaf with another married and endowed member of the ward.
Nobody recognized it as grooming, entrapment, terrorization and seduction, not even me. I accepted that as a member of the bishopric, Olaf could council with me in their home and during our 30 minute drive to and from town, about what my parents had done. After all, the bishop was so busy, and Olaf’s wife was aware of it and gave her whole-hearted blessing. Olaf began pressuring me to do things that I didn’t want to do. He began coming into my bedroom while I was studying, just to be with me. I tried locking my door, but he would just pester and pester and not let me study. Olaf began listening outside the bathroom when I showered, or even peed. It was flattering and terrifying at the same time. I was living with a stalker and didn’t even realize it. He would pressure me and pressure me, promising that if I’d just do that one thing, he would leave me alone. But he never did. Olaf told me things to believe about us, over and over, which never felt quite right or quite true. But I had been convinced by that time that he was the first person who had ever truly loved me; that this was love. The only time I was away from him was at school or work or Relief Society. Other than that, he was ever-present.
Six months into living with them like this, I was able to finally peel away from him for a weekend. I had been asked to babysit for a faithful young LDS couple. When I saw what they had – the happy temple marriage, the children, their own life and home, and both being young and first marriage – I knew that I was in danger of losing all this in my own life if things kept careening out of control with Olaf. He would not be convinced that things were not under control. He never listened to me about that. I prayed and cried all that weekend and resolved to tell on him. Yes, to disobey. To save myself and my virginity. Even though I knew I was in love with him, I knew it was wrong, and that the things we were doing were wrong. And that I had never really ever wanted to do them in the first place. (I still believed I was a virgin, having mentally blocked 99% of the memory of the medical assault and paternal incest.) I also remembered what my Institute teacher had told me, when he sensed that I was troubled. I didn’t tell him much, but I told him enough for him to agree that I needed to take whatever it was to my bishop.
Olaf monitored me VERY closely when we attended church. But that Sunday, since the family I had babysat for brought me to church, his guard was down. Turns out that the bishop was still out of town for Thanksgiving and so Olaf was busy filling in. I practically ran across the building, to the other side of the stake center, hoping to find the stake president in his office. I had to tell somebody I could trust, and he had always been kind to me. Had to tell them, TODAY! Before I broke my vow to myself, or lost my nerve for shame. When I disclosed to him, I did it for me, just me, fearing to disclose the other persons’ name, hoping that this meant I had still kept my promise to Olaf not to reveal him.
Having had absolutely no training in sexual abuse, the stake president did not recognize that the “sin” I was confessing to was actually the courageous cry for help of a confused young victim. Furthermore, the stake president immediately guessed who the other party was. Olaf was called into the stake president’s office, whereupon he promised to stop “our” bad behavior. Both men felt I should not leave immediately (Olaf begged him for this), because both believed it would “raise [the wife’s] suspicions”. The bishopric counselor promised the stake president that everything would stop. Looking back on it now, I am aghast that the stake president believed Olaf because HE HAD BEEN THE VERY BISHOP to whom Olaf had finally confessed his adultery.
No, the police were not called, since it wasn’t recognized at all as a sex crime. It was called a sin, with Olaf and I being the sinners. Taking no account for my youth, innocence, inexperience, and the fact that – gee, this girl has just blown the whistle, duh, I wonder why? – I was treated like a full-blown endowed adult member. I think this is because of the high church positions my parents held and because I was also serving in auxilliary church leadership at that time. The fact remains, however, that I had only just turned 19. Olaf was nearly 47. The stake president was in his 60’s. Today I would call it repeated attempted statutory rape, because I didn’t even have a fully developed adult brain yet, and the brain I did have had only been out of it’s lifelong soak in the short-circuiting marinade of unrighteous dominion for a year. I hold a deep rage toward this stake president. Either he was an idiot or he was a coward. Or worse, he was both.
That was my fifth round of experience with LDS-sanctioned closed doors. To say that it was negative is an understatement. It was bewildering, confusing, not according to the pattern I had come to believe and trust in. And because these closed doors were used to hide away that which should not have been hidden, everything immediately thereafter swiftly went straight to hell.
