It wasn’t until recently that I realized I was a “victim” of these interviews. Up until I learned about your movement I went along with them because I didn’t know these types of interviews were out of the ordinary. I thought they were normal.
I realized that the interviews played a part in my teenage depression and suicidal ideation but because I had never been sexually abused by a bishop I hadn’t considered the real harm until a few weeks ago.
From the ages of a young deacon at twelve to getting married at twenty four, I went through interviews with church leaders. In every single interview I was as asked about my masturbation and pornography use.
I had always had an issue with pornography. It was my one vice. I didn’t smoke, drink, fornicate, blaspheme, or do drugs. I didn’t even use a curse word until I was twenty three years old. However, I had used pornography and all my life it had been my curse. It did so much harm and almost ruined my life for reasons I won’t go into right now in this letter.
Even though pornography wasn’t a good thing in my life, the shame and guilt brought on by my bishops’ interviews did much more harm to my self esteem and emotional development than anything pornography could have ever done.
I have been hurt by this practice throughout my life. My first experience with pornography was age eight, before my baptism. I was flipping through the TV channels and found the dirty channels on pay-per-view. Having heard words such as “sex” but not knowing what they meant I was curious. I purchased the movie on the TV and I watched a few minutes of it before turning it off. I didn’t understand what was happening but I knew I liked what I saw.
I used pornography off and on again until I was twelve years old. It had become a habit and I would use it every few days. It wasn’t anything sexual, really. Going to the computer and typing in “boobs” in Google image search or opening up this month’s Victoria’s Secret catalog did the trick for me.
I remember going to my first Priesthood Session of General Conference and being so proud of myself that I was able to go. I went in an excited new deacon, but I left mortified and heart broken that this “pornography” word I had just learned in the session was what I had been doing for years. That Priesthood Session was the first time I had ever heard the word “pornography” used.
In that conference session I learned that what I had done was next to murder. I was as bad as the people in jail. I was so embarrassed and rather than confessing to my bishop as the conference speaker suggested I kept my secret to myself and continued indulging my habit. By this point I had also discovered masturbation. I didn’t want my parents or bishop to know that I had committed this terrible sin.
At age fourteen I finally got the courage to go to my bishop. He was a chiropractor. I told him what I had done and to my surprise he was very warm and loving. He told me that God would forgive me of my sins. He told me not to do it again and it would be okay.
Feeling ashamed for the week following I tried my hardest to stay away from pornography. I wanted with all my heart to stay clean for the Lord but I just couldn’t do it. I only lasted two weeks.
Knowing how my bishop reacted the first time I thought nothing of going to him again and confessing my sin. He told me that because I had committed the sin again all of the previous sin had returned. He told me I would not be allowed to take the sacrament for three weeks.
I was shocked because I had never heard of not taking the sacrament in my life. It’s just what you did. Taking the sacrament was supposed to be a good thing. How would not taking the sacrament help me in my repentance process?
Of course I didn’t last for the full three weeks. My habit got the better of me and once again I had committed the sin next to murder. I went to my bishop again the following Sunday. Rather than being warm and loving he was stern and cold. He told me this was my last chance and that if I couldn’t stop this soon that I would become subject to church discipline.
Guess who never went back to that bishop to confess anything? To this day he probably still counts that meeting a a victory because he thought his threats had stopped my pornography usage. At fourteen years old I had just been threatened with church discipline, a concept I didn’t truly understand until I had returned home from my mission.
When I turned sixteen I wanted to receive my patriarchal blessing. At the time, I knew the gospel was true with all of my heart but I was still using pornography. I also knew because of that, as soon as the patriarch laid his hands on my head he would know I wasn’t worthy to receive the blessing. That’s why I took a leap of faith and went to my newly called bishop. He was a car salesman.
My bishop was humbled that I had come to him with this. I hadn’t told him about my pornography problems in the past with my other bishop. He told me that I couldn’t take the sacrament for a few weeks but that I was forgiven as long as I didn’t do it again.
I can’t recall if I was worthy when I received my patriarchal blessing but I do remember coming home from church that day, opening the utensil drawer in my kitchen and considering cutting off my privates or taking spoons to my eyes because of the conversation I just had with my bishop.
“If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out.” I thought my bishop may have meant that literally because of how bad my “addiction” had become. Now I believe he was probably referring to plucking out the sin of pornography rather than actually plucking out my eyes but at the time I knew that man spoke for the Lord and I trusted him so I didn’t think anything else of it. Thank goodness I didn’t go through with it.
During that meeting we “set up a plan” to help me recover. Activities included fasting and praying, reading my scriptures, telling my parents about my pornography usage, seeing an LDS therapist, and also meeting with the bishop every single week so he could check up on me.
I remember that one of my greatest desires as a youth was that I could die after one of these interviews, not that I could have the meetings stop, but so that I could die worthy before I watched pornography again. I would have killed myself with no regrets were it not for the teaching that those who commit suicide go to the Telestial Kingdom.
Each time I saw my bishop he was loving. Every time I saw him he would ask about my pornography usage. If I confessed to watching pornography that week, he would ask me the most embarrassing and degrading questions that my sixteen year old self had ever heard.
Here are a list of questions I was asked:
– What type of pornography did you watch?
– Did it involve a man and a woman?
– Women and women? Men and men?
