My children will not be interviewed by bishops because of what I faced as a teenager. When counseling about my “sins,” my bishop, a man who lived on the next street and was the same age as my dad, asked me a very specific sexual questions. These were things I wouldn’t/couldn’t discuss with my closest girlfriends, sisters, or mom, but somehow I was expected to discuss openly with a man three times my age by myself behind closed doors as a sign of my “repentance.” It wasn’t just uncomfortable. It was humiliating.
I had been and still am a really honest person, so I felt this immense pressure to be accurate and forthright in my confession, believing that if I didn’t spill everything, then the Lord wouldn’t forgive me. I simply COULDN’T answer one of the bishop’s probing questions. I lied. To this day, it is the only time in my life that I told a lie directly with the intention of conveying inaccurate information. I spent the next 15 YEARS worrying that I hadn’t repented enough, that my lie required me to start over and re-confess my teenage sins. The guilt built up so much over time that I ALMOST went, as a mother of two teens living the married life in the suburbs, to my current bishop to rehash the whole thing. I didn’t, but thinking about doing it gave me the opportunity to review exactly what had happened to me in that bishop’s office as a teen. I hadn’t been this sin-riddled girl who had avoided repentance. I had been a powerless young girl being inappropriately questioned alone by a man in authority. Gross.
This experience also distorted my understanding about and feelings toward God and Christ. What I learned was that repentance equaled humiliation. Repentance equaled shame and self-hatred. I have no good feelings about any part of the “repentance process” that I experienced. The only good that came out of it was that I finally grew a backbone and said no more guilt, and I learned that Christ can heal me from the awful things I experienced in his name.