The bishop was livid, absolutely livid. Not with his counselor Olaf, it seemed, but rather just with me. Bishop said I had gone to the stake president on purpose, to avoid him, but he wasn’t about to let me get away with my sins that easily. Bishop accused me of falsely accusing my dorm room attacker the previous year. He told me I had an evil seed. Bishop called me a malicious, designing homewrecker. He denied I was in any way an abuse victim. To prove that belief, he called in a hostile male counselor from LDS Family Services, who peppered me angrily with prying questions, all in an attitude of doubting me while condeming me. I responded as I had at home with my parents: hostility and, ultimately, angry silence. The professional counselor informed my bishop that he was correct. I was not abused. How could I be, seeing what positions of honor my parents held within the Church? He literally said that. I doubt that any of them consulted with my former stake president and his counselors, even though I told these men that they would back up my assertion. I had never, ever, outside my home of origin, been treated with the level of hatred and contempt like that bishop treated me. I was in shock. The stake president would have nothing to do with me after that, even avoiding me when he saw me. Thus I learned that I was the official hot potato pariah, and he seemed more than glad to let the bishop handle it.
Meanwhile, I kept fighting off Olaf at home. For a couple more months I fought, wanting to leave, but now staying because my stake president had told me to. Because Olaf was scaring me. I was afraid of his wife and her rage. I was ashamed. I still had no car. I was too ashamed to disclose to anyone, not my church friends, definitely not my parents, not my siblings. This was THE WORST THING I HAD EVER DONE. I internalized it completely. The blame, the responsibility, and the self-loathing.
One day the Bishop questioned me, again, very closely, and with much hostility, hatred, impatience and condemnation, about my sexual history “from the beginning”. I kept feeling like there was an answer they were looking for which I didn’t have, but which they believed. I wonder now what it was that Olaf told these people and why they believed him and not me. When I stated, that despite all these things, of which I had repented, or was trying to, I was still a virgin, he laughed in my face. He snarled from across his desk, “You aren’t a virgin! What a LIAR you are! Even to yourself! If you’ve thought it, you’ve already done it!” I burst into tears and cried that this could not be! What about all those months I had fought him off? What about my coming to the Church? What about all these efforts to not give in? The bishop opened up his Bible and read the passage about lusting after a woman. He told me that Jesus’ own wores taught that if you even LOOK upon someone to commit adultury, you have. “But I didn’t actually DO it!” I wept. And he looked straight in my eyes and coldly spat the words again, “If you have thought it, you have done it.”
My heart broke. Just broke. I was lost! I have already gone too far! And so when I returned home, I gave up and gave in. Olaf didn’t notice my despair over his heavy breathing and groaning.
That was Round 6 behind LDS-sanctioned closed doors. Absolutely shatteringly Negative.
VII I was excommunicated. So was Olaf. Having been isolated from all help by this narcissist, and feeling myself to be so ruined that nobody else would want me, I married Olaf. And the person who performed the civil ceremony in an LDS building? The same stake president who I had come for help to stop this very thing from happening to me
Round 7 behind LDS-sanctioned closed doors. Negative
VIII We stayed away from the Church for a few months, during which time I finally got it through Olaf’s dumb skull that I had never wanted to marry him but had felt forced to. That I felt like he had ruined my life; that basically my life was over. Olaf tried to commit suicide. I found him with a bunch of pills and called 911 [Something I sometimes still regret]. I recognized this behavior as a deliberately manipulative control mechanism. He’d planned on me finding him like that. I started to hate him, then. Hate God. Hate the Church. But then, surprise surprise, it was OLAF who wanted to go back and pursue our reinstatement. That was the only good thing that devil has ever done in my life.
Our ward boundaries had been redrawn in the meantime. Miraculously, we had a new bishop, my former Institute teacher from Round V. This bishop was sensitive and wise, but better yet, he was humble and full of charity. He met with me without my husband, Olaf, present. I credit him with teaching me what the Restored Gospel really was, and what it really wasn’t. When I became deeply, darkly, extremely suicidal during my second pregnancy, this bishop gave me frequent priesthood blessings. To avoid embarassing me or exposing my despair to anyone else, they were given privately, like a father’s blessing is given. I don’t think I would be alive now, it it had not been for his understanding and support. I view this bishop as a true father, friend and good shepherd. I wonder sometimes, though, if the reason why he never had me get professional mental health counseling was because he wanted to preserve the marriage, for the sake of the children.
A few years later, he was the bishop who presided over my Bishop’s Court. I was rebaptized and the people in that ward loved me. Refrained from judging me and honored me with trusting me to serve as a Primary teacher. This bishop also helped me to return to the temple, by first granting a limited-used recommend and, the following year, helping me to complete the process to become temple-endowed.
Round 8, behind LDS-sanctioned closed doors. Positive.
