When Sedition Looks Like (Religious) Sexual Violence
Guest post by Sabrena. Sabrena is a founding member of Pillows for Prisoners (www.pillowsforprisoners.org), an organization dedicated to expanding awareness about the realities of female incarceration. P4P raises funds to gift pillows for the women at the Salt Lake County Jail. She’s worked in public relations and crisis communications for twenty years, and is married with two children.
This month marks the one-year anniversary of our Area Authority losing his shiz. It happened après sacrament meeting when I called him out for his failure to address the sexual violence that had occurred in our stake and ward for years.
Following a stern handshake and some back-and-forth about his failure to respond to numerous letters I had written to him, he lost it:
“I don’t answer to YOU,” he bellowed at me, face red and hands shaking. “I answer to the Lord!”
He was upset I had the audacity to tell him it hurt that he would visit our ward and not make mention of the trauma we had been through. He instead pontificated on a gospel principle that (while I’m sure important) was certainly not relevant in our ward’s tender state.
See, in August of 2019, just four months earlier, a member of our Stake High Council—who also happened to be our ward’s former Bishop—was arrested for taking pictures of a woman without her consent at an H&M dressing room in Tennessee. The story made its way to our little corner of Salt Lake via Reddit, LDS Facebook groups, the local news and some investigative reporting from John Dehlin.
Overtime the horrific facts piled up: he had not only been fired from multiple jobs for sexual harassment/assault, he had also harassed multiple women inside of our church community. Many had seen the red flags but written them off. Some of our leaders had been warned but chose to punt. There had been coverups, and denials of coverups.
Early on, came a call from the pulpit to not discuss the “incident.” Victims were told the perpetrator’s return to church was a priority. Many looking for answers and accountability were labeled as agitators. It was a horrible time for our community.
Certainly, everyone just wanted to feel better about things — but it was, (er…) complicated.
This was a man that many could point to as having done “a lot of good things.” He was charismatic, a natural leader…but also a narcissist and a con. Many were of the opinion that it was best not to discuss what had happened. (“It’s just gossip.”)
That the way to heal and move forward was to forgive and forget. (“After all, judge not that ye be not judged!”)
Indeed, they were of the opinion that Jesus himself would’ve wanted us to put it all behind us and work towards…. UNITY.
“At one point you just need to rip off the Band-Aid and move forward,” one leader’s wife told me.
But the thing is, sexual violence isn’t a paper cut. Really, it’s more like a cancer—and ripping off a band-aid does nothing, except waste a Band-Aid I suppose. Because like cancer, trauma (in our ward’s case: sexual violence and r*pe culture,) don’t go away just because you don’t talk about it/them. People aren’t miraculously healed and no longer suffering just because the trauma is ignored.
Like cancer, it metastasizes if left unchecked.
There’s a reason the repentance process asks for a recognition of the problem (sin) FIRST, and THEN you work to make amends/restitution. They are critical steps in the healing process.
Removing the cancer is hard. But if your doctor won’t actually tell you there’s a problem, there’s no way to heal and be whole again.
Yes surgery, chemo: all those treatments are painful and horrible in their own right. But they are done so wholeness, wellness, and healing can ultimately be achieved.
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So what does sexual violence and the repentance process have to do with Seditious Insurrections and the United States’ current state of affairs?
Following the storming of the US Capitol on January 6th, a popular storyline began to emerge from the wreckage: that impeachment/25th Amendment/removal from office would just make things worse. Such actions would not only solve nothing, but just enrage Trump supporters and further divide the country. Funny how those conversations never seemed to take into account how the rest of the country would feel if there were no consequences or repercussions (clearly outlined in the constitution) for years of the president’s rhetoric inciting violence and leading to an insurrection.
Those calling for unity without consequences for seditious actions fail to see the reality of our situation. (Or they see it and don’t care.)
Truly we cannot have any unity in this country until we address the realities of our two Americas — and that starts with accountability for those in power.
My church community still hasn’t fully healed from the violence and trauma we experienced and I don’t think it ever will. Ours is a culture steeped in patriarchy that has repeatedly shown it prizes polite comfort (no matter the amount of shame) over safety and authenticity. The power structure and the institution must be preserved at all costs. So while the casualties may be unfortunate, they can also be tolerated in the name of a greater good (however that’s defined by those with the power.)
And such is the crossroads facing the United States.
Certainly, there should be consequences for a leader who exacerbates and stokes racial tensions, has consistently undermined the peaceful transition of power in a fair election, and incites violence by calling on his acolytes to wage war on dissenters. Because of Trump’s lies, so many of his followers believed their seditious acts and insurrection were justified (e.g. “We love you. You’re special.”)
It has been said before that Trump is not ultimately the problem, but a symptom of the problem—and I concur. But who is made whole by turning a blind eye right now?
“It not just about punishing the guilty party,” a fellow ward member shared with me, connecting the dots of our shared trauma and the post-election insurgency. “It’s about engaging in shared meaning about what happened, why, who is accountable and what can be learned from it.”
Removing the cancer plaguing our nation will not happen simply by taking one man out of the White House. Addressing systemic racism, white privilege, the “othering” of our sisters and brothers is at the heart of the reckoning and restitution (i.e. repentance) we need if we are to have any chance of our country moving forward in unity. Impeachment was a necessary step in acknowledging something is wrong. Accountability is the harder path, but ultimately the only one that leads to any chance of a more perfect union.