We Must Do Better On Violence Against Women

I am sick of Mormon women not being believed about abuse.

I can’t even count the number of first-hand accounts I’ve heard at this point, and I only started paying attention a few years ago.  Easily dozens.  Probably hundreds.

But they all go the same way.  A Mormon woman is a chaste, obedient, temple-worthy, nurturing woman.  She gets married in the temple, moves in with her brand-new husband, and desires to start her eternal family. Within mere weeks or months, it becomes obvious her husband is angry, controlling, and abusive.  He usually quotes Church authority about men presiding and women hearkening to justify the behavior.

She doesn’t like it, but she tries to accept it.  She has been taught that she must protect her temple marriage above all else.  She has been taught that her husband is the leader of the home, and she needs to respect his authority.  She has been taught that if she just prays harder, submits harder, follows traditional gender roles harder, the problems will go away.  

They don’t go away.  They get worse.

But she stays silent.  The consequences of speaking up are too terrifying.  I can’t tell anyone.  No one will believe me.  It will destroy my social standing.  It will destroy my financial security.  I don’t want to ruin his life.  If I do, if he finds out, he will hurt me. I will lose friends and be shunned from my ward family.  

Church Teachings On Divorce

She starts running stealth searches on LDS.org, looking for help.  What she finds is talk after talk that decries divorce and the selfish and worldly dissolution of family.  They proclaim Temple Marriages as gold standards, protections from the evils of the world.  Sometimes the speakers remember to include one fleeting sentence or paragraph of “except for cases of abuse” … but no one defines what abuse looks like.   She can’t map their vague and perfunctory words onto her experiences.

So she reads and re-reads Dallin H. Oaks on divorce.: “I strongly urge you and those who advise you to face up to the reality that for most marriage problems, the remedy is not divorce but repentance. Often the cause is not incompatibility but selfishness.”  He then cites social science, stating that most couples who think about divorce but stay married are happy with that decision five years later.  

Message she takes away?  Ok, so, I need to stop being selfish, keep repenting, and wait at least five years, to be sure that this marriage is bad.

But maybe someone, a trusted confidante, refers her to Jeffrey R. Holland instead.

I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, who is constantly critical of you, who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor. Life is tough enough without having the person who is supposed to love you leading the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence, and your joy. In this person’s care you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure.”

But technically, he was just talking about dating, not marriage,  she thinks.  It’s my fault for not catching this sooner, and so now it’s my fault that I’m stuck.  Not even this justifies ending a temple marriage.

Or maybe someone points her in the blessed direction of Chieko Okazaki.  Who spent decades begging church leaders to hold perpetrators and themselves to the highest gospel standards, begging teachers to think about the unintended messages of their lessons,  begging victims to seek professional and spiritual help.

“Think of a woman whose husband beats and rapes her. What feelings go through her mind as a Relief Society teacher [or Bishop] explains that it is the wife’s responsibility to maintain the spiritual atmosphere in the home and to support the priesthood? To these confused, despairing children and adults in pain, the teachers speak with the voice of the Church. Such messages have a great potential for increasing their pain and despair.”

Yes!  Exactly! But, well, actually, that’s too strong.  My husband just screams at me, or gives me the silent treatment for weeks on end, or blames me for all of his problems, or isolates me from friends and family, but it’s not nearly as bad as rape and sexual abuse.  This talk was only about sexual abuse. I just have normal marriage trouble.

But maybe, gracefully, in a moment of frantic prayer, she feels the overwhelming love of God, that she is a beloved child who He does not want to be miserable.  She starts to take tentative steps to action.

Mormon Spiritual Practice On Divorce

Beginning to grasp how bad it is, the woman turns to the first source she can think of: the source she is supposed to trust, the source she has been told to consult, the source she thinks might be able to offer an independent assessment and maybe refer her to counseling – her Bishop.  After all, if she’s going to defy the Priesthood Leadership in her home, i.e. her husband, she had better seek the permission of the next Priesthood Leader in her life.

Many Bishops handle this moment with grace.  They label the husband’s behavior as unrighteous dominion, as unacceptable, as abusive, as spiritually destructive.  They refer the woman to a hotline or a shelter or a therapist or a lawyer.  God Bless those Bishops.

But many, many, many Bishops do not.  They’re not adequately trained to handle it.  Bless their serviceful hearts, but they have no experience in mental health, in domestic violence, in counseling.  Hopefully, the Bishops’ own marriages are happy – but that means they have absolutely no frame of reference for toxic relationships.  And the Handbook flat-out tells Bishops that they are never supposed to advocate for divorce.  And so the Bishops parrot all of their religiously-driven, well-meaning, culturally-mired, utterly-destructive instincts.

  • “I know Brother [Husband].  He’s a good man and a successful businessman and great contributor to our ward.  This must be some sort of misunderstanding.  Are you sure you’re not overreacting?”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  •  “I encourage you to attend the temple more often as a family, and to seek healing together.  I know God brought you together.  Divorce is never in God’s will.  Through God all things are possible.”                                                                                                                                                                                                      
  •  “I’ve been in this position for a long time, and I’ve never yet seen a situation where there isn’t enough blame to go around on both sides.”                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  •  “Maybe Brother [Husband] feels threatened by all the time and attention you spend with your kids [or siblings, or book club, or friends, or coworkers].  Have you considered cutting back on that, and dedicating more time and attention to him and your home responsibilities?”                                                                                                                                                                                                      
  • “This may seem silly, I know, but a lot of men express quiet frustration to me that despite all of their stressful work and all they do for their family, their wives don’t appreciate them.  Have you considered losing weight, or having sex with your husband more often?  That has an incredible healing and bonding power.”                                                                                                                                                                          
  • “Have you stopped and considered what you may be doing to trigger your husband’s behavior?”

And in that moment, women crumple.  A Priesthood Leader just spiritually advised her to try harder, and to keep blaming herself.  He echoed and reinforced every single doubt she had been telling herself for years.  When a Priesthood Leader has told her she’s overreacting, the last thing she’s going to do is call the police.

Maybe she eventually finds the strength to leave anyway.  But overcoming all of the general psychological difficulty in breaking off a relationship, plus the hurdles of dissolving a temple marriage, plus ignoring official Priesthood and perceived Apostolic advice – it’s nothing short of an Olympic feat.

The Rob Porter Story Typifies Everything Wrong With Mormon Men Not Believing Abused Mormon Women

All of this background is why I’m so infuriated about the story that broke today, about Rob Porter (a Mormon, and White House senior staffer) physically abusing both of his Mormon ex-wives, starting on both of their honeymoons, and continuing for years.

Because the story isn’t actually about Rob Porter.  I don’t care about Porter and his relationship history.  I don’t care about the political consequences for the Trump Administration.  I don’t care about how this fits into some broader #metoo narrative.

I care about how buried in the story are subtle references to exactly the Priesthood-non-believing-behavior I’ve seen dozens of times.

Let’s look at the story:

“She was trying to get help, and nobody would help her,” [the first wive’s friend] in Idaho said.    

So, a Mormon woman was ignored while trying to discuss her abuse, presumably in her ward or to her Bishop, in Idaho.  That’s a story I’ve heard before.

“The pull of the institution of marriage was still strong.” 

Presumably the journalist is referring to just how deep-seated Mormon belief is in preserving Temple Marriages at all costs.

And the kicker:

One summer, when she was interning at a federal agency, she had access to a counselor through her job. “When I explained to him what was happening, he had a very different reaction from the Mormon bishops,” she said. “It was weirdly validating to hear that from somebody else.” Speaking about the counselor, she said, “He was very concerned to hear Rob was choking me.”

Read between the lines there.  She had told multiple Mormon bishops, and none of them had validated that her marriage including descriptions of physical abuse were bad.

Second wife has the same general story – and remember, this is from within the last decade.  When she had already at one point obtained a restraining order.

She described Porter’s anger issues to a lay official in the Mormon church. She said the official had told her to think carefully about what she said publicly about Porter’s behavior. “Keep in mind, Rob has career ambitions,” she recalled the [presumably Bishop] saying.

She went back to Porter for a while, before eventually divorcing in 2012.  She then offers the single best description of emotional abuse I’ve read.  

“I was a ghost of a person,” Willoughby said, noting her robust social life before her marriage. ”That was very drastically no longer allowed to be part of my life, because the anger or the stress and argument that I would have to endure wasn’t worth it. Slowly, over that first year, I gave up being myself. I prioritized emotional survival.”

And to all of this, as the story broke, what did Sen. Orrin Hatch say?  Sen. Orrin Hatch, former boss of Rob Porter, and one of the public’s most visible faces of old-generation conservative Mormonism?

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, one of Porter’s previous employers, told the Daily Mail that the allegations against Porter came from “character assassins.”

“It’s incredibly discouraging to see such a vile attack on such a decent man,” Hatch said. “Shame on any publication that would print this — and shame on the politically motivated, morally bankrupt character assassins that would attempt to sully a man’s good name.”

He backpedaled, somewhat, later today. He reiterated how wonderful Rob was, but then said “Domestic violence in any form is abhorrent and unacceptable.”  Cynical me assumes some female Mormon press staffer rushed to do damage control.

But the point here is that first reaction.  The first reaction that devout Mormon women with photos, with witnesses, with police and FBI reports – well, they just can’t be believed.

Stop it.  Now.  

Condemn it from the pulpit.  Describe abuse in detail.  Doctrinally enshrine it as unrighteous dominion.  Offer lessons in Relief Society and Young Women.  Proclaim from the Temple-tops that God’s plan of happiness does not require marital martyrdom and misery.   Explain that divorce often is the best solution.  Respect restraining orders.  Provide resources and Church welfare support and everything you can to help women get out.  

And when a woman confides in you?  Believe her.

Comments

  1. The main messaging about spousal abuse in the church is only directed at the husbands. It’s a message of don’t do it or stop it if you are doing it. Now that’s important, but the fact that we’ve never had an over-the-pulpit message to the women encouraging them to seek help if in abusive situation (maybe I’m wrong, someone prove me wrong please) is telling.

  2. Dog Spirit says:

    Amen. Amen. Amen.

  3. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    None of what happened here surprises me in the least, not least the fact that Porter was protected by higher leadership. The longtime Stake President of the Mount Vernon Stake was former Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK), a GOP hack; turning a blind eye to abusive scumbags was something he did plenty of in his day job, so there really was no reason he wouldn’t have done so in his ecclesiastical responsibilities. There are a lot of people in the Church who desire to have LDS men in positions of political power, and I have no doubt that they are willing to turn a blind eye to character flaws

    In a previous ward, I remember a combined HP/EQ lesson in which the HP Group Leader expressed pride that none of the men in the room that day had been divorced. I later learned from that man’s wife that said HPGL was emotionally and physically abusive to his entire family, and had for many years forced sex on his wife multiple times a day in what can only fall into the category of spousal rape. The entire Relief Society Presidency knew about this. This is a man who had no business being a ward janitor, and yet he was in a position of Priesthood leadership. Unfortunately, the then-bishop of that ward is now a stake president, and is young enough that he’s almost certainly on the GA track.

    These are the sorts of things that make me wonder if I really ought to baptize my daughter when she turns eight next year.

  4. (not so) sweet spirit says:

    Well said. With all the church’s endless resources for those in difficult financial and emotional situations (bishop’s storehouse, LDS family services, LDS employment services, etc.) they should literally be able to bend over backwards to help victims of abuse. Wife comes in and says her husband is beating her? Connect her with someone who can help her make a plan to get out of the relationship if that’s what she wants (or counseling to help her understand what is happening) – a plan involving a job if she doesn’t work, food, counseling, everything she needs. Instead women get blamed? Or told they should make the relationship work? It’s unacceptable.

    I also can’t help but see this is as prominent Mormon men protecting each other, and having each other’s backs. A Porter couldn’t possibly be a bad guy! His father worked in the White House! Men get to carry their father/family names with them, and the influence that brings with it, while wives just become…the wives of prominent men.

  5. Preaching that women should be entirely financially dependent on their husband is part of this problem. It makes it so much harder to leave a bad situation.

  6. There’s always and forever going to be a he said-she said problem. It’s structural. And I suspect that will be asserted here and elsewhere, defensively. However, from my cheap seats view the prevalence of believing the man, or of prioritizing the man’s interests (“let’s work it out somehow”), is just overwhelming. The system’s never going to be perfect but it sure seems like the presumptions and priorities should be reversed.

  7. Hinckley: Then there is the terrible, inexcusable, and evil phenomenon of physical and sexual abuse.

    It is unnecessary. It is unjustified. It is indefensible.

    Also: https://www.lds.org/ensign/1999/10/a-conversation-on-spouse-abuse?lang=eng

    We need more of this apparently.

  8. Heather b says:

    Oh look. It’s my world.

  9. YES YES YES YES YES!!!!!!! Thank you. I was LIVID at Hatch’s reaction.

  10. I’ve known too many people, including my parents, other immediate family and friends who were counseled to stay together by male leaders despite physical and emotional abuse. I don’t mind leaders giving advice to work it out, I believe they mean well. But when abuse is CLEARLY happening either by omission or because you sense it, leaders must accept that staying together isn’t necessarily better. We knew someone whose wife left him while he was in graduate school across the country from their home. A year later, he was still be counseled by his SP to not divorce. But, why? It makes no sense to force two sides that clearly don’t fit. The image of a married dysfunctional Mormon family is not better than a more functional, separated family.

