Dear Sam: Thank you for fighting to protect LDS children. They need all the protectors they can get. It has taken me all week to write this letter; I have never told anyone else my story. Who would I have told? Who could I possibly trust with these details? My story goes back 50 years and goes on for way too long. Thank you for caring. The first interview with my bishop (at least the first one I can remember) was at age 8:
Bishop’s Question: Do you understand why we wear all white when we are baptized?
My answer: not really…no.
Bishop’s explanation: We wear all white to show Heavenly Father and Jesus that we are pure in heart and worthy to take Jesus’s name as one of his followers. This is very important – be sure to wear all white when you are baptized, even your underclothes and socks.
Me (nodding my head and thinking “why does Jesus care about my underwear?”) When I was baptized, my panties were pink because my mother bought my clothing and she liked pink, and I had tan colored bandages on my feet from surgery. I was absolutely certain that my baptism didn’t “take” because I *knew* Jesus wouldn’t love me as much since I had disobeyed his orders. I’m still not sure about that.
Bishop’s question: Do you keep the law of chastity?
Bishop’s follow-up: This means do you abstain from sexual relations outside of marriage, or from any unholy practices, including necking, petting, using pornography, or masturbation?
Me: What is masturbation? What is pornography? (I went home and asked my older sister, and she told me to ask my mother, so I did, and my mother freaked out and told me to check the dictionary if I wanted to know about nasty things like that. Why was the bishop asking me about “nasty things”?)
Ages 13-17: Same questions as those asked at age 12, always accompanied by the warning to not let anyone steal my virtue because it was better to die than to be unchaste. By age 13 I had fully absorbed the meaning of those words the bishop had taught me a year earlier, and had concluded that my best bet in life would be to never have any physical relationships or sexual partners, thus eliminating the risk of inappropriate behaviors that would make God mad at me.
Age 14: My next door neighbor, an adult male with three teenage sons, took an interest in me whenever I was visiting his wife, who was teaching me how to cook. He began paying extra attention to me whenever I crossed paths with him, and engaged in increasingly aggressive physical teasing and joking around. This “play” ultimately resulted in a full-on assault where he physically pinned me to their sofa and forced me to allow him to fondle my breasts and rub my genitals while whispering in my ear “don’t tell my wife or your parents – they wouldn’t understand that we are just playing.” This happened on multiple occasions, always with this man’s wife and boys off in the next room. I couldn’t tell my parents. They encouraged the visits because our neighbors were investigating the church and they wanted me participate in the missionary process. I knew how important it was to convert new members. I didn’t want to mess up my parents’ missionary efforts.
Age 17: My seminary teacher pulled me aside before class one day to tell me to start wearing long skirts and dresses and stop wearing blue jeans and t-shirts because I was making it hard for the boys in the classroom to avoid impure thoughts. There were no boys in my seminary class that semester.
Age 18: Same bishop’s questions, plus BYU’s honor code interview, so I could apply to go to God’s school: By now I had a priesthood ordained boyfriend, and we had spent a fair amount of time kissing and making out because he was sure we were going to get married after his mission, so there was no harm in developing our physical bond before his mission as long as we didn’t do anything that he would have to repent for. So my answers to the bishop’s questions were the same as they had always been: Yes, I was keeping the law of chastity, but by now it was a fingers-crossed / “just barely” / “no full disclosure required” kind of response. I knew what all those words meant, I knew how they applied, I was afraid for my salvation and my reputation but I also felt that I needed to please my priesthood-inspired boyfriend, so I made sure the bishop didn’t know any details that weren’t specifically pertinent to the interview. Was this hair-splitting lying? I was pretty sure it was, but I also knew what happened to people who got in trouble with their bishop, and I was not about to put myself through the public shaming and shunning and ostracizing I had seen happen in my ward and stake when other people had been found guilty of moral sins. Never mind that I had learned how to lie in order to avoid God’s judgment about my romantic activities; clearly it was more important that I provide satisfying answers to the Bishop’s questions.
