#hearLDSwomen: My Bishop Ecclesiastically Abused Me, and My Stake President Refused to Stop It
A year and a half ago, my husband and I were called in to meet with our bishop. I had been released from my calling a few months before and was excited to finally be given a new calling. Instead, he started asking questions about my testimony and any associations I might have with “apostates.” I was utterly confused and gave every assurance of my loyalty to the Church, but he proceeded to pull out a “revelation” he had written down that he said he received from God about me six months earlier while he was reading his scriptures one night. It was written/spoken in a dramatic vernacular different from his own way of speaking, more like scriptural language. It detailed my sin of not respecting priesthood authority, and in the strongest language condemned my behavior as unacceptable to the Lord, along with the repeated stern warning that “THIS MUST STOP.” Among other things, I was told that if I did not repent, my progress “WOULD BE DAMNED.” As someone who is and has always been 100% “in,” I was completely in shock at these accusations being made as if they were in God’s name and in His voice. Through my bewildered tears, I said, “You do NOT know me. That is NOT true, and that does NOT come from God.” His smug reply was, “The fact that you’re reacting this way just shows that I’m right.”
My husband and I asked him repeatedly to give us ONE example that would justify this “revelation.” He couldn’t and then sat in defiance as we spent the next 30+ minutes recounting my testimony and lifetime of dedicated service in the Church (including full-time missionary, RS, YW and Primary Pres, Stk Primary Pres). Because I DID have respect for my priesthood leader, I was utterly shaken and even questioned myself, wondering whether I was so deluded in pride that I couldn’t see the truth in this condemnation “by God” against me. I cried all the way home after our interview and collapsed weeping into a corner, completely broken. It was only through prayer that I received the reassurance that God loved me, that this was not of Him. I had never seen or been the target of such blatant spiritual abuse by a priesthood leader and wouldn’t have even believed it possible. Honestly, if I hadn’t experienced it myself, I would assume there HAD to be more to the story. And yet it happened. And if it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.
About a week after this devastating experience, I found out my cancer had returned. My bishop knew I was literally fighting for my life, yet he pulled my husband aside in the hall after church one Sunday to tell him that since our meeting he had thought of some reasons to justify his “revelation.” My husband told him it was inappropriate for him to be bringing this up again, especially considering the circumstances. We spoke to the stake president about the bishop’s “revelation,” and although he listened and told us he wasn’t at all concerned about our faithfulness, he made no attempt to remedy the spiritual abuse.
I spent the next 6+ months recovering from a major surgery that left me permanently disabled and in constant pain. For the sake of my mental and emotional health, I decided to let the “revelation” incident go and say nothing more about it.
When I was well enough, I requested a calling. The following Sunday, the bishop said he would like to talk to me. I told him that would be fine, but I preferred to have my husband present. His eyes immediately flashed with anger and he retorted, “I just wanted to see if you would be willing to accept a calling.” I assured him I would. Several months went by… no calling. I found out my name was submitted for a stake calling, but my bishop told the stake president that he had me in mind for a ward calling, so I was passed up. Several more months went by.
Although I was determined to move forward in faith, my husband couldn’t stand to see the continued injustices against me. He met with the bishop alone to ask why I was continuing to be punished. The bishop finally gave specific justification for his “revelation” and condemnation, outlining accusations he has never brought up to me directly. He told my husband that not only did I disrespect priesthood authority, I disrespected ALL authority. He acknowledged that he thought I was a possible apostate because I sat by an excommunicated man a few times in Sunday School. In addition, he made up new accusations that I was “drifting,” (hardly), that I was the type to pick and choose callings (not true), and that I consistently chose not to teach the RS lessons assigned (never happened, and my Relief Society President at the time adamantly refuted this). He said he and his counselor had both talked to me about these issues and gotten nowhere (again, never happened). He also said he had shown his “revelation” to members of his bishopric and the stake presidency prior to our initial meeting and that they agreed that his “revelation” about me was accurate (the stake presidency members said no such thing).
I could no longer stay silent. I sent a letter to the stake presidency outlining in detail what had happened and was continuing to happen to me. My husband then met with the bishop and stake president together. I chose not to attend out of concern that anything I said would be used as evidence of my disrespect for priesthood authority. They met for four and a half hours, and although the stake president seemed sympathetic, my husband got nowhere. My bishop stood by his “revelation.” I sent an updated letter to the stake president, this time copying my bishop. My stake president seemed to soften and followed up with a couple kindly emails and asked us what we would like to see done. We were hopeful and asked that the bishop acknowledge his accusations were not true, apologize, revoke the condemnation, and talk to those he shared his “revelation” with to undo the damage to my reputation. He told us that he would speak to the bishop again about our requests for restitution. I never heard if that meeting ever took place, and he didn’t contact us again.
Although the stake president listened and assured us that he wasn’t concerned about my faithfulness, he ultimately became complicit in the spiritual abuse by allowing the bishop’s condemnation of me to stand by doing nothing to rectify it.
To this day, my bishop stands by his accusations, “revelation,” and condemnation against me, and has gaslighted me by saying it was meant merely as “counsel,” professing his love for us, and saying he was sorry that we took it wrong. He is allowed to use his position of power and others’ unquestioning belief that he speaks for God to do irreparable damage to my reputation, but if I were to make any effort to defend myself to the people he showed his “revelation” to, I would be accused of speaking against my priesthood leader.
A year and a half later, the stake presidency, along with our high councilmen, bishopric members, and other Priesthood leaders, continue to regularly stand and speak glowingly about how our “good bishop” is so kind, how he shows such Christlike love to all the members of his ward, how inspired he is.
Meanwhile, I go to church each Sunday with the same smile on my face but with a broken heart that wants so desperately to heal but can’t seem to find any lasting respite. I feel alone, afraid and discouraged. I carry the physical scar of cancer, but even more devastating is the emotional scar of spiritual abuse. I am just an ordinary woman in another ordinary ward with no real authority or power. I cannot adequately express the helplessness and hopelessness I feel from having been silenced and put in my place in this spiritually and emotionally destructive way. Perhaps my painful experience will take on some kind of meaning by sharing it here. Perhaps I can be one small drop in the bucket of future change, where greater awareness will contribute to a safer Church culture for all, where no woman is ever made to feel the sting of personal betrayal and spiritual abuse by priesthood leaders whose charge it is to love and serve.
Pro tip: Listen to women. Don’t lord authority over those you have stewardship over. If you see a priesthood leader abusing their authority and you have the power to stop them, censure them, or release them, please do so. Do not preserve men’s feelings and reputations at the expense of the vulnerable.
“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:23)