  11. This blog post punched me in the gut. I could have written every word of this. Well, ok. If I hadn’t been abused myself and could actually talk about the experience with facts and cite talks. Unfortunately, having been a victim, I can say that I have had every one of these talks quote to me by the at least 8 different bishops and stake presidents that I spoke to when I went to them to confide about the abuse in my marriage. I was always encouraged to pray for him, go to the temple for and with him. To repent of my pride and try to love him out of being abusive. To be more cheerfully submissive and not to argue with him or upset him. To sustain him as a priesthood holder. To praise him more. To hold onto my marriage covenants which were the most important things in the world and in eternity. All these things do not describe the sheer volume of counsel I was given on how to stop being an abused woman and how to live peacefully with an abusive husband. The moment I decided to leave was when a friend quoted a scary statistic about how high the chances of death after an abuser tries to strangle their victim. The week before, my husband had thrown me up against a wall so hard it had dented it. I wore turtlenecks and heavy makeup for two weeks to cover the bruises on my neck. I realized I had to get out. Not one of my eight priesthood leaders had ever counseled me to leave. Even after I had explicitly described some of the abuse. Even after I had said I had revelation to leave. I did, however, have three bishops who did argue with me and told me it couldn’t be that bad. One knew my husband as a kid and told me that it simply wasn’t possible, my husband wasn’t capable of that level of violence. Not once did any priesthood leader ever listen and believe my cries for help. And two bishops talked me out of leaving my abusive spouse. Not only do they not believe, they frequently push or pressure the victims right back into the arms of the abuser. My story isn’t unique. The real tragedy is that it is being repeated over and over again and we haven’t learned to believe the women who come forward and who are willing to speak out against abuse.

  12. Thank you for sharing your story, Pilar. Because for every woman like you who has figured out how to leave, there’s at least one more who is living it right now, reading this right now, and too terrified to breathe a word.

    To the random anonymous women reading this comment: We believe you. And you don’t need any #$#! man’s permission to protect yourself.

  13. Duffy Dad says:

    I have a hard time believing that she told Mormon bishops that she was choking her and they did not listen…. if you read the article she was vague about her description of what she told ecclesiastic leadership… she mentioned that she didn’t know how to express what was happening to her…

  14. Duffy Dad, I don’t care whether or not you believe that specific woman was somehow not specific enough to her Bishop. (Although even if she was vague, a GOOD pastorally-trained individual would know enough to see the warning signs and ask follow-up questions.) But I insist that you believe that this happens to Mormon women constantly, today. Literally, I speak from personal knowledge of women in these circumstances, today. And yesterday. And last week, last month, last year, last decade, and for the last century plus.

  15. Duffy Dad: “I have a hard time believing…”

    STOP. IT.

    YOU are the problem. Men like you, with exactly that deeply ingrained reaction, are the reason women and children in the Mormon church stuffer rampant abuse. Be ashamed.

  16. Pilar, my heart breaks reading your story. Thank you for speaking this truth. I hope this post, this story, helps Mormon women leave. And helps Mormon leaders recognize what they are ignoring, and change course.

  17. This happens. It happens all the time. It has happened in every ward I have ever been in, in every Mormon community I have ever been a part of, and to nearly every Mormon woman I have ever known well enough to discuss such things with. It is an epidemic in our world, and it is an epidemic in our Church. And we keep turning away.

    We turn away because it makes us uncomfortable, because we are not theologically equipped to handle the issues that it raises, because we are committed to the concept of a lay ministry and we think that this invalidates the notion of pastoral training. And we turn away because every person in the Church with the authority to address the issue–in local wards, in stakes, and in the ranks of the general authorities–sees this issue entirely from the male perspective–because we are all men. Every. Single. One.

    It is intolerable. And it has to stop. And it is the men who have to do better–not because men are inherently bad or because women are always right, but because we are the only ones who can do better. We are the only ones who can do anything. We are the bishops, the stake presidents, and the general authorities. If men cannot address these issues, we do not deserve to hold the priesthood.

    This is what religion means. it is mourning with those who mourn and comforting with those who stand in need of comforts. If we cannot believe women who have been abused, then we have no business calling ourselves ministers.If we can’t help them leave abusive situations and protect them from their abusers, then we cannot say that we are disciples of Christ. And if we can’t create a culture in which women exercise their agency as full equals, have the same educational and professional opportunities, and the same opportunities to become financially autonomous as men do, then we need to find a new line of work. Maybe plastics.

  18. Michael you literally just made me cry.

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    A good (non-LDS) friend of mine volunteers at a hotline for abused women. He’s a highly intelligent attorney, so when he first walked in the door they showed him to his desk and phone and turned him loose, right? Of course not. He had to undergo substantial training before they let him anywhere near live calls.

    Our lay ministry is a feature in certain respects, but here it’s a terrible bug. It’s like we’re engaged in play church, giving men lofty ecclesiastical titles like “bishop” coupled with no training whatsoever. And that’s a problem.

  20. There’s only so much other people can do ultimately, you have to take yourself out of a terrible situation.

  21. Wondering says:

    There’s only so much other people can do ultimately, you have to … not beat your family.

  22. It is so true that this goes on in every ward. It was me 27 years ago and I am happy every day that I finally found the strength to leave the horrible man I was married in the temple to, to ignore the pleadings of my Bishop to stay and not embarrass him or my husband’s family and to finally just listen to the Spirit that had told me so many times and so very loudly that I needed to get out.

    And really, no one should be listening to a single word uttered by Orrin Hatch after his appalling behavior during the Clarence Thomas hearings. The man is a goat.

  23. Michael – thank you thank you thank you.

    Jon – NOOOOOOOOOOO. Please, please educate yourself a bit about the dynamics of domestic violence, the desperation of women, the fact that there is often nowhere to go, the fact that kids are often involved, the threats made against the kids if the woman leaves, the threats against her if she leaves or “tells” anyone, the ways in which women aren’t believed – did you read the original post? Please no no no this is not “just get yourself out of a situation.” That kind of attitude is not helpful to anyone. Please reconsider and widen your understanding of this issue.

  24. This post is powerful and true. Thank you, Carolyn. I hope that it reaches a wide audience. The things you say here cannot be reiterated enough.

    Pilar: your story is heartbreaking. My understanding is that the handbook forbids bishops from counseling divorce, for liability reasons. I would think that liability concerns would also encourage us to give priesthood leaders some #$^#&* training, in a sustained and serious way, to help them address pastoral issues concerning abuse and sexual violence with something at least resembling the sensitivity and basic awareness that these matters require. Alas, we do not, and I fear that we hang millstones around our necks as a result.

    I suspect that almost no bishops or stake presidents are even aware that there exists such a field as pastoral counseling in which a person can receive extensive training and eventual professional certification, or that other churches hire people thus certified in order to do right by their members. I’d be willing to pay 15% tithing if it meant being able to implement this on a large scale in our church. The status quo is an unconscionable stain on the name of Jesus that we claim to bear. It’s nothing short of frank blasphemy as far as I’m concerned. The sacrament bread should turn to ashes in our mouths as long as we allow this to persist.

  25. I think we men are sort of stupid -when it is convenient. We need leaders who do not enable our weaknesses and our flaws. Leaders who will list in detail, specific actions that are physically abusive and “deal breakers” or behaviors that would cause any reasonable woman (who hasn’t been brainwashed to accept these behaviors in the name of some high religious ideal) to walk away from a marriage. We need a similar list and perhaps a definition based on a woman’s perspective of what constitutes severe emotional abuse that would cause a reasonable woman to walk away from the marriage. Men need to be told these things often; like if you hit your wife even once, you deserve a divorce and time in jail. Going to the Celestial Kingdom my a$$.

    We might benefit from another list of things that are not desirable over time but might be forgivable if they are stopped. For example drinking beer every night after work. I think it is too easy to paint women as hysterical and prone to exaggeration and thus minimize this problem and not recognize when boundaries have been crossed.. At the same time there are many less-than-perfect marriages that are worth saving and could be much improved with effort. We need to be able to tell clearly in which situation we find ourselves and how close to the boundary we have slipped.

    I think we need to maybe change our attitude about therapy. We, most of us, participate in preventive medicine. For one example, screening colonoscopy is recommended after age 50 and it is an embarrassing, miserable procedure including the preparation and it requires a person to be put out, mostly. All for nothing except prevention. (I select this procedure because Bruce R. McKonkie and Gordon B. Hinckley died from colon cancer which would have been prevented if they had followed the recommendations).

    Now, if we are willing to undergo that much humiliation to prevent a condition less than 5% of us will acquire, why do we not avail ourselves more readily of family/marital therapy? It requires almost no physical effort and only focused conversation, maybe some reading and written assignments. Who in their right mind would rather have an enema (and more) than write a few of their thoughts down and analyse them?

    Even minor problems in marriage can be helped tremendously by a little therapy and major ones will be identified. Could we even dare venture into the realm of preventive therapy for couples whose marriages are quite good? I think if even half of us were openly willing to drive down this avenue to where it is normalized, then many if not most of the women who are being abused might more easily and quickly find the help they need. For a church and a people who ascribe to such high ideals in family life and to tolerate, even enable the rottenness, the wickedness described by Sister Carolyn is astonishing.

  26. While we’re waiting for the church to train its pastors properly, there are a few things we can personally consider and act on.

    First, we should always think critically about any advice, but especially advice that affects our mental health, physical health, and intimate relationships. Remember that a bishop has divided loyalties; he is trying not only to help people as a counselor, but also to protect and sustain the institution of the church. That’s not necessarily a reason to mistrust him, but it is a reason to be thoughtful and cautious about what he says.

    Second, remember that people who seek advice from a counselor, pastoral or otherwise, are especially vulnerable and not in a good position to use their best critical judgment.

    Third, the opportunity to believe and support people who are abused is precious. If you get the chance to help someone, don’t pass the buck. Listen to them. Believe them. Don’t force your advice on them. Be steady and patient and don’t abandon them. Listening just once is almost never enough. Help them find the stable place they need.

  27. Thank you for such an important post. It may literally save lives. In patriarchies (of all sorts), women are given the message over and over again that they must stay married at all costs. And patriarchies make the cost of divorce almost unbearably high for women: financially, socially, in just about any way I can think of. Then they also, in explicit and implicit ways, insist that the failure of a marriage is really the failure of a woman who wasn’t _____ (forgiving, tolerant, kind, faithful, submissive, sexy) enough.

    But patriarchy also does tremendous disservice -to men.-

    Physical and sexual abuse is shockingly common. But the kind of abuse described here

    “My husband just screams at me, or gives me the silent treatment for weeks on end, or blames me for all of his problems, or isolates me from friends and family”

    is so all-pervasive and common to so many men raised in patriarchies, that I feel that getting women out and getting them help—while crucial—is not enough. Like Carolyn says, we do need to call this kind of behavior out; this is abuse. This destroys people.

    What we also have to ask is what it is about our culture that makes this default behavior for so many of our men when faced with stress. And then how can we stop it. For me it comes down, in part, to this: we don’t often abuse those we see as our equals.

  28. The $64,000 Answer says:

    My own Catholic Church has a truly appalling record on sexual violence, and I’ve posted here a couple of times about that. But in fairness to the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, they’ve comported themselves much better when it comes to domestic violence. Catholics, like Mormons, are not notorious for being outspoken supporters of divorce. Yet the Bishops, in a 2002 pastoral letter to the faithful, had this to say. I thought that readers here might find it useful as another perspective on the question:-

    “…we emphasize that no person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage. Some abused women believe that church teaching on the permanence of marriage requires them to stay in an abusive relationship. They may hesitate to seek a separation or divorce. They may fear that they cannot re-marry in the Church. Violence and abuse, not divorce, break up a marriage.”

  29. whizzbang says:

    I’ve seen this time and time again in the Church, here in Canada. One story is my former Branch President, long story short, abusive to his wife, molested his daughter, wife complained but got told “oh, he wouldn’t do that, he’s a good man” He ended up being in a Temple Presidency. He’s dead now, so I figure he lied to everyone here but he can’t lie to God.

  30. This is heartbreaking. I never saw it in my home growing up, haven’t seen it in my marriage (though perhaps someone should ask my wife), and as far as I know haven’t seen it in any close friends or family.

    But I know it happens. I’m willing to help. And I’d take physical steps to protect and prevent it from happening if I knew. But I don’t. It might be happening right now to some woman I know, love, and respect, but she probably doesn’t know that she could tell me, and that I’d believe her. If she’s been telling our Bishop and he does nothing but talk, why would she think she could tell me and I’d do more? That I’d believe her? That she could be safe again? How would she know?

    How would I let her know? Is a comment you make in Sunday School? During testimony meeting? Ward/family FB page? “If any woman here is feeling abused in her relationship, please let me know and I WILL help you?” How does that play out exactly? I’m a nobody; no calling, no authority. Why would she believe me? How would the authority structure react?

    Because I haven’t seen it in my home, I too find it hard to believe, not that it happens, but that the scope of it is as bad as Carolyn makes out. But my non-abuse experience is anecdotal. I hope it isn’t that bad, but the personal accounts make that hope hard to believe. The idea that ANY woman would be treated this way (by husband AND church leaders) is appalling. The accounts that MANY women do is beyond unacceptable and horrific. May every man causing his wife/children to live with this fear and abuse die immediate, horrific deaths.

  31. A bishop is not a therapist, nor a marriage counselor. A bishop is not a divorce lawyer. A bishop is not a social worker. Real social workers have significant training. It’s not the bishop’s role to make your important life decisions. It’s not fair to bishops to expect them to fill these roles. A bishop is not your father. He is not your family member. He is not your friend in the same way as someone who is not a bishop–there is a differential at work there that changes things even if it was a peer-to-peer friendship before he was bishop. Is there anything wrong with going to a bishop? No. Might a bishop be helpful? Yes. This bashing of these volunteer(ed) men in these very tough roles that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. How about family members watching out for their own family? How about people being friends with each other and watching out for each other? And how about adults taking responsibility for their own lives?

  32. This is true.

    There is a specially damning element when it’s spousal abuse, partly because of the betrayal involved in abusing a spouse and partly because of our view of eternal marriage.

