When I was 18, I entered my Mormon bishop’s office to confess that I had fornicated with my girlfriend. It had just happened couple days prior and I couldn’t handle the guilt because I believed that I had just committed the greatest sin next to murder. I was also scheduled to be advanced in the priesthood to an Elder and I felt like I had just obliterated my spiritual future. What I thought would be a redemptive and relieving experience turned out to be the opposite because I was subjected to unexpected abuse during that visit.
I was more than willing to confess what I had done and start the repentance process. I understood that I had to go to the bishop for something like unwed sex. I accepted the protocol of going before a judge in Israel to gain forgiveness from the Lord’s church as well as God Himself. But I was not told or prepared for the line of questioning I got from the bishop. He asked extremely pointed and illicit questions that required the same illicit answers about having sex with my girlfriend. He wanted to know her name, how many times we had sex, did I use a condom, did I ejaculate inside her, and other details beyond that. I was shocked and stunned and resisted answering any of the detailed questions at first. I asked why it was necessary to give details beyond the bottom line sin of fornication. I was told that to be thoroughly forgiven I have to thoroughly confess every aspect of the foul deed. I couldn’t repent without full disclosure to the Lord’s representative. I felt sick in my gut. I felt extreme resistance, shame, frustration, anger, and pressure to comply. And so I did, trusting that answering those horrible and invasive questions was the only way to be free of the burden of sin I had created for myself.
After a week of agonizing waiting for the verdict, the bishop put me on probation for 6 months since I wasn’t advanced enough in the priesthood and hadn’t gone to the temple yet. I didn’t warrant disfellowshipment. I was relieved and willing to accept the conditions of repentance until he handed me a typed document that I had to sign as an agreement. I read the pages and was horrified to see that all the information including my girlfriend’s name I was required to give was in the document. I was mad because this was tangible and recorded. I was outraged to learn that the bishop didn’t type it either. He had the executive secretary type it up from his notes! What happened to the privacy and confidentiality of the sacred process of confession and repentance?? I am extremely private. Always have been. And that privacy was violated at a new level than the week before. This was also explained as a necessity without any regard for my feelings. I was assured that the executive secretary was under the same privacy protocol and I was not to worry. For a week up to that point I was dealing with feelings of anger and couldn’t shake the weirdness and heaviness of the meeting with the wretched questioning and unconditional surrender of my privacy and that of my girlfriend to attain forgiveness. After the second meeting I was not only outraged but resentment began to set in. I felt to my core that what happened was wrong and I felt a new guilt and shame – not from the sin I had confessed, but from the ‘holy’ repentance process I had just gone through.
The emotions from that experience lasted a long time as did the harmful effects. After the six months of probation and I was forgiven I promptly burned my copy yet was told that I couldn’t have the bishop’s copy. I had to trust that it would not ever get out and it would be destroyed. Another source of frustration and helpless rage over the situation. My skin crawled. I felt animosity towards the bishop which triggered self hatred. One should not question the Lord’s representative. It is the same as questioning God at some point. I felt guilty that to my core I felt he was creepy and not trustworthy. I reconciled by trusting the order of the church and the office of bishop as judge even though the man in that calling was forever disturbing to me. I moved on and said to God that I didn’t like what happened at all and hoped that I didn’t have to go through that again. I just had to trust that it was the Lord’s way yet I secretly harbored the suspicion that something was wrong with the whole thing.
Fast forward to the present 32 years later having allowed this dark and troubling experience to fade as I had done the work to overcome the resentment and self abuse that resulted into my adulthood from that encounter. I came across Sam Young and his movement to Protect LDS Children. I investigated, amazed that an ex bishop was advocating for no more one on one interviews and no sexual questioning of children and youth within the church. Very quickly the memory of my bad experience surfaced as I could relate. Then, I realized with horror what that meant and had never put together. It dawned on me that I had been subjected to a type of sexual abuse during that confessional interview and throughout the whole process. That 18 year old ‘me’ was a victim and the perpetrator was the bishop. What made the realization even more poignant was the deeper level of abuse because it was done by a man representing God and His Will to extract information under the pressure of not granting heavenly or church forgiveness unless I complied with the sinister questioning! I felt new sickness in my gut as hindsight did its job. I didn’t feel the sudden need to go to therapy about it. I was disturbed yet okay with the memory in its new context.
I am in a good mental and spiritual place currently and had not thought about that far away encounter for a long time. I had gotten past it. Resolved it as much as I could. With all that has been going on with Sam’s movement I have felt like sharing my story and adding my voice yet hesitated. I have friends and family still firm believers in the LDS faith and wasn’t sure how I could balance being authentic and critical while being sensitive to their feelings and not come across as bitter or attacking of something still precious to those I love. Then I asked my daughters if they had ever been asked sexually inappropriate questions like that. One daughter said that she had and it was horrible. Another said that several of her friends had and they were all troubled by it in various ways. That brought out the protective father aspect in me that gets real mad when my lionesses have been affected harmfully. It is different when it is just me getting that crap as opposed to my children feeling anything close to what I felt by the same behavior from men of God personally or by association. That gave me more courage to write and I became more convinced that adding my voice was right and good and timely.
Ultimately, I share my story, following my convictions regarding all this to validate the 18 year old me and give him the voice to say what happened was sexually abusive. It was wrong. It was damaging and added insult to injury when that boy was trying so desperately to feel better and follow what he thought was the straight and narrow. He was betrayed and harmed by a man following a damaging policy that was or is in NO WAY inspired by the Divine as a means of obtaining redemption. The details of his actions were NEVER required by any version of God or an organization that claims to be lead by the Heavens. His sickening gut reaction to the whole procedure was spot on correct! That sweet Douglas is vindicated and absolved of any shameful burden put on him by that creepy ‘judge in Israel’ or by me with various forms of self loathing and abuse for questioning the holy ‘revealed’ protocols for repenting. That young man is now free as I liberate him with these words.
Yesterday, Sam Young read his notice of excommunication for his movement to protect LDS children from such nefarious questions and treatment during one on one interviews. He simply asked the Brethren to stop these 2 things. Instead, he got silence from the leadership and stripped of all the Mormon blessings for his perceived apostate speaking against the Lord’s anointed. Today, as a fellow apostate (having removed my name from the records of the church 3 years ago) stand with Sam Young as a fellow graduate of Mormonism fighting for the protection of children from harmful and unnecessary religious procedures.
Personally, I am not against the church or the general authorities. My narrative says that what I resist persists. So, I speak in terms of what I am FOR. I am FOR the abolishment of any child, any being, having to suffer guilt and shame from disclosing personal information under the belief that they can only please God by giving any other man or being that information. I am for all beings enjoying the liberation from any religion that promotes the practices and conditions of surrender to human authority/coercion while calling it divine. May all beings transcend the religious based definitions of worthiness and qualifications to obtain God’s favor or blessings. May all beings have the courage to stand in and as the Light that they are in the face of pious ridicule and censure for the good and protection of all innocents. And so it is!