not in Primary anymore

i am in an abusive relationship with my church

by Anonymous

Content Warning: This post contains brief references to rape, molestation, and sexual assault.

 

My uncle left the LDS church decades ago after graduating from BYU and serving a full time mission. A few years ago, he was baptized into the Catholic Church. He made this decision after attending a mass and recognizing a prostitute in the congregation. “If a prostitute feels comfortable in this service, if she wants to attend this church, then so do I,” he told me.

I am in an abusive relationship with my church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I wish I could escape to my uncle’s congregation where I might finally feel safe and welcome. I am not a prostitute, but I am a queer woman. I am also doctrinally heterodox in some of my beliefs because I align myself with the word of God as it is written in scripture–not with the official interpretations of that scripture that, I believe, often distort the truth and beauty of God’s word.

Because I am a student at BYU, however, my church is not a safe space to speak my beliefs. Many of my sisters and brothers are being disciplined for heresy (read a New York Times article on the subject here). Lately I have noticed how my experiences with my church closely parallel the warning signs of abusive relationships. I will use the warning signs as published here to present my experiences:

Do you feel afraid of your partner much of the time?

I sit in Sunday School and Relief Society with burning questions that I am too afraid to ask. I want to talk about sexism in our scriptures, in our culture, in our leadership, but I know that my questions and comments are unwelcome–even dangerous to my well-being. A number of my friends are presently facing discipline for comments and questions they have made in Relief Society.

Do you avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?

I am too afraid to post this in my own name for fear of losing my degree, my home, and my job. (BYU does not practice religious freedom: http://www.freebyu.org/.) I am not welcome to honestly and candidly discuss feminism, sexuality, or gender in Sunday School, Relief Society, or my university courses.

Do you believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?

I have been taught by my elderly, white, male leaders that I deserve punishment, estrangement from my family, and even physical abuse because I am queer. I am told that excommunication is a loving gift from my leaders–not the spiritual and emotional violence that my sisters and brothers experience. Likewise, when my father uses his priesthood authority to silence and disregard my mother, she does not see it as unrighteous dominion or an abuse of priesthood power. Instead, she wonders whether she deserves it, because she promises in the temple that she will obey her husband. My father is never required to make any such promises of obedience to my mother.

Do you wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?

In their recent statement, the general leaders of my church stated “We express profound gratitude for the millions of Latter-day Saint women and men who willingly and effectively serve God and His children. Because of their faith and service, they have discovered that the Church is a place of spiritual nourishment and growth.” (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-leaders-message-addresses-doctrine-questions). In other words, if I have faith and serve in my church yet I do not experience it as a place of spiritual nourishment and growth, then I’m the one at fault—never my leaders or my church. Here I am told again, as I have been told all my life, that if I perceive something to be wrong with my church–if I identify racism, sexism, or heteronormativity that is halting my spiritual nourishment and growth–then it is because I have not served faithfully enough. That I am in the wrong, but my leaders and church are, as always, infallible.

Do you feel emotionally numb or helpless? 

I attend church on Sunday and sit in silence, in pain, and in frustration. My voice is unwelcome just as the voices of Sonia Johnson, Janice Allred, Kate Kelly, Lynne Whitesides, Maxine Hanks, Lavina Fielding Anderson, and D. Michael Quinn are unwelcome. I feel the deadening weight of institutional force in my throat, forcing my words back into darkness. I feel the cycle that I thought we had left behind in 1993 begin again, forcibly severing the body of Christ in the name of patriarchy. As an unmarried, female-bodied person, I am completely powerless to enact change in my church.

Does your partner treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?

I am ashamed to tell my non-Mormon friends and family that women in my Church were forbidden to pray in sacrament meeting until the 1970s and in General Conference until 2013. I am ashamed to say that my mother was raped, I molested, and my friend sexually assaulted by Mormon men who faced no discipline for their actions. I am ashamed that many in my Church would rather celebrate spiritual violence against Kate Kelly than mourn with her.

Does your partner ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?

Unless my opinions about gender and sexuality fit into the sanctioned cultural norms of the church, and unless my accomplishments are marrying in the temple and mothering many babies, my opinions and accomplishments are ignored at best and punished at worst.

Does your partner blame you for their own abusive behavior?

My church has no mechanism to hold priesthood holders accountable for unrighteous dominion. Though our scripture teaches that…

41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile (D&C 121:41-42)

…my priesthood leaders are free to threaten, punish, and hurt me as they see fit without accountability. Unlike the American justice system, in which the accused are ensured certain rights, my church’s version of justice favors my priesthood leaders to a fault. Discipline taken against me, my sisters, and my brothers is always considered our own fault—never the fault of our priesthood leaders.