    But the problem isn’t limited to spousal abuse (and I hope nobody thinks I’m playing down the particular horror of spousal abuse by broadening the discussion just a little bit. That isn’t my intent.) Early in my years-long ordeal of stalking and assault by a neighbor, my bishop called me he. HE called ME in — I didn’t go to him, but he had heard something from a visiting teacher who was too intimidated to visit me anymore for fear of coming under attack by the neighbor.

    Bishop didn’t believe me. He quoted 1 Nephi 22:16-17 at me (not to me, but at, like a weapon): The righteous need not fear. Because I was afraid, that was sufficient evidence to the bishop that I was unrighteous, and at fault, and until I repented, the neighbor was, I guess, justified in doing what he was doing.

    The neighbor wasn’t even LDS. But he <em.was a man, and I was a woman, so there was no question in the bishop’s mind where the fault lay.

  33. “Yet the Bishops, in a 2002 pastoral letter to the faithful, had this to say.”

    I suspect that this has a lot to do with the fact that Catholic clergy, both religious and lay, undergo training in pastoral care that includes course work in social work and abuse counselling. I was the Provost of a Catholic University for eight years, and we offered a degree in Pastoral Counselling, and I got to see up close what kind of training the Church requires for people who are in positions to work with things like spousal abuse. In my opinion, Catholics and Mormons are very close doctrinally one questions of marriage, divorce, and abuse. But we are miles apart on our understanding of pastoral care and our requirements for those who are in positions of trust.

  34. There are many organizations that help women that are in abusive, dangerous marriages. They are the experts.

  35. Actually the Catholics are very much more opposed to divorce than Mormons. I don’t think that is debatable.

  36. Mike W.: I agree that it’s unreasonable to foist all of these roles on lay clergy. Unburdening then of these roles, though, would require significant institutional and cultural change, in sustained, vocal ways (like saying it over the GC pulpit repeatedly and consistently for a period of years). As things now stand, “Talk to your bishop” is foundational advice that we give as a culture when things go wrong. There should be all kinds of caveats on that advice, but right now there just aren’t.

  37. One small point, having been on both sides of the bishop’s desk. Within Mormon culture if a person comes to you with a problem–“my husband is doing xyz”–the reflexive response is “you should talk with the bishop.” (Usually without detailing whether that’s a matter of repentance or advice or referral.) That is the wrong reflex. After the “I hear you, I believe you, this is awful.” next should come “You should call the police.” “You should get some counseling.” “You should talk to a lawyer.”

    The role of bishop as judge in off-branding, border dispute, and domestic violence cases (which did happen in the 19th century) is long long long gone.

  38. Jason K., in case it’s not clear, we were typing in tandem. I was not reacting to you. But now I will react by saying that I believe “all kinds of caveats” is not strong enough.

  39. Abuse is a major problem. It is heartbreaking and evil. At the same time perpetuating cultural notions that men are the aggressors/perpetrators and females are the victims based on anecdotal experience, to me is a problem. Women and men are both equally capable of good, women and men are both equally capable of evil. Perpetuating myths like this can be particularly hurtful because it allows for easy indulgent self-justification, a victim mentality that blinds one to their own issues, and that of scenario can feel great – no personal accountability. But that type of mentality only hurts a person in the long run. That’s not to say of course that there aren’t real victims that need to and should be heard, and in that we can do much better. Yet here’s what some stats say, a few quick finds from Wikipedia on Intimate Partner Violence (IPV):

    “Since 1975, numerous other empirical studies have found evidence of gender symmetry in IPV. For example, in the United States, the National Comorbidity Study of 1990-1992 found 18.4% of men and 17.4% of women had experienced minor IPV, and 5.5% of men and 6.5% of women had experienced severe IPV. In England and Wales, the 1995 “Home Office Research Study 191″ found that in the twelve months prior to the survey, 4.2% of both men and woman between the ages of 16 and 59 had been assaulted by an intimate. The Canadian General Social Survey of 2000 found that from 1994 to 1999, 4% of men and 4% of women had experienced IPV in a relationship in which they were still involved, 22% of men and 28% of women had experienced IPV in a relationship which had now ended, and 7% of men and 8% of women had experienced IPV across all relationships, past and present. The 2005 Canadian General Social Survey, looking at the years 1999–2004 found similar data; 4% of men and 3% of women had experienced IPV in a relationship in which they were still involved, 16% of men and 21% of women had experienced IPV in a relationship which had now ended, and 6% of men and 7% of women had experienced IPV across all relationships, past and present.”

    “An especially controversial aspect of the gender symmetry debate is the notion of bidirectional or reciprocal IPV (i.e. when both parties commit violent acts against one another). Findings regarding bidirectional violence are particularly controversial because, if accepted, they can serve to undermine one of the most commonly cited reasons for female perpetrated IPV; self-defense against a controlling male partner. Despite this, many studies have found evidence of high levels of bidirectionality in cases where women have reported IPV. For example, social activist Erin Pizzey, who established the first women’s shelter in the U.K. in 1971, found that 62 of the first 100 women admitted to the centre were “violence-prone,” and just as violent as the men they were leaving. The 1975 National Family Violence Survey found that 27.7% of IPV cases were perpetrated by men alone, 22.7% by women alone and 49.5% were bidirectional. In order to counteract claims that the reporting data was skewed, female-only surveys were conducted, asking females to self-report, resulting in almost identical data. The 1985 National Family Violence Survey found 25.9% of IPV cases perpetrated by men alone, 25.5% by women alone, and 48.6% were bidirectional. A study conducted in 2007 by Daniel J. Whitaker, Tadesse Haileyesus, Monica Swahn, and Linda S. Saltzman, of 11,370 heterosexual U.S. adults aged 18 to 28 found that 24% of all relationships had some violence. Of those relationships, 49.7% of them had reciprocal violence. In relationships without reciprocal violence, women committed 70% of all violence. However, men were more likely to inflict injury than women.”

    “In 2012, two Swedish studies were released that showed men experienced IPV at rates similar to women—8% per year in one study and 11% per year in the other.”

  40. @JaxJensen: what works for me is the occasional Facebook post to silent lurkers, plus the occasional talk / comment that makes it clear I’m safe. So like if the lesson is on gender roles or something silly I always pointedly raise my hand and say something like, “reminder, this advice doesn’t work in abusive marriages” and offer some specific anecdote.

    People start crawling out of the woodwork after those comments, often in quiet and private conversations.

  41. The $64,000 Answer says:

    Steve S:-

    That may be so. But I believe Carolyn’s point (and I must tread carefully here, as my ignorance of Mormon doctrine and theology is cavernous) is that many LDS teachings and cultural practices specifically militate against women being believed and effectively helped when they disclose abuse.

    Unless I’m mistaken, there isn’t a similar corpus of materials, or institutional practices, telling men who are the victims of DV that they’re probably imagining it, provoking it, or that they should just grin and bear it for the greater good.

  42. I think it’s really important to note that for a very long time, LDS leaders had taught members to first seek the help of a bishop in times of trouble. I don’t really want to get into a war over citing references because frankly, I”m too dang lazy to participate in that. But if we’re all being honest I think that we can agree that LDS people are pretty conditioned and taught to seek help first from a bishop. They are taught he has the keys of discernment. That he can help counsel with them. That he can be trusted. From experience I’ve definitely learned that bishops are on the church’s side, that they are actually very poor counselors and that they are human and make tons of mistakes. I want to be clear that I am not bashing anyone, merely pointing out that we have taught members to follow a certain path, and that path doesn’t really work great for abuse. Maybe it works great for people who want to talk to the bishop about topical scripture study vs. chronological study. That’s great. He’s prob a great resource for that. But we are also still teaching couples to seek out the help of a bishop. We are counseling individuals to seek out the bishop’s help for an LDS approved counselor. We are actually advocating a lot of dependence at church on our leaders. I understand the feeling of wanting people to act like adults and be responsible for their own lives. Unfortunately, I’ve also been in a situation where- after getting called to the bishop’s office for my abusive ex tattling on me, I politely told my bishop that I appreciated his advice, but I needed to consult my attorney and I would make a decision that worked for me. I got told off by my bishop and told I needed to listen to him. Later, with another bishop and a disagreement with an ex, I had my TR revoked. Such is the price of being an adult and not obeying your bishop, I guess. #cantwin

    What we could be doing instead is having occasional 5th Sunday lessons on Domestic Violence – warning signs, how to come up with a safety plan, how to let people know that you are a safe person to come to in an emergency, how to stop contributing to the normalization of violence against women. Nobody is bashing anyone. I still like and may even say LOVE some of the priesthood holders/bishops who tried to get me to stay in an abusive marriage. It’s not their fault they didn’t understand what was going on. But can we all agree that if there’s trouble in Zion that it’s ok to not be shouting, All is well in Zion? Instead can we shout, Let’s educate all the Saints in Zion about abuse so that we can do better!! Then we can all end with a big Hosannah and the RS could make super cute crafty handouts with the National Abuse Hotline written on it, and also send two home with every man to take to their Home Teaching Families. #themoreyouknow

  43. @The $64,000 Answer
    I agree that there are some unique elements, particularly with a primarily male leadership, that are detrimental to women specifically, in cases of abuse.

  44. As a Mormon man, I have essentially no intimate contact of any kind with women in the church. No conversations take place in sacrament meeting. Sunday school is not a place for one-on-one conversations. And of course when I’m in my priesthood meeting, there are no women. Most of my callings have been sex-segregated as well. I don’t work directly with women in the church. The closes I have come to that is sitting in the Ward Council. So the idea that a woman would confide anything person in me–well she would never have the opportunity. I know the men a lot better. I have conversations in the hall with them. Between the meetings. In my callings. So now imagine that I’m called to be a bishop, and now for the first time in my life, I’m meeting one-on-one with women about their most intimate details. And they are discussing their husband whom I know much better than I know them. It would be weird. Now imagine I have no training. Now imagine I see their suffering and wonder if there is some way this can be fixed. That this can be repaired. And then figure out that a large percentage of the persons who come to counsel with me have real mental illness. And it’s hard for me to sort out what’s really going on with these people. Is she depressed? Is her husband a sociopath? The guy who used to be my hometeaching companion and was a hundred times more unselfish than myself? What a mess. You can only hope that the good Lord steps in from time to time.

  45. Mike W: “This bashing of these volunteer(ed) men in these very tough roles that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.” How is it that a post on how women are LITERALLY being “bashed” by their abusive husbands has gotten to a hyperbolic plea not to FIGURATIVELY “bash” volunteer leaders advising them to stay in their abusive marriages? You sure are tetchy about the noting of human failure when it’s among unpaid leaders. Save an appropriate proportion of empathy for the ones who are actually being abused here. Would you wish domestic abuse on your worst enemy? Your advice that they just “get out” sounds great on paper, but why are they so vulnerable in the first place? The system is stacked against them.

    My friend’s mom was in this type of situation. She divorced her alcoholic abusive husband in the 1970s and was told she should have stood by her man and made it work, she was being selfish, and many other things, a better wife wouldn’t have these problems. She didn’t ask the bishop’s advice, but she had men from the ward calling her out of the blue to take her to task for driving her husband away. In her case, she told them to get lost, lose her phone number, and she quit the church. Is that really the outcome you recommend? Or should she have been strong enough to 1) leave an abusive husband, 2) get a crap job to pay for her own expenses, 3) be a single mother to two daughters, one of whom was disabled, and 4) stay cheerfully in the church despite rejection and criticism and threats to her status as a member in good standing? I hope that situation is no longer typical, but it wasn’t atypical at all for that era.

    Ardis & Pilar: Your stories are heart-wrenching. I’m thankful you got out of those bad situations.

  46. So much to say says:

    Mike W: This is not a fair nor thorough response to your valid comment above, for how it feels to a lay bishop. But it is important to acknowledge that mental illness—or seeming mental illness—often develops in the abused. They have been controlled and gaslighted. If they were not previously prone to depression, they probably are now. Women who are chronically ill with weird and unspecified stuff—this of course does not always come from abuse, but can often accompany it. The abused fears to take care of herself, and not taking care of herself is also something that will be criticized. She is worn down, worn out, overworked, over stressed. She has aches and pains. Because everything she does might lead to a burst of emotional abuse, she never knows when it will resurface, just knows that it will, so her stress is constant. All of this gives the abuser (especially the emotional abuser) an excuse to criticize or control or gaslight even more. He can paint it well for himself— a reason for others to see the abused as the one who is actually suffering, and the emotional abuser often actually comes to see himself as suffering, which gives him more reason to detest the person he is supposed to love. Also, emotional abusers are often totally charming, the best at the public face. So, I am not trying to contradict you, but to add perspective.

  47. So much to say says:

    Normally I wouldn’t worry about a typo but this one changed my above meaning 180 degrees. Comment above should have said, “He can paint it well for himself—a reason for others to see the ABUSER as the one who is actually suffering….”

  48. MikeInWeHo says:

    Does LDS Social Services offer any programs or help lines for victims of abuse? A church-run anonymous help line with clinically-trained trained staff could be incredibly helpful for both victims and the bishops who counsel them.

  49. There are lots of people in my ward who have been divorced. It’s hardly uncommon. This conversation reminds me of the conversations I have with ex-Mormons where they talk about how it is virtually “impossible” to leave the church. And I say, “that’s funny, I know more people that have left the church than I can count, including kids I grew up with, people from my wards, and others.” How hard is it?

    Yes, many women in abusive relationships feel trapped. Or they don’t even truly understand how abusive the relationship is. Those are the ones where everyone else is asking them to leave the marriage, but they refuse to. To the point of true peril. These can be very difficult situations. But what does this have to do with bishops? If the Bishop says “I believe you.” Then what? What does the bishop do next? I suppose in a best case scenario the Bishop listens, helps the person get a clearer picture of what is going on, helps the person gain perspective, informs with spiritual truth from the gospel, and helps the person come to decisions that are right for them. That’s just my guess.

