Guest Post: Who Is Our Abuser? #MormonMeToo

By Lesley Ann

Dear LDS Patriarchy,

I have learned a lot in my personal and professional life regarding trials, triumphs resilience, and holistic well-being. I’ve read the wise words of sociologist, Brene Brown, on shame, vulnerability, authenticity, and courage. I’ve studied the work of abuse expert, Lundy Bancroft, on the characteristics of abusers and the cycle of abuse. I’ve learned about the damaging effects of spiritual abuse and tribal shunning from Christian-based therapist, Shannon Thomas. I’ve discovered the writings of researcher, Bessell Van der Kolk, on interpersonal aspects of psychological trauma. I’ve connected with the vision of social reformer Sister Joan Chittister. I’ve consumed the poems of Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Mary Oliver, and Rumi, that offer eloquence in pain and expression to healing.

In none of my study, have I ever learned that is it healthy to deny facts, minimize rape, belittle sexual assault, rationalize abuse, enable predators, shame a survivor, and/or placate a population that looks to you for leadership. Nor is it ever acceptable to re-traumatize those who have been affected by abuse.

You have done this, LDS Patriarchy.

The sexual abuse scandal involving former MTC Mission President, Joseph Bishop, has shocked the Mormon community. This last week has been traumatizing for abuse survivors. It has been filled with pain, fury, sadness, heart-ache, disappointment, disbelief, and fury. We have witnessed your attempts to scrub details, to discredit this woman, and to dissociate yourself from the issues of accountability and justice.

You have done this, LDS Patriarchy.

I have held on to hope that surely, my church, this must be a mistake. Surely, my church, you must care about ‘the least of these.’  Surely, my church, you must realize how painful this is for us. Surely, my church, you will fix this when you find out. Surely, my church, will have the utmost integrity in handling this horrific situation.

You haven’t done this, LDS Patriarchy.

My expectation was that a church, that bears the name of Christ and that claims to be the only true and living church, will swiftly right these wrongs. You will assure us you will work tirelessly to address this pervasive issue. You will acknowledge your extensive failings and the unhealthy system that is currently in place. You will provide safety for victims who wish to come forward. You will work for desperately needed cultural change and reform.

You haven’t done this either, LDS Patriarchy.

This week, my hopes in you have faded. Like the notes in the margins of my first set of scriptures. Trauma has re-surfaced. Pain has set in. Profound bewilderment palpable in my waking moments and in my slumber of nightmares. The realization that you KNEW years ago about this abuse and predatory behavior and you did nothing is beyond anything I can comprehend.

You knew. And you did nothing.

I am angry. Call it righteous indignation if this helps. I am being honest. Something I wish you would do.

Don’t villainize my anger. As Sister Joan Chittister beautifully states, “anger is not bad. Anger can be a very positive thing, the things that moves us beyond the acceptance of evil.” Can’t you honor our anger and effect change for good?  Don’t characterize me by my membership status or church activity level. Don’t equate my worth with my willingness to trust, obey, and sustain my church leaders.

I am more than a number. I am more than a victim. I am more than a status. I am not a boxed to be checked or a blip on your radar. Perhaps Brene Brown said it best: “My story matters because I matter. I am absolutely enough.”

Abuse expert, Lundy Bancroft explains, “abusers thrive on creating confusion, including confusion about the abuse itself.” They are also unremorseful, unrepentant, and unempathetic. They tend to tell white lies, misdirect and deflect, have two sets of rules (one for themselves and one for everyone else), will subtly ignore you, have a totalitarian views, require full and unwaivering loyalty, use religious beliefs to perpetuate abuse, have a sense of superiority, can be charismatically charming and operate under benevolence. Their words do not match their actions and they will gaslight and use psychological manipulation as a means of control. They are also extremely concerned about their public perception, instead genuinity, integrity, and authenticity.

This sounds a lot like you, LDS Patriarchy.

You say you have a zero-tolerance policy against abuse.

False.

You say you take reports of abuse seriously.

False.

You say you share our anger and distress.

False. False. False.

I just don’t believe you anymore, LDS Patriarchy.  Not only have you NOT validated your countless victims, but you have not even acknowledged our existence. As Christian therapist Shannon Thomas says, “we are unable to heal from what we cannot, or will not, acknowledge exists.”

Furthermore, you seem to be in severe denial about the very fact that you have victims sitting in the pews of every single one of your congregations and undoubtedly even more that cannot even think of attending church anymore. You try to pretend we don’t exist. But “victims are members of society whose problems represent the memory of suffering, rage, and pain in a world that longs to forget”, Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk explains. You are not just going to be able to forget us, LDS Patriarchy. But I now have no doubt that you will try.

As Rumi says, “every story is us.”

Our stories say something about you, LDS Patriarchy. Have you listened to them?

No.

Please tell me, LDS Patriarchy, where are the women within your patrilineality, paternalism, and male gaze?

Please tell me, LDS Patriarchy, in your system of male dominance, male privilege, male leadership, male decision-making, male control, and male authority, what’s a woman to do….besides what you tell us to?

