Guest Post: How Many Blips Are There? #MormonMeToo

By Tresa Brown Edmunds and Barbara Kyle Sensiba

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.

Blip.

Blip.

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.

 

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17 Responses

  1. Em says:

    This is really powerful, and needs to be said. Some might say it is damaging to attack the church or expose wickedness, but it isn’t. The only way we can possibly hope to become Zion is by exposing the gangrene, the disease the parts that are eating away at us and truly addressing this.

  2. Risa says:

    Standing ovation you two.

  3. anna says:

    I got tired of being nothing but a blip, so I am permanently inactive.

    Hinckley’s statement made me angry because at the time I knew that the church mishandling abuse was so much more than a few blips because as a social worker I had worked with adults molested as children and almost everyone of them that tried to get help from the church was a blip. I worked with domestic violence victims, and so many of them reached out to their clergy for help and got turned into blips. I also worked with rape victims and they were just as likely to be blamed as they were to get a decent referral or even a kind word, so most of them became blips. And we had one of the September 6 excommunicated for trying to tell the stories of hundreds of blips and the church did not want to know it was screwing up, so she became another victim of ecclesiastic abuse, blip, blip blip blip blip.

  4. Danna Myers Hook says:

    Teresa, eloquent and powerful as always! Thank you for your words.
    XO

  5. Ziff says:

    Outstanding post. I think your conclusion is inescapable. It would be nice if it were a poor choice of words. But there are mountains of evidence to indicate that the treatment of women in the Church is *good enough* for the male leadership, and it just doesn’t matter that much that it’s often so awful.

  6. meems says:

    Thanks for this beautifully written post. I know of these stories, but when seeing them gathered in one space, it makes me (literally) weep. There is nothing so devasting as feeling swept away, especially by the church.

  7. Spunky says:

    Thank you.

  8. Sara KS Hanks says:

    All the clapping. You are not a blip. Never.

  9. Marilyn Bushman-Carlton says:

    Thank you. All LDS members need to read this, including, and especially, our male leaders. We need an overhaul of our patriarchal system, and we need it now.

  10. Joni says:

    Such an ugly occurrence doesn’t deserve to be described by such a cutesy word.

  11. Melody says:

    Thank you for your voice and your clarity. The combined blips come out looking more like ventricular tachycardia to me. It’s life-threatening to the Church. Each blip is a cry for assistance. This organization has a sick heart and no one in charge seems to be paying attention. I hope our combined cries eventually bring the necessary care needed to heal the body of Christ. That’s my prayer. Thank you again, Teresa and Barbara. And to the Exponent blog for this series.

  12. Chiaroscuro says:

    love this powerful message. the worst part of it is when they basically call you a ‘blip’ and then blame you for whatever happened to you instead of investigating and fixing the problem with their system.

  13. Jordan says:

    These instances of abuse are horrendous and should absolutely be dealt with. My sincerest sympathy goes out to you & all the rest who’ve suffered at the hands of unrighteous abusers.

    That being said… With all due respect, I believe you misunderstood Hinkley’s words. He wasn’t calling you or your tragic experiences a blip — He was saying that the number of times men have exercised unrighteous dominion is like a blip on the radar (as compared to the number of righteous, good priesthood holders there are); that by-and-large, Mormon men respect and honor women & children.

    In the “blip” analogy, the blip is NOT referring to the insignificance of your self worth or that of the abused; It is referring to the proportion of abuse cases vs. the vast majority of righteous priesthood leaders there are out there. And that remains fact (although we’ve been dealt a serious blow with the Joseph Bishop incident, I still believe that by-and-large, those occurrences are few and far between).

    That said, I was pleased to see the change in policy by the church. Sad that it is necessary, but will be definitely worth it.

  14. Matt says:

    I agree that he was likely using the blip in the way you said Jordan, but I completely reject the notion that by and large Mormon men are respectable. That very thinking is the exact reason such Bishops don’t believe women when they come to them! Until we get over the notion that Mormon men are any better than the average man at treating their spouse and children with respect, this will continue to be a problem. And though I love Pres Hinckley, I completely believe he was as unwilling to believe that as anyone, hence his comments.

  15. anna says:

    So, Jordan, if most Mormon are respectful of women, why does Utah have higher than average rates of spouse abuse, and especially child sex abuse. Unless the nonMormons in Utah REALLY have a problem, then Mormons are slightly more abusive than others.

    In fact one study showed that religions with male not priesthood, strong emphasis on gender roles, strong emphasis on the family staying together and a “history of strange sexual practices such as polygamy” were the very highest in sexual abuse of children.

    No, Hinkley said what he did because he did not want to know about how common abuse is in this church, so he minimized it into a blip here and a blip there when in reality, 1 girl in 3 in Utah is sexually abused. Utah’s suicide rate is also higher than the national average.

  16. Mary says:

    For the women in my parents’ ward. As a young girl, I heard whispered story swaps (each woman sharing her story or that of her neighbor–not just one woman in the ward) among the Relief Society sisters of someone’s husband beating someone’s wife and that wife going to the bishop and the bishop not believing her. #iamnotablip

    For that coed at the Y, I met who was a young married and who was leaving her husband for abuse and the bishop not believing her. #iamnotablip

    For my former roommates sister who went to her bishop when she was engaged and told the bishop about how her fiance beat her. Her bishop told her his fiance was just sexually frustrated and would surely calm down once they were married. He didn’t. He kicked in the stomach when she was expecting. She divorced him. #iamnotablip

    For the woman who went to her bishop when her husband was beating her and the bishop not only not believed her, but thought she was a terrible person for telling such lies about his best friend. Later, this woman’s husband kicked her in the stomach when she was pregnant (seems be a favorite thing to do). #iamnotablip

    For that baby that was kicked in utero and her mother’s body went into early labor and that baby came into the world stillborn. The baby was a girl. #iamnotablip

    For my mother who knew it would be a waste of time to visit the bishop about my father. My father had already visited with the bishop about being unfaithful and got a handslap. My father was worshiped in the ward and–had his behavior been told to a bishop–would never have registered as anything other than “stress”. He ended up killing my mother. #iamnotablip

    For my older son who was beaten by his father and the bishop counseled me not to report and then counseled me to consider my covenants, forgiveness, my not being perfect and the horrible fate of children in fatherless homes (in other words, I wasn’t counseled to divorce or stay married and I wasn’t told to stay in the abusive situation–I was given a lot of things to consider, all of them in favor of staying in the marriage and none of them in favor of getting us out of that situation). Then the father of my children was called to the Elder’s Quorum Presidency two weeks later. #iamnotablip

    For my younger son who was threatened by a ward member and my bishop called that person to a position in the Primary. #iamnotablip

    For myself who was called into the bishop’s office to prevent my divorcing the abusive father of my children. I was spiritually abused by that man for an hour and a half (but he never told me whether or not to stay married and he never told me to stay in an abusive situation). That bishop renewed the temple recommend for the father of my children, had him pass the sacrament, and gave tacit approval for the father of my children being deadbeat. #iamnotablip

    For the others I’ve heard, but I am not recounting their stories personally because they have shared them, themselves or I didn’t know them, but know their stories. #iamnotablip

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