not in Primary anymore

dear bishop: thank you, and go to hell

san felipe 2008 155


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.

10 Responses to “dear bishop: thank you, and go to hell”

  1. ryan

    Go to hell Bishop! How dare you give advice to a woman that is hurting! You’re a MAN after all! Can you believe that he would do such a thing!? I think that “older student that should have known better” should go to hell too! I mean he broke her heart people!

    And the oversensitive, thin skinned feminists want to be taken seriously.

    • Jennifer LM

      Ryan, I’m not sure why you are commenting on this blog. Do you hope to destroy feminism? Are you here just to see if you can hurt people? You obviously don’t agree with feminists so why don’t you just move on to something else. I have a close family member who says the kind of things you do and all he does is alienate people and hurt them. I hope the moderators of this blog ban you from commenting in the future.

      • ryan

        Jennifer, actually I made a bet with a close freind that is considering joining the feminist movement that I could get a threat to be banned within 5 comments if I was critical of feminism in a sarcastic way and with a very mild insult. Thank you for helping me. I’ll split the $50 with you if you woukd like. 😉

      • hannahwheelwright

        We don’t moderate comments on this blog because we like to let assholes like Ryan comment, so that people can see why we need feminism.

        A while ago I wrote a post on here about why a lot of young Mormons are leaving the church, and an anonymous person commented “You are a cancer. Please leave the church.” A lot of people don’t believe me when I say that people tell me to leave the church for being feminist, and when I can point them to comments like that, there is concrete evidence that I’m not just going off of attitudes or perceptions that could be wrong.

        So, thanks a bunch Ryan, for both making the church a harder place to be for a lot of people and for demonstrating it right here on this blog post. Hurrah for Israel

    • Jennifer LM

      Well, at least if us feminists have been able to offer you entertainment and income earning potential. Glad to help. (And yes, I’ll take my share of the $50).

    • Sweeney

      Really Ryan? That’s super insightful of you. Hey, maybe your bishop could bring you in to tell you that, “hey, have you looked in a mirror lately? Pretty oily face, full of pimples. Don’t you know the scriptures say that God cannot dwell in any clean thing? Better start using Proactive; after all, you’re single, Ryan, and if you were more attractive in the face, maybe you could get a girlfriend.”

      While I know nothing of the state of your relationship status nor that of your epidermis, maybe you could open your mind even a smidge and think how you would have felt at age 18 or 19 if your bishop had pulled you in for such a chat. Maybe your skin is so thick that it wouldn’t bother you. However, not everyone is you, so try not to impose your feelings on others. When a young person is being given supposed instructions from the Lord, and it seems like the God of the Heaven’s only advice for them in their moment of need is “be pretty for boys, ” it makes one think that God just doesn’t have the brains that he supposedly blessed us all with. Luckily, I like to give God a little more credit than that. And maybe you should give the “overly-sensitive feminists” some too.

  2. aubreylh

    When I was engaged and preparing to go through the temple I was working with my bishop. He thought his opinion mattered for something, and proceeded to tell me my marriage would fail, that statistically I didn’t stand a chance… I got up and left and immediately, and moved my records to my fiancé’s ward (His bishop was fantastic.) we were able to set a date soon after, we sent our invitations out, one of them was for the first counselor from my old ward, so my old bishop saw my invitation and decided it would be a good idea to start telling the people that I invited, my wedding was canceled… even going as far as to insinuate to the first counselor it was due to worthiness issues… luckily he didn’t take his word for it, and instead spoke to my mother about it, and they sorted it out. When I heard about this from my mother I was pissed! I told my fiancé’s bishop about it, he was horrified. He called my old bishop and ripped him a new one, and then also reported him the my old stake president.

    So basically it was the worst experience I have ever had with a bishop, but also the best lol

  3. Emily The Stranger

    Hi, new here. I think I’ve been moving towards identifying myself as a feminist since college too, though my understanding of feminism wasn’t quite to the point it is now until one of my friends shared an article maybe a 6 months back.

    Such and interesting story. If a bishop had brought me in to say something like that when I was in college and going through my own struggles, I probably would have reacted in a similar way. Perhaps the bishop felt like he needed to give her an answer. I know there have been moments where, even though I wasn’t sure how to answer something I bulldozed ahead just because I felt like I should know and I ended up offending the person I responded to, or even myself as I later realized I should have worded it differently or not said that at all.

    So, it could be fine for the bishop to be concerned with her weight gain, but I would have approached that so differently. Being more attractive to boys is only one of the side effects to being physically fit. It’s about feeling good about yourself first, which I think was one of the bigger struggles she was experiencing, and his approach could have had serious consequences. Thank goodness it didn’t.


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