    I’ve had many people tell me their opinions of their own therapists. In some cases, I have known the described therapist well. And when a very negative opinion has been shared, I’ve asked them how they came to that opinion. Most of the time it has been over some relatively innocuous statement that caused offense. That felt like a personal attack. And in these cases, I know the therapist is good.

    If someone ends up with the perfect bishop who says the perfect thing at the right time, that’s wonderful. I hope it happens every time. But Bob the accountant, who was asked to be the Bishop, even though he has a million problems of his own, is now a therapist. Frankly, it’s a miracle that it works as well as it does. So yes, we can do better. But part of doing better is not expecting bishops to be talented marriage counselors and therapists. And being forgiving of their failings in many instances.

  50. Tell the truth, Mike W. You didn’t even read the post, did you?

  51. Mike W: “But part of doing better is not expecting bishops to be talented marriage counselors and therapists.” No, part of it is training them how to be better and offering actual assistance to people in distress, not expecting the victims of abuse to be self-reliant and do all the heavy lifting here. “And being forgiving of their failings in many instances.” Yes, poor them. Look, we all know being a bishop is an unsought burden. So is the very real threat of being killed by your abusive husband. I have enough sympathy for both, but that still doesn’t solve the systemic problems abused women face.

  52. While I think there is much that must be done to improve the culture around this, I feel that there has not been enough credit given to the many times that the leadership has addressed the fact that sometimes divorce is a necessity. Poor President Oaks is quoted as speaking out vehemently against divorce, but I have heard him speak on more than one occasion about how it is sometimes necessary, such as in times of abuse. That doesn’t mean there isn’t more we can do, I just don’t think the church is being fairly represented here. Having said that, there are obviously many women who have been failed by the poor counsel of bishops and a church culture which is too often not in line with Heavenly Father’s will for his children. That is heartbreaking. When I was married to my first husband (who was not abusive, but was engaged in another grievous sin), I felt I must do everything in my power to stay with him, even though he was considering leaving me. The stake president was aware of our situation and during a temple recommend interview, he asked me about how things were going. I gave him an update (things were not going well) and stated emphatically that I knew divorce was wrong and I was going to do everything I could to prevent it. He counseled me that if my husband wouldn’t repent that divorce was a viable option and that the Lord did not expect me to be unequally yoked. I will be forever grateful for his wise counsel. Apparently, we need more leaders like him.

  53. My stomach churns at the Deseret News’ Feb 2017 profile of Porter: “And as far as integrity is concerned, anyone who wrote a doctoral-length dissertation on C.S. Lewis — as Porter did at Oxford — should be presumed ethical until proven otherwise.”

    I hope the paper will use this “proven otherwise” moment to amplify the voices of Porter’s victims, but that would just be too embarrassing, wouldn’t it?

  54. Mike W: you’re taking up an awful lot of bandwidth lamenting the plight of bishops in a comment thread on a post about abused women. We can admit that it’s a plight, but I’d suggest that you acquire a sense of proportion in the near future. As an aid to that, you may wish to try listening more and commenting less. (In saying this I only mean to amplify what several women here have already said eloquently, in case hearing it from a man will make a difference.)

  55. The $64,000 Answer says:

    Michael H:-

    I think that ghastly piece you quoted goes directly to the perplexity indicated by Mike W. above: that the “guy who used to be [his] hometeaching companion and was a hundred times more unselfish than [him]self” could also be a wife-beater. Or a rapist. Or a child sex offender.

    If we could accept the truth, for which abundant evidence exists — that truly lovely people — salt-of-the-earth, give-you-the-shirt-off-his-back types: indeed, even those who write doctoral-length theses on C.S. Lewis — can be, and frequently are, wife-beaters, and rapists, and child sex offenders, we’d be more than half-way toward a solution.

  56. Thanks for writing this, Carolyn. Needed to be said.

  57. Thank you for writing this. It struck me while reading that in my years of growing up and going to singles wards I heard dozens of talks and lessons about who to date, how to date, how we need to date more often, how to make yourself attractive, temple marriage, importance of the family, etc, etc. No talks about recognizing toxic relationships, getting out of bad situations, or escaping abuse (except for Chieko Okazaki, who was before my time). If the church is going to dispense relationship advice from the pulpit it could do a world of good in educating it’s members about abuse.

  58. The post wasn’t about the plight of abused women. It was about the plight of abused women in the context of their relationships with Mormon clergy. The dyad.

  59. Carolyn, you are an example to me. Thank you for writing this.

  60. The current setup seems to burden everyone because men are expected to have the answers, and women (and less powerful men) are expected to accept those answers as Truth. It’s no easy task for people indoctrinated to reject their inner direction to start trusting themselves–especially when they lack models in their families, communities, and church houses.

    Mike W, I don’t expect you to understand why people who leave the church describe the process as “virtually impossible,” because people often misunderstand and even reject things they can’t relate to, but the dismissal of their feelings by you and others like you is what makes it feel impossible. It is agonizing to step away from a structure that no longer feels spiritually nourishing, knowing you will be unfairly labeled and treated, and that you are probably forfeiting many of your most valuable relationships–not because you aren’t willing to work things through, but because they aren’t–because they cast you out of their hearts and lives. I haven’t left, but I’m not sure how long it will feel avoidable.

  61. I’m here in the murky middle of trying to sort out options after experiencing long-term emotional abuse without (so far) an overt violence component. That adds a layer of complexity and confusion. Thank you, thank you, Carolyn for your plain-spoken OP, and others who’s comments have brought me clarity that’s really helped me today to cut through the gaslighting.

    I haven’t discussed any of this with my bishop except that one time three bishops ago. (What a difference it might have made if I’d had some real advocacy then.) I finally sought out a professional therapist who’s a good source of advice because I already know that bishops don’t have a lick of training and may have conflicted interests regarding a given problem.

    I’d like to add my voice to those who ask that we quit discussing how we ought to cut a bishop/SP/whatever some slack because he’s just a businessman and a dude from the ward. Quit making it about him, willya? Get him some training or access to professional resources. End of problem.

    Moving on. I haven’t seen anyone, other than the OP, point out that many of the church teachings directed at women and girls set the stage for getting caught in this mire, and I think it’s worthwhile to be more aware of how some vulnerable women need to hear different messages than others who are less so. For example, I read this week an article in an online forum advising women to avoid bitterness by sucking it up and trying harder to serve. Such advice for me, at this time, would be dangerous. And I know many women who should find another way to manage bitter feelings than what was prescribed. This is just one example of the kind of poorly thought out, one-size-fits-all advice to women that doesn’t help, and can do great harm.

  62. This describes my story exactly. I talked to my bishop about some of the emotional abuse going on, and he went straight to my husband and told him everything I had said to see if it was true. The abuse just got worse and on top of it, I got blamed for talking to the bishop. The bishop was completely out of line and completely unprepared for handling abuse cases. Never talked to him again.

  63. @metoo, I’m so so sorry. Your bishop literally didn’t believe you unless he went to your husband, the perpetrator, who escalated in response. That is terrifying. :: safe virtual hug::

  64. One comment: I want to agree with something someone said above about how abuse happens to men too and various cultural problems harm men too. I completely agree. I know men who have experienced terrible relationships too. And if a man wants to write a post about what all of those unique considerations are in Mormondom and send it to me, I will publish it.

    But the point of this post was the unique experiences for women, which I know much more about.

  65. I know it’s very hard to leave the church for many. But not all. And it happens all the time. In fact, a majority of Mormons are not active participants. It’s the minority of Mormons that actually participate in the faith. Each person has a different situation. Divorce is similar, I think. It’s very hard, it sucks. Great pain is often involved. Unpleasant difficult choices. But it happens all the time, even to members of the church. And I see people in my wards who have successfully navigated divorce and continue in the faith.

    “I told my bishop about my husband’s abuse, and my husband suffered zero consequences.” “I told my bishop about my husband’s abuse, and he confronted my husband to try and bring him to repentance and/or consequence.” But like the woman said above, the second scenario might actually lead to a worse situation. Being a bishop is like being the assigned “therapist” to everyone in his ward. Whereas a real therapist is only a therapist to the persons who go see him/her. Imagine a bishop has been told by a woman that her husband is abusing her. And then the next month the husband comes in for a temple recommend interview. Does the bishop say anything? One can imagine how complex these situations could be.

  66. Duffy dad, and what of my relative whose husband for ten years punched her, broke her bones, pushed her down the stairs over and over while she was pregnant, raped her, smashed her head into the wall in front of her children AND a neighbor AND the RS President, and was arrested because the NEIGHBORS called the police after hearing a violent, dangerous beating, who was convicted of domestic abuse and child abuse based on other witnesses and police testimony, and who gave ALL of this evidence to her bishop and Stake President? How then does one explain that he told her she was breaking up an eternal family and tried to discipline HER for “harming the reputation of an Elder in Zion”?

    This stuff happens. It happens ALL THE TIME. And if you refuse to believe that, when so many women are here telling you that it happens, then you are the problem.

  67. Senior Sister says:

    Let me add a hopeful note from personal experience. I left an abusive temple marriage after 15 years, and it took so much courage to do so. My Bishop (a dentist) was awesome! He never told me what to do (and I wanted him to, I didn’t want to decide), but he never counseled me to stay either, and I know he was relieved when I got out of the situation. I didn’t know until later that Bishop’s aren’t supposed to counsel toward divorce, but now that I’m aware of it, the fact that my wise, wonderful Bishop never, ever suggested I needed to stay speaks volumes. Instead he stressed my agency, that I needed to think through the pros and cons of leaving, consider all my options, and that ultimately this was a decision I needed to make for myself.

    Probably the greatest blessing I had during this time was being a counselor in a Relief Society Presidency where both the president and the other counselor had been divorced and later remarried. We spent most of our weekly presidency meetings with them counseling me to divorce my husband. I remember the president telling me that I did not understand what an abnormal situation I was living in, and would not understand until I left. These women blessed me for eternity as far as I’m concerned.

    My marriage had been emotionally abusive for years, but became physically abusive for the last few months. When my then husband tried to run the president and I down with his car after a meeting, she would not let me go home, and took me to her home. She immediately headed to choir practice, pulled the Bishop out of it, and told him I was in danger. He had known about the situation for months prior to this (and had already offered the counsel mentioned above), but from that point on, both the Bishop and the RS President were extremely protective of me. (And yes, having a witness to the abuse undoubtedly helped a great deal.) My husband and I separated shortly after this incident.

    This post brings up so many memories. The stories were out there 20+ years ago, but you had to seek to find them – Exponent II and Dialogue had personal stories of women who had left their marriages due to abuse, stories that I read over and over again and that gave me courage. It’s said the situation hasn’t changed much, but social media now provides a much better way for victims to connect and share.

    I have been grateful every day that I divorced my husband. My life is so much better, even though I have never remarried and have raised a family by myself. I advise anyone in an abusive situation to get out of it. And I wish every victim could have the experience with a Bishop that I did at this time.

  68. Jenny Harrison says:

    I think it would be good if we all just paid more attention to the people around us. Our neighbors, coworkers, family members etc. We should be looking into their eyes when we talk to them. It is so easy to get busy and not notice things we should ALL be seeing, but don’t want to admit is there. I am a 55 year old woman. I hate to say it, but I have seen it all when it comes to abuse of women in the LDS church. ( I have since left the church and there is no going back) I have on many occasions been the one person who just asked someone if they were okay and then got a flood of information from them! I have seen multiple women go through divorce, it was ugly, but they chose the correct path.

    Abuse comes in all forms. I have a brother who married a ‘wonderful’ woman in the temple. She would hit him and throw things at him (like knives, heavy pans) and threaten to take the children from him if he divorced her. He finally did divorce her. The Bishop believed that my brother was cheating on her, (what his wife told him) and so he threw his whole support behind her. My brother was ostracized from the ward. He had to move. He lost his children. Over time the truth came out about her abuse and some school teachers stood up for my brother in court after the children told them what was really going on. My brother gained custody of the children. It took 12 years!

    I agree with Marian who said above:
    “It struck me while reading that in my years of growing up and going to singles wards I heard dozens of talks and lessons about who to date, how to date, how we need to date more often, how to make yourself attractive, temple marriage, importance of the family, etc, etc. No talks about recognizing toxic relationships, getting out of bad situations, or escaping abuse (except for Chieko Okazaki, who was before my time). If the church is going to dispense relationship advice from the pulpit it could do a world of good in educating it’s members about abuse.”

    I have a glimmer of hope in all of this. I have noticed that the younger women in the church don’t take as much crap as previous generations. In our current neighborhood,(Spanish Fork, UT) a lovely young woman (daughter of a close friend) recently married in the temple. They were married all of 14 days when she came down with a terrible infection in her sinuses and was in bed. Her new husband was so upset that she hadn’t made dinner that he punched her, in the face!! She got up, took her car keys, drove to a friends house and called the police. Like I said, a glimmer of hope…

  69. Carolyn, thank you so much for writing this. For helping me to see these situations not from the outside in, but through the eyes of a victim of abuse, with all the unique challenges that come with it happening in the context of LDS culture.

    It’s one thing to recognize that abuse is bad. That’s easy and we should get no credit for it. It’s another thing to see how we fail to stop it, regardless of good intentions, when we’re not seeing it through the lens you’ve held up here.

  70. Aaron Johansen says:

    Some context to Senator Hatch’s two statements:

    https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/07/politics/orrin-hatch-rob-porter/index.html

  71. Mike W.–the bishop HAS to ask about it in a temple recommend interview. It’s one of the required questions. How are you not understanding that the person to be concerned about here is the victim of abuse, not the poor, poor bishop who has to try to help?

