Church Discipline: Women Disciplined by Men

Posted by on February 20, 2014 in Gender, Policy | 81 comments

Gentlemen of the Jury by John Morgan, 1861

Gentlemen of the Jury by John Morgan, 1861

LDS Church policy dictates that only men may call a disciplinary council, staff the council, and judge the outcome. However, both male and female members may be brought before these all-male councils at the discretion of their local, male leaders. Theoretically, the rationale for holding a council is not punitive:

Priesthood courts of the Church are not courts of retribution. They are courts of love. Reference 1

When a man requires a woman to submit to an interrogation by a group of men about sensitive personal issues such as her sex life, does she feel love or shame? Does this process meet the criteria set forth in the Thirteenth Article of Faith: “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy”? Consider this case:

I have a friend who had a one-time fling after years of celibacy. Our bishop called a church court on her and told her that all of the sins she had repented of in the past were no longer forgiven because she had messed up again. He forced her to recount, in front of him, his counselors, and the ward clerk, every sexual experience she had ever had or be excommunicated. He wanted to know all the lurid details—sexual positions, whether it was oral, anal, or vaginal, whether she had orgasms, etc. Needless to say, she felt coerced and abused by this process.

Simply telling men who staff disciplinary councils to stop asking for sordid details is not enough to address the trauma a woman may experience when brought before an all-male council. Consider another case, where the amount of disclosure erred in the opposite direction:

I was so traumatized by the experience that I couldn’t even talk to the men. I just sat in the chair facing them and sobbed.  The bishop, during the court, did not disclose the reason that I was being disciplined to the men attending.  Instead, he told them that I’d made some inappropriate choices and needed to be judged accordingly.  As I thought about this later, I felt as though the bishop didn’t tell them the nature of my sin because it was fairly minor. So the men there seemed puzzled as to what my punishment should be because they didn’t even know what I’d done.  They asked me to bear my testimony and all I could do was cry—I couldn’t speak.  Finally the bishop asked me to step out so they could decide whether I would lose my membership. When I returned to the council, I was told that I was being put on probation for six months and I was given a long list of things that I had to do during that time so that I could be reinstated.

These councils may also traumatize women who are only testifying as witnesses, not accused transgressors. This experience was reported by a woman who attended her husband’s disciplinary council after he committed adultery:

What was humiliating was them asking him all kinds of questions and details that he hadn’t even told me and I was hearing it for the first time in a fishbowl with 17 men staring at me…At the end of all the questioning, the stake president asked if anyone else had any questions and one guy…said, “Can I ask a question?” Then he said, “Do you feel like you sexually satisfied your husband?” The only thing I could say was “apparently not.” Then they go pray, come back and slap his wrist, and hubby tells me they made it clear it was all my fault. I was in the primary presidency at the time and was very quickly released so that I could work on my family issues. I was so hurt. Reference 2 

The lack of women’s representation in church disciplinary councils may affect the wisdom of the final decision as well as the experiences of transgressors and witnesses  during the process. Diverse representation counters bias and leads to better decisions. Reference 3  With regards to government juries, the United States Supreme Court has ruled:

It is said, however, that an all-male panel drawn from the various groups within the community will be as truly representative as if women were included. The thought is that the factors which tend to influence the action of women are the same as those which influence the action of men—personality, background, economic status—and not sex. Yet it is not enough to say that women when sitting as jurors neither act nor tend to act the class. Men likewise do not act as a class. But if the shoe were on the other foot, who would claim the jury was truly representative of the community if all men were intentionally and systematically excluded from the panel? Reference 4

Church discipline does not require consensus like government juries. While church discipline councils include several players, all of whom are male, the final decision is made exclusively by one man, either the stake president or the bishop, and the other men are asked to “sustain” this man’s decision. With decisions made in such a unilateral manner, personal biases will have an even stronger impact on the decision.

Research suggests that jurors’ biases are likely to be more favorable toward someone with whom they can identify.  Within the LDS Church, males share many experiences that help them identify with each other: missionary work, priesthood callings and quorum membership. There is also evidence that shifting blame for rape toward the victim is a bias that may be more prevalent among men than women. Reference 4  Reference 5  Since church discipline is exclusively administered by men, it stands to reason that the church discipline system is more biased toward men and toward victim blaming in rape cases than it would be if both sexes were represented. Reference 6

From a social worker who counseled a pregnant teenager:

We had a birth mom who went on a date with a returned missionary in her ward and he date raped her and she became pregnant.  And when she went to the bishop, he was, “Oh well, a returned missionary wouldn’t do that. You must have seduced him.”  And he really pressured her when she found out she was pregnant to marry her rapist.  And so her and her parents went to the stake president and he reinforced what the bishop said, that he wouldn’t have done this.  He’s a returned missionary. You should marry him. Reference 7

From a bishop’s counselor who staffed a disciplinary council:

This woman was old enough to be my grandmother. She sat there, trembling from the palsy of age and in emotional distress, crying as she talked about what had happened to her sixty years before…And she hadn’t transgressed. She’d been molested. She believed that she’d consented voluntarily because she didn’t fight back…The deliberation was strange. The bishop has to make the decision, and we were basically just there to support him, since the stake president had already given him his orders. It felt so wrong to me. I said, “This lady shouldn’t be punished. I want her to feel forgiven.” [The bishop] explained again what the stake president had said and asked me if I supported him. Reluctantly, I said yes. When he told her that she’d be disfellowshipped for a year, she thanked us and hugged us. Reference 8

From a sister missionary whose  female convert had been disciplined after having sex with an abusive boyfriend:

I do not think that he actually physically forced her during the sex act, but given the fact that he had just slapped her around hard enough to leave multiple bruises on her body – bruises that still showed a couple of weeks later – I do not think it could be described as a consensual encounter. I think that after he hit her and calmed down he started coming on to her sexually and she did not feel that he would give her the option of refusing. Not one of these details was considered in the disciplinary court. She was not asked, and I don’t think it occurred to her to tell. Reference 9

Read the second post in the is two-part series here: http://www.the-exponent.com/five-more-lds-church-discipline-policies-that-affect-women-unequally/

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81 Comments

  1. Wow reading these experiences in the article made me sad, pissed and overwhelmed! Why the hell are we putting them through this?? Insane, inappropriate, unprofessional, unhealthy, damaging….bullshit. That’s all I have to say about that.

  2. We are powerless to stop this. Mormons have an incapacitating trust in priesthood leaders, especially women.

    I’m tired. I’m heartbroken. I’ve heard 20 years of stories like this.

    I don’t know how to change it. We all have to leave the Church. I don’t see any other way. Wed have more luck fighting for women’s rights and benevolent treatment in Saudi Arabia. Just ask the 20 TBM feminists over the age of 40.

    • I know this post is a downer and it is very discouraging to see so many bad experiences in one article. I am not over 40 yet…but I am hanging in there. I hope that bringing these things to light will lead to change.

