Guest Post: Bishops Need To Be Better; But So Do We
Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”
I sat in front of my bishop, sobbing after sharing my secret. Cautiously, I poured out details of daily verbal assault, physical intimidation, financial control, and sexual endangerment by my spouse. I felt relieved, but it did not last. My bishop was someone I trusted and needed. He looked at me and said, “I don’t believe you.” The traumatizing blow that words can bring became unforgettably clear to me in that moment. My worst nightmare was unfolding in slow motion. The realization hit me like a wave of nausea coupled with a heart-stopping moment of shock: the implications of his opinion will escalate these things. I needed to be prepared for that when I got home. What about my children? Will they have to continue to see this? How can I get help? If my bishop doesn’t believe me, who will? He was someone I counted on to be God’s hands on Earth. A judge in Israel. A representative of Christ. And he said to me, “I don’t believe you.”
On the heels of the Rob Porter scandal that has sparked the ever unfolding #MormonMeToo movement; we must rise to the call. We must believe, comfort, aide, and assist survivors of domestic violence and those in situations of abuse. We have been made aware that many of our own ecclesiastical leaders routinely re-victimize victims, minimize harmful behaviors, rationalize power and control imbalances, and even justify abuse. We must see that something is wrong. All too often, we ask “Why would a bishop say that?” and “Why would he hit his wife?” Instead, we need to ask “What can we do to help the victim?” and “How can I be a safe person for a survivor?”
We must start to educate ourselves. Each and every one of us needs to be informed. Did you know there are several types of abuse? Abuse can include: physical, verbal, financial, psychological, cultural, emotional, mental, spiritual, relational, sexual, and economic. Do you know what defines each of these types of abuse? Did you know that many abusers can be charming, successful, well-respected, and highly regarded? This is the paradigm that enables to the abuse to continue in private. Did you know that abuse often starts off small, and then escalates over time? This is how women become virtually unaware they are in an abusive relationship. Did you know the cycle abuse consists of tension building, abusive explosion, and remorse/forgiveness? This is what keeps women in abusive relationships.
If we had just ONE lesson on abuse in our repertoire of temple marriage, chastity, modesty, following the prophets, and supporting our husbands’ priesthood authority, the difference we could make. The conversation would begin. The shame would cease. With just one lesson, we could inform ourselves and others. We could establish healthier patterns. We could discourage enabling and concealment of abuse. We could help even one. With just ONE.
I knew things would escalate. And they did.
I hold my bishop very accountable for NOT holding my ex-husband accountable.
For telling me I was not being honest.
For telling me to go home and be a better wife.
For telling me it is normal to be called horrific names by my husband.
For telling me that I was the problem.
For telling me my feelings of fear were not real.
For telling me I was too controlling.
For telling me that I was just trying to get my husband in trouble.
For telling me that I must have done something to deserve this.
For telling me to stop being selfish for having aspirations to further my education.
For telling me I was failing in my job as a mother.
For telling me I needed to focus on my husband.
For telling me this behavior is normal in marriages.
For telling me everyone loves my husband.
For telling me that I just needed to get over it.
For telling me to stop making my husband mad.
For telling me that I just needed to trust my husband after he’s had multiple affairs.
For telling me that no one believes me and no one would believe me.
For telling me that I needed to be better.
I didn’t believe any of the things he said. Except one. The last one. I needed to be better. Yes, I believed that. And that is just what I did. I became informed, empowered, and honored my truth. I learned everything I could about abuse, power, and control. I left my husband who still denies everything. I weep with other survivors daily. I embrace my bravery and courage every single day. I look at my journey with humility and awe. I did this. I revived myself: from a shell of a person who lived in a constant state of fog to a vibrant, beautiful woman of grace and dignity. A woman who has a story to share. A woman who became better.
Yes, I became better.
We must all become better.