  72. I was so brokenhearted (and angry) after reading this yesterday that this is the FB post I wrote:

    “So did you hear about LDS Rob Porter today? He was the White House aide that stepped down because his 2 ex-wives have similar accounts of horrific abuse from him. Both of their stories also tell how they tried to tell LDS authorities about that abuse, but that they weren’t believed. This is horrific and unjustifiable.
    Let me be clear and unambiguous about this… If you are reading this you are one of my “friends”. If you are in a situation similar to these women in any way, if you are facing abuse from a husband/partner, if you feel you don’t have anyone to tell, TELL ME. I will believe you. I WILL take steps to help you. I will do my best to keep you, and your children, safe. Please do not live in fear. Do not let yourself be hurt. Speak up, and I will help you get out.
    I wish I could believe that none of my friends face this, but I’m sure some of you do. If you have nobody else, talk to me. Please.”

    In less than 24 hours this is by FAR my most liked post of the year. I’m glad so many read it, but am still sadden it is a topic that seems to touch so many. Just disgustingly terrible that such evil would take place among so precious a segment of our people. So basically I hate everything about this post: I hate that the topic exists, I hate that posts like this are necessary, I hate that seemingly so many have personal experience with it, I hate knowing that my friends are experiencing it, I hate thinking of when my daughters marry… I’m not a happy person today. But that’s fine, because I suppose that some portion of my time SHOULD be agitated by this.

  73. Try financial abuse when the Bishop is also the husband.

  74. @JaxJensen: Thank you for speaking up. Yes, it should make you, and everyone, uncomfortable. That’s what calls us to action. And I’m going to bet you right now, that within the next month or two, someone will take you up on your offer. It’s sad that it’s true. But thank you for being there for them.

  75. Jax: we were tussling on my post the other day, so I want to say thank you for your last comment.

  76. Not directly related to violence, but it’s worth pointing out that the messages devaluing women start young. Very young. Sure, each week we tell girls to say that they are “daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love Him.” Still, my Beehive already notices sexist jokes at church within the context of skits, programs, and talent shows put on – not just by other youth – but sometimes by the leadership. (She still can’t get over a Dating Game skit put on by our stake presidency where one of the questions was about how many pairs of shoes your wife owns.) She has started passing up certain youth activities, because (to quote her) “The boys will take up a bunch of time doing something stupid, and everyone will tell them they’re great. And there will probably be sexist jokes, too.” In all honesty, I had to agree with her. We’ll stay home and rent a movie together instead.

  77. Northridge Knight says:

    To the $64,000 Answer:

    Not to offend, but my impression of LDS Doctrine is the exact opposite of what you are intimating. The Book of Mormon Prophet Jacob castigated men for the sins they have committed against their wives. The tears of his daughters provoke a special wrath on behalf of Father in Heaven. In terms of moving forward, I think all the commenters on this blog can spread the policies laid out by President Hinckley in his 2002 address at Priesthood Session. The consequences of abusing a wife within the Church are severe–no callings should be extended, and a temple recommend should be withdrawn. I realize that victims armed with this talk may face the dangers of more escalation on behalf of the abuser–but nobody should be confused about the standards and the doctrine of the LDS faith.
    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2002/04/personal-worthiness-to-exercise-the-priesthood?lang=eng

  78. @Northridge Knight: There’s no QUESTION that the Gospel, and LDS Scripture, and LDS General Authorities condemn abuse. The problem is not with doctrine, it’s with practice. It’s with the fact that we as a community (and to be fair, most of the world’s communities are equally bad) don’t do a good job of recognizing, labeling, or believing abuse.

    Take a quintessential situation. A woman doesn’t make dinner, or the house isn’t clean, or she gets home late because she was chatting at book club. The husband starts yelling at her, maybe he throws something. The woman apologizes — after all, she IS late, and she DID fail to nurture and take care of her home responsibilities, like the gospel tells her to. The husband rubs it in — he starts quoting all of the talks on gender roles, of which there are an abundance. The woman becomes convinced that to preserve peace in her marriage she just needs to be a better housewife, and less selfish with wanting to see her friends or take a nap. The behavior keeps escalating. But it’s always grounded in something the woman feels she failed to religiously do right — if she were a better wife, her temple marriage would be stronger. If it’s her fault this is going badly, maybe that means she can control and fix it.
    Maybe it comes up in passing with the Bishop, and the woman articulates it as “I’m not always good at getting dinner on the table after working and so my husband gets extremely angry, I’m trying to do better.”

    Many Bishops right then HEAR the doctrinal message (“woman should be nurters and stay-at-home-moms, not career women, and she’s failing her home responsibilities, I agree with her, she should re-prioritize, I’ll validate that”). They DON’T hear “my husband gets extremely angry”. They don’t know what “Extremely angry” means. They assume the woman is exaggerating, and some fights and anger are normal, etc.

    In reality its 10x worse than the woman is letting on, and the Bishop doesn’t have enough training or perspective to actually hear what’s going on.

    In other words — they never even think to apply the label of “Abuse.” And without that label, they don’t know how to switch into abuse-doctrinal-mode.

  79. ex-Mormon says:

    My ex slashed my tires and threatened me with a gun after I left him. What was the bishop’s response? Because my ex went to him and confessed, he was the good guy and I was the bad one because I sought refuge in someone who loved me for who I am.

  80. And just as LDS Bishops often have no idea how to best help women in abusive situations, neither do Relief Society Presidents, Visiting Teachers or even friends. There are some excellent resources out there on verbal, emotional, financial, spiritual, physical and sexual abuse. To think that they should “leave immediately” or that you can “save” someone from a situation like this is very naive and potentially dangerous. Women need access to excellent therapists & community resources, a few trusted and non-judgemental friends or “vaults,” and a VERY GOOD plan (that might take time and great care/preparation to enact). They need to feel that you will be there for them, no matter their short or long-term choices. And, heavens, if you are worried about someone, DO NOT corner her in the hall at church, or worse, gossip behind her back. Try to seek her out and build a relationship, show her that you are trustworthy, extremely tight-lipped and will care about her even if she makes choices that you don’t understand. The process of understanding you are being abused and figuring out what to do about it is excruciating, embarrassing, life-altering and scary. It’s not as simple as just “getting out,” and if you haven’t been in this situation or have been extremely close to someone who has, I’m not sure if you can really get it. Please be loving and kind (and not judgmental) no matter what.

  81. “Most Bishops”? Seriously? There are over 30,000 bishops and branch presidents in the world. How can you presume to suggest how most of them would respond to that scenario?

  82. I wish that church leaders at all levels understood how damaging it is to keep a family together when someone is abusive. My mom stuck it out for 37 years, and while she was the main recipient of the abuse, all of the kids had to deal with it too. My dad used to scream at my sister, call her a whore, terrify her so much that she passed out. Another sister has stories of being smacked and when she cried from pain, it was her fault because “her shorts were too tight.” I coped by basically becoming invisible. Never asked for anything (emotionally or otherwise) so I never got in trouble. I have literal scars from the injuries I was too afraid to bring attention to. It wasn’t until I was a grown adult, on my own and married, that I realized a family vacation could start without a screaming episode. Somehow I doubt that that is what the Lord has planned for eternal families, so why encourage anyone to endure it on earth?

  83. The $64,000 Answer says:

    Northridge Knight:-

    As I say, I’ll have to defer to those who know more about this than I do—which, I daresay, is everybody else here. I have an outsider’s knowledge of the broad tenets of Mormonism, and several LDS friends who keep me in the loop about certain things, but the nitty-gritty of statements by General Authorities, etc., is far beyond me.

    However, the evidence presented by victims and their friends in this thread seem to indicate that whatever President Hinckley or others may have said, people lower down the pecking order, especially at the bishopric level, appear to have their own—and highly damaging—interpretations of what Mormon doctrine calls for in these situations.

  84. $64,000 Answer: I think Carolyn’s comment above is helpful. It’s not so much that local leaders think that Mormon doctrine think abuse is justifiable, or that victims are to blame for abuse; it’s that they too often can’t see abuse when it’s right in front of them. When they do recognize it, they act appropriately, but too often they’re blinded to it. Why? Well, probably a thousand reasons, but look at ashmae’s recent post for the beginning of an answer.

  85. I especially noted this line from the Rob Porter news linked in the OP: “Willoughby and Porter met through the Mormon church in 2009 and married after a romance of less than six months. She said that, within two weeks of their marriage, “it was very clear Rob had a temper that was inappropriate for the trigger.”

    “Temper inappropriate for the trigger” is (in my experience such as it is) an important observation–too common in practice and yet too frequently overlooked and not even recognized by the person abused. For Willoughby to use that phrase tells me that she is educated and strong, and well counseled. Would that everybody understood that “inappropriate for the trigger” is a serious problem.

  86. wreddyornot says:

    Thank you Carolyn. And thank you commenters. Do any of you think that the power differential between men and women in the church might contribute to both the abuse and also to how it is addressed within the patriarchy? To me, it seems so obvious that some work at the very foundation of such inequity might be necessary to substantially help the situation. On the other hand, I must do better myself and encourage the same of others I have any influence upon.

  87. The $64,000 Answer says:

    It may be so, JKC. But Pilar, above, describes going to no fewer than eight bishops and stake presidents, and receiving the same response from all of them. To me that speaks of something structural, going beyond individual failings. If so many people are getting it so consistently wrong, the question needs to be asked as to why that is the case.

  88. “To me that speaks of something structural, going beyond individual failings. If so many people are getting it so consistently wrong, the question needs to be asked as to why that is the case.”

    I agree. It is a structural problem. I think Carolyn is right when she says that it’s not a problem of doctrine, but I don’t think that means it’s only individual failings and not a structural problem.

  89. I think it’s only mostly true that it’s not a doctrinal problem. As wreddyornot points out, this problem is unlikely to be fully solved until women are regarded as fully human, capable of all human feeling, thought, and activity–which necessarily includes church leadership and ministry. Our commitment to an all-male hierarchy is entrenched enough and supported by enough authoritative rhetoric (including scripture) that we can’t quite wriggle out of the doctrinal bind. But it’s true that there is (thank god!) no doctrinal reason why the all-male hierarchy has to enable abuse.

  90. Such a good and important post! And such good discussion, for the most part, in the comments. Kristine @ 10:54 — I agree mostly with your comment but am scratching my head about rhetoric in scripture that definitively means women can’t be leaders in the church, including in ministry. I would argue the paucity of such definitive statements in scripture and that the currently authoritative interpretation and policy arises from the beliefs of current church leaders (in cultural deference to the twentieth-century crop of church leaders).

  91. Cath @ 9:37am — that’s so terrible and scary! So sorry that was your experience.

  92. I agree–that’s why I had scriptures in parentheses. I do think there are at least reasonably strong hints in the Doctrine & Covenants that men are supposed to be in charge.

  93. > “Most Bishops”? Seriously?

    What’s this in reference to? The original post is scrupulous about saying “many bishops” handle these situations well, and (tragically) many, many do not. Was there an edit?

  94. I think Mark B. is referring to a previous commenter but I also looked and didn’t see it.

  95. Wow that’s terrible. Hopefully he goes to jail. I’d also hope that a stake president or area authority would get in touch with the wives and bishops and relief society presidencies to see what went wrong in their counseling and ensure it can’t happen again.

    There were a lot of failures that could be discussed. I think this post is too premature. The fact that the guy had a male Bishop is less likely to explain his behavior than that he was likely addicted to pornography and clearly breaking his covenants on so many levels. But for me to start speculating about porn and for others to get upset about male leadership might be premature. I’m just sad for the victims here.

  96. Yes, Kristine, that’s probably the source — but if I remember correctly, even in Elder Oaks’s relatively recent talk in response to Ordain Women about why he continued to reason (he never said he wrestled the Lord about it or prayed and fasted for [x] long for an answer) that women cannot be ordained to priesthood office, his arguments rested largely or entirely on the *absence* of reference to women or feminine pronouns in key D&C scriptures about priesthood. (Again, if I’m remembering the talk correctly.)

  97. I was referring to Carolyn’s comment at 9:03 a.m. which she edited without acknowledgment.

  98. Yes — I did quickly say “most” in one comment and edited it back to “many.” Focusing on such pedantics though utterly detracts from the overarching point of that comment, my original post, and the entire thread.

  99. Oh, brother, everyone knows that most Bishops are good. The point is that even good Bishops can have a blind spot. Arguing about the precise percentage that are able to see around it is unhelpful and boring.

  100. Whether the number is over 51% or not wouldn’t surprise me terribly either way. In my old Salt Lake ward, the YM president’s family next door seemed picture perfect, until his wife called the cops because he was beating her. Just found out from friends that he’s the bishop now!

  101. This reminds me of a recent BYU mag publication.
    ‘Cora’s soft thoughts about divorce began early on, when Hugh decided unilaterally there would be no birth control and Cora subsequently bore four children in five years…For Cora and Hugh, unexpected counsel to Cora from their bishop had a profound effect. As their bishop was setting Cora apart for a new calling, he blessed her with “the courage and strength” to keep her family together…“The weight of those words burned in my heart,” says Cora. “I went home and told my husband, and he felt the confirming Spirit. We both renewed our commitment to continue with our marriage.” They decided not to say “the d word” again or to threaten each other with quitting or walking out.’
    https://magazine.byu.edu/article/divide-or-conquer/
    This appears to describe a lower level version of precisely this behavior (i.e. man is unacceptably dominating and brooks no argument even on issues centering on his wife’s body), and comes with a bishop who told the woman to stay.

  102. byumag should be embarrassed. The CHI explicitly enjoins men to be considerate of their wives in decisions about sexuality and birth control. Ugh.

  103. But I think that’s a great illustration, actually. There are (at least) two stories there–one about unrighteous dominion, and one about self-sacrifice and Christian charity. They can both be true, but we always choose to tell one instead of the other, because it involves less conflict and ambiguity.

