From a young age I have felt a disconnect from church. I moved to a new ward when I was 6. Due to marriages connecting families or families living close together the members of the ward were inseparable and had a long rich friendship with each other.
And I was a new, weird, poor kid with mismatching clothes. I was bullied relentlessly. I don’t know if stateside people will understand this but in the UK wards are comparably small. It’s impossible not to notice a lonely kid whilst a group of young woman snicker and scapegoat. Girl on girl bullying is discreet. It’s not as clear cut as shoves in the hallway. It’s leaving them out or making snide remarks when leaders aren’t looking. But it IS obvious if you look out for it. I have been a young women’s leader and have seen it myself. Kids are kids and bullying happens. Even in church. But people do not want to see so they look away. I was bullied from the moment I walked into CTR class to the moment I moved away at age 17.
No one addressed this. I told my parents when they asked me why I showed a despondence with church. They approached leaders who in turn suggested it was me leaving myself out. That I was too quiet or too shy. The children of such “upstanding church members” were not bullying me. They were good kids (even though I have never had a problem outside of church with making friends)
Think of the ramifications of telling a child it is her fault she is being bullied.
I think something resonated with some parents. Out of guilt or obligation I was invited to some sleepovers here and there. But honestly my mom made me go “because its good to have church friends who have the same values as you” and I think they bought into the leaders rhetoric that I wasn’t trying hard enough.
I was just mocked more for it.
Things got better when younger kids in the ward moved into youth. I quickly made friends with them and (after being kicked out of the ward tent at camp) was kindly offered a tissue and a place to sleep by some girls in stake. We became a tight knit group . But the snickers never stopped because the friends I made were just as outcast as I was.
11 years of bullying has left scars.
I spent most of my church childhood feeling like I had to hide myself. Like I had a dual personality. One for church/ one for the real world. I have had intensive therapy where I have worked and am still working through removing a deep mistrust of people. As my experience with church was that people were surface nice. But never truly kind.
Moving on to sexual impropriety. I have been asked in temple interviews from as young as 12 wherever I have had sexual thoughts. (This is almost laughable. I was a teenager of course I did. It’s natural). What’s less natural is being asked in a round about way whether I masturbated by a 40 to 60 year old men. Have I acted on these thoughts. Again as young as 12.
Or being sat by a youth leader in a room full of 12-18 year olds and shown pictures of record covers of scantily clad women and being told I – a girl- was responsible for making men feel inappropriate thoughts. It’s never the young men’s fault is it. What are we instilling in our youth when this is out message?
I felt I was pushed a lot to talk about my non-church friends in interviews. As it was clear I didn’t have church ones. (I told you the leaders noticed) The bishop wanted to know …. Did we talk about boys? Did I have a non Mormon boyfriend. Did I know it’s wrong to have one? What did my non-Mormon boyfriend make me do?
For the record most of my teenage relationships were with non-Mormon boys. I was always upfront about my religion and clear that I did not want to have sex. I had a relatively normal PG dating life.
When I was 14 I skipped a class my friend was being bullied into give her a break. (Surprise surprise I had a sympathetic heart when it came to bullied kids). It’s the only class I’ve ever skipped. We skipped the class with my ex boyfriend and his pal. We went to his house and watched a movie. We made out and he got to second base above bra. T shirt on. I was sad that we had broke up. I was vulnerable and thought I was in love. I allowed myself to break a hard rule for love. I was broken the next day when he wouldn’t talk to me and pretended I didn’t exist. I never confessed to my Bishop because it was embarrassing to admit to an old man my first sexual experience had left me rejected. I didn’t want to prove to the people who had preached to me my whole life that Mormon friends are better because they don’t lead you astray. I didn’t want this experience used as a hard and fast rule that “the world was wrong”. I’d never believed this and I didn’t want to be told it. Still the guilt ate away at me. So intensely.
About 4 months later, I started talking to a boy in a band. A drummer. He was relatively popular in comparison to me and my judgement was skewed as most 15 y/o judgments are. This time we got to 3rd base. Top off. Bottoms off. Underwear on. The guilt ate away at me again. But I was scared of loosing him. I feared rejection. I wanted to stop the guilt but I began feeling acceptance in boys that I’d felt I’d missed elsewhere in my life. At the same time a Mormon boy was interested in me and I felt this was my chance to break away from sin. I tried. To break it off with the non-mormon but the double life I had so carefully crafted between church and the real world was a hard habit to break. I was torn between “choosing the right” and choosing what made me happy. The ideal of what everyone else wanted and what I wanted.
Luckily the guilt was so intense that I broke it off with both of them. I told the non-Mormon that I wanted to focus on my religion. I wanted to get married in the temple and this prevented me from doing so. I wanted to change and spoke to my Bishop. I never mentioned the Mormon guy or the first guy. I was too humiliated but I mentioned the drummer.
He asked me to go into detail about where we touched each other. He asked me did I touch his penis? Were his pants on? Were mine on? At any point did I take my bra off? Who initiated? How long it when on for? How did I lie to my parents? I was 15. I told my bishop before I told my parents. I thought this was normal. As an adult I see that these questions are wildly inappropriate.
My parents praised me for coming forward and doing the right thing. They said they wanted me to think about my relationship with boys but not to “become a nun”. They didn’t want this experience to put me off relationships. They understood that I was mature enough to change without being prompted and this was enough for them. They didn’t ask too much about my interview with the bishop and I didn’t go into as much detail with my parents as I did him. I think my parents would be shocked with how much detail he asked for. I’ve never told them.
The bishop told me to stop taking the sacrament until I felt I had fully repented and felt sorry. I felt him watching me every week. I had incredible anxiety over whether he felt it was too soon for me. He didn’t do follow up interview s to check how I felt or how I was doing? I avoided the sacrament for so long my parents told me to stop punishing myself and forgive myself. He told me to apologise to them for disappointing them and lying about where I was when the events happened. My parents never asked for this but I did it anyway. They were just proud of the choice I had made to change. The final thing the bishop told me to do was to apologise to the boy face to face for dragging him down the path of immorality. I didn’t want to do this. I had my clean break. I didnt trust myself to go back. I did have feelings for the guy. I told the bishop I had already explained the morality when we broke up. He said it was from a selfish perspective I had considered my own morality but not his. I knew better therefore I had led him astray. This is another reason it took my so long to take the sacrament. I racked myself over the coals for not doing this. Eventually my mum found out about his suggestion for repentance and went in the office and had what I assume was an argument about why I did not have to do that and I had been punished and guilted enough. Go mom!!!
Unfortunately some people aren’t so lucky. I can’t imagine what happened to me happening to anyone younger. I am no longer Mormon. I believe the way I have been treated throughout my life in the church has led me to the conclusion this is not Gods church and I don’t believe in God anymore. This has filled me with more peace and happiness then I was ever promised by staying within the church. I am mentally more healthy and capable then ever. I know some people on this site will disagree and some want to change it from within. Good luck. I hope my experience helps and makes other people want to help too.
Bishops are not trained counselors for young people. They are not an advocate for or are trained to promote a healthy relationship with our bodies and with sex. If confession is crucial it should be with God. Or at least woman confessing to woman. A man confessing to a man. I hope for the sake of the young people (not the church) that something changes.