Olaf was abusive toward me, but I endured it, as part of my self-punishment for my sins. This abuse continued where our “courtship” had left off: with the near-constant sexual abuse of marital rape (with or without the children snuggling asleep in bed with me). Manipulative and jealously possessive, and quite a bit larger than me physically, he also verbally, mentally, financially, emotionally and spiritually abused me. Again, I put up with it because it had been all my fault for being too weak to say no.
But I began to see little signs that he was setting his sights on our oldest child. I recognized some of the same grooming behaviors, but told myself it couldn’t be so. But when the child told me of a scary touch, I booked it out of the home within the hour, taking my other child, an infant, with me. I was so scared I went to my parents house. Olaf played the soap opera star, biking in the rain to the bishop [yes, from Round 8] to weep, wail and wring his hands. The bishop told me to come home, that Olaf had sworn up and down that he had done nothing. So I came home. The bishop was intent on preserving the marriage; told me “I had made my bed and now had to sleep in it.” This bishop had also feared that once I knew the temple covenants and understood just what Olaf had violated, I would come to utterly despise Olaf and want to leave the marriage. Yup. This bishop knew me very well.
A few weeks later I got into another fight with Olaf and our 4-year-old child told him to quit being mean to Mommy. He pushed her harshly onto the ground. I was done. That was it. I would NOT tolerate harm upon my innocents. I contacted my parents, secretly packed over the weekend, and they came to get us the very next day that Olaf was at work. Whereupon he began to hunt us. The children and I hid in fear, long enough to get residency in my hometown, and fled into the protection of the county domestic violence shelter.
Note this: THE FIRST time that CIVIL AUTHORITY got involved is when things truly began to change in my life. These people taught me things I had never heard of before. Things like the Cycle of Violence. They provided group therapy and on-ground transitional housing. I have never been more scared in my whole life, but it was also the first bonafide safe, peaceful place I had ever called home.
During the divorce then priesthood holding brethren served as character witnesses for Olaf. Their blindness to outright evil was unbelievable to me. I was still deemed by most as the evil vixen homewrecking slut, and far more wicked than Olaf. The Court did not concur, and awarded me the prize that had finally given me the courage that the LDS church leadership had not given me, that I had not had even had for myself… but which came out of MamaBear Nowhere on behalf of my children. The judge granted me primary physical custody.
Round 9, behind LDS-closed doors. Negative and Positive. I had the heartbreak of breaking my close relationship with my bishop (daring to disagree and defy.). Yet, having been taught by him how to have my own relationship with the Lord, I asserted my OWN power and autonomy, exercised my OWN power of personal revelation and acted upon it..
After a huge 3-hour fight/interview where he determined for himself that I really was repentant and devoted to the Lord, my branch president authorizes years of individual professional counseling for me, at the expense of the Church. I am glad that he did that. When I look at the disaster that its representatives made of my life, I feel like the Church owed me at least that much, and it has fulfilled the fourfold requirement of its debt to me. It is why I have not and will not ever sue them.I found the LDS Family Services counselor myself, through the hand of the Lord, at a YSA Conference that I attended. A skilled, knowledgable, sensitive FEMALE who believed me and helped me to take back my life.
Round 10 behind LDS-sanctioned closed doors. Negative and Positive.
Olaf had remarried. Third wife, an LDS woman from out of state who he found online, learns he is trying to seduce her 12-year-old daughter while she is working nights. She flees with her children.
The marriage lasts less than a year. She is so afraid she does not tell the police. She tells the Church but nothing is done.
Round 11, behind LDS-sanctioned closed doors. Pisses me off. He should have been turned in. There was evidence and a teenage witness! This was THE SAME STAKE where everything with ME and with Wife 1 had happened! How STUPID can you get? Was his LDS file not marked? WTH?!
Olaf moves to Utah and marries wife four, another woman he met online, whom I believe he deliberately selected because she fit a plan he’d devised even before seducing me. This plan consisted of moving away from where Church Discipline occurred to Utah, then attending church dilligently. Whereupon members would want this couple to serve in callings, and the bishop would oblige them, he also wanting good workers for the kingdom. Even though it didn’t end up being with me, everything went according to Olaf’s plan. He found a rich, sickly LDS widow who had never been temple-married to her first husband. Listen to the violins play for the poor dears. And as Olaf predicted, everybody was just so compassionate for them.
