Guest post by Amy
My first year of college was brutal. There were some definite, awesome highlights—meeting my best friend, finding my major—but these came at no small cost. I faced many challenges that year. Some of them were created directly by me: I never slept, I ate garbage, and I barely communicated with my newly-distant family and friends. Other obstacles came from without: my first real winter knocked the life out of me, the classes were beyond my abilities, and an older student who should have known better led me on and broke my heart. The story of that whole year is a long and piteous one, but suffice it to say I limped home that summer lonely, depressed, and with early symptoms of an eating disorder.
I didn’t look or act like myself anymore, so I wasn’t surprised when, a few weeks after returning home, I was invited to meet with the Bishop. That feeling of being summoned has always made me uneasy, but this time I felt relief. This Bishop was an old friend. Finally, after so many months of sadness, I had a little bit of hope.
It was all I could do to keep from crying as I sat down in his office. In my head I scrambled to think of a way to explain what had happened to me, why I was so miserable, where things had gone wrong. I calmed down when he started speaking gently and did not bombard me with questions.
“I have to tell you, I felt a really strong impression that I needed to meet with you. There was no doubt in my mind.”
Finally¸ I thought, again almost in tears. Finally someone is going to help me.
“You know how important the Word of Wisdom is, don’t you?”
“Of course,” I said, my distraught gratitude dissipating into confusion. I knew I didn’t have a problem with the Word of Wisdom. Why were we talking about this?
“Well it’s not directly in there, but I think exercise is a really important part of following those commandments.”
Over the next few minutes, the Bishop explained that I needed to exercise. He told me this was important because I needed to be “making myself more attractive for boys.” I was single, after all, and had put on some freshman weight. Exercise was what I needed. This was the Lord’s message to me.
I agreed to start jogging, gave him a hug, and left the office. As I drove home in a foggy, weepy daze, I mulled it all over. Exercise? That’s an interesting revelation. Why does it matter how boys look at me? Wait a second. I do exercise. I go jogging every day! I don’t think I’d driven halfway home before my confusion fizzled into seething rage. My Bishop hadn’t been speaking for God, listening to the Spirit, or any such noble task. He thought I was fat and unattractive. He thought it would be better if I was less of those things, so he gave me some tips on how to change them. That’s all.
To this day, I believe the Spirit did tell that Bishop to look out for me, to see if there was something he could do to help. But after answering the prompting, he ignored any further direction and allowed his privileged, misogynistic worldview to dictate his subsequent thoughts and actions. Had he caused any of my original problems? Was he the source of my depression? Absolutely not. But he used his appointed position as a divine conduit to kick me while I was down, and I hated him for it.
Today, almost six years later, I look back on this experience with a strange fondness. Many who identify as Mormon feminists share episodic memories like this one, negative experiences at church which, when strung together, tell us there is something wrong. My story is only a small one, and I know many of my sisters have suffered far greater abuses. But for me, this was a key day: this was the first time I learned that an authority figure could misuse power to promote personal opinions and ideas. It was the first time I realized someone could say they were speaking for God, and ignore God entirely. It was the first time I understood that how I looked was valued above how I felt. Somehow, the Spirit or the universe or my own divine instinct was able to pierce the confusion, anger, and sadness and tell me these things were wrong. I was good. God loved me. And I did not need a man to help me see it.