You see, LDS Patriarchy, in your system:

When we are abused, we have no one to believe us.

When we are hurt, we have no one to help us.

When we are neglected, we have no where to go.

What conclusion am I to reach, other than: The LDS Patriarchy is our abuser.

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10 Responses

  1. Rill says:

    Amen and thank you. Women, don’t stuff your anger down or diminish it. It’s the fire we need right now.

  2. Wendy says:

    Wow. I have chills. So powerful. Thank you for your courage, Lesley Ann. Your anger is just. Your voice matters. We hear you.

  3. Kim Hamblin-Hart says:

    Stunning. Simply stunning.

  4. Aubrey says:

    Power in words. 🙌🏼

  5. Heather says:

    #PeopleBeforePatriarchy

  6. Andrew says:

    I admit, you have made a very good case for the Church either never having been the Restored Church of Jesus Christ or in Apostasy.

    If the Q15 are, as you say, the abuser, then they all need to be excommunicated. We are in disarray.

    Certainly food for thought.

    I do find it interesting that whilst most of the threads I have read here constantly talk about how Bishops are not equipped to deal with the abused, and that professionals should do this – something that does actually happen and I am in favour of.

    However, when they wish to turn legal proceedings, including determining guilt, over to the authorities this is wrong. Why? Should they simply excommunicate everyone that is accused?

    One church principle that has be followed is the “Law of Witnesses”. We do not hold disciplinary councils without two witnesses – except in the case of confession. This is why we don’t excommunicate all unmarried members living together – we have no proof that they are breaking the Law of Chastity, even though it might be considered obvious.

  7. Pamela says:

    Lesley Ann, YOU are my hero! YOU are powerful! Keep on going! Can’t wait to see what’s next for you.

  8. Lesley ann says:

    Andrew,
    Your argument contains a few logical fallacies. LDS Patriarchy is an institutional system that we currently operate under. It is also a cultural system we follow. Both of these aspects inform how we view women, gender roles, leadership and authority. I’d even say capability and responsibility too. Institutionally speaking this is the system that is currently used for reporting abuse (obviously flawed when women have to go through men to report abuse moat likely committed by men, who are very likely to be their “friends.”) And culturally speaking, this system influences the undertones of sexism and paternalism, however benevolent they may be. The idea exists that women must depend on men for help, women are not worthy of capable to lead, and yes, women have a place, but it’s underneath men.

    The system of male-only priesthood certainly but priesthood-only leadership certainly has obvious issues in itself. How can we address women’s issues without womens input? Crickets. Crickets. Crickets.

    The assertion is, that yes, the church is off course. Severely and dramatically so. I would think that’s rather obvious too. I think that when we found out as a community that our very leaders have protected abusers and predators with private meetings, paid hush money with (what is very likely) precious tithing funds, and we have countless stories of victims NOT being believed by their leaders, we cannot ignore the fact that this is eerily similar to “secret combinations” and “Pharisaical rule.” Also, the “unjust judge” comes to mind.

    The people are a product of the system. What we allow to continue will continue. We cannot change what we cannot even talk about or put words to.

    Women aren’t given a place. You brought up excommunication, which is interesting. Another place women are not represented. Again, you have men and only men calling the church court, listening to witnesses, and doing the deciding. Problematic.

    I actually think that public shaming methods like sacrament refusal and excommunication are rather barbaric in nature. I do not actually agree with the formal processes that promote shame and conformity, especially when they are used to alienate gay couples and witch hunt apostates (which by voicing my opinion, one could easily label me.)

    I think implementing a system for checks and balances would be far more worthwhile in promoting cultural and institutional change.

    If members had a hotline where we could report rogue or abusive bishops, it’s likely that behavior that has gone unchecked would no longer be able to find a home and thrive in that system.

    If women were considered and true equals and given equal decision making ability, it’s likely many of these abuses of power and authority would be remedied.

    If the default was always to believe abuse victims instead of doubting them, our church communities would be healthier.

    Instead, we have archaic leadership structures and ignorant understanding of trauma and abuse.

    Start with that.

  9. Wendy says:

    Andrew, I suggest you carefully consider how you respond to Lesley Ann’s comment so you avoid being moderated off this thread.

    We want this space to be safe for survivors and your comment is one of joining with abusers and implies that we shouldn’t believe victims if there aren’t two witnesses to the abuse and that the default should be potential perpetrators be protected.

    You are entitled to your opinion but this is not the time or place to err on the side of protecting abusers. At Exponent II we choose to believe victims because research has demonstrated that they are being truthful the vast majority of the time. And history has shown that patriarchal systems like the LDS Church are rampant with male abusers being protected and female survivors being blamed, shamed, or not believed at all when they speak up about how they were victimized. This behavior by a church that bears Christ’s name is unacceptable and unconscionable.

  10. Ziff says:

    That quote from Lundy Bancroft that you shared is sadly so spot on. Thanks for this post.

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