  104. Random plug for anyone reading the comments, this lecture from last week at BYU was exceptional.

    https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/benjamin-m-ogles_agency-accountability-atonement-jesus-christ/

  105. It seems to me that a fundamental challenge in dealing with these cases is that the vast majority of abusers do not consider what they’re doing to be abuse. Quite often, in fact, they interpret their actions to be righteous–they’re meting out justice, making sure that there are consequences for disobedience, etc. It’s not unheard of for abusers see themselves as the victims in the situation; for example, believing that another person is “making” them lash out. I’m aware of one case in which the abusive husband is absolutely convinced that he’s the one being abused in the marriage, because he’s defined his wife’s failure to live up to her temple covenant to obey him as “abusing him.”

    Because of this, I find myself dubious that lots and lots of talks condemning abusive behavior are going to make a significant impact, at least in terms of making abusers rethink what they’re doing. I don’t think such talks are without merit; I do think it’s valuable for the church to be taking a clear position. But the idea I sometimes hear that the church is doing just fine on this because abuse is routinely condemned over the pulpit strikes me as not thinking broadly enough about what it might mean to institutionally discourage abuse. I wonder whether energy might be better aimed at providing resources for people who find themselves being abused, such as education aimed at increasing people’s ability to recognize it (as I think other commenters have mentioned, that’s not the sort of thing we ever learned in YW), some sort of basic training for people in leadership positions who are likely to hear about it, and whatever tangible support can be offered those who are in such situations (whether or not they’re ready to leave them). Simply saying “we condemn abuse” is good, certainly, but it’s not actually a whole lot.

  106. Seconding Carolyn’s recommendation to watch last week’s BYU devotional.

  107. Really important points, Lynnette. Scary though.

  108. whizzbang says:

    I can second what Lynnette said, i’ve seen that behaviour time and time again in the Church,Bishop, YM Pres. Branch President. To them it’s always the others, what choice did they have? she’s been asking for it, she had it coming, it’s to “help her” and on and on with the excuses, i’ve seen and heard it time and again.

  109. I’ve told this story a million times because I continue to be horrified by it.

    When I was an intern at LDSFS back in college (2007 – I ended up working there after I graduated until 2013), a birth mother we were working with was only placing her baby for adoption because her husband of 8 months was leaving her. She was a teenager (hadn’t even graduated from high school yet) and could not financially take care of her baby.

    The husband? Her rapist. They were in the same ward and he was a returned missionary. He asked her on a date and she said yes because you never say no to a date with a returned missionary even though she had queasy feelings about him. He raped her on that date. She went to her Bishop who did.not.believe her. He told her she must have seduced him because an RM would *never* rape someone. When she found out she was pregnant from the rape, she went back to her Bishop again. Following the handbook (because he didn’t believe she was raped) he counseled her to marry her rapist. She and her parents were aghast and went to their Stake President who happened to be her uncle. Her Stake President/uncle sided with her Bishop. Her parents, not wanting to be disobedient to their priesthood leaders, encouraged her to follow his counsel.

    So at the tender age of 17 she married the man who raped her because of heavy familial and ecclesiastical pressure. A few months in he decided it was more fun to rape girls than marry them and left her alone and pregnant.

    Were the Bishop and Stake President ever punished for their abborhent advice? Never. I asked my adoption supervisor what we do went one of our clients is getting unethical and abusive advice from a Bishop and he told me that official policy is to hearken to the counsel of the Bishop, but unofficially we do everything we can to counteract the advice.

    I ran into this woman just in the last year. 10 years later she’s doing well but she’s been in therapy for 10 years straight and has PTSD from the rape and placing her baby for adoption and the adoptive parents reneging on all the open adoption promises they made her. I hope God has more forgiveness for all the players involved who sacrificed this woman on the altar of priesthood obedience than I do.

  110. I second Lynette’s comment about the abusers frequently seeing themselves as righteous, and thus outside the counsel regarding abuse. I’ve seen this in both directions, husbands towards wives, and also wives towards husbands, just swap the pronouns in her first paragraph- though absolutely not equally distributed. This is something for which women in general pay a much heavier toll, due directly to the structural imbalance in our leadership.

  111. Risa, that story is horrifying.

  112. It would seem a relatively small thing to just take these kinds of issues OUT of the hands of bishops altogether and instead create a practice of referring people directly to local services (whether LDS or not). Post these resources publicly in ward buildings. Put them in newsletters and ward bulletins. Train bishops that when someone comes to you with a problem with a spouse, they have to say, “I can’t give much advice on that, but let’s meet at x time and call these numbers together.”

    Also, most abuse hotlines are happy to give advice to people who are just helping someone else (or on a hypothetical basis). When I was a Relief Society president and we were informed that a woman who moved into our ward might be in an abusive relationship, our first call was the local women’s shelter for guidance on how to approach the situation. They were incredibly helpful.

    There are so, so many problems that could be avoided if we developed an institutional/cultural practice of reaching out to experts for help, instead of attempting to puzzle it out internally. Bishops shouldn’t feel they have to act as counselors on every issue, and it isn’t a threat to their authority or spiritual discernment for them to admit that something’s out of their league.

    It wouldn’t fix the doctrinal teachings that make so many women susceptible to abuse, but it would sure help with the response.

  113. Risa, that’s horrific. And it’s a perfect example of how well-intentioned advice can go seriously awry when leaders are predisposed not to believe women.

  114. Yes, women can leave, yes there are resources outside the church- What’s hard is to see these men still hold membership in this church because women were not believed. No consequences is hard to live with. It is good there is an All Seeing Eye.

  115. Paul Ritchey says:

    Carolyn: First, thank you for what is obviously a thought-provoking (and, I hope, action-provoking) post. I do think, though, that there is at least one major doctrinal aspect to this problem, that might be susceptible of a doctrinal solution (in addition to practical solutions).

    From boyhood on, men in the Church learn D&C 121 – the owner’s manual on priesthood power. My thesis is that we get that exactly wrong: we should be teaching this to women first, and to men second. That is, doctrine should recognize that women are uniquely situated in the family to judge priesthood power. The male preeminence in presiding in the home casts at least an arguable pall over attempts by “outside” priesthood holders to intervene in borderline cases (which, apparently and unfortunately, is how many leaders would describe most abuse). But the wife of a priesthood holder is, doctrinally, his equal in presiding – she is not an outsider. Thus, she can legitimately determine when, in the words of Section 121, the “Heavens withdraw themselves” and “The Spirit of the Lord is grieved,” and thus when both the power and authority of her husband (that is, his “cover” for abusing her) have been destroyed. He can no longer claim priesthood grounds for the abuse, because he has no authority or power.

    The doctrine we’re missing (or, rather, are silent on) is that same wife’s ability to preside in her home when her husband does not. In that role, she should, if his authority and power remain impaired, decide to remove him from the home as a threat to her family (that is, divorce him). Even more importantly, she should refuse to accept any claim by any priesthood holder that even hints at submission to her husband. Any authority to which she should have submitted has been destroyed.

    To put a point on it, the Church should clarify existing doctrine to make it clear that it is the wife, NOT male priesthood leadership, that is entitled to judge the husband in the home. The Bishop may judge him in the Church, but SHE judges him in the home. It is, after all, the family that is at the center of things. The Church exists merely to support and strengthen the family.

  116. MDSMDSMDS says:

    This issue is all the more frustrating because D&C 121 sets a solid doctrinal framework for stark condemnation of domestic violence. What part of “Amen to the priesthood . . . of that man” don’t we understand?

  117. Paul Ritchey says:

    MDSMDSMDS: My point (above) is that we don’t understand the part where, when the man’s priesthood is “amen-ed,” the woman (not the Bishop) is in charge.

  118. MDSMDSMDS says:

    I’d argue it isn’t just Amen to his priesthood, but Amen to his priesthood ordinances, including his sealing. We’re investing too much in trying to preserve something that has already been broken.

  119. wreddyornot says:

    Doesn’t a patriarchal priesthood by definition exercise unrighteous dominion?

  120. tomwheeler says:

    HB1 specifies that if leaders learn of abuse, they need to call the LDS hotline to get both legal and counseling advise. It also clearly directs leaders to counsel victims of abuse to report what happened to local authorities (ie police). Also – in response to Risa – the handbook specifies that no leader should ever tell any member who to marry (even if they’ve had a child together).

  121. tomwheeler says:

    In part it says — “In instances of abuse, the first responsibility of the Church is to help those who have been abused and to protect those who may be vulnerable to future abuse. Victims of sexual abuse (including rape) often suffer serious trauma and feelings of guilt.

    Victims of the evil acts of others are not guilty of sin. Church leaders should be sensitive to such victims and give caring attention to help them overcome the destructive effects of abuse.

    Stake presidents and bishops make every effort to counsel those who have been involved in abuse. These leaders may refer to the booklet Responding to Abuse: Helps for Ecclesiastical Leaders and the pamphlets Preventing and Responding to Spouse Abuse and Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse.”…

    “If confidential information indicates that a member’s abusive activities have violated applicable law, the bishop or stake president should urge the member to report these activities to the appropriate government authorities…” HB1: 17.2.3

  122. Wondering says:

    That’s well and good, but who reads the handbook?

  123. Bishop Bill says:

    When I was Bishop, I NEVER did marriage counseling. I’m an engineer, what do I know about counseling? I AWAYS sent couples to either LDS Social Services, or to a outside counselor of their choosing. Problems with WofW? Fine, lets talk. Problem with husband? Not my job…..

  124. I may be going out on a limb here, but I think one of the problems is that abusers are often very presentable in public–they’re smooth-talkers, flatterers, and they know how to look good in front of superiors. I saw this on my mission–missionaries who were emotionally abusive to certain other missionaries in private, but who turned on the charm in other situations. The mission president never had a clue, and was quick to make those missionaries zone leaders and sometimes APs. I imagine those same missionaries don’t stop being abusive after they return from their missions.

    So I understand, a bit, why a bishop may be stupid here. The nice, smart man who tells the bishop nice things and seems like a great guy can’t possibly be abusive. He just seems to nice. Abusive guys wear wife-beaters, or at least have facial hair and wear colored shirts to church. That nice smart man in a white shirt and suit who gives his testimony every six months would never harm a fly.

  125. wreddyornot, you speak to my heart. I am in anguish over this.

  126. A quiet, kind, subtle abuser is tough for they leave no evidence for others to see. I believe the word is predator. Amen to his priesthood is right.

  127. “quiet, kind, subtle abuser” . . . “abusers are often very presentable in public” . . . “the first responsibility is to help those who have been abused” . . .
    And the painfully obvious prescription — believe the women.

  128. tomwheeler, In Canada, at least in Ontario, bishops and stake presidents are required by law to report physical and sexual abuse to the police. It’s been that way for at least twenty years.

  129. Amen to the many comments that point out that we are often ignorant of what abuse actually looks like if it doesn’t involve blood or bruises. Those who are abused have a hard time identifying their treatment as abuse. Leaders aren’t able to read between the lines and name the experiences abuse. This means that we rarely kick into appropriate response mode, even when we believe something is not quite right.

    I recommend everyone acquaint themselves with the “wheel of power and control” and the “wheel of equality” to understand what abuse (and healthy relationships!) looks like in practice. No marriage is perfect, but if a leader hears about one of the behaviors, he should be trained to ask about others to see if there is a pattern. If so, there is likely abuse going on. If so, time for professionals! And, people should be trained from a young age to know what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like in a concrete way. Mormons have an easy, doctrinal way to discuss this: the central and sacred role of agency. (Ben Ogles’s recent BYU devotional on sexual assault is great with the doctrine.) This is important for both boys and girls. Talk with your kids about this. Use whatever platform you have from your calling. Talk about it on social media. Use incidents like this Rob Porter disgrace as a way to bring it up. Grassroots is better than nothing.

    A search for “Intimate Partner Violence best practices” will help you know how to react when you encounter abuse. (Hint: believe and then support the re-emergence of the individual’s sense of agency.) Activists have already done the hard work of figuring this out. We need to listen, learn, and act.

  130. I will add that I know of two separate incidents where church members went to prison for sexual assault. In one case the individual in question had been the ward mission leader. This supports what people have been saying that abusers almost never look the part.

  131. I personally believe we need to better teach our young women that they are people, worthy of self-respect and respect from others. We need to teach them to speak up and speak back to people in positions of authority. We need to teach them to see themselves as worthy. They do not need permission from their parents or their priesthood leaders or their Relief Society president to get a divorce. They probably should find a good counselor, because sometimes we believe little things matter more than they do, but abuse or violence or mocking or manipulation? No, teach these women and men to trust themselves.
    The best teaching I ever heard was that nothing was worse than failure in the home. Once I got divorced I felt so free. The worst had happened and I was happy and fine and free to pursue a life that did not have to include constant worry about perfection. I had failed at the most important thing, so what worse could I do.
    Also, could we not consider that getting the man or woman rebaptized and back in the temple is the end all and do all. It is not. Real change needs to precede these steps. And some actual training for our bishops in mental illness would help alot. Manipulation, threats, gas lighting and violence are all symptoms of severe mental illness. Sometimes what the abuser needs is hospitalization, not a Church court and ex-communication.

  132. Shall I up the stakes here: At the end of my marriage, but while I was still married, my husband confessed to his new bishop (new ward) that he had twice had sex with prostitutes during the last years of our marriage. It was the age of AIDS with no treatment yet available. My husband was planning on marrying his new girlfriend. The bishop required him to tell the girlfriend about the prostitutes but told my husband he did not need to tell me. Now, how is that justifiable? Am I not the actual wife still? Am I not still trying to determine if I will file the final divorce papers or try again to save my marriage (as I was unaware of the new girlfriend at the time)? But who am I to have rights in the eyes of the bishop in my own marriage. Obviously the new girlfriend needed to know as she made the decision to marry him or not. But not the wife.
    I will never understand the logic here. And I will demand both an explanation and justice on this score at the Final Judgement. I do not think it is going to go well for many of our Priesthood leaders. It does not seem that a man can enter the Celestial Kingdom when he is being condemned by the women in the Church. Amen to their Priesthood. Forever Amen. Let us teach the women to say it until it finally sinks in. I will speak up when you are judged and I will condemn.