    • The church has so much good in it. Stories like this are incredibly important to fix the problems, and these are key problems that need to be addressed. I have a lot of hope that posts like this will help solve things if they are read by the right individuals. In short, I’m not leaving. They’ll have to kick me out if they don’t want me.

      April: have you considered sending this to Church HQ? These case studies are so helpful. Up to now everything I’ve read has been so anecdotal and one off. You’ve done a great job compiling and sourcing.

      • one of the case studies is from the Mormon Alliance. Compiling them is what got Lavina Fielding Anderson, one of the September Six, excommunicated in 1993.

        In other words, the leaders are very aware of situations like this and have been for decades. Historically they have chosen to punish those who publicize the problems, rather than those who create them.

      • The internet has changed a lot of things since 1993, and many of the things that were not acceptable to SLC leadership are at least somewhat tolerated now. If there aren’t already church folks monitoring the blog and its comments, pointing it out to them would probably do more good than not. At least they won’t have the excuse to say everyone likes things the way they are and nobody’s agitating for change.

      • If there aren’t already church folks monitoring the blog and its comments

        There are. There are also people who vet the mail for the brethren and make sure that they are not exposed to anything that will upset them too much. Researchers employed by the church are often asked to change the results of their studies to findings the brethren will find more palatable.

        If the gatekeepers of information want the hierarchy to know about this, they already do, and if the gatekeepers don’t, sending a report won’t help. And it could result in some sort of disciplinary action for April, regardless.

    • I AM over 40 and I have left. My concern now is for my daughters and granddaughters and sisters in the gospel.

    • Oh please! “We all have to leave the church”… really? I have found more wisdom and spiritual food in this church than any other. There is a reason that it is growing, moving, and transforming lives around the world. Of course there will always be anecdotal evidence of this type of thing. I don’t believe the church was perfect. I don’t believe it ever was. As long as humans are imperfect the church will be too. Grow up, forgive, move on, teach, inspire, and keep pushing for change. You may leave the church but I have never seen anyone’s life improve by leaving.

      • There are experiences out there that would have some of you do the worst things to this church. I am 50 and have been a member for thirty_three years. If you hear what I went through befor hanging my gloves you would run. This church has deviated completely. Christ would be ashamed of these so-called leaders. They are terrible.

  3. This is a very important blog post, April. I’m so sad to hear these women’s experiences. I want to acknowledge for readers that every person has a different experience in a church court and that some of these experiences are loving and healing.

    But what you’ve just illustrated is that some, perhaps many, are not. I hope that this conversation leads to real and permanent changes in the way church discipline is handled.

    FWIW, my husband was recently called as ward clerk. In talking with a friend who was previously a ward clerk, he was told, “You’ll have to attend disciplinary councils. I hate that part of the job. I just sit in the corner and face the corner so I can’t see the person talking. I take as few notes as possible and enter a few sentences into the file.” It’s good to know that some men think these “courts” are as humiliating and useless as women do. This same gentleman had served under several bishops and mentioned that he felt some bishops enjoyed the church courts more than others. It’s very upsetting to me to think of church leaders enjoying this at all.

    • Yes, I think it is important to remember that my purpose in writing this article is to point out the flaws of a system in which only men judge and staff the councils, and the cases highlighted were chosen because they illustrate these flaws. I am not saying that the system cannot or has not ever worked for anyone else.

    • Unfortunately, I have been through this more than once. It was humiliating and it made me feel so dirty, and not because of what I had done, but because I was asked explicit questions and told I had to answer them if I wanted the “process” to work. I didn’t realize, at the time, the clerk in there writing everything down. I wasn’t asked or told there would be a PERMANENT record kept of my detailed confession. I wasn’t told it could and WOULD be used against me, if I ever had to have another disciplinary council.

      Fast forward 5 years…. I found myself in a position to talk to my bishop again, and have another d.c. I did it because I just wanted to “be fixed”. Somehow, it came up that I had been through the “process” before, so my Bishop told me we would have to wait until my record from SLC came in, so he could review my previous transgression.

      When I was finally called in, I was shocked to see the large stack of papers he reviewed in front of myself, the counselors and clerk. It had every detail of my confession, along with the list of consequences and tasks that were given to me in order to be forgiven.

      I think, everyone needs to know, there IS a permanent record. God will remember your sins no more, but the church WILL. Because of my “record” my husband can’t hold certain callings in the church. Your sins will not only be remembered, they will be held against you and your spouse.

      The “process” has caused a lot of additional stresses and anxieties in my life.

      Sad….. I wish I knew then, what I know now.

      • Does anyone know if this stuff gets deleted if someone wants their records removed? As someone that has been through this process I want to be done with this church and done with everything attached to it. I had no idea they kept that data on the records.

  4. I’m a woman who has endured a church disciplinary council regarding sexual sin (mine). I do feel that my bishop was acting in love as best he could but there was NO way to make it a comfortable experience for anyone involved. Thankfully I wasn’t asked any questions about intimate experiences. Still, I was terrified and ashamed through the entire process. Women should not have to confess sins to an all male council.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience. I think you raise an important point–even if the men involved are as sensitive as humanly possible, it does not change the natural discomfort a woman is likely to feel when brought before a group of men to be judged.

      • Even if women were in the disciplinary counsel it would still be uncomfortable and humiliating. I’m not saying women shouldn’t be there, I’m just saying that won’t fix the discomfort. Perhaps it would be less so though. But remember that either way, the discomfort is natural because, well, we have sinned and it’s always uncomfortable talking about what we did that was wrong. The counsel, when done right (even if action has been taken such as being disfellowshipped), the leaders should try to make the confessor feel there’s hope through the atonement. The confessor hopefully would feel the love of the brethren and know that through the atonement they can be forgiven. And if they can’t feel the love from the leaders, hopefully they can at least feel it from God who does love them, even through the difficult repentance process.

  5. I can only say that of the approximate 25 ward and stake disciplinary councils in which I’ve participated, I’ve never had a leader ask the kinds of questions of which you complain. I won’t say it doesn’t happen, but I don’t think it’s very frequent. If your solution is to have women only confess to an all female council, don’t you think a woman is just as capable as a man in asking stupid questions? Or, are you implying something sexist in the sense that if it were an all female council, things would ‘obviously’ be different because and only because of they being female. Are you saying all women would be comfortable relating their sexual history/transgression to other females? Or, are you saying the council should be equally split between men and women? If so, who would make the ultimate decision about the discipline (if any) to be administered? I’m not quite sure what you’re advocating. FWIW, my experience has been that the member appearing has already met extensively with Bishop or SP, so that by the time an actual council is held, the Bishop/SP glosses over the incident in a broad way ( it doesn’t take too much imagination to understand what adultery means) so that broader questions are asked: what lead the person to do that, what spiritual or emotional struggles were going on, what can be done so that it doesn’t happen again. And Jessawhy, I don’t understand the former clerk’s words to imply he thinks councils are humiliating or a waste of time. He simply doesn’t want the person to feel uncomfortable. At any rate, if he can’t participate fully and be supportive of the person, then perhaps he was better off to be released.