– Was the woman by herself in the video or was there someone else with her?
– How old where the people in the pornographic video?
– Describe the pornographic video you watched?
– What specific websites did you visit to watch pornography?
– Were you using a phone or a computer to watch pornography?
– Where in the house were you when you watched pornography?
– What time of day was it when you watched pornography?
– What events led up to you using pornography this time?
– Did you masturbate while watching pornography?
– Did you ejaculate?
– How much did you ejaculate?
– Did you ejaculate more than one time while watching pornography?
– Have you ever masturbated while fantasizing?
– Have you ever fantasized about any of the Young Women in the ward?
– Have you ever tried acting out any pornography with any of the Young Women in the ward?
– Have you ever secretly tried to make pornography of any of the Young Women in the ward?
– Have you ever watched pornography with someone else?
– Have you ever masturbated with another person?
– Have you ever had had sex with another boy?
– Have you ever masturbated one of your male friends at school?
-Have you ever discussed your pornography habits with your friends?
– Have you ever watched pornography when your parents were home?
– Have you ever watched pornography secretly while someone else was in the room?
– Did you enjoy it?
– Did it feel good?
I don’t hold any ill will towards these men. I believe that they believe what they did was right. The bishops never made a move to sexually abuse me and I don’t think the thought ever even crossed their minds. Not every man who asks these questions is a sexual predator. Some simply ask the questions because that’s what the previous guy did or that’s what he bishop was asked himself. All of my bishops in my youth were upstanding men and some of the best men I knew in my life. In fact, the second bishop I mentioned is my mom’s second cousin. I grew up with these men as my leaders. I attended church meetings and school with their children. I still look up to these men, not because of the positions they held over me in the church, but because of the positive influences they have had in my life outside of their duties as bishops.
The psychological scarring that the church gave me still exists somewhat even though I no longer believe in the church. I have gone through years of therapy to rid myself of my pornography usage. After dealing with the previous bishop and after turning eighteen, I attended the Young Single Adult branch. My licensed therapist I had been seeing for my pornography usage was also the YSA Branch President.
Up to that point he was the most trained and most qualified person to discuss pornography with. He disagreed with other local leaders on what pornography was and how to overcome it. He was appalled when I told him what the Stake President’s definition of pornography is, which was “anything that is sexually stimulating.”
He helped me become worthy to serve my mission. He became a great friend. I respected him not only for him helping me with my issues but also helping me feel not so much like the “next-to-murderer” that I was. He was released as Branch President while I was on my mission after serving for his allotted time.
Years later, and related somewhat to pornography issues, I had a falling out with my Stake President. Days before my temple wedding my Stake President, his counselors, and a council of twelve other men disfellowshipped me for a year because of pornography usage.
I went into that disciplinary council a full on believer in the restored gospel and the atonement of Jesus Christ. However, due to the dozens of inappropriate interviews and actions of the Branch and Stake president I began to doubt the inspiration of my leaders.
My Stake President on multiple occasions told my wife behind closed doors that she should not only leave me, but also that it wouldn’t be an “if” but a “when” I relapsed. He told her that one night she would wake up to me not being in bed and that she would walk in to find me “masturbating over the most vulgar things she had ever seen in her life.”
From that I learned, as a believer, that the atonement of Jesus Christ didn’t apply to me. If I was going through this process just to have the same problem then why was I going through it at all? I eventually told my Stake President that he was not to meet with my wife-to-be any longer. After some push back he agreed to my request.
Though I was a believer through all the pain I was being caused, the moment that broke me and the moment I admitted to myself that there was something wrong in the church was when the same Stake President physically threatened my wife. He told me, “If you knew that every time you looked at pornography that a group of men would drag your wife out of the house and beat her, would you still do it?”
I took that as a real threat because I believed the Lord would send karma to me and kill my wife for looking at pornography. I have since confronted the Stake President about these incidents and I have that meeting recorded on tape. As a side note, my wife said she had never been asked if she masturbates in an bishop’s interview until she moved to this stake.
During the start of my faith crisis I attempted suicide twice from overdosing of prescription drugs. I had multiple suicide plans ranging from falling on knives placed under my heart and head to jumping off a roof to running my car off the side of a bridge and drowning in the water below. I began cutting and burning myself, and even unfolded a wire clothes hanger and beating myself until I bled. I would rather have died than the church not be true.
At my absolute lowest point on a day I had planned to come home and kill myself, I instead reached out to my then-fiancé who had no previous knowledge of my suicide attempts, self torture, or my doubts about the church. Along with her and my parents I received the treatment and help I needed in order to get better. We were married in the temple for time and eternity nearly two years ago now.
I eventually completely apostatized from the church for which I received more threats of disciplinary action. I have since removed my name from the records of the church. I have since moved on with my life. I have embraced being a non-member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I have never been happier.
I no longer have suicidal thoughts or actions. I don’t let my past vices take hold of me or guilt me. I live my life to the best of my ability, not because arbitrary commandments constrain me, but because I want to do the best with the life that I have now. I don’t live for a prize in the afterlife, I live to experience joy in this one. Even if this life is all there is, I want to make the best of it.
One could say that this chain of events began with my pornography usage at such a young age but I attribute it to how my leaders treated me both as a child, a teenager, and an adult. These practices are evil. They are harmful. And they are dangerous.