  133. Lynette’s point is so important. Abusers often rationalize that they are the wronged party. They could probably pass a lie detector test about it.

  134. Marianne Kwiatkowski says:

    I’ve been there too. He was in the bishopric. NOBODY believed me, and I was yelled at by several bishops after I left him.

  135. Marianne Kwiatkowski says:

    Another one: The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans

  136. Margie Halling says:

    Risa , This story is wrong on so many levels. Why would someone report a rape to the bishop? Why didn’t her parents take her to the the police? When a crime has been committed, the local police authorities should be notified. This is straight from the leaders of the church, besides common sense. I can only think that her parents did not believe her. Why would they encourage her to marry the very predator who raped her? Don’t they know her and love her? A parent’s first priority should be to protect their child. This sounds like a story from Iran, and I think that some of the story is missing. We will never know the bishop’s side of the story because they are not allowed to talk about it.

  137. Good article by Richard G Scott noted in Benjamin Ogles devotional- “To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse,” Ensign, May 2008.

  138. The beginning of this article reads like my life. I struggled with an abusive relationship for years, thinking if I just tried harder, things would get better. Finally, when I couldn’t take the abuse any longer, I talked up to my bishop, then my stake president. They did nothing. My ex was in the bishopric at the time. Then when I separated from my ex, they tried to gaslight me and claimed I’d never talked to them about the abuse. My Church leaders made a big deal about “honorably” releasing my ex from his bishopric calling. My bishop then spread rumors that I’d lied about the abuse in court documents. They also repeatedly allowed my ex to defy the protective order I had against him and attend my ward’s Sunday services and activities. My sister was so incensed by the way my Church leaders not only ignored the abuse but seemingly flaunted their contempt for it that she wrote a letter to the First Presidency. Her bishop got word of the letter and assured her that this matter would be looked into. I was never contacted by anyone about the letter or my experience. I brought the matter up with someone I knew in the Seventy who had been my stake president several years before. He did nothing and was completely insensitive when I told him I didn’t know how I could keep going to Church when my ex was being enabled by my local Church leadership to violate my protective order against him. Church administration, please, please, please stop turning a blind eye to the abuse that’s so prevalent. Please stop punishing women who bring abuse allegations to light. Please stand up for the women and children of the Church who are so cruelly mistreated by not only the men in their lives by also by so many misguided local Church leaders. It’s past time for a change. Let’s start now to take abuse seriously and to get local leaders some training and some protocols on handling abusive marriage situations.

  139. I am not a Mormon, and do not intend to become one. However, I respect the faith; and with my husband of almost 45 years have made several trips to Utah to visit Mormon sites. If I may offer some advice to the LDS church and its administration: it is NOT unusual for couples of any faith to seek out clergy persons for marital advice. WIth this in mind clergy persons (including Mormon Bishops) need to regonize when professional counseling is needed. I would strongly suggest that the LDS church work with licensed mental health and marriage counselors to develop a curriculum that instructs Bishops on what to look for in terms of abuse and other mental health issues, and if abusive relationships are suspected or mental health issues appear to be present then a referral to a licensed professional should be discussed and encouraged. with the counseling participants.

  140. Not all leaders are like this. I served as a branch president. One day, a few years ago, a newly married woman of about 1 year called me saying her husband had been physically abusive to her and that she was terrified to stay in the home. Prior to this, I know no knowledge (nor did my RS pres) of any such abuse; of course, all outwards signs were of peaches and roses. She called me at work at 10 am, after he had gone to work. I left work and went to her home. I helped her gather her things, and took her to a safe house. I then called the husband and told him his wife was no longer in her home and that he needed to come see me immediately. He did and refused to acknowledge the abuse. I told him I would recommend that his wife NOT move back into the home until he acknowledges the abuse and sought counseling, and then only after she and I were 100% positive such abuse would not reoccur, ever We were never convinced. They divorced, he moved away before I could take the appropriate church action, I annotated his church record, and her life is so much happier now.

    Yes, there are Bishops, SPs and other leaders who turn a blind eye to these horrendous actions, for whatever reason, BUT I was fully supported in this by my SP, and am proud the Church stood behind this young wife. NO ONE should tolerate or be told to tolerate such abuse, or abuse of any kind. Our Heavenly Father will reign his wrath on abusers, of that I am sure.

  141. Realpolitik (noun): a system of principles based on practical rather than moral considerations.

    Our Man standing, day after day, literally at the President’s elbow.

    Soon: NYT, LAT, VF, WaPo, New Yorker or The Atlantic expose the details of this disgrace for all the world to see.

  142. Bro. Jones says:

    OldBP: thank you for your story and your good example to all leaders.

  143. One of the reasons I left the church many, many years ago- even at a young age I was fortunate to recognize the imbalance of power and rampant sexism that exists within it. I am not surprised, at all, that women that are abused are told to work on their marriage, be careful of what you say because it could impact his professional position, pray harder, try to work it out, etc. For those of you that don’t understand that might be reading this, all that advice is RUBBISH. Plainly speaking, it’s absolute bullshit. When it’s safe for you, get out. Stay out. You do not deserve any sort of abuse, regardless of what any man in a position of power in your church says. This is not a learning experience that some god has given you. This isn’t atonement for any sin you have committed. This is an abuse of power that has NOTHING to do with you, that rests squarely on the shoulders of the abuser. There is a serious issue with patriarchy and sexism within the Mormon religion. Perhaps this will be a powder keg that blows it up and knocks it down.

  144. One of the flaws I have noticed in LDS culture (not doctrine) is the desire to appear to be something to outsiders, the world, even if the truth is entirely different. Porter had a future important career that must not be messed with by dealing with the truth about his actions toward his two wives. We must impress others by pretending, and many actually believe outsiders are deceived, when my experience has been that they immediately see through the falseness. Any thoughts?

  145. ShameOnYou says:

    Why don’t leaders believe my story of abuse? Why was I called a liar and ushered out in such a hurry? Why would I make something like this up? Why was I regarded so poorly? My experience is not unique.

  146. g2-82e5f4ddb3b8b5ad5e47db70222ce221 says:

    I am a man, Mormon and have been in an abusive marriage for the past 20 years. My experience is no different than what has been described by others. I have spoken to now 5 bishops about my abusive wife and the first 4 made excuses for her, pretended like I was exaggerating and ultimately accused me of doing something to set her off because there was no way she would do something like that on her own.
    My own experience has been basically the stated policy is that there is zero tolerance for abuse BUT we really would prefer that you not tell us about it and if you do, its doubtful that we will do anything to help either the victim or the abuser. I do have to say, however, that the current bishop I am talking to seems to be taking this seriously so I am cautiously optimistic he will try even if I seriously doubt he can actually do anything to help solve the problem – but thats not his fault.
    As a point of observation – American society is HORRIBLE about teaching young people about abusive relationships, what constitutes abuse, how to identify people who are abusers, how to get away from them and how to talk about abuse. I am not sure that society will ever find a way to stop abuse but we can and need to get a lot better at supporting people so they can leave abusive relationships. Staying in my abusive marriage has pretty much ruined my life and I am very concerned that it has set up my kids to have really bad home lives when they become adults.

  147. Paul Ritchey, I disagree that it is a wife’s job to whistle blow, call out, and I believe you even used the term “determine”, when their husbands are essentially committing abuse. It is every man’s responsibility to confront and be held accountable for his actions himself, with the help of law enforcement and psychologists. This is a prevalent belief and practice in the Mormon church of making it the angel female’s job to be accountable for the “all priesthood powerful” yet imperfect and needy man’s transgressions. From “dress modestly so he doesn’t have sexual thoughts” to all the other examples raised in this post regarding repenting and loving the abuse away. One final thought: Mormonism’s scriptural term (is it in the Mormon scriptures) “unrighteousness dominion” makes me laugh because it 100% suggests or implies that there’s such thing as “righteous dominion”, and by Jove there is such a thing. It speaks more loudly and prevalently than any other redeeming practice of the Mormonism. It is, at its core, a patriarchal gerentocracy that Mormon culture springs from. Okay and a third final thought: I truly respect the pioneers of the church of the past and today. Your will to pursue the kind of religion that redeems and fortifies a soul is a hard and noble fight. One I completely bowed out of years ago and have only recently found profound relief and calm amidst a bit of perpetual loneliness without a community. Still worth the sacrifice.

  148. To g2: I am so, so, so sorry. I definitely know many men who have been in abusive marriages too, and I wish the best for you, your children, and that you may find safety, healing, and peace.

  149. Paul Ritchey says:

    Laura: Thanks for your thoughts, and you make a great point about this being the man’s problem, not the woman’s. But I’m saying that, once the man is clearly not self-correcting, the woman’s judgment wins over other mens’. If the problem is that women aren’t believed by priesthood leaders, we should make those erroneous misbeliefs irrelevant. And I think our doctrine supports that.

    Bring on the law enforcement and psychologists, but PLEASE don’t wait for the Bishop’s permission to do so. You might never get it.

    Also, to me, “dominion,” whether over family, or Church, or Earth, or Universe, is less about power than it is about love. It’s unfortunate that we use a latin word that evokes Roman culture, but I don’t think it’s meant to convey “dominus.”

  150. Thank you

  151. Laura, I appreciate your thoughts. I believe nearly all the injustices and problems experienced in Mormon life would be eliminated if the notion of “righteous dominion” was eliminated. Paul Ritchey, I really like your perspective of dominion being characterized by love rather than power, but if members really believed that, I believe the term would cease to be necessary. If spiritual development, progress, enlightenment, etc., simply provides people with greater capacity to love, than the concept of dominion becomes irrelevant. Also, the current structure of the church certainly, in my opinion, suggests dominion and stewardship is definitely connected to power. The very fact that women and men in abusive situations feel compelled to seek the advice of bishops before trained professionals, and in many cases accept the advice regardless of the consequences, is evidence that members believe people with stewardships are “in charge”–not just accountable to love. And how can the assumption be avoided when people with stewardships believe they have (and are institutionally granted) authority to determine the worthiness of other members, to the point of revoking or preventing an eternal tie to family members and even God?

  152. Carolyn,
    So, where do you go for help? It doesnt seem to be mentioned here! Because everyone seems to be blaming everyone else. The sad part is that if Rob wasn’t working in the WH, it would still be going on. Just like the mental abuse givin out by male federal workers, who 2 of them are LDS, and one is JW. IT IS NOT ONLY CONFINED TO MORMONS. They go out of thier way to destroy you, your family, and your career! Because they are breaking laws and policies, and you happened to be the one that caught them, and told them it was wrong! And just so you know mental abuse, is just as bad if not worse, because it destroys a person! The physical part is a form of control which is mental abuse. We’ve all seen the PSA from famous people and news personalities about domestic violence, pretty phony, I contacted them, no help. Contacted lawyers, no help. Contacted Bishops, no help. In fact both Bishops stated that these men were good men! I responded No, they are not. Any one that goes out of thier way to mentally abuse and destroy lives of women and thier families are not good men. Still got no help. Ive contacted Lee’s office, Hatch’s office, Chaffetz’s office, and many other womens groups, domestic violence groups and no help. Cause you see if your not famous, or in the lime light, your not noticed. So, now, Carolyn, I’m asking for your help, to eraticate this behavior. Your an attorney, help me fight these people. Help me form a group that truely helps. One that says “YES” we can help you!

  153. Scott Smith says:

    I am not sure what the laws on spousal abuse are in Britain, but in the United States no clergy are mandatory reporters of abuse, except in the case of those under 18 years of age. As a LDS bishop I have had occasion to hear individual complaints of wives who were being abused. I could offer empathy and understanding, refer the sister to professional counseling, often paid for by the Church. I would also strongly urge the sister to report the abuse to the authorities, In one case having them come to my home, where the wife had fled to for protection. But I, by law could not invade the sister’s rights as, an adult, to report their abuse to the authorities. She needed to do that herself.
    What I did do, and was required to do by the Church, was to begin to take appropriate ecclesiastical disciplinary action against the brother who had committed the abuse. This action most often led to his excommunication from membership in the Church. Again,by Church instruction, and often by law, no Bishop in the church can discuss these decisions cannot discuss these proceedings with any one not directly with them. However there are, gladly, no such restrictions on the victims, or the perpetrators of abuse.
    However, I believe your organization has reported on only those part that seem salacious in nature towards the LDS Church. You have drawn inaccurate conclusions based on your own biases and bot on the whole story you were made privy to. In a free nation this is allowed, but should at lest make your biases clear to those who may read your stories.
    Those unfortunate women who your article was about deserve all the support, empathy, sympathy and protection, as long as the protection does not break confidences or the law.