    • Consider this, Been There: perhaps you actually have heard “a leader ask the kinds of questions of which [we] complain.” Perhaps you were so comfortable with the overall situation that nothing about those types of questions struck you amiss. Perhaps it is only now, when you are confronted with what those questions sounded like to women, that you realize they might have been inappropriate. And perhaps not having really heard or noted them when they first occurred, you cannot recall them now.

      If you object to my recasting your experience, ask yourself why. And then ask yourself why you feel entitled to interpret this statement

      You’ll have to attend disciplinary councils. I hate that part of the job. I just sit in the corner and face the corner so I can’t see the person talking. I take as few notes as possible and enter a few sentences into the file.

      to mean that the ward clerk in question

      simply doesn’t want the person to feel uncomfortable. At any rate, if he can’t participate fully and be supportive of the person, then perhaps he was better off to be released.

      What, besides your experience as a a male priesthood holder, makes you better able than Jessawhy to accurately determine what was actually conveyed in the exchange between one man she knows and another she’s married to?

      Given that YOU work very hard to justify the church’s procedural status quo in a situation that did not involve you while passing judgment on an individual you’ve never met and clearly understand very little about, why should people not assume that you’re just as eager to justify the church’s procedural status quo in situations that did involve you while passing judgment on people you have met but still understand very little about?

    • Wow, Been There, you posed a lot of questions in that one paragraph. Let me take a stab at them:

      If your solution is to have women only confess to an all female council, don’t you think a woman is just as capable as a man in asking stupid questions?

      Here are two questions in one, so let me try to parse this out. First, is my solution to have women only confess to an all female council? No, I did not say that, although it might be an idea worth considering. What I am saying is that I do not think a system wherein women are judged in exclusively male councils is good for women. There are many other alternatives to bringing women before an all-male group for discipline.

      Second, do I think a woman is just as capable as a man in asking stupid questions? Yes, I do. But is a man just as capable as a woman at being a woman? The fact that all the people in the room judging the woman are male is inherently uncomfortable for many women. A woman may be more comfortable if at least some of her judges can relate to the experience of being female.

      Or, are you implying something sexist in the sense that if it were an all female council, things would ‘obviously’ be different because and only because of they being female.

      Please read the U.S. Supreme Court quote again. If one sex is excluded, the outcome is likely to be different than if both sexes were included. Also, since social science shows that certain biases are more prevalent among one sex than the other, the likelihood of certain biases affecting more of the decisions made over time is greater if one sex is systematically excluded.

      Are you saying all women would be comfortable relating their sexual history/transgression to other females?

      Nope. I did not say “all” women. But I know many women who are uncomfortable discussing their sex lives with men, and I do not believe this kind of discomfort is uncommon.

      Or, are you saying the council should be equally split between men and women?

      I did not say this either, but this is another possible solution. One of many.

      If so, who would make the ultimate decision about the discipline (if any) to be administered?

      It appears that you are comfortable with having only men make disciplinary decisions, even if they may not be ideal decisions for some women. Would it bother you if sometimes the lot fell on a woman to make such a decision? Why? Like your other questions, there are many solutions to the problem of determining who makes the final decision.

      I’m not quite sure what you’re advocating.

      I am saying that there are flaws to a system in which only men judge and staff councils, but women are subjected to them. I did not advocate one particular solution in this post, because there are so many different options to address this problem, and my goal with this post was to bring the problem to light to encourage dialogue toward a solution. I have my own preferred solutions, but my preferences were not the topic of this post.

      • Thank you April for a thoughtful, well-written article. I would suggest that the time for disciplinary councils is over. They are an antiquated institution from a previous time, built on the idea that a public ‘trial’ is the best way to deal with sexual sin. They come from a time when the poor were sent to debtor’s prison or to the workhouse – to work out their sins. These so-called ‘courts of love’ are often humiliating and embarrassing. I thoroughly agree that no woman should ever be brought before such a council to discuss sexual sin in front of an all male panel. Such a situation is absolutely ripe for abuse. I also believe that men should not be brought before these councils either, whether the panel is all male or not. Most councils are unnecessary. If individuals need to confess, they should be able to do so privately with their bishop or stake president. There is no need for large numbers of the community to stand in judgment. We should be slow to hand out excommunications, disfellowshipments and probations and faster to hand out healing and relief.
        I watched my father go through a stake high council and be excommunicated many years ago. The situation was humiliating and painful for my whole family, which was already grieving. It was more than 10 years before he came back into the church – and the experience left an indelible mark on all of us.
        People sin. The atonement is real. Disciplinary councils come from an antiquated mindset that somehow a public trial is the best way to deal with sin. It is time for a healing mindset, rather than a punishment mindset in the way we deal with sin.

    • Are you saying that since stories like the ones April shared are (in your experience) not very frequent, that they don’t matter? That’s the same as saying since pedophiles are not very common there’s no need to have two-deep adult supervision of children.

      An institutional structure that provides a safe haven for abuse is not a structure that should be allowed to survive.

    • You seem to agree with how the church handles these current situations, but what I’d like to know, is, even without the explicit questions, when, EVER, is it ok for a unmarried man and woman or young woman to be in a room together behind a closed door discussing sex on ANY level? We go to great lengths to avoid these situations by taking preventative measures with our youth, missionaries, etc, but all of the sudden it’s ok, because a woman or young woman has sinned?!! I met with my bishop alone, for 6 months, once a week. It was in the evening and hardly anyone was in the church. How is this ok?! Talk about hypocritical and huge liability!

      As someone who can speak from experience, this is damaging! Men like you give me the creeps!

  6. Been There: Do you understand that it’s problematic for you to lead with “In the councils I’ve participated in…”? Part of the problem is that you have such experience to contextualize these stories, and NO WOMAN in the entire church can possibly have that experience. We cannot fully empathize with bishops or stake presidents and their good intentions, because the only way a woman can ever participate in a disciplinary council is as the accused. The fact that you can make an appeal to your authority as a judge/jury member (and fully expect women to be appeased by your account) is part of the problem.

    • Is it not just as problematic to only hear the stories of women who’ve participated in councils? If you don’t want to have a male perspective, particularly a male who’s had first hand experience in these matters, too, then I will bow out. Good luck with the topic.

      • Ahem. There WAS another “male perspective, particularly a male who’s had first hand experience in these matters, too”–the former ward clerk Jessawhy knows. You recast his experience and then dismissed him as unworthy to be on church courts because his opinion undercuts yours.

        So you’re not really interested in seeing that there’s a male perspective in the conversation. You’re interested in proving that YOU are right.

      • Been There –

        Take off your own personal experience hat for a moment and put on a different one: Put on the hat of the accused/witnesses and consider for a moment what it would be like to be the one on trial. Sure it’s uncomfortable to be confessing to a panel of men you sit with each Sunday in priesthood quorums.

        Now imagine that your bishop and stake president are women. You’ve spent considerable time in your bishop’s office telling her about all the things that make you guilty. You sit with her multiple times, but she’s sure you need to do more to repent than just tell her about it. So she sends a couple of women in the ward to your home to hand-deliver a letter to you telling you to be at the church at a specified time. You walk into her office, where there are several other female leaders of the ward/stake in attendance. You are the only man.

