#hearLDSwomen: I Suffered Ecclesiastical Abuse at the Hands of My Bishop

We had recently moved into a new ward. I had five children under the age of eight, three in diapers, and was homeschooling the older ones. My husband was between jobs, but we were trying to get by on our meager savings until he could find another. The stress took its toll on my health and sanity as I tried to still bring all my young children to church and hold a calling. I was desperately eager to please.

My bishop invited me to a meeting, telling me only that he’d like to chat. I, ever obedient, did not question him, but only obeyed. Then followed ninety minutes of brutal chastisement. He told me that he’d talked to the nursery leader, and he’d learned that when my two nursery-aged children cried about being left, that I stayed with them there, and he instructed me that I was NOT to stay with my children, but to leave them. I was not allowed.

He pointed out other mothers in the ward and said, “Look at them. They’re doing just fine taking care of their families and holding callings. Why can’t you be more like them?”

Still trusting, but feeling increasingly broken, I confided in him my difficulties at home, my fears, and my love of writing, and hope for becoming a writer someday.

The bishop leaned in and told me, upset, that I had not been working hard enough for the church, and that I was NOT allowed to write again until he said I could. “Forbid” was the word he actually used. He told me that unless I was writing for church magazines, I wasn’t allowed to write, especially not until he felt I was doing a better job as a Beehive adviser.

He said to me, “You and I both know you would never succeed.” He assured me that my dreams were just me kidding myself.

Maybe I looked rebellious—I felt shattered—because then he said, forcefully “Listen, I’m going to give you a scripture. Now you take this with you the next time you do an endowment session, and you open the scriptures in the celestial room, and you read this, and then you will know that I’m right.”

I went home and sobbed. I felt so violated. But I also felt like I was supposed to obey a direct order from my bishop, so I put down my writing for several months.
– Rebecca, Washington State, 2008

Pro Tip: Honestly evaluate your behavior on a regular basis and ask yourself if you have used your power or authority coercively. If so, repent, apologize, and be better. Do not give advice that goes beyond your expertise.


Click here to read all of the stories in our #hearLDSwomen series. Has anything like this happened to you? Please share in the comments or submit your experience(s) to participate in the series.

“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:23)

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13 Responses

  1. Wendy says:

    This is deplorable. I’m so sorry your trust was betrayed by your bishop in such a painful, violating way. The Church needs to have MUCH more training for its clergy; until adequate training is required, stories like yours I fear will be all too common. Sending you love. And I hope you keep writing!

  2. Cj says:

    You should have walked out, wrote down the conversation in detail and mailed it to the stk president, area presidency and the 1st presidency.

    • Wendy says:

      Cj, as you probably know, survivors of abuse are often in shock when the abuse is occurring and are therefore unable to protect themselves (by, say, walking out of a bishop’s office when he is attacking her verbally). And it often takes a long time for them to be able to stand up for abuse or even report it.

      I imagine your comment was meant to be one of showing support; I hope that these clarifications can help you understand that telling a survivor how they “should” have responded to their abuse is unhelpful. Although I don’t disagree that those choices would have been appropriate in this situation.

    • Olivia says:

      And when your stake president or AA is the one doing the abusing?

      Too many of us have learned by very sad experience that letters to area authorities, to auxillary presidents, or to general authorities (if you can even get them past the gatekeepers) make *absolutely no difference* and usually only come back to bite the victim.

      The church has set up the system to make it nearly impossible to report or stop ecclesiastical abuse, and they have done it knowingly and on purpose. As long as all the power is in the hands of a handful of elderly white men, the church will continue to shield and empower abusive “priesthood leaders” at the expense of almost anyone and anything else.

  3. Dani Addante says:

    This is so upsetting. I knew a missionary who had a difficult companion. She would talk to a therapist to help her get through this difficult time, and I loved what the therapist told her. He said to treat everything that came out of her companion’s mouth as coming from a crazy person. The same could be said of this particular bishop.

    I too sometimes feel that I have to do what the bishop says, (we’re always reminded at church about how the bishop knows what’s best for us- which isn’t true, by the way) but I remind myself to put personal revelation ahead of the bishop. I treat the bishop’s words as advice, not as direction from the Spirit. In this example, the bishop gave horrendous advice.

    I’m so sorry he said those awful things to you. Bishops are supposed to serve and uplift, not put people down. People who are like that should be released from bishop duty.

    • DB says:

      Dani – I’m curious, why do you sometimes feel that you have to do what the bishop says? Do you mean in your personal life (like what this horrible bishop was doing) or just ecclesiastically?Could you give examples of how you’ve been reminded at church about how the bishop knows what’s best for you? I ask because this is very different from my experience and perceptions.

  4. ellen patton says:

    I would have said, “You’re not the boss of me.”

  5. Spunky says:

    This is why I take my phone and record all of my interactions with church leaders. Recording the stupidity makes me feel stronger.

  6. Seffie says:

    I support that person being relieved of his duties. He’s clearly lost his mind and is not speaking for anything holy. May God forgive him. I won’t.

  7. Lily says:

    Our young women need to be taught to stand up for themselves. I learned from my mother. Nobody ever spoke to her like that – her reputation preceded her. She would hand you your head.

  8. Moss says:

    I’m so sorry, Rebecca. It wasn’t your fault. This is all on him.

  9. larryco_ says:

    D&C 121

    41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

    42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

    nuf’ said.

  10. Tina Larsen says:

    This hurt me to read. How hateful can someone be? How oblivious? Pointing out other mother’s? Saying they are successful? For all he knows, those women could be falling apart inside. Telling you that you’d never make it? Wow.. So thoughtless. I’m so sorry.

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