Guest Post: Bishops Need To Be Better; But So Do We

by L.A.

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.

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13 Responses

  1. Dani Addante says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I have no words to describe how awful it makes me feel that your bishop didn’t believe you and that he didn’t recognize physical abuse for what it was.

  2. Lily says:

    I wouldn’t go to my bishop if I had a appendicitis – I’d go to the doctor. When your husband abuses you, you should call the cops and a divorce lawyer, not the bishop.

    • Joni says:

      Abusers are very good at convincing their victims that what they are doing isn’t abuse. That’s one very big way in which it differs from appendicitis.

      • Lily says:

        Very true. I guess I have never been a “go–to-the-bishop-with-problems” kind of gal so, for me, it doesn’t seem like an obvious place to go for help.

  3. Nancy Ross says:

    Thank you for telling your story. As a community, we need to stop being surprised when we hear these terrible stories. We have to stop seeing these stories as horrible aberrations and come to realize that for every story we hear, there are many more women who have been silenced. We, as a community, are bad at identifying and responding appropriately to abuse. We must prioritize helping and supporting victims.

  4. Caroline says:

    What a harrowing, painful, awful experience you had with your bishop. You should have received sympathy, comfort and help, and you got the opposite. What a pastoral failure on his part. I was struck by your comment about how if we just had one lesson on abuse amid our many many lessons on marriage, the difference it would make. So true.

  5. Chris1 says:

    I have seen your experience repeated too many times. Some bishops refuse to hear what abuse survivors are telling them and instead support and defend the abusers. My heart goes out to everyone who suffers from ecclesiastical abuse in addition to spousal abuse. This is unacceptable.

  6. Pilar says:

    We have spent so much time teaching women to counsel with their bishops. I do think it’s time to start flipping the script. Time to start encouraging women at church not to talk to their bishops and immediately call the police. Time to start teaching women what options they have. Time to start teaching our daughters what a healthy egalitarian marriage looks like. Teach them to be financially dependent so they can leave at any time. Teach them what abuse looks like and what to do.

  7. Melody says:

    Thank you for having the courage to tell. And to tell more here. Beautifully written.

    Also, that bishop is a perp.

  8. Mandy says:

    Thank you for sharing. You are not alone. This is such an important story to share.

  9. Spunky says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I am so proud of your strength and for you to nit be gaslighted by that wicked bishop. Well done for leaving. Well done for setting the right example for your children. Well done.

  10. Joni says:

    Calling the police may be helpful in cases of physical or sexual abuse but there are many kinds of abuse that don’t leave a mark and aren’t even illegal. What can we do for women who are being emotionally, spiritually, financially abused?

    • Anon for this says:

      True. My husband has never hit me, but he is emotionally and spiritually abusive. The Church is probably his #1 tool of abuse. He feels 100% justified in forcing me to hold a temple recommend, forcing me to pay tithing, forbidding me from disagreeing or saying anything negative about the church. If I disagree, he is able to come up with quotes from prophets and apostles to support his position! After all, he served a faithful mission and doesn’t look at porn, he EARNED a hot faithful wife who doesn’t question.

      The police can’t do anything for me. Not one thing. Ironically, the only person who could maybe convince my husband to abandon his campaign of spiritual abuse is the bishop. Because my husband holds male ecclesiastical authority in FAR higher esteem than he holds me. But, that’s dependent on the bishop being able to recognize and call out abuse. Rather than just saying, “what’s wrong with you? Why DON’T you want to hold a temple recommend? Have you read this talk by Howard W. Hunter?” Etc.

      (We could also stop teaching the young men of the church that women are prizes for good behavior. But it’s hard to do that without throwing our polygamous forebears under the bus.)

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