        They say they love you, and you’re pretty sure they have your best interests at heart, but other than interactions at church, they don’t really know you. You are nervous about what you’ll need to say, you are ashamed that you’ve sinned, you are concerned and worried about what will happen. You recognize you probably won’t have a temple recommend after all this is over, but you really don’t want to lose your membership altogether, so you resign yourself to doing whatever these inspired leaders want you to do.,

        Do you think that these women can relate to how you, as a man, experience life? Do they understand the unique pressures you are under to live up to your roles and responsibilities? Do you think they can see past their own prejudices and assumptions when they consider your case? Will your female bishop/stake president change her mind as a result of the council, or will the council just reinforce everything she’s already learned/assumed about you in earlier one-on-one meetings.

        And how will you feel the next several weeks at church, continuing to report on your repentance process to these women who now know all you’ve confessed (or who at least have used their own imaginations to fill in the details of a broad-brush explanation)?

        Then consider what it would be like to have a woman who’s sat on these councils come along and lecture you about how things REALLY are. That most disciplinary councils are not that bad and, really, wouldn’t all-male councils include men who asked inappropriate questions? And you really think all men would be comfortable confessing their sexual sins to an all-male council? And, besides, if there were men on the council, along with women, who would ultimately be responsible for the decision – the bishop’s still a woman and she’s still the one deciding and everyone else is sustaining, so what’s the point of having men there too?

  7. ButThank you so much for this post. This is something that I have struggled with for a very long time. I left the church for a while in part because of how I had been treated in a disiplinary council. The shame was just too much and I felt that others who had committed greater sins than I had, got off with a slap in the wrist . I agree that not all councils are the same and for that I am greatful because I don’t want anyone to go through what I experienced. But I feel there needs to be the involvement of other women, when women are being disiplined. I know you can have witnesses, but there needs to women advocating for women. Especially in the examples that you have shared. I also feel that the men that have chosen to act this way towards women, will be held accountable. For a time the reason that I came back to the church was to make sure that no one else would have this experience.

  8. Been there: no one even hinted that a male perspective was not welcome. I asked you to see how the framing of your experience is problematic, and that it (inevitably–not blaming you for this) participates in the overall inequity of the disciplinary process.

  9. While it was humiliating for me to confess to my bishop (actually bishops) in the first place, I did feel that the overall process of the disciplinary court (both times) was loving and strengthened me. Honestly I don’t think I would have been any less humiliated in front of a mixed gender than an all male court. The examples shared are heartbreaking and further support that all those involved in the disciplinary process really need professional training to some degree to avoid retraumatizing those who have already been victimized!

  10. I have a good friend that had sex with her soon-to-be ex-husband a couple of nights before the divorce was final. She said she did it because she knew that she soon would not be able to have sex. She knew that it was probably not for the right reasons, but they were technically still married. She later felt bad about it and told her bishop. He proceeded to take her recommend. She went to the stake president to ask him to do something about this because she didn’t think her recommend should have been taken. The stake president made her go to a church court and relate the experience of having sex with her husband to the high council. She was humiliated, but she did get her recommend back. Requiring a woman to talk about her sexual experiences in front of a room full of men is abusive.

  11. Been There,
    My take away from the conversation (granted it was second-hand) was that this former ward-clerk believed the courts were at best a waste of time and at worst very damaging. I’m unsure that he would be willing to say these things to the bishop, however.

    This is another important part of this conversation. Men who disagree with the procedure or specific questions of the court don’t typically have a way to escape or opt-out of interrogations. One friend described being a priesthood holder and observer in a church court and felt he was witness to spiritual abuse, feeling powerless to change the proceedings or outcomes (he was forbidden from speaking). It seems to be a structure that can hurt both men and women.

    Of course the focus should be on the women in these stories and how we can better support and empower them in these situations. Maybe we can brainstorm some ideas of how to help women who are called or voluntarily submit to church courts?

  12. I have participated in many of these councils through the years as a stake or ward leader. The councils can be loving and helpful but that is entirely dependent on the particular leader in charge. Regardless, because humans tend to view everything through their own unique lens; fair, consistent outcomes and processes are impossible for females. I can’t imagine being subjected to judgement from an all female group, especially from one that is in a clear position of superiority simply because of their gender. It is inane to think otherwise.

  13. I sincerely hope that the examples given in this article are rare – they are quite obviously NOT how we are taught to handle each other if you’ve ever read the standard works. That said, I do agree with Kasey in that anyone brought before a church disciplinary council would be nervous and uncomfortable – having a mixed gender council would likely not change that. However, I do think that involving more women on the council would be wise. As has been mentioned above, there are certain things that women provide in terms of perspective and life experience that is different from men. Everyone (regardless of gender) will bring different views, but if we are to believe that all the talks given about natural traits of gender (or even the Proclamation to the Family) – then it is right to assume that having women on the council would provide a different and needed perspective that would benefit both male and female “disciplinees”. I would also suggest that this would be of benefit outside official councils as well, and suggest that the Relief Society President/presidency ought to be involved in more regular meetings that are typically done with a bishop at the moment, particularly when the issues do involve questions that only a woman could adequately answer with personal experience. Council, for example, on wearing the garment when you are pregnant or on your period.

  14. I believe that although men may be called of God, they are still men, being the lay church that we are.
    this situation: “I have a friend who had a one-time fling after years of celibacy. Our bishop called a church court on her and told her that all of the sins she had repented of in the past were no longer forgiven because she had messed up again. He forced her to recount, in front of him, his counselors, and the ward clerk, every sexual experience she had ever had or be excommunicated. He wanted to know all the lurid details—sexual positions, whether it was oral, anal, or vaginal, whether she had orgasms, etc. Needless to say, she felt coerced and abused by this process.” I’ve heard that from other friends of mine who had gone through disciplinary councils. If you read what is said there
    you will be able to discern quite clearly that something was out of line in that council. The court is not called to shame a person or to provide titilating soft porn for its conductors. That is when I, as an individual, would have walked out, and brought that to the attention of higher ups. Personally, I have been through 3 different disciplinarian situations,I NEVER felt anything like what was stated in that paragraph I shared in this comment. I came with great remorse, sincerely wanting to make things right.I was not asked to provide lurid details or any sort. The Spirit was there,in fact, the men involved were almost in tears as they could feel the weight of my concerns and guilt…they had compassion for me as a sister who was trying to get back on track. The men who were there never made me feel shame, even afterwards. I even invited the Bishop who conducted the church court to my sealing in the temple more than a year later. He always treated me with great respect…he was a giant among men who helped me truly feel the love of our Savior and Heavenly Father in a personal way.But believe me
    if any man was going to exercise truly unrighteous dominion in a church court, the Spirit would tell you. In some of the very sad and heart wrenching situations described here, I’d have left before telling them more because even if I am submitting myself to discipline, there are still lines, there are still rules that I know in my heart that I do not need to cross because it is not God who requires that. Blind obedience is not what God intended for his children. The men who did these wrong things will answer. I do not blame any woman who was in these situations if they left the church, so as to avoid ever being put in that type of situation again. This life is about salvation, it is about love, it is about service and our goal is to be as God is. I have a heavy heart, as these stories show yet again that men do heinous acts in the name of God. Know them for who they are, they who do these things are not of God.