Does your partner see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?

In my church, I am told to dress modestly for fear of arousing the boys and men around me. In my church, I am told that my body is walking pornography if I dress the wrong way. I am told that I need to save my body as a gift for my husband, and that it is worth less if it has had any sexual experiences.

***

“Noticing and acknowledging the signs of an abusive relationship is the first step to ending it.” Over the years, I have learned to respect myself enough to condemn abusive behavior in any form. I wholeheartedly claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of my own conscience, and I allow all women and men the same privilege–even those who have been baptized into the LDS church and may therefore feel that they must believe as they are told. Let them worship how, where or what they may.

***

My experiences with my church are different from the domestic abuse many women and men experience. I have interpreted these warning signs of abuse in order to understand my relationship to my church, which in no way diminishes or discredits the experiences of women or men in abusive relationships. If you are experiencing emotional, psychological, or physical abuse, please seek help. The following are some resources to help you:

 

In the US: call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).

UK: call Women’s Aid at 0808 2000 247.  

Australia: call 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732.                                                                

Worldwide: visit International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies for a global list of helplines and crisis centers.

 

Male victims of abuse can call:  

U.S. and Canada: The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men & Women

UK: ManKind Initiative

Australia: One in Three Campaign

 

http://www.helpguide.org/mental/domestic_violence_abuse_types_signs_causes_effects.htm    http://www.theredflagcampaign.org/index.php/dating-violence/red-flags-for-abusive-relationships/

 

Anonymous is a BYU student and lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She has served in LDS wards all her life, including callings as Relief Society president, ward pianist, and Sunday school teacher. If she could add one value to the list she recited in the Young Women’s program, that value would be courage.

Advertisements

33 Responses to “i am in an abusive relationship with my church”

    • Anonymous

      It is certainly not a good relationship if she feels mistreated by the Church but still wants to get education subsidized by it.

      Reply
  1. Isolde

    This enrages me. I’ve been in an abusive relationship. To say that you are being “abused” by the church is demeaning and belittling to those of us who have actually gone through abuse. Are you afraid to speak up? Yeah, perhaps. But why? Are you afraid you’re going to be physically hit, literally spit on, have someone literally scream in your face that you are nothing more than crap and deserve to die? Do you have to hide literal finger marks away from the eyes of your friends and family? Do you realize with horror that you wont be allowed to go to sleep that night until you’re a sobbing mess apologizing and begging for forgiveness until the Church’s ego is stroked enough? Are you afraid the church is going to kill you one day when it gets into a rage at you for being late with dinner? Has the Church literally raped you? No. I don’t think so. So you need to shut up. You can walk away at any point. You might lose your job, your school, your housing if it’s BYU approved. Yeah, thats scary. But you aren’t going to be dragged back literally by the Church. You aren’t going to fear for your physical safety from the church. Maybe from some horrible people, but not the CHURCH. I’m sick of hearing you girls say you are in an abusive relationship with the church. You aren’t. And it is so belittling for you to say so. If you feel it’s not the right place for you to be, you really should leave. If you honestly feel you are being abused, then reach out to the people who will help you leave the situation. Wouldn’t that be your advice to anyone in such a relationship? That yes, it’s hard, and you might not see a way out, but it is far better to suffer a little pain now in leaving then to continue to suffer the relationship. So why not just leave instead of continue to “suffer”? By staying, you aren’t helping yourself, and you aren’t helping those around you. Having someone within the church who equates something as beautiful and pure as the church, something that has SAVED my life from a REAL abusive relationship, to something as dirty and horrific as an abusive relationship, that is not going to bring positivity to ANYONE.

    Reply
    • alice

      Isolde-

      I am deeply, deeply sorry you had those experiences.

      Still, to deny that there is a spectrum of abuse and that some of it is emotional and spiritual rather than physical is a mistake. And to discount someone else’s experience because it’s not the same kind or degree as yours is cruel and possibly even more so since you understand what being treated as less than is.

      I’m sorry you didn’t stand up for yourself before it escalated. I’m proud of the author because she’s identifying what’s not productive to her life and spirituality and not acceptable to her.

