This heartfelt post was sent to me by a close friend. I believe there are many who have similar experiences and hope that this can be an open discussion about the difficulties of doctrines surrounding sin and forgiveness. – Jessawhy.
I’m a book collector, or at least I aspire to be one. I love leather-bound books. I have a copy of President Kimball’s Miracle of Forgiveness that is beautiful, with green leather and gold plating. My mother gave it to me for Christmas in 1998, when this edition was hot off the press. It came with a letter attached from Presidents Hinckley, Monson, and Faust (at the time the most senior prophets) endorsing the book and its contents: “We are pleased to present you this classic edition… President Kimball’s enlightening teachings on the Atonement of Jesus Christ are a precious treasure for all who would follow the Savior. Sincerely your bretheren, The First Presidency, Christmas 1998.” This book sits in my living room, on display, because of its beautiful look, but I have some trouble reconciling myself to many of the messages.
Let me back up. I am a victim of sexual abuse. I have been victimized on a spectrum both as a child (before “the age of accountability”), as a teenager, and even to a small degree as an adult. It’s a pattern I’m working with professionals on identifying, recognizing early on, and dealing with in a resourceful, adult way. Because of this, I am sensitive to how the LDS Church speaks to and about victims of sex crimes. As I’ve struggled to deal with the consequences of the sexual conditioning I’ve been exposed to, I have at times sought the advice of my LDS bishops, and more than one (I think the actual number is five in total) has recommended reading The Miracle of Forgiveness as part of the healing process. This leads me to have some big issues with how this book treats the issue of victimization.
Upon looking up “rape” or “incest” in the index, I was directed to page 196, within a chapter called “Restitution.” President Kimball caps up the consequences of these sex crimes:
“Also far-reaching is the effect of the loss of chastity. Once given or taken or stolen it can never be regained. Even in a forced contact such as rape or incest, the injured one is greatly outraged. If she has not cooperated and contributed to the foul deed, she is of course in a more favorable position. There is no condemnation where there is no voluntary participation. It is better to die in defending’s one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle” (emphasis added).
I have agonized over this message for 10 years. What does he mean about whether or not a victim has “cooperated and contributed” to the incident, or how coming out of such situations some victims may be “in a more favorable position” than others? Note that the chapter is on making restitution for one’s sins. He seems to imply that there is no way to restore what was lost, even when there is no condemnation. And the part about dying to defend one’s virtue makes me very sad–that thought never occurred to me when I was being victimized, and instead I tended to freeze up and dissociate as a way to get through the experiences.
Here’s what has bothered me most. In my New Testament religion class as an undergraduate at BYU, my professor talked about the physical suffering Jesus went through before his crucifixion. He talked about how the Roman guards sorely abused Jesus when he was in prison, and that the authors of the gospels were trying to tell their readers that this was very, very serious abuse, possibly even prison rape. Of course, there’s no exact way of telling if Jesus was indeed raped, but it is a possibility. Prison rape is not a new invention, even though the Human Rights Watch records at least 140,000 inmates are raped each year in the U.S. (Joanne Mariner, 2001).
As a sexually abused person, I would take comfort that Jesus would not have put himself “above” being sexually abused. He would join us in personal experience and suffering. In Doctrine and Covenants 122: 7-8, He says “…and above all, if the very jaws of dhell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee eexperience, and shall be for thy good. The aSon of Man hath bdescended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” This makes me think that there was no form of suffering Jesus was unwilling to experience on our behalf. I don’t think that Jesus would have stopped this from happening to him, even though he was perfectly able to stop it. Instead, I believe, he would have submitted to it because he is the Savior of all of us, not just those who have managed to get by without someone doing the unthinkable to them.
Of course, if Jesus was violated in this way, that presents President Kimball’s message about “virtue,” even when “stolen,” never being able to be restored as a doctrinal problem. By his logic, if Jesus was violated, he cannot have virtue. If he had no virtue, then he cannot save us (how can one be perfect without perfect virtue?). That would make the Atonement null and void. Personally, I can’t believe this is true, even in the realm of hypotheticals. That leads me to conclude that there is something wrong in what we’ve been taught about the purity and virtue of sex crime victims, and there is something very wrong in this book that is currently being read by sexual crime victims all over the Church.
I realize that there are probably more recent revelations and General Conference talks about this issue. However, these aren’t what I’ve been counselled to read. These aren’t what are sitting on my living room shelf. These aren’t what have been reprinted and republished with a genuine endorsement from the First Presidency. This is why I am left thinking something has gone wrong in our teaching about this issue. This is very bold of me, but before someone asks me what I want to come out of this, I’ll tell you: I want The Miracle of Forgiveness edited. As long as it’s being used as the stand-by healing book recommended by LDS bishops, it needs to have this part changed, edited, or deleted. I don’t want anyone else in my situation feeling virtue-less as I have been. They edited Mormon Doctrine for less than this. They can change this one, too.