    • I’m so glad to hear that your disciplinary counsels were held in a loving and supportive manner. This is what I wish for every person, male or female, who has to face a counsel. I “think” it’s the norm, but it’s been sad to read so many accounts of things going differently. You hit it on the nose, the leaders are still men and the Spirit will tell you if something is amiss – IF you are in tune. But if you’ve been truly doing what is necessary for repentance, including daily prayer, then you should be in tune enough. I count these unfortunate experiences as a test of faith.

  15. When I think about my experience with discussing with a Bishop my sin, I’m horrified to think of what might have happened – that these experiences could have been my experience. I had walked around for years full of bitterness and hating myself because I had once made what I absolutely knew for myself was a mistake. But what mattered in me being healed and having that self-hate taken away from me was the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I don’t have those feelings anymore and I have moved past things in my life I may still regret but do not actively feel shame over anymore. I’m a happy involved member of the Church because one time a Bishop merely slapped me on the wrist (abstain from the Sacrament for two weeks, read The Miracle of Forgiveness, and let’s have a little followup discussion). There was a lot that went into my repentance but part of it was speaking to my Bishop. If I had been subjected to a disciplinary council, I can’t imagine the hurt that would have inflicted on me – but I doubt I would have the strong testimony of what the Atonement is and can do for us that I have now.

    Of course, I was a single YSA then. Which leads me to one observation – it seems like the discipline for the married/endowed versus the single/unendowed is perhaps very different. Maybe it should be? Maybe it shouldn’t be?

    Also, we’re taught from a young age to go to our Bishops for counsel and comfort. If I thought all I was going to do was bring judgement down upon my head when I honestly need help, I think I would and will go elsewhere for that help. It’s a good question to ask whether the average member of the church is even aware that such disciplinary councils exist before they speak to their Bishop. I’m not sure where the mercy side of the Atonement fits into these councils (obviously the justice side is alive and well) and I think such a possible outcome drastically alters the relationship we’re taught to have with our Bishops and not for the best.

    • “ANONYMOUS ALSO”‘s comment rings very true with me.

      I think LDS Bishops have a fundamental conflict-of-interest between providing pastoral care and discipline in terms of anything sexual (leaving aside gender issues, employment issues for church employees, and educational impacts for students at church colleges).

      I really struggle to see what dis-fellowship or excommunication accomplish in terms of helping the church or the member in the vast majority of the cases. It seems principally geared towards maintaining a power imbalance between members and leadership. That we layer a total gender imbalance on top of this just makes the system more indefensible.

    • I have often thought that Mormon wards could really benefit from a professional chaplain. I have worked with chaplains in many different areas and they have wonderful abilities to calm troubled hearts. Bishops are wonderful, but they don’t have the same tools for pastoral care. A chaplain could be an advocate and counselor for those who face courts, but it could still be the bishop’s place to judge and facilitate repentance. Someday, when I’m the President of the Church. :)

      • A FEMALE Chaplain (could be a Bishopric 3rd Counselor, though there would be benefits to keeping her independent) would be an elegant solution to many of the problems raised here. There are about 21,000 Ward units as of 2013, so if we want professionally trained chaplains (LCSWs, military chaplains, theology grads, etc), then a Stake Chaplain might be more realistic (3,000 Stake units) initially. And that professional training entails thousands of hours/dollars of education, so compensation for our lady chaplains might be an issue.

        If we prefer to keep the leadership all-volunteer, then I think setting apart women as Bishopric Counselors is the most shovel-ready option where policy changes are concerned…holding the priesthood needn’t be a requirement to counsel the bishop and act under his direction. Such women could be delegated the task of doing worthiness interview and handling sensitive cases involving sexuality and/or abuse.

  16. In a hundred million years I would never submit to, or be a part of such a thing as one of these councils. I am an adult convert who searched high and low for the gospel and I believe I have found it as an LDS woman, but if it was even suggested to me that I would have to be a part of anything like this, whether I was the councilee or the councilor, I would leave without a moments hesitation. I love this church but I do not believe that any group of people or any one person has the ability to judge me for my sins. If I am going to break down and pour out my soul and my tears, it’s going to be in front of my Heavenly Father in a plea for His forgiveness, with faith in His perfect judgement…not in front of a group of flawed individuals (as we all are) hoping that they can have momentary perfection of being to judge me perfectly and without prejudice. I would never be a part of such a council because I do not believe myself to be able to judge another person..who am I that I should judge? No and no.

    • I feel the same way, Kelly. I find the whole thing creepy. And the stories April shared make me livid and repelled.

      That said, if excommunication and it’s milder cousins are going to exist in the church, I’d rather have the decision-maker counseled by a group of people than to make a totally solitary decision. That council should absolutely include women, for so many reasons.

    • Please read: No Man Knows my History by Fawn Brody, she was a Niese of Pres. David O. McKay and had accessto all the church records.There you learn the Truth ,how Joseph Smith treated Women!

  17. Fantastic post and comments.

    It’s been at least nine years since my my ‘disciplinary council” and I’m still effed up from it. And I’ve moved on from the church.

    It doesn’t matter how gentle and loving the Bishop is, it isn’t right for a lone woman to recall her transgressions in detail to a panel of men.

    Unless lifelong humiliation and shaming is the goal of these disciplinary councils.

  18. This is heartbreaking. I participated in the discussions and baptisms of two young girls whose mother had distanced herself from the church for over a decade due to poor handling of her husband’s church discipline of her then husband (he had been abusing their children – the bishop basically dismissed the mother). It awoke me to the horrible weight of responsibility that local leaders bear and the potential for occur even when the best intentions and utmost sensitivity is present (which wasn’t present in this case). In retrospect, this probably marks the moment I became aware of feminism/patriarchy issues in the church.

    I can only feel grateful I did not have to participate in disciplinary proceedings during my time as a ward clerk, brace myself for the prospect of having to bear this responsibility in the future, and pray we can put safer systems in place to reduce the difficulties described in this post that multiply the challenges facing women going through the repentance process.

  19. Such a great article. There is a lot of pain around how these councils are often held. While not everyone has negative experiences, there are many who do. I don’t see why it would be inappropriate for a Young Women’s President, a RS President or other women who have been called, to stand in council as well as the Bishop and others. This seems consistently compassionate especially on topics of such a personal nature. For that matter, can’t the President (women) confer with the women being disciplined and then help and stand as an advocate for them and compassion during the process?

  20. How about we get rid of displinary counsels altogether? If we truly believe in the atonement of Christ, they serve no purpose. No where in the Book of Mormon or the Trstamenta are we counseled to remove sinners from our congregations and fellowship.

