#hearLDSwomen: My Bishop Ecclesiastically Abused Me, and My Stake President Refused to Stop It

Name Withheld

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.” 

LDS Bishop interviewing girl

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.


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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23 Responses

  1. Kera Macfarlane says:

    This is heartbreaking. I am simultaneously enraged and grief stricken.

  2. Elisa says:

    That is insane. He should have been released. How frustrating to have no recourse. I’m so sorry.

  3. Jan Signore says:

    This is heartbreaking abuse, terrible this is allowed to stand and that one twisted man can do this to a member of our faith. I am shocked and angered at what you have had to live through. I would have left, I think, I admire the strength of your belief. The Church needs to put procedures in place to stop this kind of abuse. However I fear this will never happen. I am discouraged.

  4. My heart weeps for your pain.

  5. vajra2 says:

    This is an horrific experience. I admire the strength you have shown by refusing to admit to faults you have not committed nor accede to attempts to silence and marginalize you. I’m in awe of you.

  6. Angie says:

    I almost never comment, but I can’t let this one go. This is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard of (on his part). Does he have an obsession with you? Is he attracted to you and taking it out on you? This guy has ISSUES!!! The other side of this is the compliant stake president. Amen to the priesthood of both these weirdos!

  7. Miriam says:

    Wow. Just wow. This man does not represent the Lord in any way. These men don’t really know the Savior at all. I am so sorry for all the pain and abuse you have suffered at their hands. This is just so wrong. 😥

  8. Anon says:

    This was painful to read. Dear sister, please leave the toxic church. It is not true – totally made up by men.

    • EmilyB says:

      In reading this I thought the same thing. My attempts to report sexual abuse by a church leader resulted in the same treatment and the same results that this sister describes here. Only by liberating myself out from under the oppressive thumb of these abusive men was I able to truly heal. These men are NOT of God–seeking him in their organization is a fruitless effort.

  9. DLCJ59 says:

    I know you dear Sister. You are an inspiration to my family. You deserved zero of what you’ve been through. Hold your head high and keep putting one foot in front of the other. We are here for you!

  10. Frederico Peña says:

    Wow — unreal. The only way to make abuse like this go away is to name and shame. When news about stuff like this comes out to the general public it will pop the reality distortion bubble people like this live in. They will always protect themselves and not the little guy.

  11. Becky says:

    I wonder if there are other people in your ward who have had the same kind of treatment, and are too scared to speak up.

  12. bobby says:

    I’m so sorry that you were abused.
    Having been a bishop, I would like to conjecture as to why he did what he did (and continues to do by not apologizing or acknowledging his assholery)…
    I had a SP who encouraged the bishops in his stake to “seek and receive revelation.” Perhaps your bishop decided that it was his turn to receive revelation similar to the way ol’ H0rny Joe Smith and Bring’Em Young did back in the old days…by either targeting those of the feminine persuasion for romantic pursuits or seeing just how far they could push some faithful schmuck because they had been “unfaithful” or “disrespectful to P’hood authority,” or some other bull$hit, made-up tripe.
    In a nutshell, I think your bishop decided that he was entitled to a little Ol’ Time revelation, and there would be nobody better to test that “revelation” on than someone who was a faithful TBM who was in 100% and, because this “target” was a woman, there would be no direct repercussions of his little experiment to “flex his spiritual muscles.” Then, because he was so deep into his own delusion, he felt that he had to double-down on his idiocy instead of doing the right thing and owning up to it, apologizing, and making a full reckoning of it because, HEY!…Revelation!!

    Here is how it SHOULD have gone…
    Sis.NameWithheld (and husband) to SP: “Either the bishop spills details of why he has this vendetta against me, apologizes to me, my family, and the entire ward, and retracts his “revelation,” or I submit my resignation immediately (and for my entire family), and we take our tithing $ elsewhere.”
    SP: “Uh……hello, Bishop Dumas? Get over to my office at the stake center immediately. Bring your wife.”
    Bishop Dumas: “Ok. Be there in 5 minutes?”
    SP: “Make it 3.”
    3 minutes pass…
    SP to Bishop Dumas: “Spill details about your vendetta against Sister NameWithheld, make it fast, and it had better include specifics. If you can’t do that in less than 5 minutes, then your babbling should include a sincere apology, a retraction, a promise to publicly announce to the ward that you were wrong and that you apologize to the family of this good sister and the entire ward, AND your resignation as bishop. Time begins…NOW! Start talking!”
    You did nothing wrong, NameWithheld. We love you.

