Reconstructing Faith: Bishop Roulette

When all of the COVID lockdowns rang out, we were prepared. A handful of years previous to COVID we lived a three hours’ drive from the nearest church branch, thus, we were given permission for church at home. We already had non-disposable sacrament plates and cups, and we were disciplined enough to have regular meetings at home. Most importantly, we already knew it was way easier to do “home church” in casual wear than it was to wear suits, heels and pantyhose sitting at home.

Our new bishop, in a ward that was walking distance from our house, did not agree. He wanted us onscreen, on time, wearing Sunday best.

***

We moved into his ward a year before global Zoom church, happy to no longer be a distant family in a district branch. In connecting with us on Facebook, ward members quickly scoured our profiles. Before we set foot in the building, the primary president reported to the bishop that we did not vote in concert with her (and the bishop) in regard to the recent amendment of the Australian Marriage Act. The amendment occurred a handful of months before our move, and redefined marriage as “the union of 2 people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life,” thereby removing gendered pronouns(1).

Within months of our attending this ward, every member of my family seemed to cross the bishop in one way or another. My children did not pray on demand in primary; we used phrases like “heavenly parents,” and “we treat everyone with respect and courtesy ” which resulted in lectures and awkward interactions with the bishop.  When I “contradicted” this bishop by quoting the prophet, he demanded to know how long I had been a member of the church- as if length of time of church membership made him more knowledgeable than me (and the prophet?). He hated us. And he did not hide his feelings.

By this time, COVID was beginning to hit the international media radar. Breathings of church and temple closures were wildly circulating by this time, so, securing childcare, I absconded away one afternoon for a much needed session at the temple. “Your recommend’s been cancelled,” said the man at the desk. I was dumfounded. “Yep. I ran it twice. It’s not expired, it’s cancelled.” The Temple President offered to phone the hateful bishop, but I requested they call the Stake President instead. He did, and within moments, I had verbal approval to attend the temple.

In the days following, I made contact with the Stake President, who was by that time, very stressed about sending missionaries home before state and international boarders closed. I felt like the least I could do is be patient while the Stake President attended to much more important needs. Soon the missionaries from overseas were safely headed out of the country, just as Australian missionaries began to arrive home. The Stake President contacted us, confirming that my temple recommend was cancelled by the  hateful bishop, sans reason. My husband’s recommend remained the same. Only mine was “cancelled.” Without addressing this, the Stake President noted that the temple recommend questions had been “revised” at the October 2019 General Conference, meaning that my temple recommend could not readily be restored: I would need to be re-interviewed. By the hateful bishop.

With lockdowns, I decided to wait until things were “back to normal” before chasing a temple recommend. In the meantime, we began logging in to zoom church. In these meetings, the hateful bishop would find some reason to contact me- commenting on my appearance,  signing in late, whatever. It took just two meetings like this for my husband and children to refuse to listen to or participate in zoom church any more. We turned church off.

That did not help. The hateful messages continued for me only. My husband was sure that in part it was blatant sexism as the bishop only even emailed or spoke to him like a “good ol’ boy.” But my husband was done; he stated that if the bishop ever set foot on our property, he would punch the man. I was done, too.

I deleted as much information as I could from the church app, and blocked the bishop from everything we could. We were sickened to find that no matter what we did, the bishop still had access to my phone number, email address, home address, our wedding anniversary, my mother’s maiden name,  our birth dates and more. In addition to this, the hateful bishop claimed to have contacted all of my former bishops about *my* atrociousness. This worried me that perhaps he even knew the name of the street I grew up on or other banking security-question style information. Paranoia in full swing, we contacted the church and were told that “managing” our church records was “something that the ward clerk” does. That was a lie. Anything we asked the ward clerk to remove was zombied back on our church records by the hand of hateful bishop.  The clerk told us he was powerless.

This was the final straw. My husband and I discussed resigning from the church, and agreed this was probably the only way our family would be safe. Testimonies be damned; we were being chased out of the church by a hateful bishop with the fire of the devil in his eyes. This bishop wanted to hurt us.  This bishop hated us. 