Age 19: The boyfriend and I got “too involved” and he felt compelled to confess to his bishop so he could go on his mission with a clear conscience. He insisted that I confess to my bishop as well. Since I saw him as a “priesthood leader,” I complied with his request. His bishop told him to skip taking the sacrament for a couple of weeks and to go forth and sin no more. My bishop asked me detailed questions about how much activity we had engaged in, was it clothed or unclothed, was there penetration or just arousal, did we enjoy it, or did we feel guilty, where were we, what time was it, how long did we engage in our illicit activity, had we told our parents, was there any possibility that I could be pregnant, had my boyfriend touched me with anything other than fingers and lips, how many times had we done what we did, did I understand that this kind of sin was second only to murder and that my very salvation was now in peril, and did I know that God hates a sinner (no discussion of Christ’s love for me or his sacrifice for my redemption). I was banned from the sacrament for a month and threatened that any repeat offense would invoke a BYU honor code violation (which would have meant I was kicked out of school). A month later I had a “follow-up” appointment with my bishop, who proceeded to ask all of the same questions to make sure there had been no repeat sinning. I still felt compelled to answer the questions and to hate myself for being such a bad and weak person. I swore off making out or even getting emotionally involved with anyone until after I graduated. My boyfriend dumped me because his bishop told him I was a bad influence on him, so I then declared myself a Mormon nun rather than risk God’s displeasure any further.
Age 20: I had become engaged to a guy because he kissed me and told me he had a revelation that I was supposed to be his wife. Since I was pretty sure my previous experience with my boyfriend has left me tainted and “used goods,” I accepted his proposal with relief. Once I was married and sealed in the temple, I would be safe again. At my Temple recommend interview: the bishop asked all the same questions my other bishops had asked, including “are you morally clean?” and “do you keep the law of chastity?” PLUS “Do you understand that oral sex is a sin, even with your husband, and you must always submit to him and his desires in all things? I didn’t really appreciate what was meant by oral sex, but it didn’t matter. I would have agreed to anything to get that little piece of paper. I had to. My engagement was already announced, and I couldn’t not get married in the temple!
Age 20: Two weeks later I was married to a man who didn’t just like oral sex, he demanded it. That was it: I was now officially going to hell – my bishop had told me so, so it must be true. Since I had already compromised myself by disobeying the oral sex mandate, I allowed my husband to do whatever else he wanted to do with me, too…no matter how it made me feel or how rough or insensitive he was. He was apparently incapable of just making love to or with me; he had to dominate and abuse me physically in order to satisfy himself. I didn’t fight him, because my bishop had told me to always submit. I felt as though I were being repeatedly raped, because he never asked my permission or wooed me; he thought he was supposed to surprise me and manhandle me and force himself on me. I was not allowed to express any feelings whatsoever or object to any of his treatment. It felt like rape, but it couldn’t have been, could it, since we were married? I asked my (new married ward) bishop about it in my next temple recommend interview. He told me to submit to my husband in all things, and then he asked me for a detailed description of the things my husband was doing to me, “just to make sure it was all okay.” If it didn’t matter what my husband did to me, why did the bishop need to know the details? If all I had to do to please God was to let my husband do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted to do it, what was life going to be like in the hereafter with this man (or with God in charge)?
That’s enough for you to get the idea. Whether intentionally or not, my bishops groomed me to become a voiceless, submissive, victim of both their inappropriate interests and of my spouse’s twisted ideas about marital relations. It wasn’t long before I no longer cared about keeping Mormon God happy, or about obeying the mandates of my bishops. I shut down emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. I supported my husband for over twenty years while he pursued his educational and professional objectives, and when he was done and had his dream job, he found someone else younger and taller and more sexually aggressive and moved in with her, telling me I was his “starter wife” and it was too bad I had always been so accommodating because I was just too boring for him and besides, I was old and dumpy now. When I went to my bishop for help to try to figure out where I had gone wrong (because surely this was all my fault) he asked me all the probing and detailed questions about our marital sex life and then told me that I clearly had not been attentive enough to my spouse’s needs so no wonder he had left me.
Ten years after the divorce I still couldn’t think about my ex without becoming physically ill. I sent a letter to SLC begging them to cancel my sealing to him. My letter was ignored. I sent a second one. It too was ignored. I called to ask why they were ignoring my letters, and was told that I needed both my ex’s and my bishop’s permission to have the sealing cancelled. No! I told the receptionist I would rather go to hell than negotiate with that man for another moment. Her answer: “Well, you can always resign your membership, then.” She knew full well that her response was the equivalent of telling me I may as well just go to hell then, and she said it anyway.
And people wonder why I don’t go to church anymore. My name is Melody Joy Provence and I approve this message. Thank you for giving me back my voice.