    • Julia,
      Yes! One of my good friends is a former Mormon and born-again Christian. She is constantly telling me about the awesome services she attends where the pastors share that we are all sinners, no one is free from sin. Come unto Jesus and repent. We can all do this together.

      The message seems so opposite what I hear and see in church, particularly for these church councils.

    • I can understand why you’d say they serve no purpose, but please hear me out why I disagree. I know we’re talking about women here but I think my dads experience comes into play when talking about whether the courts/councils do any good at all in general.

      My father stood before a council for sexual abuse of all 4 of his daughters. This had gone on for years. He’d talk to his bishop (several over the years) and try to stop, but then something would trigger him (stress or whatever) and he’d start again. Finally, one wise bishop determined that something else had to happen or this cycle would just continue indefinitely. So my dad stood before a council and was then excommunicated. This was the best thing that could have happened to him. He was embarrassed, humiliated – but also hopeful. Despite his reprehensible deeds those men still were able to show love and concern. My dad continued to go to church, unable to participate in any way, for 14 long years. He worked with his bishop and stake president doing whatever he was asked. He was free of the burden of membership to progress. As a member he was under stiffer penalty from the Lord as someone who’d made sacred covenants. Without that burden he could work toward bettering himself and rebaptism. It took a long time, it was difficult, but he remained faithful, tried to make amends to his children for what he did to us, and eventually was rebaptized.

      Sometimes the penalties really are for the best and can propel us toward greater things – if we are humble and let it.

      As for women in these counsels I think it’s a great idea to have women called to sit on the counsels as advisers or to support the confessor. Justin’s idea of a female chaplain is pretty cool too.

  21. Sadly I don’t think expeiriences like those recounted above are rare. They correspond to my expeirience and that of a a few friends. Part of the reason my children no longer participate in the church is the need to confess/ repent as it is now done. It damaged me.

  22. While these anecdotes are compelling, I think the solution is much more complicated than simply, “make sure other women are there/judging”. From what I understand, the sinner is already allowed to bring in an advocate of sorts to the proceedings. But what if you don’t know anyone who can effectively advocate for you, male or female? What if all of the women in your ward are stalwart supporters of patriarchy or rape culture or something that gives the situation the power imbalance that we’re talking about? That isn’t far from the truth for many US wards or branches.
    No, the culture needs to change, and such a change would, I feel, be a lot more beneficial than adding more women into the same setup.

  23. The interesting thing about church courts is that the court hearing is really extraneous to the outcome. A bishop can convene a court for females and Aaronic or non-priesthood holders. A stake president can convene a court on anyone.

    How is it decided to hold a court? Someone confesses to the bishop or stake president who can then interrogate sufficiently to know every detain of the transgression. The bishop or stake president can immediately, without a hearing, place the person on probation and issues as many restrictions as he feels inclined. If he chooses not to place the person on probation that suggests that he has already determined that the person needs to be disfellowshipped or excommunicated.

    Let’s leaf frog over the formal hearing. Following the hearing the bishop and his counselors or the stake president and his counselors will retire to a private room to determine what action against the “accused” should be taken. Even though there may be a discussion and recommendations from the counselors, the final decision lies completely with the bishop or the stake president. For all practical purposes that decision could have been made at the time of the confession, with out a formal hearing.

    I have sat on many church courts and I have set in the room where the final decision was made, and I have never seen a case where the formal hearing contributed anything to the final decision. Maybe others have had different experiences.

    If you read carefully in the D&C where court guidelines are set forth, they really only make sense when the Church was first organized and were hearing cases that later would be handled by civil courts. They make very little sense and are an awkward process when it comes to moral issues, or even questions of apostasy. They are fine if you want to hear the complaints and make a case about whether Sister Marsh stole the cream from the milk (that case would never be heard in a church court today). It is another story when you use the procedure for determining, say whether a person who documents cases of spiritual abuse should be excommunicated (particularly when the stake president already has decided what the outcome of the hearing will be).

    • This is an interesting point. I have heard something similar from men who participated in church courts, that those who sit “in council” are merely going through the motions of a process, not actually contributing to the outcome. The outcome is usually pre-determined by the ranking male. Again, I can’t say if that’s an accurate description. As a woman, I’ve never been in one to judge for myself.

  24. I was once threatened by my bishop with a court for excommunication. My crime was thinking (specifically, thinking that it is OK to think for myself and not to automatically accept all things the Brethren say until after I have a confirmation by the Holy Ghost personally). My bishop accused me of failure to sustain automatically, which is apparently his definition of a Latter Day Saint. He was prepared to put me on trial in front of those who would be brought to intimidate me from what I felt and still feel is a good, principled position. That is the definition of abuse of power.

    It is only made all the more possible to abuse by keeping it a ‘boyS –V– girl’ problem, rather than having a requirement to have men and women on the disciplinary councils.

    All that said, I don’t know that I’d ever think it wise to talk to bishops about a damn thing, any more. It never occurred to me until after my bishop was on the rampage that he did not allow for a more thoughtful discipleship. If I’d never told him, he’d never have had his ax out for me. So, that facebook page titled “Don’t Tell the Bishop” ? I Liked that page, with my whole heart.

  25. These are horrible situations and I hope that Pres. Monsoon gets a copy of this. If everyone on this thread mailed a copy maybe one would get to him. Even with a great bishop women should not being put through this. Let God be the judge not men. One thing we can do is to teach women that they do have rights. They can walk out and they can report the situation up the chain of command until they get help, even if they have to take an issue to the prophet. I wasn’t raised in the church and have no problem kicking it up to the next level when I have a problem. But many women raised in the church would never do that. They feel they can’t even question a priesthood leader’s choices or decision. We also need to raise our girls to speak up. Another thing would be to request more real training for bishops. We like our lay ministry but they aren’t trained to handle these situations.

    • Sandy, no, women do not have rights in the church. If I had reported my bishop and his stalking and intimidating me, it would have fallen even harder on me. We all know this. My stake president would have supported the bishop, because the nature of preserving ALL the ability to persecute/punish/”discipline” depends on keeping the power within the ranks and never admitting error.

  26. Are we not remembering that we are all accountable for our own sins and that if we commit any sin worthy of a disciplinary council, we trust in our priesthood leaders and we get what we get? Anyone who has been a member of the church for longer than a year knows the consequences for our actions. Many of you are excusing the sinner, and wanting to give them “special” treatment. While I understand that everyone should be treated as Christ would treat them, I do to believe that having women as part of a dosciplinary council would fix the problem. My father has participated in several of these councils and I remember him coming home spiritually exhausted and very much concerned for the particular individual. I remember asking him more about these and he said that the goal is for the outcome to be the best possible situation (long-term) for the particular individual possible. And he truly was dedicated to his calling, respected his priesthood and loved these people as Christ would. Those men who asked intrusive sexual questions for their own enjoyment should be the ones excommunicated and it is a shame that that experience was not reported to higher authority, because guaranteed, if the prophet knew about that particular experience, he would have taken action. I also have someone very close To me who was exed when he was only 16, for a stupid stupid reason (something of which his parents could have grounded him for a week and it would have been discipline enough). It is not only women who receive unfair treatment….and I would like to think that there are more positive experiences with these councils than are shown in this article. Instead of trying to change the way the LORD designed HIS church, let us pray for our leaders and their spiritual development and preparedness. This is not a democracy, this is the church of JESUS CHRIST and If you really have a deep-rooted testimony of this gospel, you will not be so quick to jump on the bandwagon of pointing fingers and instigating women’s rights. The priesthood is the priesthood, and until the sun shines purple, it will never be given to women.

