Guest Post: On Advocacy in the Church #MormonMeToo
Recently, our ward executive secretary asked my husband if the Bishop could meet with us at our home. My husband set a time for that evening, and we wondered what the Bishop wanted. Was it a calling? My husband had just been released from one of his callings, but we already held a joint Sunday School teaching calling.
The Bishop arrived and chatted with us for awhile. We aren’t unused to meeting with the Bishop casually. Only a few months ago, I held a leadership calling which required frequent meetings, emails, text messages, and phone calls with the Bishop. It’s not like we didn’t know each other.
After a few minutes of casual conversation, he told us why he wanted to meet with us. The answer surprised and almost floored me. It was my blog. My Bishop had called a private, personal meeting with my husband to talk to us about my blog.
At first I was flattered that he even read my blog. It is not a hugely popular blog, but one that is relatively well read with people who deal with issues similar to my own. It takes into account my Mormon perspective, yes, but I write about things unrelated to Mormon culture and doctrine as well. I had never considered that my blog could land me in a private meeting with the Bishop.
Apparently, the blog post in question was related to my sharing of an experience with #mormonmetoo and the Joseph Bishop case. In it, I briefly and respectfully recounted how I dealt with a case of unwanted advances and comments from a ward member and how, since multiple women from the ward had also had similar experiences, we brought the situation to the attention of our Bishop.
Now, here he was, sitting across from me, telling me that someone had come to him having read my post. According to him, they were concerned about being in his ward, considering how he had handled the situation (which wasn’t terribly, but it was difficult to get the gravity of the situation across to him at the time).
While he did not ask me to take down the post in question, he cautioned me against posting when I was passionate about something and asked that I consider what others might infer from my posts. He gave what appeared to me to be a veiled warning that I be careful about leading others away from the Church and their “eternal salvation” with the things that I write.
After he left, I felt shocked and confused. What had just happened? I, and many other women (and youth) in our ward, had negative experiences with a man bordering on sexual harassment, and now I was being rebuked and cautioned by the Bishop for publicly reporting it.
Was I being told, in a roundabout way, that if I continued to post in such a vein, I was in danger of Church disciple and potentially excommunication? Did I need to fear for my Church membership because I posted a #mormonmetoo experience?
It all seemed so ludicrous, and as I pondered further, I strongly felt for the individual who came to him asking about my post. This person had the right to make her comments as well. She—or he—deserves to be led by someone who is proactively and eagerly seeking to make women and children feel safe from abuse and harassment, instead of trying to minimize damage and keep secrets.
Further, I couldn’t help but feel that I was being called out for making him “look bad.” Here I was, being further victimized by the person who should be caring for my spiritual welfare. Instead of being concerned about me, asking how I felt about this situation and how I was doing spiritually, I was being treated as a threat and a potential enemy to “the Church.”
For some reason, the experience made me reflect on Christ’s experience in the Garden of Gethsemane, following his Intercessory Prayer.
In John 18, it states, “Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. […] Then Simon Peter, having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. […] Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (verses 3, 10-11) In Luke 22:51, it records that Jesus then “touched his ear, and healed him.”
Even when Christ was being falsely accused and arrested, He still took the time to heal one of those who had come to take Him. He still cared about people and their welfare, even when they were coming to betray and crucify Him.
On another note, Christ nonviolently accepted those false accusations, knowing that from this cruel, unfair, and inhumane experience would come greater—even the greatest—good.
As I continued to think about this experience I had with the Bishop, an answer came to me in from the story of Esther and Mordecai. When the Jews were threatened with a decree of death, Mordecai pled for Esther to talk to the king, despite the fact that doing so might lead to her own death. Mordecai’s question for Esther came clearly to me, “who knowest whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)
Many of us are at a crossroads, and many of those crossroads are different and unique to us and our circumstances. Some of us wonder if we should continue in the Church, despite seemingly horrible allegations and revelations about Church leaders or policies. Others wonder how outspoken we should or can be while still remaining active.
A few months ago when I embarked on a path of public advocacy for another cause, I had the distinct feeling that I had set a ball rolling and wasn’t sure where that ball would end up or take me. I simply knew I had started a journey that I needed to go on, regardless of where it finished.
I still do not know what mountain I will die on, so to speak, but if it is the mountain of that particular advocacy or of protecting and standing up for victims of sexual harassment and abuse, I will say as Esther did, “if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16).
Of course, my hope is that I—and none of us—need to perish on these mountains. I hope for a Church that embraces the gospel of Christ’s love—the Christ who healed the ear of a man who came to arrest Him.
I hope for a community where the choice is not “either/or.” I long to build and be a part of that community, one where our passions and voices are honored, where leadership asks us how they can help rather than trying to silence our cries. If this Church community doesn’t yet exist, I hope that we can build it together without being warned and rebuked. I believe that it is the community Christ wants for us, and I hope I’m not wrong.