When I was about 13, a new bishop was called to my ward. From my very first encounter with him, he made me dread going to church. To everyone else he was a happy, jovial, fun-loving goofy guy, but to me (and from what I remember, other young women – my friends and classmates) he was very creepy, inappropriate, and he made me feel very uncomfortable. He would often make very inappropriate comments about my body, as well as other young women’s bodies, and our looks.
I have horrible memories burned into my brain of my bishop coming up to me every Sunday, giving me a long and inappropriate vice-grip full body hug – in which he would often rub my back up and down, from my shoulders down near by butt – and he would sometimes whisper comments about my body in my ear.
I began dreading going to church, because as a teenager I was taught that my body was a distraction and that I should do everything in my power to make sure I was not “distracting” the boys with my body, but I felt like I couldn’t escape it because even my bishop was commenting on it. I felt horrible about my body, my self image, and my self esteem plummeted.
I hated walking into church and running into my bishop, who would look me up and down with that creepy “devouring” gaze – I can’t explain this look, but I’m sure every woman knows exactly what I’m talking about. He was my bishop until I turned 18. All those years I dreaded going to church, and felt so uncomfortable.
But bishop interviews were BY FAR the worst experience of my life in the church. I remember feeling so uncomfortable, often almost a sick-to-my-stomach feeling upon going into my bishop’s office for interviews. Even as I got into my older teen years. I hated being invited into a secluded room, where my bishop would shut the door (and sometimes lock it, which terrified me) and ask me probing questions about my life. He would pull up a chair right across from me, and sit with his knees touching mine through the whole interview process. I tried to sit as far back in my chair as possible, shifting my legs in an effort to get his off mine, trying desperately to just get away but I couldn’t.
I remember being asked questions about my sexual life, including irrelevant ones about who I was dating, what kind of men I found attractive and why, or more inappropriately specific ones like if I kept the law of chastity or “how” I didn’t keep it, if it “felt good”, or if my boyfriend ever tried to “jump my bones”, among other things. At one point, when I was about 16 or 17 he told me that I was “a very beautiful young lady, it’s nice for us old guys to see”. Every interview was pure torture, and I came out of them feeling violated, far away from the spirit, and hating myself.
Through my teenage years, I felt so insecure and so uncomfortable at church. I felt that since he was my bishop – and ordained by God, and chosen for the position of bishop – I couldn’t say anything about it, couldn’t tell my parents or any other leaders about my discomfort and my experiences with him, because if he’s called of God, then how could any of this be a problem? I blamed myself for his inappropriate behavior for years, telling myself that it was just me being too sensitive, and that I was imagining discomfort, fear and shame where there shouldn’t have been any. When I finally told my parents, they brushed it off as an “unfortunate” personality clash, and then never spoke of it again.
After years of feeling inadequate, uncomfortable and quite frankly miserable every week at church because of this, I finally decided to leave the church. I have not been back since, and I will never go back, not as long as problems like this persist. However, I can’t help but wonder how differently my life would have panned out had I not grown up, during my most vulnerable years, feeling like a predator was constantly looming over me. I feel and hope that no child, teen or adult should have to go through what I went through growing up.