    • ***correction: having women on the disciplinary councils would NOT fix the problem

      • Accountable, the only record we have of Jesus conducting a worthiness interview was of the woman taken in adultery in which Jesus caused the council to examine their own lives and thereafter, dismissed themselves from their equivalent of a council. We throw around this idea that how things are set up today is entirely established by the Lord himself and I guess I just question how our current way of handling discipline in the Church has anything to do with how Jesus would do things (given that we have account as to how he conducted a worthiness interview and all).

        Also, yes, the sinner has done wrong. I don’t think anyone here is trying to defend their actions. But how we treat the sinner is also wrong. Are we not all sinners? As a mother of daughters, I am greatly troubled by a structure that puts women and girls behind closed doors with middle-aged men asking about their sexuality, how they wear their underwear (garments), if they masturbate, etc. It’s entirely inappropriate! For all of our concern about the natural differences between men and women, we do not allow for those differences when it comes to worthiness interviews, the confession of sins, and/or disciplinary councils.

      • I actually agree, somewhat, Accountable. I think the judge in Israel title and the disciplinary councils need to be done away. Bishops can be great guides and comforts and will be *better* at that task if they do not feel that they are also charged with the emotional-equivalent of witch trials.

    • it is a shame that that experience was not reported to higher authority, because guaranteed, if the prophet knew about that particular experience, he would have taken action.

      No. It is not a guarantee by any means. Instead, in the past, people who attempted to report such abuses to higher authorities were themselves excommunicated. What mattered was not righting wrongs but preserving the appearance of goodness, as per Brigham Young’s instruction that “If you have your weaknesses, keep them hid from your brethren as much as you can.”

      http://jod.mrm.org/8/361

      The priesthood is the priesthood, and until the sun shines purple, it will never be given to women.

      how on earth does the tautological statement that “the priesthood is the priesthood” mean that “until the sun shines purple, it will never be given to women”? And what does that have to do with the fact that church courts are far too often abusive and harmful–to both men AND women?

      • In the current structure of the church, it i just about impossible for the regular members of the church to speak to SLC heads about anything. We have been told that any communication to SLC will be redirected to our local leaders. So, if the person who is performing the ecclesiastical abuse happens to be the bishop or stake president, then there really is no hope of getting redress. In most cases, I believe that the local leaders are doing their best. However, in cases such as April outlined in her piece, the reality is that no one of higher authority will step in to right the wrong. This is one dimension in which the church leaders being citadelled harms the body of the church.

    • I agree with everything you said. I just want to add that while this is Christ’s church, not a democracy, we need to distinguish between church policy and church doctrine. It is true that the Lord gave instructions re: holding courts in the D&C. Let’s remember though that He gave his procedural instructions in a different time with a different cultural backdrop. If kind and thoughtful requests or suggestions re: women in council mtgs. were to ever reach the apostleship or First Presidency, who knows? maybe they’d pray about it and get inspiration to change the policy regarding that. As someone else pointed out, a woman doesn’t need the Priesthood to sit on the council.

  27. Anyone who thinks that church courts as they are and have been constituted are somehow entirely a spiritual matter not subject to social pressures and conventions should acquaint themselves with the case of Norman Hancock.

    http://exmormon.org/phorum/read.php?2,1127964,1127964

    Norman’s son served in my mission and was in my district for a while. He and I discussed the case once, which I knew a little about, having heard about it from an LDS lawyer who knew Norman. One of the things Norman objected to was the fact that at the time, when someone was disciplined or excommunicated, their sins and their punishment were announced in priesthood meeting. That practice was discontinued because of Norman’s $18 million lawsuit, and it’s frankly a good thing, because what purpose did it serve?

    • Here is a better account of the Norman Hancock church disciplinary action and his subsequent lawsuit. http://mormon-alliance.org/casereports/volume3/part1/v3p1c05.htm

      When Norman was able to demonstrate that charges against him were false, he told the stake president, “you owe me an apology, doggone it.” At that point, his stake president “exploded vindictively, ‘I’m going to excommunicate you anyway!’”

      This is from the Mormon Alliance. Remember: It was for compiling these sorts of abuses and bringing them to the attention of the church hierarchy that Lavina was herself excommunicated.

  28. These anecdotes are devastating and repellent. I’m not a fan of church courts in any situation, but if they are going to exist, I absolutely agree that women should be in the council.

    Great post, April.

  29. I’ve never been involved in a church disciplinary court, but 35 years ago, a friend convinced me to confess an experience to my bishop. He treated me with utter contempt and disgust, and I left his office shamed, confused, and believing that I would never be clean again. Fortunately, the bishop wasn’t in a church court kind of mood. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in a get-the-kid-some-help kind of mood either.

    I had been sexually assaulted on a date.

    The bishop’s adult male mind couldn’t comprehend my practically pristine, extremely sheltered, 19 year old female mind. A woman, almost any woman, would have understood, and I would not have spent nearly my entire.adult.life. believing that I was unclean.

    I’m an active, card carrying member of the church, but I will never confess anything to a male bishop, ever again. And I’d leave in a heartbeat before I’d submit myself to a church court. Can there be any church action less Christ-like than “church discipline”? Churches are for sinners, just like hospitals are for patients.

    • Amen. I can see instances where church discipline would be warranted–high-profile instances of illegal/unethical activity from people in leadership positions, for example–but as a way to coerce sexual conformity among the rank and file? Completely and totally un-Christian.

  30. Well Christ will be our judge and advocate to the father. He is male. The men that staff these councils are imperfect and produce imperfect results, but the role of judge is a priesthood role.

    • Pete, you’re missing the whole point. The fact that you found something to say does not mean it added anything to the discussion.

    • Pete, the fact that Christ is a God aside, having accomplished the Atonement gives Him some insight beyond that of typical male clergy, don’t you think?

      • I agree whole-heartedly with anonymous3. Christ, through what he experienced in Gethsemane, knows exactly what it is like to be female. He’s experienced everything we’ve gone through. So yeah, he’s not your typical male.

        You aren’t wrong Pete. The role of judge is a Priesthood role. But part of fulfilling that role is trying to see things from a woman’s perspective and praying for the spirit regarding her and wanting what’s best for her – and understanding that it may be particularly difficult for some (not all) women to confess to a man. The Bishop or Stake President should try to be sensitive to that. Fortunately I’ve experienced some wonderful Bishops who’ve never made me feel “less than” despite my sins. I obviously had to repent, and had consequences, but they were done in the right spirit.