      Reply
      • Wow

        Wow! First you piggy back on the suffering of real victims to make your message sound more dramatic than it really is. Then when you get called out on it by those victims, you call them cruel. You guys are so desperate to play the role of the victim that you’ll try and frame people who have had real suffering as aggressors. I remember a time when feminist put their pants on and showed the world they could do anything a man could. After following this blog for the past few weeks, it seems that all feminists do now is cry that their the damsel in distress and that they need to be rescued. If this is what a feminist is then I don’t want to be called one anymore.

      • alice

        Wow-

        Please note that I am not the author of this entry. I made one post in response so do not charge me with responsibility for the author’s statements or the author with responsibility for mine or either of us with responsibility for the aggregate of feminism.

        Secondly, I certainly do think that the experiences we have in our individual lives are tools to help us understand and empathize with one another. We have ALL experienced cruelty. To know how that feels and use our personal experience as a weapon to delegitimize someone else’s is indeed cruel in my opinion.

        Thirdly, you have absolutely no idea how anyone who writes or comments here lives their lives. You know nothing of the works of charity and constructive efforts they make to empower others’ lives. So you have no business on earth judging how the efforts of feminists may or may not have degraded.

        Finally, you have demonstrated a lack of ability to discern the individuality of posters and the limits of this kind of communication and your own authority. Consequently, I think you’ve already discredited your own commentary.

      • interstellar_pig

        Alice, I’m sure you are well intentioned, but your comment seems awfully insensitive.

      • alice

        Interstellar-

        Insensitive? Listen, you’re more than entitled to your opinion but I don’t think so. Definite? Unequivocal? Yup! For sure. I am finished forever with that position that a woman who thinks of her own primary needs last is exhibiting virtue. Uh-uh. She’s exhibiting victimhood and, usually, eventually, passive-aggressive behavior.

        It’s like all the airlines tell us every time we get on a plane: when the oxygen masks come down, you put on your own first. That’s not aggression or selfishness. It’s a purely pragmatic step to equip yourself to actually be of service to others instead of struggling in a situation designed for maximum failure. And asking for or expecting something else is unrighteous dominion.

    • curtispenfold

      I don’t think the writer claimed to be in a physically abusive relationship with the LDS Church, but it doesn’t seem so crazy to say that what the writer is describing sounds pretty abusive, even if it’s not physically so. Fists aren’t the only way people (or organizations in this case) abuse those who are close to them.

      I’m sorry you went through all of that, though, regardless.

      Reply
  2. emmasrandomthoughts

    “My church has no mechanism to hold priesthood holders accountable for unrighteous dominion.”

    It is painfully obvious to this outside observer that this is a HUGE problem within the LDS community.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      “My church has no mechanism to hold priesthood holders accountable for unrighteous dominion.”

      That statement is false by the way. Just so you know.
      This blog is not the place to find objective information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The posts here are in large part extremely biased against the church and very often misrepresent the facts they use to support their views.

      Reply
      • emmasrandomthoughts

        I’ll ask this question just because I’m curious.

        What is the mechanism that holds priesthood holders accountable for unrighteous dominion?

        Suppose I had a fourteen year old daughter. Suppose she was speaking to our bishop about an incident of sexual impropriety. The bishop then begins asking my fourteen year old daughter about her underwear. (What kind of underwear were you wearing at the time? What kind of underwear are you wearing now?) In other words, he begins asking me questions that are incredibly inappropriate.

        What should my next move be? Can she confess to a bishop to another ward? Can she confess anonymously to a bishop in another ward? Can my family transfer wards with impunity? Can I report the bishop to the stake president?

        I’m very serious. If there is a way that the members of the ward can challenge the unrighteous dominion of priesthood holders, then what is the mechanism? How does it work? It seems to me that the LDS church could heal a lot of people and prevent much of the suffering simply by explaining and publicizing this mechanism to the members of their church.

  3. Ed Firmage, Jr.

    I think the usual advice for people in an abusive relationship is to leave it. Like an abused partner, Anonymous has difficulty doing so, but will not be happy until she does. I suspect she knows this. She is mistaken, however, if she thinks that a relationship with the Catholic Church will be essentially different.

    Reply
  4. Sherry Johns

    I was in a very abusive LDS temple marriage for 29 years. “Mr. Righteous Mormon Man” raped me many times, believing that I was his because of the temple sealing ceremony. When I could finally say the words, marital rape, he was disciplined (slapped on the wrist) and we divorced 18 months later. I was not only abused sexually, emotionally, and physically by X, but I do feel I was abused by the male leaders of the church as well. My needs were NOT talked about or met during those awful years. I later married a NOMO and am shunned in my ward. No one wants to hear me speak my truth, even when I am respectful and thoughtful. So YES, I do agree with the original post. Sometimes the church is abusive….

