Guest Post: How Many Blips Are There? #MormonMeToo
In 1996, Gordon B. Hinckley met with Mike Wallace for a first of its kind interview, a major press outlet interviewing a sitting prophet. They covered just about every controversial issue addressing the church at the time, the racist priesthood/temple ban, curious garments, and of course, the male only priesthood.
When Wallace asked why only men could hold the priesthood, Hinckley answered to the effect that it’s just how the revelation came. There was almost a shrug in his voice, like he wasn’t the one making the rules, he was just carrying them out. I’ve always appreciated that response because, while it was never very satisfying, he avoided prescribing any reasons. He didn’t try and invent any hurtful accusations or innate qualities that disqualify women from leadership. He just said it was the way things were.
The next question didn’t leave me with the same feeling.
Quoted minutes 7:28-8:33
“Wallace: Fact is, most Mormon women don’t want to be priests. They accept that men control the church and dominate Mormon society. This has triggered complaints about how the church handles child sexual abuse. Child abuse among Mormons is surely no greater than among non-Mormons. But a study has found that many Mormon women who went to their clergymen for help believed the clergy were just not sympathetic.
The Sociologists tells us, at the root of the problem is the fact that men, in effect, in your church, have authority over women. So that your clergymen tend to sympathize with the men, the abusers, instead of the abused.
Hinckley: That’s one person’s opinion. I don’t think there’s any substance to it. Now. There will be a blip here, a blip there, a mistake here, a mistake there. But by and large the welfare of women and children is as seriously considered as is the welfare of the men in the church if not more so.”
When this interview aired, I had just left my abusive family and, with the help of friends living in another stake, set out on my own. I had spoken to three different bishops about what was happening in my family and only one – the bishop of the ward I escaped to – even called it child abuse. I was 16. The others counseled me about my teenage attitude and one said it was all because my mom had a job. He called her ego-driven and intimidating.
At the time I could barely describe what I had experienced, let alone explain why it was wrong. And I loved President Hinckley as if he was the grandfather I always wanted. But even then, I heard that comment with my body. That comment had mass. It knocked me down and took my breath away.
It’s such an inconsequential word. It’s nothing. Barely a move of the needle. Blip.
It makes it sound as if we’re vanishingly insignificant, the people like me. But I know that’s not true. Because of all the women that have shared their stories in our feminist spaces. All the men who had no place else to talk about the childhood abuse a scout leader or YM leader inflicted on them. All the women escaping an abusive marriage by the sweat of their brow and faith in themselves.
But we’re all just blips.
There’s every story in this database, painstakingly gathered for decades. Blip.
There’s every person victimized by former Bishop Keith Vallejo, who even after being convicted of ten counts of sex abuse and one count of object rape, was praised by the Utah judge as a ‘good man.’ Blip.
There’s the men who were molested by their camp leader/stake high counselor while away from home in a church sponsored agricultural camp. Blip.
There’s all the children abused by Michael Jensen, whose church leaders recommended him as a babysitter even after they were told he was sexually abusing children. Blip.
There’s the young woman who was raped by Michael Pratt, her seminary principal, and faced the attacks of her whole school against her for getting a favorite teacher in trouble. Blip.
There’s the Oregon man abused by a High Priest who had once been excommunicated for child molestation but then came back into full fellowship. The victim’s family took him into their home and the bishop didn’t say a word. Blip.
There’s the wives of Rob Porter, who were disbelieved or told to consider their husband’s career ambitions when reporting his physical abuse. Blip.
There’s all the people who were abused while in the Mormon Indian Student Placement Program, where Native American children from a reservation were taken in by families chosen by the church. Blip.
And these examples are only the cases we could think of off the top of our heads, where the case was publicly discussed and where the victims specifically said the church failed them. This doesn’t include those private spaces. The Facebook conversations where one woman after another tells their stories.
Of being forced to repent for the time she was raped while the rapist served a mission. How they were conditioned to keep silent by so many church leaders teaching some version of “It’s wrong to criticize leaders of the church, even if that criticism is true.”, how their temple recommend was revoked for talking about their divorce, how they were pressured to forgive or keep quiet.
And now we have this recording. The facts are astonishing. Joseph Bishop, three time mission president and former MTC president is on tape admitting to his crimes. Deputy County Attorney Sturgill finds the events so credible he says he would prosecute if not for the statute of limitations. Bishop admitted to BYU police that he asked her to expose her breasts. An MTC employee confirmed there was a room in the basement built out with a bed. And yet, the church issues a heinous statement detailing her efforts, over and over again, to seek justice. Describing it as if it’s a sign of her failing and not their own, using language to subtly undermine and discredit her (she only served ‘briefly’ after all), and washing their hands of the whole thing, as if they have no responsibility to the missionaries who put their lives and souls in their hands, the families who trust them with their children, their flock as leaders in Christ.
Bishop and the victim both went to church leader after leader. Confessing and being declared forgiven for one, the other written off as “far-fetched”. And when the church did intervene, *it was to turn HER in to the Pleasant Grove Police Department for threats she made to him*. The abuse was never reported to law enforcement. Every one of those times the press release listed as her trying to report the abuse she experienced, every one of those is a time they failed her. Every one of those times a church leader should have reported it. They should have removed him from a position of authority. They should have followed through with their own stated policy of holding a mandatory excommunication court for someone accused of “Serious transgression while holding a prominent church position”. They should have started back in 1974 by not choosing a man who was such a known bully that he had just settled a discrimination lawsuit at Weber State College, to be Mission President of Argentina. They should have heard his confessions and enacted consequences. They should have ensured he was never again in a position to hurt someone who had reason to trust him because of the authority he held.
They should have spent their time enacting actual best practices in abuse prevention (hey, here’s some ideas) instead of trying to pass legislation making these kinds of recordings illegal.
Since I first saw that 60 minutes interview, when I was first waved away as a blip, I have been trying to believe that the comment was an accident. A poor choice of words in a long interview. But the church has shown me over and over again, ever since, that it was an accurate reflection of their priorities. They would rather wave us away and talk about how right they are, promote an unblemished public image, than tend to us, support us in our healing, create a path for sincere repentance complete with restitution and appropriate consequences. If we were a priority they would train leaders or conduct background checks or do any of the things we have been begging for for decades. They would not prioritize reputations over salvation.
There are so many of us. And we deserve better. #iamnotablip
Tresa Brown Edmunds is a writer and activist also known as Reese Dixon. She youtubes at youtube.com/ReeseDixon and blogs at ReeseDixon.com
Barbara Kyle Sensiba a life long Mormon, licensed clinical social worker, sexual assault survivor, advocate, wife, mom, and sometimes gardener who resides in Northern Virginia and could use a nap.