        I know it can be difficult for anyone, maybe men in particular, to even conceive or comprehend that a meeting could take place in the wrong spirit, but that doesn’t mean women’s negative experiences should be discounted.

  31. LDS church disciplinary councils are a farse. They are a disgusting display of misogynistic patriarchal abuse.

    I left the church voluntarily in 1992 because of a bishop who abused his ecclesiastical authority. Those little men who get that calling act as if they are Mussolini, Bonaparte, or Khomeini.

    I had wonderful bishops, but honestly the majority of them were power hungry dictators whose power went to their heads.

    I referred them all to D&C 121. They were clueless as to why I would. THAT, precisely, is the problem.

  32. Thanks for this post, April. It can be easy, at least for me, to know that it’s always men holding the power in the Church, and never women, without ever thinking through any of the real implications of that fact. Like the very real abuses of power you highlight here. I’m so glad you’ve brought this issue up. I hope it can be changed somehow.

  33. These stories are horrific. And for every one here, there must be hundreds more out there that haven’t been told. Thank you so much for being bold and for giving voice to these women and their lives. I can imagine the pain and betrayal they must have felt. I honestly don’t know what I would have done.

    I’ve been fortunate (as a single woman/mom for many years) to have had good, decent bishops who respected and honored me as the head of my home. I appreciate them as shepherds of the fold. However, I’ve always felt that my personal relationship with Christ trumped anything a leader might say or do. This feeling was shored-up in a powerful way. ..

    It happened with my then stake president whose wife was my visiting teacher and both of whom I looked to for support and advice. I was married, with young children, in my twenties. Circumstances in my marriage and elsewhere made it a harrowing time of life for me. I spent many hours just visiting with them in their home. On one occasion, my stake president said, “You know, even if I say I’ve had a revelation from God about counsel I should give you, you’re the only one who really knows if that counsel is correct.” This amazing man – who had been a stake president for 15+ years (back in the day when they did that) – validated what I had felt. He empowered me to trust myself, trust the Lord and to trust my leaders, with the understanding that they are human and will make mistakes. I wish every woman could have Brother Peterson for her stake president or bishop.

    Over the years I sought counsel and blessings from several bishops. With only one exception, I believe these men were aware of their position of power, yet did not abuse that power. I was involved in a disciplinary action at one time – which until now I have never publicly disclosed. I felt loved, supported and honored by the men who heard my story. They were my brothers. I felt this keenly. They loved me like brothers love their sister. I would have appreciated having a woman present and I hope to see this policy changed for all the reasons you articulate above. But even without another woman/sister in the room, my experience was that I felt loved, tenderly, steadily loved. I want to believe my story (like the terrible stories above) also has many others like it which are untold. But in a church where love of God and love of one’s neighbor is paramount, my story should be every woman’s story. May God speed the time when it will be.

    • Melody, what thoughtful and well-written remarks. You could start your own blog!

      • My bad, I see you’re a writer here. I’m new to the site and hadn’t noticed. Well, it’s no wonder! I will have to check out some of your entries. :)

  34. I would like to point out one thing that perhaps has been missed (I didn’t read through all of the comments, but I did read through several). The examples provided in the scriptures showed that when a person is brought before a council (any council, but the point in particular is church leadership council), the person does not get fair treatment. Christ is my particular example. He was brought before council and judged. All prophets being brought before councils were brought in chains. The point I wish to bring to mind is that no one should attend ANY council willingly. No one should be judged. It is highly apparent that one is not being judged by their peers. These are people who are ‘in authority’ and thus not peers. If all people are created equal and all are equal before God, then no one is a judge over another. The authority the leadership claims is assumed authority or authority we have been trained, conditioned, taught that we have to give and abide by. We do not have to abide by. It is a tradition of our fathers, and we have seen through the example of our own scriptures that ‘the traditions of the fathers’ is a bad thing and leads to destruction of the people.

    I, myself, have an experience where a disciplinary council was being held over my head. I refused to go. I had not sinned. I had not transgressed. The hypocrisy was so apparent that it was sickening to even contemplate baring my soul to a council of men to judge me and claim me as unworthy of God’s forgiveness. My story: I sold a pickup on contract to a family in the ward. The contract went into breach when the family paid half the contract price and then stopped payment. I went to the bishop for advice and he stated that if I had a contract, I should enforce the contract. The family involved had developed marital and financial problems and the husband was a favorite of the bishop. Instead of the church bailing the family out, by paying off the remainder of the contract, the bishop chose to support the husband in the lawsuit that ensued. I then had to deal with harassment in the form of people coming to my home and calling my husband continually for 2 years – phone calls that blatantly accused me of adultery. My husband was wise to the tactics and did not allow this harassment to affect our relationship. I finally got a judgment to obtain possession of the property. Then the bishop felt I needed to go before a disciplinary council and be judged by these men. My husband had met with the bishop at a point before the judgment, wherein the bishop had threatened to take my temple recommend (look at the temple recommend and recognize that it has to be surrendered upon demand, no questions asked).

    Being in the LDS church is a contract, with implied rules and regulations which are not specifically outlined and very few people are aware of. Paying tithing is part of that contract. Please recognize that bending your will to a council is also implied, as is ‘upholding” your leadership, even if you disagree. Note that people are being excommunicated for taking stances against the church politics, under the guise of not supporting their leadership (LDS, INC), which is not a technical sin according to the scriptures. There are thousands of examples (such as the September 8) and when these hit the headlines, they are glossed over by psychological tactics, the same psychological tactics used in the disciplinary councils. Note how often a BYU professor writes any article or book covering topics the church does not want its membership to be aware, that professor ends up excommunicated. Financial ruin, reputation ruin, social ruin are the weapons against these professors who have done their homework.

    To reiterate my point. Christ is our example. Christ had to be brought before a disciplinary council in chains. We should not be willing to sit accused in front of disciplinary councils. It is a tactic used to control the people such that they cannot have free will, which is exactly what was the reason we came to this earth to experience. If we were involved in ousting Lucifer from heaven because he wanted to squelch free will, why do we support others to do the same?

    • A secondary point I wish to point out; confessing provides the church blackmail material. We think our leaders are righteous and will provide righteous judgment. Please understand that this is not the case. When one enters the church, the expected procedure is to confess and forsake any sins. This give the person who is taking the confession a weapon to use against the member at a future time. It also becomes gossip material. The bishop is supposed to be close-mouthed but believe me, there is gossip in the home and in the ward. Nothing is private or secure with a confession. This allows people who are not involved in the process to have information, to which they will judge another, humiliate and ostracize or otherwise create hardship for the confessor. We can turn our eyes, but we cannot deny this happens.

      • I agree with this statement 100%. I made a comment earlier how my written detailed confession was, infact, kept and used against me years later. All the Bishop had to do was order them from SLC, and my past was there to be used against me.

  35. This post is hard to hear and depressing but it is absolutely necessary in helping the next generation. It is something we can fix, it is something that we can address and heal. THANK YOU.

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