    Reply
  5. Joan Williams-Okon

    I find this post most interesting and I understand first hand spiritual abuse. It is shameful when those who are in a position of leadership can not be counted on to lead. The option that I took over the years when one church after another life to me, manipulated me , and yes, practice mind control tactics on me; I left organized religion for good. I know there is a God, and I know he love me. I no longer need that affirmation from any church leader or organization.
    I hope you find peace ; but trust me you won’t find it in another human being: it is only in God and yourself.

    Reply
  6. clark

    Maybe it’s a common theme here on this site, the idea that one’s personal experiences and mindset are supremely important and that the church damn well better conform itself to my guidelines instead of me conforming to it. Please don’t suggest that I am ignoring the obvious pain and clearly poor behavior described by the author and in some of the comment. I get it. I might not fully understand it, nor do I expect that others might understand the pain I have experienced in life. We are imperfect and often do really lousy things to each other, despite how “good” we might be in most areas of our lives. Yeah, so we’re not the Ozzie and Harriet generation.

    For years I competed in athletics at the highest level and there was clearly a difference between the men and the women. I was hardly the best at my sport, but I was better than all but perhaps 10 women in the world given equal circumstances. Faster, stronger, could jump higher, etc. No contest. I was taught to be courteous to women, to be a gentleman, to respect womanhood as the fairer sex. But honestly, in today’s world of somewhat level playing fields, of groups of women appearing to besmirch all men because of the actions of a few, I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and dive into the gender wars. No more Mr. Nice Guy, especially to the rising generation. I feel motivated to sound the warning to my sons and any others who might not recognize the revolution that is well under way. Nice guys finish last used to mean that the other guys finished ahead. Now it means that there will be a bunch of women who take advantage of that nice “weakness” to further their own agendas. Expect a push back.

    Reply
  7. alice

    clark-

    Please point out where anyone here made the slightest remark you could interpret as “besmirch[ing] all men because of the actions of a few”. Seriously! Please find ONE comment here that resembles your accusation in any way.

    It looks like you just tarred all women because of something you heard (or thought you heard) elsewhere. Do you get the irony of that?

    Nice to hear about your physical prowess. And that you’re a nice guy.

    Reply
  8. clark

    “I am ashamed to say that my mother was raped, I molested, and my friend sexually assaulted by Mormon men who faced no discipline for their actions.”

    The implication to me by the use of “Mormon men” is that the unidentified perps could have been any man who is Mormon.

    I believe a little tarring is in order as part of the great awakening that needs to take place among the men of this generation who have been blinded by their wives, mothers, and church leaders and can’t see the vicious undertone of some in the mormon feminist movement. If we’re going to fight then let’s drop the thin veneer of civility and have at it.

    Oh, and that physical prowess was 30 years ago, as if you give a hoot with your acid-laced phony compliment. As for being “nice”? I think we both know the answer to that.

    Reply
    • alice

      “The implication to me by the use of “Mormon men” is that the unidentified perps could have been any man who is Mormon.”

      Seriously?

      It seems pretty clear to me that refers to one Mormon man who was married to the poster’s mother, one Mormon man who molested the poster and one (or possibly more) Mormon man/men who molested the poster’s friend. Is the constellation of “Mormon men” really reduced to 3 (or 4 or 5) men the poster describes with specificity in your universe?

      And tarring is *required* of Mormon men so that an entire generation of women will bd forced into your definition of them? At least you admit your “nice guy” persona is just a veneer you’re ready to drop.

      clark, I was ready to assume you were the nice guy you claimed to be letting your emotions and some hyperbole run away with you but now it seems pretty clear that you’re an dyed in the wool misogynist using a few random events to rationalize toxic attitudes. You should really take a look at yourself. You’re expressing a lot of hatred, insecurity and seriously unsaintly behavior.

      Reply
  9. e

    fyi – Maxine Hanks is a rebaptized member of the church. Her voice is welcome.

    Reply
  10. B

    I hope whoever wrote this will read this: I am sorry. I am sorry that this your college experience. I am sorry that the place the should safe isn’t and most of I am sorry we as church members are failing to keep their “promise” to comfort those that stand in need of comfort. I am at BYU right now and I’m not going to pretend that I’m not a little scared luckily my ward is good not perfect, but I cringe a lot less then have in others. If you need some to talk to, vent to, have buy ice cream for you, or scream at let me know.