Compassionate enough that, in order for Olaf and Wife #4 to be sealed, they began the process of full reinstatement of temple and priesthood blessings. Part of that process was sending out letters to the three ex wives. I said no and sent a detailed 40 page letter telling why. The response? I was told that I was the only wife who disagreed, and was shamed for being bitter and unforgiving; for being the only roadblock in preventing the joyous nuptuals to occur. Olaf and his priesthood leadership waited only a few months and then petitioned AGAIN. Though my stake president understood my feelings, I still believe I was shamed by the pressure of the whole system – I mean, the top Brethren were involved and apparently approving this travesty – into giving in to the second request. In my letter I said that I did NOT trust Olaf, but I trusted the Brethren. What I couldn’t understand was why the Brethren trusted Olaf.
It was only years later that I learned that wife #3 had also said no. Wife #3 had also been told she was the only wife saying no, and called bitter and unforgiving too. Wife #3 had also recanted and been shamed into granting permission. That, in very fact, Olaf’s bishop and stake president had LIED in their communications to the church leaders of Olaf’s ex-wives. It is my personal belief that Wife #1 was also subjected to this treatment. But she is dead now, and I can’t ask her. Therefore, it is my personal belief that Olaf’s full reinstatement of temple and priesthood blessings was a farce, based on every characteristic of unrighteous dominion described in D&C 121, and therefore proceeded forth on absolutely false premises which were somehow either not discerned by or disregarded by the top Brethren. In short, that reinstatement was totally invalid and ought to be officially REVOKED.
Round 12, behind LDS-sanctioned closed doors going all the way up to the First Presidency. NEGATIVE, NEGATIVE, OUTRAGEOUSLY NEGATIVE.
I remarry and relocate with my eternal companion to a town within the boundaries of a different stake – the one I had grown up in from ages 5 to 17. Life goes on until one of our children, Primary age, tearfully confesses to looking at porn on our home computer. Child discloses that they were first shown porn at Olaf’s house during visitation. I go ballistic and call the cops. The ex counter-accuses us, specifically my new husband. The police investigation is inconclusive. The Church? We inform both bishops, in our ward and Olaf’s. Is anything done? Nope, Nada.
A couple months later, I get a phone call. My child had been staying over at an LDS family’s home, but was sick and wanted to come home. Having learned from the ordeal with the cops, this child immediately discloses to me, as soon as we are in the car, that the family had turned on a porn video to watch together. I was livid. Told our ward bishop. He interviews both children alone.
Bishop does nothing about the other family. Puts the other child in a youth president position. Tells all the families of youth and children in our ward that MY child is a sex addict, and therefore makes my child a pariah. I learned many years later that the bishop told my child, in-office, that if they ever did anything with pornography again, they would never enter the Celestial Kingdom. Aha. And so the ignorance, unfair condemnation and shaming behind LDS-sanctioned closed doors moves on to the next generation.
STOP IT. STOP IT NOW.
Everyone knows that the LDS Church is run more like a corporate business model now, more often with people managers, than it is run with true and humble undershepherds of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is my belief that truly righteous men are rare. These are they who are worthy and kind enough lead by the Spirit, have true discernment, and handle their position as one of stewardship to the KING. But again, such priesthood holders are few and far between. My story PROVES that more often than not, in the case of domestic violence and sexual abuse, LDS male leadership have absolutely NO CLUE what they are doing. NONE. Absolutely ZERO recognition of what a victim and perpetrator look like. I listened to my priesthood leaders, like I was told to do, and my life was shattered for it. Lives are STILL being shattered by Olaf being fully reinstated and remarrying at will; in total, he has ruined the lives of five good LDS women, and in the case of two of them, proceeded on to harm their posterity, too. But I guess those lives don’t matter because it’s only women and children who are being hurt.
Somehow, I have emerged from all these flames with my own personal testimony of my Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Somehow I still have a testimony of the truthfulness of other key elements: the genuine power of the priesthood, the authenticity and divinity of the Book of Mormon, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and so have been all the LDS prophets who followed him down to the present day with Russell M. Nelson. Otherwise I would have walked away from it. Otherwise, knowing the ugly underbelly of the Church, I definitely would not have chosen to raise my children LDS.
If my remaining LDS children and I must stay on the Good Ship Zion for our exaltation because of the ordinances and priesthood, then I will teach my posterity the real truth and not the ideal still spouted from our podiums: though our Captain is good, and some of his nearest crew are honorable, we are currently on a ship like that described in the novel, Treasure Island. The Gospel Net, gathering in the very best and the very worst. And there are Long John Silvers everywhere, mutineers in their heart, looking for their own Young Jim among the passengers on this boat. Don’t. Trust. Any. One.
The test, the test, the test that Heber Kimball said was coming? It’s here.