  13. Alex says:

    Reading this I’m filled with anger against the bishop and stake president. How could they do this! I’m also filled with admiration for the OP on how strong she was not only writing this but doing so after beating cancer and dealing with these unrighteous men. This is a typical example of why I’m on the fence about leaving…it’s always the men in authority that push me further away from the church.

  14. Eric says:

    I don’t believe this. I think you’re lying, or delusional. Sorry. Your story is too full of holes and drama. Real life isn’t like that.

    • Anna says:

      Maybe not for men real life isn’t like this. Check your privilege, while you contemplate the similar stories all over the feminist blogs.

      I have never had anything this obviously crazy, but I have had enough smaller things happen, where a bishop thought he was inspired and he had no clue what he was doing, that I believe it, as do most of the women here. You, a man, are the only one this seems too far fetched to have happened. Men don’t often have bishops with sick (probably sexual) obsessions about them.

    • Em says:

      Maybe not for you. Similar things happened to me with my bishop.

    • Risa says:

      Eric, you are in violation of the Comment Policy. Specifically #3

      3. No mudslinging: Stating disagreement is fine — even strong disagreement, but no personal attacks or name calling. No personal insults.

      Calling the OP a liar is not cool and in violation of the spirit here.

      Check your privilege. You are in a space where women tell their stories and have a voice. Obviously you can’t handle women telling the truth about their experiences. That’s on you, buddy.

  15. Name Withheld says:

    I just wanted to express my sincere gratitude to all of you who have believed me and taken the time to offer so much love and support. Thank you for being part of my ongoing healing by validating my experience and helping me to feel the Savior’s love through your heartfelt, compassionate comments. Thank you for helping me find “my tribe” after feeling mostly alone in my ward/stake for so long.

    As to what happened to me, I just think my ultra-traditional bishop, in my stake where most active members have a more simplistic, black and white worldview, could not understand how an independent career woman with a more nuanced belief system could also be a faithful, committed member of the Church, no matter what I said or did. He made no effort to truly know me and my heart. I can only assume he saw me as a threat to his comfortable, unchallenged worldview, and because he seems to truly believe that as a bishop every thought that comes to his mind is from God, he took his own negative, distorted perceptions and judgmental thoughts about me and mistakenly attributed them to a revelatory experience. Unfortunately, in the end he was ultimately shielded from being held accountable for that and the subsequent falsehoods and actions he took to justify himself. The heavy burden of finding healing without closure is wholly left on me and my family to navigate spiritually and emotionally. We’re obviously still working on that, but I truly believe and have hope that with the Savior’s help, healing will come and there will come a day when the pain of this spiritual abuse will stop having power in my life.

    I now have a much greater appreciation and tender feelings for those who leave: with love I acknowledge your own soul-crushing experiences (many of them much more egregious than mine), and I honor and fully support you in taking what is the best, most healthy, right path for you. For me, although the unusual—even bizarre—spiritual abuse I experienced from these fallible men, in a power structure susceptible to inequality and unrighteous dominion, has hurt me deeply, I do want to try to find ultimate healing without removing myself from the Church. In spite of the admittedly serious issues that exist, I am determined to not let anyone compound my pain by driving me out of my church, the church I have committed my life to building up and making better, the church where I have also found so much to hold onto that resonates with my soul, that I believe is good, inspired, and Christ-centered. I also choose to stay for others in my little sphere of influence who may be looking for a like-minded ally. Thank you all for being that for me as I try to be part of the change I have hope will one day come.

    • Simon says:

      I have difficulty seeing how anyone could not believe you. Why would anyone make up such a story. I have known enough bishops to know they are not perfect – and some are less perfect than the average.

      I know it is small comfort, but I do believe that he will get his just rewards for all the pain and suffering he has caused you – and worryingly, maybe others.

      May God bless you.

  16. MP says:

    I am so sorry this happened to you. This type of behavior is not of God and borders on cult leader behavior.

  17. Mike says:

    Find another ward.

    Apparently, we had a nearby ward with a jerk bishop.The first family that showed up at our ward was looked upon skeptically but given the benefit of the doubt. The truth became obvious after a couple more families joined. You are likely not alone.

    One strength of Mormonism is that you always have a ward family, if you have an address. But the price we pay is a reluctance to vote with our feet. In the Protestant world, an ugly tie on the minister can cause people to walk across the street to the next church.

    Even if rude Eric is objectively right, it is your story, your experiences, your religious life and it is quite beyond an ugly tie. I suspect Eric is delusional and believes God will never let his bishops lead the ward astray. He would be in need of prayer and forgiveness while the moderators do their job. It is their blog.

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