    Reply
  11. Hailey

    I find this comparison to an abusive relationship really interesting. I wonder if perhaps you got the idea from Kate Kelly – I heard her describing her excommunication in the same terms- that it was an abusive act.

    Good article, really made me stop and think.

    Reply
  12. Kristi DeFuchs

    This is truly heartbreaking, Anonymous. However, I can assure you at your experience is completely unlike that of many other Latter-day Saint women (and men!) around the world. Though I don’t know firsthand, I’ve heard many people say that the culture of Utah—and especially BYU—is significantly different than that of the Church in general. If so, it seems to me that your abusive relationship is not with the Church so much as it is with Utah culture.

    I’ve personally been a member of the Church in three different states and one foreign country, and in no case have I ever felt the kind of crushing homodoxy you describe. I’ve also personally questioned Church policy on many occasions, including one where, after failing to receive satisfaction at the ward or stake level, I called Church headquarters and, when no one else knew how to answer my question, was eventually transferred to the President of the Church’s office. And guess what: the policy got changed! Was that due to me or others like me? I don’t know, but it certainly happened!

    My suggestion: leave BYU. There are plenty of other great schools out there. I never even considered BYU, and I got a great education. Find an appropriate university in some other state or country and go there. Stay active in the Church. Discover what it can and should be. If you’re honestly willing to give it a chance, I promise you won’t be sorry.

    Reply
    • curtispenfold

      I don’t know how you could separate BYU from the LDS Church. Thomas S. Monson is on the board. The decisions are often said to be received by revelation.

      It’s not a cultural thing that makes it possible for a bishop or stake president to kick you out of BYU for any reason he wants to, essentially evicting you from your home and firing you from your job (if you work for BYU).

      That’s not a cultural issue right there. That’s a policy that comes from a University that’s run by the LDS Church.

      Reply
  13. Beth

    I was working through counseling from past abuse and recognized the similarities in the church. I wholeheartedly agree with this post. I might add, Does your partner control how you dress?

    Down to my underwear!

    Reply
  14. blamegame101

    I agree with the writer of this post there is an overwhelming tendency within the church to abuse women, cage them and try to diminish them. I have/had felt it for many years. It takes a lot to walk away(like I did), even more to speak up and attempt to bring to light anything of this nature. Cheers to the writer for their bravery, courage and forthright manner in this post. If it helps one other person, one other woman or makes one person think and change their actions, we are all the better for it.

    Reply
  15. Femme de la Ren

    I grew up non-LDS in Provo, UT. As a result of the cultural practices and dynamics in that area I’ve been in therapy for complex PTSD. A lot of the behavior outlined in this post is not limited to members’ relationships, as I also experienced a relationship with the LDS church and many of its membership which was abusive in this same manner. A professor (lifetime LDS member) at Weber State did an interesting study on conflict management (link below), finding that Utahns and LDS members (especially Utahn LDS members) have high increases in passive-aggressive behavior (also a behavior in carrying out abuse). It seems to fit in with this post. I hope the author of this has found a place of peace and safety in their journey.

    https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/passive-aggression-among-the-latter-day-saints/

    Reply
  16. Social Constructs and Perspectives | Femme de la Ren

    […] Having been LDS for a large part of my formative years, I understand within the greater U.S.A. Mormons are minorities, and often times have marginalizing experiences from this. Having also been non-LDS since my teen years I know first hand what it feels like to be a minority in Utah, and frankly out of the two the non-LDS in Utah are getting the short end of the stick due to the disenfranchisement of their negative experiences through insistent martyrdom acted out by LDS members during conflicts. Sociologist Patricia Hill Collins detailed this in her Matrix of Domination model, which illustrates social privilege and punishment are relative to a person’s given social position at the time of consideration, and the duality present in having privilege in a given aspect and punishment in another. The realities being navigated by people are complex and dynamic; yes, LDS people have been mistreated over their differences, but they have also mistreated others greatly in return while hiding behind negative experiences most people aren’t trying to deny acknowledgment of. It’s a social reality that LDS have a position of privilege in Utah, while non-LDS don’t; more importantly, it is possible through the Matrix of Domination to acknowledge openly both side’s experiences. The insistence on denying the struggles of minorities in Utah and the majority’s role in said struggle is characteristic of the behaviors present in domestic violence, a behavior problem highlighted by an anonymous LDS member last summer in a powerful explanation of their experience as a gay Mormon. […]

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: