Ecclesiastical Abuse

The demographic of the Bloggernacle and the Facebook groups that feed off it skews to the young. For most of the participants, if something happened before Al Gore invented the Internet, it may as well not have happened at all. But for those of us a little bit older, we actually remember those pre-Internet days. We used to read, you know, dead trees and stuff, not just pixels.

In the early 90s, the concept of spiritual or ecclesiastical abuse was a thing. A group of people, including Lavina Fielding Anderson, Janice Allred, Paul Toscano (and I assume Paul’s wife Margaret), and perhaps a few others formed a nonprofit corporation on July 4, 1992, named the “Mormon Alliance.” (This became a precursor to some of the September Six excommunications a little over a year later.) Lavina and Janice coedited a series called “Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance,” which used to be available on the internet but now so far as I can discern after determined searching are not. That’s too bad; there was some really interesting (and almost always sad) stuff in those publications. I in particular remember reading the ones about Steven Epperson, David Wright and George Pace.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Mormon Alliance and this chapter of recent Mormon history, here are some readings to get you started. I am intentionally not going to provide links, in the hope that readers will become accustomed to finding articles like this on their own:

Lavina Fielding Anderson, “The LDS Intellectual Community and Church Leadership: A Contemporary Chronology,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Spring 1993): 7-64.

Paul James Toscano, “Dealing with Spiritual Abuse: The Role of the Mormon Alliance,” Sunstone (July 1993): 32-39.

Levi S. Peterson, “Lavina Fielding Anderson and the Power of a Church in Exile,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Winter 1996): 169-78.

I mention the above partly to open a window to a specific time and place in recent Mormon history that I believe most of our young internet cohort knows next to nothing about. My second motive is the hope that some web wizard might be able to point me to readable copies somewhere online of the Case Reports. But my third and main motive for raising all of this is to set the context for a personal story.

When this was happening in the early 90s, I remember asking myself whether I felt I had ever experienced or been harmed by spiritual abuse. And I recall thinking the answer was “no,” but there was one incident that came perilously close. That is the story I wish to share with you today.

My last area on my mission was in Pueblo, Colorado. I was there for three months just prior to returning to my home in Illinois in 1979. I then got a job and started working to make money so I could return to school at BYU in January 1980.

At some point after my mission, a few months I want to say, I received a letter from my MP. Essentially it said that there had been extensive damage done to that Pueblo apartment; they didn’t know who had done it; so to be fair, they were allocating the repair costs among the last so many missionaries who had lived there (6 or 8 or 10, I don’t recall anymore, and I don’t possess the letter). I don’t recall exactly what my allocation was, but it was something like $600 or $800. Being financially tapped out after two years on a mission, and working like a dog trying to get back to school, that was not an insubstantial amount of money to me.

I wrote him back, and calmly informed him I would not be paying. I had not damaged the apartment in any way, and I cited two lines of evidence toward that conclusion. First, the apartment was a duplex, and the son of the owners lived in the other unit. He was disabled, both physically and to an extent mentally, and part of the deal for missionaries having the other unit was that we were supposed to keep an eye on their son/our neighbor. We were happy to do this and visited with him almost daily and became good friends with him. He would have been a witness that our apartment was in good order during my time there. Second, my MP must have forgotten that we hosted a district meeting in our apartment which he and his wife attended just shortly before I went home. If there were thousands of dollars worth of damage, one would think he or his wife would have noticed.

He sent me a response, saying something lame about his recollection being that the apartment was not as clean as it should have been (which was probably true; we were, after all, missionaries), but that was basically the end of it. Since I was already home he had zero leverage over me, and that was that.

Later in Provo I ran into my last mission companion from that apartment, and I asked him about this, and he gave me the straight skinny. The set of missionaries one or two after us were the ones who trashed the apartment (they had knives and took them to drapes, furninshings, walls, etc.) [They also ignored or possibly even made fun of our neighbor.] The owners were beyond mad, they were furious, not the least for the treament of their son. My comp told me that the MP knew exactly who had done this, but the damage was so extensive that they couldn’t recoup the cost from just those two elders. So he had conferred with his file leader in the 70, who told him to do what he did as a way of spreading the cost around.

Now, I didn’t feel abused by this situation because I stood up to protect myself. Even if I had still been in-mish when this happened, there was no way in hell I was going to pay that charge levied against me. He could have made my life miserable or sent me home, but I’ll never know what might have happened if I hadn’t been gone already.

John C.’s recent post is what got me to thinking about this story. Because what these church leaders did was wrong, but I can understand their thinking. My MP was following the instructions of his file leader. The 70 was trying to protect the tithing funds of the church, normally a good thing to do. To do it on the backs of innocent misisonaries was in my biased view unquestionably wrong. But, as John expressed, I didn’t put men like that on a pedastal far above me; they were just humans who made a human mistake. It didn’t end up harming me, so I was more than willing to let it go.

Comments

  1. Kevin, much of the Case Reports documentation is still online through use of the Wayback Machine that the UPenn archive points to in their online books link. It’s not complete or necessarily easily navigated but some of it is there.

    http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/serial?id=crma

  2. I prefer the term ecclesiastical abuse rather than spiritual abuse, but that’s not the point here. I think that in most cases where this kind of abuse is perceived, it is usually the result of someone not having all the information, or totally misunderstanding circumstances. After all, as both of these posts point out, leaders are human, and many of us have been in leadership positions where one does the best they can with what they have. And in those situations where you ask your leader for advice, sometimes they will just give you advice, and other times they will tell you in firmer terms what to do. We’d all like to say that every decision a leader does is inspired, and I believe more often than not it is, but we can’t always know what questions need to be asked in prayer, and how to deal with the issue of “no answer.” There are and have been cases of ecclesiastical abuse that I am aware of. I know it happens, but honest open discussions usually can limit the damages, and often the motivations are, as in your example, more complex than is often understood.

  3. Ardis E. Parshall says:

    I don’t see abuse in this story. No, the request wasn’t just, but that doesn’t make it ecclesiastical or spiritual abuse, or even “perilously close” to that. It would have been spiritual abuse only if there had been the threat (carried out or not) of spiritual consequences — being restricted from taking the sacrament until you had paid, say, or being preached at until you felt you were dishonoring the priesthood by refusing to obey. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t class this even as unrighteousness dominion, just a lame attempt to spread the burden.

  4. Ardis E. Parshall says:

    But I sure agree with you about the need for better understanding of recent history. Sometimes people are totally unaware; other times they have a skewed view of the recent past because they know only what an incident has come to mean in agenda-laden Internet lore.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Alain. I was wondering whether the Wayback Machine might be an avenue to those publications, but I’m not at all adept at trying to use it.

    Ardis, compared to what some people endured on their missions, I agree that my little story is a trifle.

  6. marginalizedmormon says:

    There are different kinds of ecclesiastical abuse. There are times when bishops/stake presidents coerce people (especially parents) to defy or deny the needs of disabled family members, in order to make the leaders feel good about having everyone involved in a program.

    Then there are blatant forms of abuse. One example that happened in my own family. Our family was cleaning the church. One of us had just cleaned the stake offices. The trashes had been emptied and the floors had been vacuumed. At the end of the cleaning time the family member went back to that area to make sure the doors were closed (and the windows, which had been opened to freshen the room).

    The stake president had come in and made a huge mess on the floor by one of the trash cans. He had seen our family finishing up; he had even talked to someone and found out that we had almost completed our work.

    But he insisted that the family member who had already cleaned up the stake offices remain and clean up his paper mess. The family member hesitated, knowing he had already done the cleaning–
    The stake president’s wife was standing nearby and, looking disturbed, turned to her husband and said, “Brother _____________ has already cleaned this area; didn’t you see how neat it was when you came in here and made that mess. Clean the mess up yourself, honey!”–

    It was, needless to say, an awkward moment for our family member. The stake president was quite insistent and very authoritative, until his wife stepped in. After she did, he quickly picked up his mess.

    This particular stake president has had other instances of similar behavior, some even more extreme than this one.

  7. it's a series of tubes says:

    blatant forms of abuse

    So far, the stories recited in this thread, and instances of “abuse” appear to be, well, divergent. Examples of prickish behavior? Certainly. Abuse? Seems far short of the mark. Sometimes throwing around a label willy-nilly has the result of minimizing the seriousness of instances of truly abusive behavior.

  8. I think “ecclesiastical abuse” is a powerful team of words and we should be careful about assigning them to someone who might just be being an unmitigated jerk. Ardis’ point about a threat, whether implied or actually carried out, would be an important part of understanding of actual abuse. That’s not so say some in leadership skirt that line, and smear it to all shades of gray, but I do think in this case semantics matter.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    In case people missed it, my conclusion was that I was *not* abused in this case. But it was worth thinking about.

  10. I’m not sure if this is ecclesiastical abuse or spiritual abuse or both. For me, I think it was both. I had worked in primary for 9 years. I asked to be release and to serve somewhere else. They called me to nursery. The member of the bishopric said they felt very strongly about it. I went and prayed about it. My answer was that I could serve there but it wasn’t a calling from Him. I told the councilor my answer to my prayer and turned down the call. He told me my answer was wrong and to go pray again. I did and got the same answer. I told him again and was told that they hold the priesthood and that my answer was wrong and to pray again. I did and got the same answer and told him no. From this experience, it made me doubt all answers I had received from years of prayers. It did try my faith and I quit going to church for a while. I know they aren’t perfect but when the priesthood is used this way to force you into something, it’s wrong.

  11. Ecclesiastical or Spiritual Abuse is an interesting concept… was wondering. Do you think there could also be such a thing as Ecclesiastical/Spiritual neglect?

  12. Sorry. I’ll take out “abuse” and maybe use “misconduct”.

  13. marginalizedmormon says:

    @7–

    this same SP disfellowshipped someone for disregarding his orders regarding something that should have been a personal choice. He’s been known to tantrum, and there are people in the stake who are ‘afraid’ of discipline. I call that abuse. So when such a person insists you clean up a mess after him . . .–

    it gets uncomfortable.

    Most people who abuse are just bullies or haven’t grown up–
    this SP follows that pattern. Some people value their church membership enough to keep a low profile until a new SP is called and then hope he’s more reasonable.

  14. marginalizedmormon says:

    @10, wow, I had my TR challenged for much less than that. You are a courageous soul.

    How about unrighteous dominion? Maybe that’s a good word. Calling it ‘ecclesiastical abuse’ just made it a bit more mainstream. How many non-LDS use the term “unrighteous dominion” after all?

  15. Ecclesiastical abuse does occur, although IMO it is far less frequent than plain human error, arrogance, and/or stupidity.

    Shortly after my family joined the church in the mid-1970s, my mother and I both went in for temple recommends in our Indiana ward for a youth trip to the Washington, D.C. temple (at the time, the closest one to us). The bishop denied both of us–my mother because she admitted to seeing the occasional R-rated film, me (at the age of 14) for admitting that I drank Coke, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper. My mother was so furious and disillusioned that we nearly left the church. Instead, she got in her car, drove to SLC, and went directly to church headquarters and demanded to meet with a GA. The upshot was that, about six weeks later, both of us received recommends and we had a new bishop. That, I think, constituted ecclesiastical abuse.

  16. Kev, I didn’t miss it- my comment was actually directed at marginalizedmormon. I agree with your assessment of your own story, and think it’s a good opener for discussion.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    AJ, wow, that’s an impressive mom you’ve got!

  18. I was excommunicated 4 years after being disfellowshipped for brief duration sexual sin. When I appeared for the disciplinary council, I was met in the parking lot by the SP a man I had know most of my life who asked me one question; “Are you planning to come back to church?” as if that had something to do with what I was being charged with. My answer was “Probably not right now.” I was told; “Then there is no need for you to attend the disciplinary council”. Registered mail informed me of the love court’s decision. Returning to the church many years later I was met with much foot dragging despite a strong testimony, being completely repentant and totally worthy. At that point there was no question that I was square with Christ and I walked in the Spirit daily but somehow I wasn’t yet square with the church! As time went on it became clear that the church while well meaning has slipped into apostasy by allowing what passes for revelation to be watered down to weak inspiration. Yes the LDS church retains the authority of the restoration but unfortunately it lacks the power of the restoration. What need have we of “Prophets, Seers and Revelators” who do not prophesize, share visions or reveal? Today an administrative change in missionary age is billed as a miracle by an “Apostle”! What kind of miracle is this? If our prophets are only operating on occational weak inspiration what can we expect from our SPs and Bishops? Truly we have slipped to the point of the nearly blind leading the blind.

  19. Might I also recommend Phillip Lindholm’s interviews with most of the September Six in is volume, Latter-day Dissent. http://www.gregkofford.com/products/latter-day-dissent-at-the-crossroads-of-intellectual-inquiry-and-ecclesiastical-authority

  20. Good thoughts, Kevin. The semantics around “spiritual” or “ecclesiastical abuse” are interesting, and I’m not so sure that what occurred doesn’t cross that line.

    I’m curious, do you trust the summary of the missionary you later ran into? (It sounds as though you do.) I ask because that account takes the story from one of, perhaps laziness at worst (a failure to find out who was really responsible), to a whole new level: A concerted effort by a person in authority to coax money dishonestly (the MP knew who was responsible but claimed he did not) from those he once had (and presumably still had, for those in the field) authority over.

  21. Meldrum the Less says:

    I agree with Tracy M that an element of severity needs to be included to call it abuse. The examples given above are not that severe, although painful for those involved.

    Better examples, all either personal or friends:
    *Bishop slaps a sassy 13 year old girl across the face hard enough to knock her down after shaking her. Even though she provoked him severely (demanding that she be given the Priesthood among other things).
    *Primary Presidency systematically kicks a 10 year old boy out of primary over 20 times for asking disturbing questions and tells him he doesn’t have to tell his parents as long as he just wanders around the church grounds. This without reporting the problem to the parents.
    *Young father, small but former college wrestler, breaks up a fight between two older hefty teenage brothers at YM.Their father in the Bishopric falsely reports to police that the young father is abusing his own small children resulting in his arrest and his children are put into foster care for a time. Bishopric father of older boys decides not to testify to it after opening arguments where the Bishop listening in the courtroom realizes they will be trapped in their lies. Case is lost. Young father goes inactive, family eventually follows.
    *Bishop instructs a man to threaten to divorce his wife when she has a crisis of faith, saying that will bring her back to her senses. Doesn’t work.
    * Bishop tries to put a stop to a group of teenage girls over-stuffing their bras with cotton and later water-balloons and their putting on dramatic performances in meetings (talks, singing, etc). Bra size is added to the questions in the quarterly interviews of female youth.

    Way back, at least 30-40 years:
    *Six boys (ages 15 -16) sexually molest 3 girls (age 13) after MIA. Father of 1 girl with help from his best friend (EQP) beats the boys up, takes them out in a swamp and ties them to cyprus trees, telling them in graphic detail how the gators will get them. They later stage a “miraculous” rescue by the Bishop the next morning before dawn. (Bishop has a son and daughter involved). No law enforcement summoned due to perceptions of persecution and desires to avoid the church being ridiculed in the newspapers. Parents of boys concede since it avoids prison for their boys (4 of 6 later serve missions). Parents of girls, all ward leaders, concede to preserve the reputation of their daughters’ virtue.
    *Non-LDS high school boy in rural LDS town dates and gets engaged to Bishop’s daughter. Is told by concerned LDS friends to drop her or else. He is found dead in bed in his messy second story bedroom Sat morning by his mother with gunshot wound in groin/femoral area that bled out slowly. Parents and sibling home all evening, didn’t hear gunfire. He returned home late as usual after a date and went to bed without being seen by family. He owns a .22 rifle, it is tipped over in his closet, door ajar and it is loaded. Friends of the girl immediately spread rumor that it is a suicide, authorities rule it suspicious but undetermined after nearly a year.Other rumors implicate the father of the girl.

    We have made considerable progress in this area over the years. What is still needed is some sort of check and balance. Stake presidents almost always support Bishops and it is difficult to push most problems beyond that level. It is the price we pay for a strong central leadership structure.

  22. whizzbang says:

    oh man. I can recite stories about abuse, physical or otherwise in this area of Canada. I’ll share two briefly. Long story short girl grows up in an abusive home where the dad was my and their Bishop. She goes out to Alberta gets pregnant. Comes back, the father now on the High Council convenes some kind of court with his friends in “high places” and exes her. He illegally exed his own daughter” He WAS a Bishop but then wasn’t and definately wasn’t her Bishop. Course she doesn’t want anything to do with the Church.
    Second is a man here molested his daughter for years and is emotionally abusive to his wife. I had heard he cheated on her but can’t confirm that for sure. Daughter turns 18 and has sex and she gets exed from the Church. He gets called to be the YSA Branch Pres. I was in his YSA Branch but knew none of his shady past. I found out from the daughter and son both of whom aren’t active but where at one time. Anyways, the wife complains to the Stake Presidency that her husband has a nefarious past. They brush her off and says, “oh, he wouldn’t do that, he’s a good man”… So the wife shuts up and says nothing to nobody. Guy gets released from being Branch Pres. and is put in as a counselor in the Temple Pres. Complaints come in from several people about this, the Church investigates but he lies his way through, according to his son he told me. So, he serves in a Temple Pres. for a couple years and the couple move out to Edmonton where he was a sealer. He later died and I figure the mills of the Gods grinds slow but exceedingly fine. if I had known then what I know now,..

  23. Seriously, Meldrum? LDS Bishop kills potential son-in-law because he’s not LDS? Gimme a break.

  24. Chris Kimball says:

    Abuse is almost always associated with a power relationship (maybe always, maybe that’s definitional). If the abuser has a church calling that creates a sense of power, then it might be fair to call any abuse by that person “ecclesiastical” abuse, no matter how the abuse is manifested. In reality, however, a large majority of persons in such a position in the Mormon church are adult anglo straight men with a job and property and standing, that is, a whole raft of power positions, any one or all of which could be active in supporting the abuse.

    So I tend to think of “ecclesiastical abuse” in a narrower sense, as just two kinds of behavior:
    (a) withholding sacraments (temple recommend, baptism, eucharist) for inappropriate reasons including to force or enforce behavior, and
    (b) playing God’s voice, i.e., “my revelation trumps yours, this is the voice of God to you.”
    (For the record, but limited to my imperfect memory, when I was in a position of authority I did not ever play “God’s voice” but I did withhold sacraments–always for reasons I thought were good at the time but mostly regret in retrospect.)

    It is pretty easy to see abuse in the inappropriate or extreme or fraudulent or manipulative withholding and voicing. However, I have come to believe that withholding and voicing are never appropriate, that doing so is not within the authority or responsibility of church leaders. I believe that my understanding or position is way outside orthodoxy and represents a different understanding of the Church than the Church–by its leaders–has of itself. But let it stand as a challenge. When and why would withholding or voicing ever be correct?

  25. Stephanie says:

    I don’t have a problem calling this story ecclesiastical abuse. The definition of abuse is “the improper use of something”. Using your “authority” as an ecclesiastical leader to strong arm kids into paying for something they didn’t do and don’t owe sounds like the improper use of church authority to me.

  26. wreddyornot says:

    Would not forbidding the inquiry into Heavenly Mother by any person in an authoriative position in the Church be an ecclesiatical abuse?

  27. *Two young single sisters in a college branch report branch president for ignoring a date rape and blaming the sister (immodest clothes). Quickly, the branch president was released. The sisters who reported it were threatened with being disfellowshiped for not sustaining the leaders. (Nothing happened). In the process, the BP’s hidden affair with another sister came to light.

    *What about socio-spiritual abuse? I’m sure there are many forms. I’m thinking of the mothers who lived lifetimes as outcasts for being unrighteous working women. Week after week- for decades, the stigma was crushing. Then, consider the Vietnam vet who lived his entire life struggling with employment issues and low wages despite herculean efforts. Week after week, he sat an watched wealthy men be praised for their righteousness and called to high positions. He sat through countless lessons and talk about how righteous men provide for their families.

    *The (insert high calling)______’s wife who is a Queen Bee and socially bullies not only other adult women, but the other women’s children (especially the daughters).

    *The YW or YM clique — ’nuff said.

    *The adult clique- (insert type here_____ wealth, neighborhood, leadership, same profession, political party, old land, etc.)

  28. Kevin Barney says:

    John, yes, I trust my last companion’s account.

  29. I had kind of a weird experience with my Patriarch. After I got my Patriarchal blessing, he told me that he felt that he should explain to me what part of my blessing meant. I felt completely the opposite and kind of smiled and nodded, but ignored him. I ended up not doing what he told me to, and have always been pretty sure that was the right decision. But if I had been the kind of person who thought that you should do what your priesthood leaders told you to, I would have been really torn about this decision and might have gone with what he said. It was a major decision and my life would probably be pretty different. I’ve never known how to feel about what happened because he really had the best intentions, and it isn’t like he told me to do something that would have been damaging or anything. But it was still wrong for him to presume to interpret, even though he was the one who had given me the blessing. It just seems like it is way too easy to cross lines when you are a priesthood leader, especially since everyone has a different understanding of where those lines are. Anyway, I wouldn’t call this abuse at all, but it has made me think about even minor actions can have pretty big impacts on the lives of those involved.

  30. anon for this says:

    Revealing what I feel was at least ecclesiatical over-reaching…
    My sister’s husband recently passed away. He was not LDS and I knew that their nearly 50 year marriage was a real trial for many years. They lived together but were definitely estranged for at least 25 years and he was actively dismissive of her. In helping her to do some cleaning out after the funeral, I came across some handwritten documents that he had made and copied, presumably to distribute to their children to explain their strained relationship. He vigorously pointed to the exact time of strain in their relationship. My sister had visited with her bishop to get a recommend to attend the temple, soon after the policy change where one spouse could attend without the other. She confessed to pre-marital sex (more than 15 years earlier and even though there was a subsequent strong marriage and 5 children-none conceived prior to wedding). Bishop disfellowshiped her for one year before she could obtain a TR. This put extreme strain on the marriage that was never healed.
    I know that the relationship problem was between the partners, but I feel that it was extreme to punish for long ago behavior. Maybe I rationalize and don’t really accept the seriousness of the sin and the requirement for public confession and punishment.

  31. “One fine day in the middle of the night,
    Two dead boys got up to fight…”

  32. Meldrum the Less says:

    If it please the moderator, all but the first 2 sentences of submission #21 may be deleted. During my nightly trot with the Lord it was manifest to me that there be many reading this of a literal bent who may not bear the message. Sour milk before rotten meat.

  33. Meldrum the Less says:

    Ben #23
    Give me a break. I don’t know what happened to this boy and he meant a lot to me and my family. Neither do those trained and paid to find out. If I was convinced the Bishop was directly and personally involved, I probably would have taken him out myself, knowing the way I was back then as a youth. That was along time ago in a place that does not exist and hard to describe. Suffice it to say that it was thinkable, a point your remark vividly demonstrates has changed and thanks be to God for it.

  34. During my freshman year at BYU, my SP did an anonymous question/answer session with my Relief Society. One of the questions was about the gender assymetry of plural sealings. Our SP, without citing Scripture or contemporary Prophetic dicta, said that polygamy is necessary for entrance into the Celestial Kingdom. His reasoning was that women are naturally more righteous than men and there will be more women in the Celestial Kingdom. I usually don’t swear (especially when I’m trying to be articulate), but the phrase “sh*t-eating grin” is what comes to mind when I think of his expression after saying that. It took me years to get over the pain that followed that meeting, mostly because during the 17 years before that point I was taught that a Priesthood leader could do no wrong. I feel like that was definitely spiritual and ecclesiastical abuse.

  35. I have observed ecclesiastical abuse over the years in the following areas:

    1. Sexual and/or physical abuse by bishops and/or stake presidents of their spouses or children.
    2. Denial of temple recommends for drinking Coke. (Elder McConkie visited our stake president and demanded that he eliminate that question in the TR interview).
    3. Cruel and demeaning comments made about stake or ward members by their leaders. Harrassment of members by ward or stake leaders to accept callings.
    4. Threats of excommunication or excommunication for reporting ecclesiastical abuse, ie. Lavina Fielding Anderson. I was threatened with excommunication when I reported horrific physical abuse a friend was experiencing at the hands of her bishop/husband to her stake president, and then, when it was ignored, to the area president. Her stake president, who lived in a neighboring stake, told me that if I had lived in his stake, he would have excommunicated me for reporting the documented abuse to the area authority.

    Although I have had many excellent leaders in the Church, I have also served with and under others who were abusive. My husband was a kind and caring bishop. Right now our stake president is an example of goodness and kindness. However, for every compassionate and loving ward/stake ecclesiastical leader I have had, I have also had a leader who was arbitrarily unkind, abusive, and/or cruel. I have also observed that some stakes have a legacy of compassionate leaders while other stakes experience one abusive leader after another. There appears to be cultures of abuse in certain areas of Zion. Unless you have lived in one of these areas, you may not understand what I am writing about, but the comments I have made are true and accurate.

  36. Kevin Barney says:

    I should probably add that, whether this is normal or miraculous I do not know, but every bishop I have had in my entire life has been a good, spiritual, kind, compassionate person. And the same is true of the Stake Presidents I have happened to be close enough to know fairly well. The whole lot have been men of God AFAIC.

  37. Straight Talker says:

    Come on! This church was built on ecclesiastic abuse from its foundation. Most cases cited here are mild vs. what JS and BY did.

  38. “(Elder McConkie visited our stake president and demanded that he eliminate that question in the TR interview).” Awesome

  39. @ straight talker…I am interested…what did JS do?

  40. Chris 8, Although there are probably local cultural attitudes that end up in attitudes of local church members (for example, Cambridge, MA is different from Pecos, TX in some ways), I think that there are also ecclesiastical structural reasons for the stability of local leadership culture. This could explain what you are reporting.

    This is how I think church structure could lead to that result. When a new stake president is called, recommendations are compiled and looked over by the visiting general authority, who usually doesn’t know anybody ahead of time. The recommendations come from the 20 or so “highest ranking” men in the stake. The list of who gets invited to make recommendations is made by the stake president. It usually includes all the bishops, and most of the high council, and a few other people. Because tenure of a stake president is usually longer than that of bishops, high council members, etc., most of them will have been called to their calling of prominence by the outgoing stake president. So I think it is pretty natural for local leadership culture to be stable, whatever that culture is, assuming that stake presidents have at least a partial tendency to choose people who are more similar to themselves than dissimilar from themselves and the recommenders have the same tendency. Because the sample size of recommenders is so large, even a relatively small tendency for choosing people with similar personalities will be evident in the tally that the GA does. The whole thing is of course more complicated, because maybe the bishops see the need for a new direction, or maybe the inspiration of the GA overcomes the statistical bias towards stability of the local church culture. But overall, this effect probably exists to some extent.

  41. JennyP1969 says:

    I’ve always been told that going outside the boundaries of any position, secular or ecclesiastical, is an “abuse of power.” Kevin, I believe that means your experience was an abuse of power/position/stewardship of your MP and his file leader. Though abuse may not be intended does not mean abuse didn’t occur. Also, there are multiple levels of abuse. Yours was more shallow, but nevertheless real. Others run very deep. I’ve experienced abuse of power in various ways and to various degrees. Though hurtful, they have made me a better servant than I might have been otherwise. And I’m not perfect, so this post gives me pause to think back on how I may have stepped across boundary lines in past callings and am guilty of 2nd degree abuse, or perhaps “involuntary abuse.” Hopefully, Pre-meditated abuse won’t turn up in my musings at all…..

  42. My YW President spread a highly exaggerated story about seeing me making out with a boy from my ward on the church lawn. Yes, the boy and I were sweet on each other. Yes, we had laid down on the church lawn and talked to each other (head-to-head, not even alongside each other). But we were as chaste as it was possible to be – I wasn’t 16 and the boy in question felt it would be morally wrong to kiss me when we weren’t even allowed to date. We even gave up chocolate together, just in case the WoW really was about caffeine (Oh, my youthful innocence). But my YW President didn’t even bother to ask. I was a wild-looking girl who didn’t visually conform, and seeing me with a boy (the brother of one of her most darling YW) confirmed all of her assumptions. The story was spread, I was shunned. Parents of girls who were my friends told their daughters not to hang out with me. I was tagged as trouble.

    Took a long time to let go of that. I finally realized that I lived in a ward full of mostly stupid, closed-minded, ignorant people, and that she was a miserable, deeply unhappy woman. And though that didn’t excuse her deeply nasty behaviour, it allowed me to have compassion for her. I’m sure I’m not the only person she hurt, and she’ll have to answer for all of it someday. But she’s still out there somewhere, probably still masquerading as a righteous person, possibly still doing damage.

  43. Researcher says:

    Oh my goodness, Meldrum. You have a positive gift for making regular old human interactions sound like a lurid exposé. I grew up in a suburban ward in an area with a heavy concentration of Mormons. The ward might have been a mile across at its largest.

    While I lived there the ward members included millionaires and paupers, politicians and artists, lawyers and doctors, teachers and government employees, businessmen and -women, groundskeepers and retired military men. One of the ward members was a bank robber, arrested in a dramatic police chase. Another was a child abuser who left a lasting scar on the community and his young victims and their families. There was alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic abuse, date rape, suicide, assault and battery. And that’s just what I knew about as a child, living in a household where the parents didn’t speak of such things.

    But along with that, the ward members formed loving connections with each other through weeks and months and years and decades of church and temple service. There were uncounted hours of practical support in times of sickness and death and other need. The ward rallied around ward members in times of crisis and prayed and fasted for each other. The bishops and Relief Society presidents spent untold hours helping disturbed youths and families. The youth programs worked. The young men got their Eagle Scout awards and the young women got their Personal Progress awards, and all were recognized in significant ways. People shared joys and sorrows. They brought in meals when babies were born, attended and helped with wedding receptions and funerals, and didn’t gossip too very much.

    I guess I just don’t realize how it’s possible to reduce all those interactions to a handful of lurid anecdotes. I know not everyone has the same experience at church; to my great sadness I currently live in a ward that due to issues including distance was unable to be of much support through an extended and very obvious family medical crisis. I know that people experience misogyny at church; much to my dismay, I experienced some of it myself a few weeks ago. I know that people have problems with the power structure; I’ve also personally seen and experienced difficulties arising from that.

    This discussion reminds me of one of my missionary companions. She would get so fixated on the state of the sidewalks (and in particular the people who didn’t clean up after their dogs) that she rarely looked around and appreciated the fact that there she was, living in Germany, with the beautiful scenery and intricate churches and fascinating people; the ex-soldiers who would talk about Stalingrad, the old ladies who would invite us in for herbal tea and cookies, the college students who would flirt, the kids who would pepper us with questions about America and Michael Jordan, the ward members who would feed us intricate and beyond-delicious meals.

    Life’s good, Meldrum. There are hardships, but there are also many beauties. Nature. Old people. Babies. Friendships old and new. A heart-felt testimony meeting. People who try their hardest to serve each other, even if they don’t get it right all the time.

  44. There is a reason that even trained psychologists and social workers need to get a special license to be trained in abuse.

    Abuse is not a one-off occasion. It is almost impossible, outside of dramatic circumstances, to determine if a story one shares on the internet actually consists of abuse without asking questions and delving into the relationship itself. Why? Because abuse is a DYNAMIC, based on the motivations and mindset of the participants. Everyone acts terribly from time to time. Things that seem perfectly reasonable can actually be abusive depending on context.

    For example, my ex once told me that I had offended a neighbor because I told her that bindweed and morning glory were the same plant. Was that abusive? Not in and of itself. Not until you know that one of the things he would tell me regularly is that I had no idea how to be kind to people, that I was constantly offending people whenever I opened my mouth. Not until you realize that this had created a fear in me that I would offend someone, a fear that caused me to silence myself and not make friends very easily.

    To determine if something is abusive, it helps to ask a few questions like the below.
    1) Is the person trying to control or force the recipient?
    2) Is the person wielding power over the recipient (the threat Ardis mentioned above)?
    3) Is the recipient afraid?
    4) Does the recipient believe him/herself capable of asking for help outside of that relationship?

    Of course, there is more to it than that, but it’s a start that hopefully shows how abuse is a dynamic, and not just a one-time action. There is a vast difference in breaking someone’s arm because one was doing something stupid, and breaking someone’s arm to intimidate them into doing what you want them to do. That is the same difference between being a jerk and abusing someone.

    The exact same action can sometimes be abuse in one circumstance, and just ignorance in another. A bishop telling a man to divorce his wife because her faith is fading is just monumentally stupid advice. But ecclesiastical abuse is when he tries to manipulate or force the man into divorcing his wife by threatening eternal damnation, etc.

    Hope that helps a little….

  45. Oops, let me clarify one thing. Ecclesiastical abuse is when he tries to manipulate or force the man into divorcing his wife by threatening eternal damnation, etc, or something that makes the man afraid of choosing otherwise. If the bishop threatens, but the person is not afraid, then it is threatening behavior, but not technically abuse.

  46. Kevin, Thanks for the interesting, thought-provoking post, not to mention the fascinating thread of responses. Are you surprised by any of your readers’ reactions? In my life, I’ve experienced what I interpret as three specific instances of possible ecclesiastical/spiritual abuse. Having read the comments above, however, I’m not sure how to characterize them. I know that at the time I felt bullied, even something like being abused. In retrospect, I’m not sure that abuse is the correct term. Still, I can’t say that it’s not. I know that each left a scar that’s healed but still remains.

  47. Kevin Barney says:

    Yeah, Gary, how to characterize widely varying experiences as abuse vel non is a fascinating question that seems to have come from the comments. In the case of the story in the OP, I didn’t perceive it as abuse because I had the capacity to defend myself and I wasn’t harmed by it. But what if I lacked that capacity, or what if I were still on my mission and my MP chose to punish me in any number of ways, including perhaps sending me home dishnorably? It seems as though the same eccelsiastical actions could be deemed abusive or not based on the totality of the circumstances involved.

  48. That difficult of definition and determination is exactly why abuse laws fail so spectacularly at protecting people.

  49. *difficulty

  50. Sharee Hughes says:

    A Stake President refuses to grant temple recommends to male members with facial hair (beards or mustaches). Another SP excommunicates young people who have been seen “making out,” even if they were just kissing. Spiritual abuse? I think so. In the case of the SP who withheld recommends from men with facial hair, when this was reported to a GA by one of the men so denied, that SP was released in short order and the Bishops re-instructed.

  51. @36, Kevin, thank you. For my part, 16 wards, 10 stakes or districts, 3 continents (not including mission). Whether miraculous or more normal than not, all good, decent, effort-giving men. I can’t say I personally liked all of them, but I didn’t doubt their men-of-godliness. I pray this is more common than a reading of the comments makes me feel.

  52. Sharee, although it is sad to hear about those experiences I am glad that there was some response.

  53. One thing the church is usually very serious about is local leaders adding questions to the TR question list.

  54. So does this count as “abuse”?: My mission president told me that if I didn’t do as he directed in a specific instance that my “patriarchal blessing would be invalidated.” I ask because I didn’t really feel abused. I just felt like the guy was jerk-off who was exceeding his authority. Does one have to feel abused in order to have been abused?

  55. Paul 2, I realize how stakes function when new stake presidents are called. I have been involved in stake leadership for years. Some of my experiences regarding ecclesiastical abuse have occurred while serving with and observing stake and ward leaders while serving with them. Perhaps if I had not been so heavily involved in Church leadership for so many years I would be more naive about the serious problems of ecclesiastical abuse that exist in the Church.

  56. Kevin Barney says:

    I heard from Lavina with respect to this post. I’ll quote her message below:

    Hi, Kevin:

    Brent tells me that you’ve posted something recently about that the Mormon Alliance case reports is a defunct publication. Certainly true that it’s taking forever to get Vol. 4 out, but it’ll be Duane Jennings’s study of Mormon theology that fully includes gays.

    Right now, we (meaning me and the incredible Nelson Henderson) are working on getting the newsletters on the webpage.

    Lavina

    I wrote back that their website didn’t seem to work anymore, and she gave me their new address, which is

    http://mormon-alliance.org/

    So the Case Reports are available there, and they are still in production, as well as the quarterly newsletters. I had assumed the whole enterprise had died, but I assumed wrong. At their website, they have a section talking about definitions of abuse, which might be useful to take a look at given the way the discussion has gone here.

  57. Anon for this says:

    Most church leaders do their best, and are loving, kind, good people. But Ecclesiastical abuse DOES happen-all the time. Just within my family and friends I could list examples.

    I have a family member who did absolutely nothing wrong beyond being out “past curfew” in a Provo ward. She was sexually assaulted by a “good Mormon boy.” When she told her bishop about it, he blamed her for being out late, implied it was her fault, and pressured her not to talk. He said things that implied threat of church discipline to HER. She kept quiet, went inactive, and her assailant went on his mission. This was after the bishop had been TOLD what he did. The bishop didn’t even bother to question the guy or report it to police. Instead, the victim was threatened w/punishment. That’s Ecclesiastical abuse.

    I have a friend whose father was the bishop of the ward I grew up in. He used to physically and emotionally abuse his wife and kids, WHILE he was bishop. The fact that he could act that way at home, while claiming to speak for God, affected the way his kids relate to God. It made it very hard for them to love and trust God, because of his example. That’s Exclesiastical abuse.

    Meanwhile, a ward member (unaware of what was happening in the bishop’s home), came to him seeking advice re her own abusive marriage and ongoing divorce. He pressured her not to talk abt certain things, with threat of speaking out against her on court (in the custody dispute). That’s Ecclesiastical abuse.

    I have friends who were sexually abused by church leaders, while in that role. The leaders used their authority and the victims’ desire to please God, to gain access to victims. That’s Ecclesiastical abuse,

    I know mentally ill friends who have been told their illness is the result of sin. They have been encouraged by church leaders to refuse treatment, and then had disastrous consequences. Such leaders may have been well-meaning. But they used their positions to cause others harm by implying sin if the members seek treatment.

    I have loved ones who were told by church leaders that God expects perfection. I’ve seen overzealous letter of the law implementation of cultural norms as “rules.” I’ve seen people emotionally and spiritually broken with self-hate, scrupulously, and suicidal feelings for MINOR or no infractions.

    I am aware of others who, like the “September 6,” were punished for unorthodox beliefs. I watched them get hurt very deeply.

    I remember the days that Lavina’s articles came out. I read them eagerly, and glad that someone was bringing such problems to light.

    I am active in the church and I love the gospel. But what happened in the 1990s was very painful to me. I know many people were hurt.

    I’m glad the church has changed so much that younger people can’t remember or relate to this.

  58. My personal experiences are similar to anon #57.

    I have observed a number of bishops and stake presidents who have abused their wives and/or children. I have personally observed injuries on the bodies of wives of Church leaders. When these women reported the abuse abuse, they were silenced and threatened with Church punishment.

    I have known several people who were sexually abused by their bishops. When they reported the abuse, they were told by the stake president to remain silent or were threatened with being excommunicated or disfellowshipped because the bishop then accused them of sexual misconduct. In every case, I know these people are absolutely honest in their accounts and were not in any way responsible for the sexual abuse of their bishops.

    Some of the most abusive Church leaders that I have observed have become mission presidents and/or area authorities.

    I have also seen mentally ill people told that they needed to have more faith, pray and study their scriptures more regularly instead of seeking mental health treatment.

    If serious incidents of abuse (which are documented with doctor’s reports) are referred to General Authorities or area authorities for review, in every instance I have observed the abuse sanctioned by these leaders and the abuse escalated. I have never observed the abused wife of a Church leader encouraged to leave her marriage or go to a shelter. They are told to remain quiet and forgive their husbands.

    I am active in the Church and have served in many positions in ward and stake leadership, including four bishoprics, two stake presidencies, and as bishop. Ecclesiastical abuse is a serious problem in the Church. Although many leaders are outstanding, others may be called but are not chosen because their hearts are set upon things of the world.

  59. I'll be anon for this as well says:

    58 — Those are really easy allegations to make here. If you were in a position of authority and knew about such things, did you go to the police?

  60. Kevin Barney says:

    Anon for this no. 57, this sentiment in your last sentence is essentially why I put up this post: “I’m glad the church has changed so much that younger people can’t remember or relate to this.”

  61. Um, yeah. What 59 “I’ll be anon for this as well” says, only I’ll omit the qualification “if you were in a position of authority.” If you knew about such things with the absolute assurance you assume here, exactly what did you do about it?

    I’m appalled by threads like this — not because I’m appalled by the claimed behavior (I *would* be appalled if I believed it), but by the anonymous nature of accusers who freely claim to be intimately knowledgeable of multiple instances of behaviors that — if true — are criminal as well as contrary to church discipline. While I’m not so naive that I can’t believe that something of the kind has happened sometime somewhere to someone, I don’t believe for a moment that any one person has genuine personal knowledge of multiple instances of sexual abuse by multiple bishops and multiple instances of coverups by multiple stake presidents. I don’t believe you — and I’ll put my name to my call-out. You bear false witness. Why?

  62. marginalizedmormon says:

    I actually read all of the comments on this. I haven’t seen the sort of horrific abuse that has been mentioned by some on here, but I know and trust thoroughly several people who have (or who have been victims). The abuse I have seen has been emotional and spiritual–threats of losing TRs, etc. Or veiled threats “if you don’t do what I ask you to do”.

    This discussion could be a sound representation of the church’s attitudes on abuse of all kinds.

    Some acknowledge that it happens and want to help people who are victims and perpetrators and get things cleaned up, even while acknowledging that there are blessings in abundance.

    Some deny that it happens or try to downplay it and sweep it under the rug.

    Interesting how the reality is reflected in a blog discussion.

  63. Anon for this says:

    I wrote post #57. I am NOT bearing false witness. I have intentionally left out names to protect others. I left off my own to keep people close to me (who might recognize the stories) protected.

    Why did I not act? I was young when these things occurred. I was not in a position to understand or report the abuse, but was frightened and didn’t understand. I knew something felt wrong. I stayed close to these folks through my childhood, with “something wrong.” They told me when they were adults abt what had happened to them. When they were finally able to break free from abuse and talk, I could say put things I’d sensed into words. That is the situation in the cases of abuse. I am not lying, and have no reason to accuse my loved ones of lying. Some were close family members, and I know the people involved enough to know what’s true. But kids don’t have power. I can talk now, because I’m an adult. So can these victims.

    As to the shaming for mental illness, and overshaming for mistakes: those aren’t really criminal offenses. I wasn’t going to publicly speak ill of leaders. But I let the people involved know I thought the advice was crazy.

    As for punishing people with unorthodox views in the 90s, I DID speak out. If there are files with letters written, petitions signed, meetings attended-you’ll find my name on them. More often I was found talking to a friend in private though, not broadcasting the wrongs of others.

    Like I said, I’m glad these instances are few and most can’t relate. But accusing people of lying when they talk is not so helpful.

    I get it. I love our church. I love our leaders. No one is perfect. Church leaders sacrifice A LOT of time and work, unappreciated and unpaid. I have no desire to hurt them. But I know shutting up victims to protect the church does double damage and hurts people.

  64. Anon for this says:

    Also, because of such experiences with people I knew, I went on to work with victims as an adult. In that capacity I heard many more stories. Physical and sexual abuse occurs in the church. When it does, they is OFTEN a spiritual component, just because every man holds the priesthood. So the power dynamics get mixed up in ways that complicate the victims’ relationship with God.

  65. Marginalized, I assume you’re referring to me as one who “sweeps it under the rug.” That is not what I’m doing. Those who are making allegations of multiple instances of sexual abuse by multiple bishops, covered up by multiple stake presidents — particularly the anonymous accuser of comment 58 — are not pulling back the curtain on hidden abuses. They are simply making unsubstantiated accusations against unknown persons, without anything to lend credibility to their accusations. Two points that make their charges not credible are the claims that they are aware through intimate personal awareness of multiple such events, and they hide behind anonymity where it’s easy to make such accusations with many imaginable motives without the need to defend their accusations.

    Why are their anonymous and unverifiable charges more credible to you than my evaluation of their non-credibility?

  66. The Avenger says:

    I am personally aware of numerous commenters at BCC, usually using some form of the handle “anonymous,” who are cannibals out to overthrow the government of Pocatello. I have raised this issue numerous times with BCC permas, but Cynthia L. is afraid to do anything about it because her brother-in-law once dated the daughter of Boyd K. Packer’s barber’s cousin’s dog groomer, and if she exposes the conspiracy then the dog groomer may not get his usual tip. I suspect that Kevin Barney is actually in on the conspiracy himself — those Chicago lawyers, you know …

    I demand that you give credence to this comment, despite how implausible it sounds, despite how unverifible it is, despite how I am afraid to stand by my witness through using my real name. If you don’t honor this cry for help, then you are guilty of sweeping the evidence under the rug.

  67. See how easy that was?

  68. Anon for this says:

    If we sat in person Ardis, I could give you details and names. But these are people I love. I have no desire to hurt them. I also do not have their permission to use their names and broadcast some of the most personal and painful experiences of their lives to a bunch of strangers. So I’m done. You can believe it or not… I am loyal to the church and have no outside agenda beyond helping people know these things happen. If it helps one soul be listened to and get help, or feel less alone, I’ll be glad.

  69. Sorry, Anon for this (68), I don’t know which one of the anons you are so I don’t know whether this applies to you or not: I, too, would be glad for injured people to be encouraged, to feel less alone, and to get needed help. I don’t deny that abuse occurs (I’ve spoken and written publicly about my own experiences that probably do fall under this umbrella of ecclesiastical abuse).

    What many of these commenters are doing, however, is not calculated to encourage anybody, but to discourage them, isolate them, and prevent them from seeking help. Some — like comment 58, which I keep going back to because it is so egregious — is not calculated to have the effect you want. That comment, boiled down, is “Lots of bishops do horrible things all the time. Don’t talking to anybody about it, don’t seek help, because you won’t get help. The crimes of all the bishops will be compounded by the cover-ups of all the stake presidents. So keep it to yourself.”

    *That’s* the kind of accusation that appalls me.

    I’m done, too. Somebody had to challenge the rampant incredible charges of several anonymous and pseudonymous commenters. I did it, and now I’m done.

  70. I have not experienced spiritual/ecclesiastical abuse. Also, I have not personally witnessed or had someone tell me of their own abuse by church leaders. I have heard stories that are friend of a friend. Sometimes the alleged abuse is probably true. However, occasionally the friend hearing the story has come to see that maybe the first version of the story wasn’t the complete story.
    From my own family I know that people’s memories of what actually happened in a situation differ. For instance, my sister recalls specific experiences as a teen differently than my parents’ memory of what exactly happened.
    I don’t mean to sound like I don’t believe victims have been victimized. Of course I believe there is abuse. And any amount of abuse is too much. I believe that most church leaders try very hard to help rather than hinder and I believe that higher authorities are always trying to train bishops to not cross the line.

  71. Anon for this says:

    I wrote posts 57, 63, 64, and 68. Thank you Ardis, and I understand.

    I believe in most cases one can and should seek Ecclesiastical help. These situations are few, and becoming ever more rare.

    I just know there are silent victims out there still. They need someone to believe them, and tell them it’s not their fault. It is for them that I wrote what I did.

    That said, I get where you are coming from too.

  72. I’ve been an adult member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for over thirty years, and I have never witnessed or even heard about abuses of the sort described in this blog except in this blog. I generally tend to disbelieve them. If they were true, why did the victims or their families not go to the police? And why do so many seem to want to give away their own self-control of their own lives to another man? I hold myself responsible for evaluating the advice I receive, and then taking complete responsibility for any consequences of following that advice — I don’t have to follow anyone’s advice, and if I do, well, that is my choice. And I’m responsible for my choices.

    Have I gotten bad advice or counsel in the church? Yes. In most cases, I chose not to follow it. Bad counsel does not make the church imperfect or serve as condemnation of those who gave the advice — we all try to teach each other, and we all have our baggage and our sins — it’s amazing that everything works as well as it does! We’re people living among and working work people — that’s a better perspective than thinking of people versus an institution.

  73. I know personally of one case of outright eccliastical abuse. This happened to the son of some friends of my parents, and I heard it first hand from them. The son was serving a mission in South America, I believe Argentina. The parents received a letter from their son in which he told them that his mission president was physically abusing him as well as other missionaries. (Beating, I believe.) In this case, the parents immediately their own stake president, who called Church headquarters and reported what was going on. The mission president was relieved of his duties immediately. This happened about 25 years ago, and the son has never quite been the same since. However, clearly the Church acted quickly and forcefully in this case.

  74. People are abused all the time and refuse to report it. Just because it wasn’t reported doesn’t mean it never happened. Some people view me as sympathetic and I try hard to listen to what people are actually saying. As a result, I have had a number of women, some lds others not, who have confided in me how they were raped, once or multiple times over years. In all instances, they talked about it with nobody except friends they felt were close enough to share the pain with. Abuse does happen and quite often it is not talked about because of pain,confusion on how to address the issue, and embarrassment. My own mother tells me in the past how she was pushed around or abused in some way and never talked about it because she felt like such a huge fool. It takes a long time to get past the suffering and feel comfortable talking about it. That is why I feel abuse often goes unreported and this would include in the Church, as well.

  75. Some state that because they have never witnessed ecclesiastical abuse or the abuse of spouses by Church leaders, it does not exist. Although you may not have observed it, it does exist and is a serious problem in the Church. Physicians who treat these women have documented it. Social workers and therapists have observed it.
    Social isolation is often a part of abuse. In addition, the disbelief that abuse is a serious and real problem by Church leaders–as evidenced on this blog is–one of the reasons these women do not seek out help. They are deeply afraid that they will not be believed, and usually they are not.
    Whether or not those of you who are reading this blog believe that it is a serious problem, I know that it is. I have personally observed many situations that I personally would not believe myself if I had not witnessed them.
    The fact that Lavina Fielding Anderson was excommunicated when she attempted to document some of these instances and is denied readmission to the Church although she attends Church each Sunday, serves as a pianist, and has a strong testimony is a cautionary example of what can happen when one attempts to speak out.

  76. #75 – You seriously read that from this blog and the comments in this thread?

  77. Lots of women don’t report rapes or abuse to the police. They’re afraid of humiliation and being disbelieved. Rape and abuse are humiliating enough, to then tell strangers about it (male strangers especially) adds a whole new layer of misery. A friend lost her virginity at age 16 by being raped by a boy she had a crush on – she thought she was sneaking off for some kissing and he forced her. She was crushed. She told me, but I was far too stupid and naive to see it then for what it was – rape. She never told an adult. I never told an adult, because she didn’t want anyone to know. The barrier of humiliation, the fear of people finding out, is just too high for many girls and women. I can’t even imagine how high it must be for boys or men.

  78. Since I think I’m the only one on record stating disbelief in the claims, I will respond again, this time to yet another anonymous commenter, in #75.

    As I’ve said before, it isn’t that I believe abuse doesn’t happen, or that it isn’t a serious problem. What I disbelieve is the claims of some commenters in this thread. With respect to the anonymous contribution of #58, do the math:

    He claims: “Some of the most abusive Church leaders that I have observed have become mission presidents and/or area authorities.” That’s at least 4 men (plural “mission presidents”; plural “area authorities”). Unless you believe that 100% of molesting bishops go on to higher church office, how large is the pool of molesting bishops known by anon (#58) that these 4 were drawn from? I don’t know how to estimate that — but if we say that 1 in 10 bishops goes on to higher callings (a ridiculously huge number, since that would allow an average of only 10 bishops, or approximately 2 stakes, per mission or area), and even if we allow for 100% of the bishops who go on to those higher offices to be molesting bishops, that means that anon (#58) has known 40 molesting bishops (and, we would hope, at least as many bishops who were not molesters). He knows them and their stories so intimately that he knows that their victims have been further abused — uniformly — by stake presidents who threatened the victims and covered up the crimes.

    How many bishops and stake presidents — molesters or not — do you know personally? How many men (regardless of whether they have been bishops, molesters or not) do you know personally who have gone on to be mission presidents or area authorities? If you don’t know at least 40 bishops and at least 4 mission presidents/area authorities, personally and intimately, you aren’t keeping up with anon (#58). I know I’m not, and I live in a ward with a staggering number of current and emeritus general and area authorities and returned mission and temple presidents.

    Are the claims of anon (#58) credible? Not to my mind.

  79. melodynew says:

    When individuals feel a need to remain anonymous in a forum like this, it seems to support the current problem of ecclesiastical abuse with its inherent threat of re-abuse or retribution against those who “tell.”

    My personal feeling is that the math (or the actual numbers of either perpetrators or victims) is less important than the evident fear and accompanying need for privacy exhibited by people who seem to be rightfully passionate about what appears to be a very real and significant ongoing problem in the church.

    Great post, Kevin. And thanks to the courageous people who have shared stories here and via Mormon Alliance.

  80. melodynew says:

    Or rather, not “support” the current problem, but, validate the fact that there is a current problem with ecclesiastical abuse with its inherent threat. . .

  81. Researcher says:

    “When individuals feel a need to remain anonymous in a forum like this, it seems to support the current problem of ecclesiastical abuse with its inherent threat of re-abuse or retribution against those who “tell.””

    Actually, it’s more likely to support the fact that people are talking about real people here (whether or not their entire stories are known and understood by those relating them) and they undoubtedly don’t have permission to share the stories and therefore want to respect the privacy of the people in question.

  82. #3, Ardis: ” I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t class this even as unrighteousness dominion”

    With all due respect, I don’t think you grasp the definition. Any misuse of a position of power, but particularly that supposedly assigned to one from God/the Priesthood, is unrighteous–and amen to the priesthood of that man (or woman).

  83. marginalizedmormon says:

    @Ardis, you are the one who believes I was directing my comments towards you. I don’t think I even thought of *you* (Ardis E. Parshall) when I wrote it out, simply that I know that there are those who deny and those who accept, in any situation.

    Why do you think there is a witness protection program? Why do you think that many young women are afraid to stand in a court and witness against those who have raped them? Are you aware of this phenomenon? I do know, very closely, someone who was terribly abused by a person who achieved a high church calling–
    Nobody believed her. They ridiculed her. “He’s such a good person”, everyone said. And yet I know this woman is telling the truth and has done the right thing to quietly remove herself from association with the person who abused her. It’s been a painful journey for her, but she has created a new and good life for herself and is still active in the church.

    I have family members (sisters of an in-law) who spoke out against incest in their home, and another family member tried to silence them.

    You think this doesn’t happen? You think that it always works to go to ‘experts who help’?

    I did not experience abuse either in my family or in the church until I became quite old. When a church leader was very out of control I went to a ‘higher’ leader who then created a new temple recommend question based upon my (our; it was my spouse as well) concerns, to make certain we knew that he was not going to help us. It was an ‘eyes open wide’ experience that helped us to see that we would not, could not get help. Sure, it only had to do with a TR and with something that had happened to a vulnerable family member who could not help him/herself–

    who did, yes, experience ecclesiastical abuse or at least serious insensitivity. I know that in the past I had often questioned those who cried, “abuse!”–
    But then it happened to me, because of someone close to me who was vulnerable.

    I have come to understand human nature, and what I wrote about those who will try to bring things to light as opposed to those who will deny–

    is simply an observation of human nature, which I have experienced more poignantly as I have grown older.

    The person who ‘abused’ my loved one (to whose aid I went) is no longer even in the equation–

    You know what, several years later, after all the damage was done and never rectified, after I put his name on the prayer roll and pled with the Lord to help me forgive him for hurting the one I loved who couldn’t defend him/herself–

    he came to me, in tears, dying, and said, “I hurt your family so badly”–

    I took him by the hand and said, “you were forgiven long ago”–

    But do I still believe there are those who try to bring things to light and those who deny?

    Yes. Why shouldn’t I?

    If you believe you are right, why be so worried about what one anonymous person (marginalized mormon) thinks?

    I know there are people ‘out there’ hurting, who wish they could get help and are afraid to get help, because of the deniers.

    And that’s sad, but God is in charge, and He will bring to light all hidden things–

  84. marginalizedmormon says:

    @81, yes, indeed, and fear of reprisal. I use a ‘moniker’ for that very reason. I have a family member who doesn’t even know my ‘moniker’ who identifies my responses on here by my writing style–

    and chuckles over it. How is that for feeling exposed?

  85. Marginalized, you pick and choose out of my remarks what you want to counter, and ignore the rest. I have acknowledged multiple times that I do believe that abuse occurs. Since you base your entire diatribe on ignoring that acknowledgment, you deserve no further response from me.

  86. #82 fbisti: What power was abused? Kevin acknowledges that his former mission president had no power over him. The MP made a request, Kevin declined it, and that was the end of the matter. Without the use of power, there can be no ab-use of power.

    We talk about the importance of not diluting the word “rape” by misapplying it. There’s a guy on one of the Mormon elists who used to — maybe still does, I don’t know — misuse the label “ethnic cleansing” for the actions of the Mormons in Missouri — not what was done to, but what was done by, the Mormons. “Rape” and “ethnic cleansing” and “unrighteous dominion” and “spiritual/ecclesiastical abuse” do happen, and are terrible, powerful, world-altering events. Misapplying those labels to every minor unpleasant interaction with someone in power cheapens and steals the power that genuine victims deserve by the correct application of those labels.

    And for those who aren’t reading carefully, here’s a sound-bite: I do acknowledge that unrighteous dominion and mistreatment rising to the level of abuse does, no doubt, occur within the church.

  87. #81 – Exactly. Well said.

  88. I think “doing the math” is not going to work–we don’t know how to take account of the fact that abusive cultures and traditions can be more prevalent in one area, which would distort the perceptions of those who live there. And this stuff is, by nature, largely secret.

    I think a couple of things happen that make some people more likely to know/hear of cases than others. One is that if you disclose your own story, people are likelier to come and tell you theirs. The other is something like the way neural pathways get sensitized in chronic pain cases–once abuse hurts you or someone close to you, you become hypervigilant and hyperaware of abuse that you might otherwise not have seen or not regarded as serious.

    Those of us who haven’t seen or experienced abuse need to be careful to listen more and judge less, not use the fact that we have not personally witnessed abuse as a data point to suggest that someone else couldn’t have had a different experience; those of us who have experienced abuse need to recalibrate our sensitivity meters, think critically about the sides of the story we’re predisposed to see, and be extremely careful of the width of the brushes with which we paint.

  89. And I agree with Ardis (and Kevin) that calling Kevin’s experience “abuse” is perniciously silly.

  90. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks all for your comments. I suspect the thread has run its course, so I’m going to close comments at this time.

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