Our main concern was whether or not we would also be able to remove our children from church records; would they need to be adults in order to have their memberships cancelled?

We reached out to an old, trusted friend to ask him. We knew him from what we considered was our “home ward,” in another state. After a phone call where we shared our situation, he asked us to wait. “Let me see what I can do…” he said.

Within a couple of months, we received notification that our church records were in our “home ward.” In another state. Not just another ward within the stake we lived in, but a new ward, in a different stake, in a different STATE. It was our friend’s ward. He was a newly called bishop.  Our records change was approved by the First Presidency and Presiding Bishopric; hateful bishop could not override it. Finally.

I wept.

I wept because I felt the spirit.

For the first time.

In two years.

That tiny breath of the spirit is what keeps me in the church for now. I am taking it all one day at a time, and in no way am I ambitiously seeking anything spiritual. I have no calling, I do not bother with the temple, we no longer read the scriptures daily as a family and we don’t really do Come Follow Me. But I want to believe. If only because our “new” bishop loved us enough to contact church headquarters in the middle of a pandemic in order to keep us from resigning our membership.

Friendship. That unseen bond of love– that is what keeps me.

For now, that is enough.

P.S. We attended this ward a few weeks ago fir the first time since the pandemic. Our new bishop’s wife hugged me when she saw me– for about 5 minutes. “I am so glad you are here,” she said. “You’ve been through a lot.”

(1)    Australian Federal Register of Legislation, Marriage Act 1961, Compilation No. 27  (accessed 27 July 2021)

This post is part of the series, Reconstructing Faith. Find more from this series here.

Spunky

Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

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22 Responses

  1. nicolesbitani says:

    What better example of unrighteous dominion than the hateful bishop? I’m so sorry he treated you that way and I’m so glad you got your family’s records out of his ward.

    • Spunky says:

      Thank you. I’m still exhausted from the experience. I’d love to know if people ever really recover from something like this? And– can we please stop predator bishops or whoever from accessing our church records?

  2. Brigid Jones says:

    These men are nightmares. Keep serving your own best interests and congratulations on writing this piece – you give me hope.

  3. Spunky says:

    Thank you so much. It was a hard piece to write. I am grateful that others see these nightmarish men for who they are.

  4. Katie Rich says:

    Oh, wow. Thank you for writing and sharing this. I can’ believe how incessantly abusive that bishop was. What a gift from your friend to remove your records from the control of that man.

    • spunky says:

      Thank you! Yes, it was a blessing to have a bishop friend in another place to help us. There are half a dozen people I know who simply left the church here because of the bishop. I have been told that some are waiting for this “old guard” to die off, and then they might come back to church. But will they? Not everyone is as lucky as I was. It is such a deeply flawed system of power.

  5. DB says:

    On behalf of bishops who aren’t sociopaths, I offer my apology and hope that you and your family will recover from this unrighteous, hateful man.

    • spunky says:

      Thank you. We are still recovering. Our new ward– though far away, have been ambitious in supporting and connecting with us from a distance. That has been a huge source of love from within the church. It’s been great.

      • Tim says:

        Spunky: I weep for joy with you and your family. I had a terrorist in my life; a corrupt religionist masquerading as a bishop once.

        For over five years, his nonstop deliberate, intentional infliction of stress, psychological, verbal and spiritual abuse, not to mention unceasing harassment through telephonic abuse I learned to rein through stop through abuse him right back in my van in front of his daughter — who despised his tactics as much as I did — as the youth saw him for what he was.

        My repeated requests for moving my records to the other ward in the building was met with a flat NO by the stake president more than once, claiming Salt Lake approval was needed. BS!

        Moving records within the stake (divorcing couples are an excellent example) are a local decision he can make on his own hook.

        He was just afraid of the corrupt religionist. Out of respect for April here, I will not name ID the author of sleazy actions by name.

        I WILL say his unceasing abuse and unrelenting, intentional infliction of stress was DIRECTLY responsible for my having a major stroke after leaving his little slice of sewer, through his having a slow-burning fuse, destroying what was left of my career in the process.

        It is my ongoing quest — all the days of my life and beyond if need be — to hold that PREDATORY excuse of a man ACCOUNTABLE, and to pursue his being cast out of the Church for the remaining portion of his mortal life…if for no other reason but to ensure there are no more victims of emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually violent serial abuse!!!

  6. Segullah says:

    Unfortunately, such stories are not as rare as one would hope. If my spouse and I were not as stubborn as Spunky, our family would be out of the church. My best wishes to all the “spunkies” out there and their families.

    • spunky says:

      Is it stubbornness or a testimony? Regardless, I did and will do whatever I need to protect my family. It is sad and all too common when it comes to choosing between church and not in order to do this.

  7. LHCA says:

    I could feel your trauma. So well written/crafted. You are one strong woman. I keep picturing the belligerent Satan of the temple movies when you describe that bully bishop.

  8. Em says:

    I hate that there is no recourse at all. And I hate that there is no really “private” information. Any ward leader can see anything that you put as “private” and unless you’re going to move, change your phones, change your email, legally change your names — you can’t just flee any of that. I also can’t help but see the insidiousness of male-only leadership in this. not to say that your ward was brimming with qualified loving women, I have no idea. But clearly stake leadership and beyond felt like this dude was a) the best option available among men with the right priesthood, connections, wealth etc. or b) were unwilling to believe your word against his, because he was always great to THEM and you’re new to the area, didn’t fit it, wrong accent, wrong background.

    But mostly I hate that there is no recourse at all in our church. There is no way to contact higher up. You have to follow the chain of command, which means that if your problem is WITH the chain of command, you’re out of luck. It reminds me of medieval justice, when the lord was the judge, and therefore any problem you had with the lord was going nowhere.

    • spunky says:

      Agreed! The lack of privacy seems legally questionable– and the inability to contact higher-ups is a huge issue. As it was, if I did bother to try and contact an area authority, it would have been sent back to my stake president and bishop.

      As for the leadership feelings — I have been told that the stake was well aware of this man and his behaviour, but stake leadership hoped that by having him as bishop her would “learn.” So- the 2 dozen or so people who stopped attending church because of him were less important that this lesson that he inevitably did not learn? I am a huge fan of being humble, but being humiliated by a bully bishop does not inspire that at all.

      Thank you so much for your comment!

  9. KMD says:

    Glad your story has a glimmer of hope and light at the end. Hugs.

  10. Tina says:

    That there is no way to keep a man who is a bishop from finding anyone is wild – especially when the bishop is an awful person such as the one you encountered. It’s disturbing because there is no place to appeal, little to no options besides leaving. I am relieved for you and your family that you found a safe place to land. Thank you for sharing your story. All organizations, including religions, have a dark side. It tends to catch people unawares at church though. Hopefully through sharing experiences things can be brought to light and hopefully the church can improve.

    • spunk says:

      Thank you for your comment, Tina. It was a terrifying experience– one that made me all to aware of the powers that predators in authority have over church members. It is not a safe system.

  11. ElleK says:

    This post has been on my mind all week. It is absolutely infuriating. I’m glad your friend had the clout to get your records moved, but it blows my mind that the higher ups both in your stake and those in SLC thought the appropriate response was to move your records and not to censure and release the sociopath. I’m so curious to know what strings your friend pulled, what he said, and what the response was. Like Em said, there is no recourse for women in this church. It’s devastating.

    Spunky, would you mind if I tag this into the #hearLDSwomen series? It’s a perfect fit, and I’d love for it to be in the search results for that series as well as this one.

    • spunky says:

      I don’t mind at all, ElleK.

      I don’t think my friend “pulled strings”- I think that as a bishop, his request was addressed, rather than passed on. Those who do not have a bishop friend to plea on their behalf are out of luck.

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