  154. Ok we talk about the wives how the husbands abuse them and yes its wrong, wrong, wrong . What about the children. My family is Mormon we were sealed in 1972 later in the 80s us 6 kids drifted from the church. Now My parents argued but my father never hit or showed any violence toward my mom. They were married for 54 years before my mama passed, my father has dementia and lives with my older brother. Now your wondering what this has to do with abuse to your spose, well how about abuse to sibling to sibling not the same but the church is big on family “YES”. Well I am a sister who has 5 brothers since my Mom died I carried for my dad until we moved to another state where my older brother took over to care for my dad. Everything has change I have to call to make an appointment to see my dad last time 2 times I say him he had his top teeth next time I saw him his teeth were gone. well I voiced it, and when I went to see my dad my brother bully stand at his door calling me names , bad names hurtful I believe the stress and pressure along with my dads dementia has gotten to my brother and he wont let me see my dad nor have his genealogy papers so I can do my fathers work on his side. Now as kids we all fought but were adults I love my Father very much it kills me that this disease has attack his brain and my brother know how important genealogy is my. They have made me an out cast of the family and I don’t know why. I’m disabled and the names he called me sunken my heart as if I were an stranger of the streets .Got in my face spit in my face I’m surprise he didn’t push me over the railing, abuse starts yes with the parents but also the siblings, I love my older brother and I told him he knows I love him so when he did that and spoke to me in such matter I saw Satan laughing FAMILY is so important it is the CORE of where we come from and as sibling we may fight argue as kids but we are taught to love and protect, respect, help, each other show kindness, their a song called love at home. ” Their is joy in every sound when there’s love at home.” that was one of my mama”s favorite hymns. So enclosing we are all accountable for are actions here on earth. And Dad when ur with Mama just know I well do my very best to serve you and our ancestors and get their names to the temple. I Love you Dad I will see you on the other side. all my love your Daughter. Thank you

  155. Part of the problem is that people believe what they want to believe. Take Hatch as an example. He is supporting a president who makes King Noah look like a Red Cross volunteer. He is not only a sexual predator but a white supremacist with a long history of discrimination and abuse. He lies on a daily basis and few of his supporters are willing to correct him. The damage that he is doing to this country is staggering. But in Orrin Hatch words, Trump will go in history as one of its best presidents.

  156. Scott Smith, you definitely can report a crime on someone else’s behalf. Lack of mandatory reporting laws just means you aren’t required by law to do it; they don’t mean you’re legally barred from doing it. I’m sure law enforcement is much more likely to act on a report if it’s coming from the victim or someone who directly witnessed the abuse rather than a third party, though.

  157. Thank you for listing specific solutions to the problem in your last paragraph – the problem brilliantly illustrated in the example of the Porter story. This whole piece is beautifully written. Thank you, Carolyn.

    Here’s the rub: If women are believed about domestic violence in all its forms (or children about their abuse, or any vulnerable population about theirs) then men in power will be forced to take action. It’s much more convenient for those in power to simply not believe victims. Bishops and other leaders can then rest easy, their conscience conveniently un-pricked, their proverbial butt resting comfortably in the chair behind the desk in the bishop’s office.

    Along with the universal “boys club” of this whole damn patriarchal earthly realm, we (the vulnerable) are not only burdened with effects of abuse, but with the added burden of a grossly negligent response from most men in church leadership. Pleas for assistance to help liberate us from violent relationships (when we are unable to liberate ourselves) are ultimately met, not with love and courage, but with fear and cowardice. I’m so damn tired of cowardly men.

    There are exceptions – good men and true – but far too many men are content to allow the most vulnerable of our community to bear burdens of abuse, to drown in distress and sorrow, while they, the protectors of the flock, preserve their own comfortable, safe place on the high ground of “priesthood authority.” It’s shameful. And sinful. The whole earth groans under the weight of it.

    ::

  158. ItHappenedToMe says:

    #metoo. I’m a doctor, married to a doctor, although currently stay-at-home mom of 5. We are well-educated, middle-class & yet no socioeconomic standing protects against abuse. Married in the temple like you’re supposed to do for 17 years. Followed all the Mormon rules. Husband beat me on vacation – I had bruises all over my back for 3 weeks. I mistakenly turned to our Mormon Bishop for help instead of law enforcement. I was told by every male leader for 4 years that “You are a woman, you are not allowed to get a divorce” “It’s ‘unfortunate’ but men have the right to use physical violence to control their family members because they are the patriarch & in control of the family” “Your job as a woman is to support your husband in whatever they do, so go home & support your husband.”

    As far as Mormon handbooks, printed & written statements about “zero tolerance for abuse” that is the biggest pile of BS ever. I was specifically told by our ignorant Stake President (who is a realtor & has no professional training to advise anyone about anything) that although that is official Mormon Church policy, he as a male leader has the privilege of “personal revelation” so even though the church says it doesn’t tolerate abuse, he prayed to God & got personal revelation that my husband is “a wonderful man” who “loves you very much” and so no discipline is going to happen. And…”you just don’t understand because you’re a woman and you don’t have the Priesthood.”

    So thankfully I didn’t believe their lies & BS so I did go the police the next time he hit me & I did file for divorce. He is still an active & fully-loved member in our church congregation – he’s a white male who pays 10% of his doctor’s salary to the them & there’s no way the Mormon church would ever turn him away. I on the other hand have been completely shunned. And what did I do…oh that’s right, my husband hit me & I said “this is not okay, never again.”

    This is my Missionary work now…whenever the topic arises I say, “Take your daughters and run as far and as fast away from the Mormon church as you can. And take your sons and run too.”

  159. Wow. This article makes me want to sit down and have a long discussion with the author. I am a man but could really relate to this SO much.

  160. @phillip. I love long discussions. Feel free to look me up on Facebook.

  161. @it happened to me: I’m so, so, so sorry that happened to you. My heart is breaking.

  162. nobody, really says:

    I keep wondering why we keep going to our bishops and priesthood leaders for criminal offenses.

    If somebody on the interstate is driving drunk and hits me with their car, I don’t go to the Bishop. I go to the police.

    If somebody kidnaps my child, I don’t call the Elder’s Quorum President, unless he also happens to be an FBI agent.

    If a Scoutmaster sexually assaults my child, I don’t go to the Stake Young Men’s President. I go immediately to law enforcement.

    For so many of these issues, we keep thinking that the Bishop has real-world authority. He does not. He has no ability to levy a fine, to set conditions of parole, to award a restraining order, or to toss a guy into jail.

    If I feel like my prayers aren’t being heard, if I would like a blessing, if I need to repent for gossiping about people, then I’ll go to the bishop. That’s because these are spiritual matters and not crimes. This is just as elementary as not calling a plumber for a broken bone.

    And as much as I love the Bishop, if he was advising me on legal matters, I’d ask when he went to law school and passed the bar exam without me knowing about it. We have a bad habit in this Church of thinking the office of Bishop means the guy is a legal authority, a law enforcement authority, or a corrections officer.

    It may have been the thing to do back in the very late 1800s and early 1900s – the phrase used was “Mind Your Own Business”. Members were encouraged not to go to the police, to be suspicious of new people in the area, because they could be with the US Marshalls Office. (My own great-grandfather was in Riverdale, Utah, locking up polygamists as fast as he could.) Handle things on your own, quietly. It set a bad precedent. We need to knock it off, and I wish we could get a conference talk or two stating that it is OK to call the police, just like how we have recently heard that it is OK to seek the help of a doctor for mental health issues.

  163. I think it’s because the police is such an extreme step. The victim may not realize its criminal, or may be terrified of the consequences and wants to make sure the ward will take care of them first, or any other consideration. The victim essentially wants a second opinion. They may be so gaslit they don’t even know or realize it’s bad — so they’re going to a bishop to confirm they’re not crazy, and they’re choosing the Bishop because he is an “authority” in their life. And they choose that authority precisely because they know him, they trust him, and he is not the police.

  164. Paul Ritchey, I think I understand what you mean now. I think you’re saying that women’s judgement should just be believed by default if the first chain of command in the church fails to acknowledge and report abuse, and there’s supporting documentation for that in D&C. I really appreciate hearing that because I do have a hard bias against the church so often it’s hard for me to see any redeeming interpretations of Mormon scripture. Thanks for clarifying.

    I like that there seem to be so many people who don’t want to abuse their fellow men and women in the Mormon church on any level, and are 100% behind preventing and fixing that despite there being no substantive structure or operating procedures to support that happening.

    It might not be fair to ask bishops and men to believe women’s allegations, but at the very least, why do so many immediately rush to the side of the alleged abuser? It’s to protect him, his “household of faith”, his reputation, career, and maybe his position in the church hierarchy and gossip mill, where other priesthood powers and their wives standing by are watching like silent mental note taking hawks. This instant defense of the alleged abuser is what we keep seeing from Hollywood, the White House (Trump) and Congress (Hatch), and Mormon bishops offices.

    In my opinion, “righteous dominion” exists in Mormonism as a well established structure to support and reinforce male control over women in the church, however well meaning that structure may be. Women don’t control their choice of underwear, clothing, beverages, sexual expression and development, sometimes even the number of children they have, so therefore, even their reproductive rights. So many women in the church bypass self-actualization and exploration in their 20s, higher education, and career aspirations. They’re then the targets of abusive husbands and mean people in society who think they’re less smart and subservient. I bet so many of these women don’t realize it’s exactly 3,503,498,049 times harder to be a Mormon wife and mother than a corporate baller lady. They are superheroes to me for their sacrifices and strength. I cling tightly to exactly all of those things I listed as part of my rights and identity as a woman.

    If the well meaning dominion can be summed up by, “I am a daughter of Heavenly Father who loves me and I love him”, “I love to see the temple, I’m going there someday” as well as the broadly applied and loosely interpreted, “keep the commandments”, by direct doctrinal extension, this to me means a Mormon woman is to obey and defer to what the husband needs and wants in the end, because that woman is sealed to him and covenanted to obey and cleave to her husband (not Heavenly Father, right?) for time and eternity. As long as “righteous dominion” is the term of choice, as long as it’s very definition is “control” despite the well meaning subjective spins many Mormon men take on it, and as long as only men are empowered to make all the policy decisions over the church, there will always be the irresistible hall pass (for many) to exercise “unrighteous dominion”. The church needs to heed the data on organizational optimization and effectiveness through diversity in leadership. And to CJ’s point (I think), there shouldn’t even be a need at all for any notion of male dominion in a church bearing Jesus Christ’s name. That man literally defended abused and objectified women and told the Orrin Hatches to go cast the first stone and GTFO of his temple for pandering to money grubbers. Jesus probably didn’t use that language, but who knows, he might’ve.

  165. wreddyornot says:

    I’ll repeat it. To me, it seems obvious that work at the foundation of such inequities (or dominion, if you will) is necessary to help the situation. For instance, I’ll ask: Where’s our Mother in Heaven?

  166. This was so remarkably validating!

  167. I had plenty of evidence of financial abuse, abandonment and adultery. In the end the church court chose for my husband to keep his membership, and gave him back his temple recommend. It doesn’t matter. My husband chose to lie making it very hard on these good brethren. They did their best. I have chosen to turn to the gospel; not away. I believe in the law of compensation. I believe in the healing power of the Atonement. Faith really does precede the many mighty miracles I have seen in my life. All will be made right and all will work out for the faithful. Many thanks to the good men of the priesthood. We need you.

  168. @Ginger, I know of a similar situation, the man is now dead and as they say the mills of the Gods grind exceedingly slow but exceedingly fine.

  169. Thanks for the support.

  170. retired old woman says:

    I realize there are men who are abused by their wives. I will not address that here. I wonder if some of the abuse of wives by husbands stems from the fact that boys seldom receive training in how to be a husband and father. They observe their own fathers, and that is a sort of training, I am sure, whether good or bad. But it has never seemed to me that there is anything in the LDS Church for boys that is comparable to the indoctrination that girls receive in how to be a wife and mother. Boys are taught that as priesthood leaders they are to preside in their homes once they marry, but are they ever taught about how to make their wives happy, how to parent, how to make a home? Homes are for husbands and dads too, not just wives and moms. Why are we not teaching boys in Young Men’s classes how to excel as husbands and fathers? When I was growing up, it seemed to me that all of the Young Women lessons I sat through were about eventually being a wife and mother. I sat through these lessons week after week while all the boys my age were playing basketball. We girls had at least one lesson a month on chastity, and all the boys ever did was play basketball and go on Scout camps. When you couple this lack of church instruction for boys in how to create a happy home life with the messages they get from the media about being macho males and watching football and drinking beer and being violent, it seems that we are not setting boys up for success in marriage and child-rearing. It’s their job too to make the marriage successful and to raise the children. Why don’t we train them from a young age how to be successful?

  171. Ginger – We do need these good men of the Priesthood. We need their protection, the only kind they can really give – accountability. I also choose not to turn away from the gospel, but unfortunately I can’t choose not to bear the pain and consequences of their failure to protect me.

    I also had plenty of evidence of all kinds of abuse – verbal, emotional, financial, and physical – including several bruise pictures. I finally called the police. He plead guilty and was convicted of Domestic Violence – Pushing, Kicking, Shoving, and sentenced to 18 months probation and a deferred sentence of 6 months prison, a reduced sentence in a plea bargain. While I faced him alone in court, and at home and elsewhere as he violated the protection order, Priesthood leaders heard his twisted story full of denial and victim blaming all too typical of a perpetrator, but didn’t hear or believe me. They negated the law and emboldened his abuse. He was given a temple recommend renewal two weeks after his arrest. His stake president later gave him permission to violate the protection order to be with me in the temple for my daughter’s wedding, and condemned me for calling the police and getting a divorce. No disciplinary council. No voice for me. No accountability for him. He still mocks me and taunts me with his temple recommend and their validation.

    I too have faith in Christ and His atonement, and believe in the law of compensation. I know and love some of these Priesthood leaders as good, faithful men. But I still live with the painful consequences and trauma of their failure to hear, believe, and protect me every day.

  172. As a formerly abused husband, what II read above resonated very deeply with me. I was caught in similar situations seeking marriage counseling from well meaning men appointed as my Bishops while I was being physically and emotionallly abused by my LDS wife. I guess I was luckier than some of those whose comments I have read here. I do not want to minimize the sisters telling their stories here who were not heard. I cannot rightly say who it is harder to come forward and report they are being abused; man or woman. I thought it was harder for me since I am a man in a largely male dominated society. And we men have a facade of being tough to maintain. Or so I was rAised. Maybe it does not matter. Man or woman. Abuse is abuse. As an Army veteran I found it very hard to admit to my Bishop, much less than anyone else, that mywife, half my size, was routinely physically and emotionally abusing me. (The abuse has left me struggling with PTSD ever since). You could see my Bishops eyes widened at disbelief at the abuse I described during the previous 4 years. My wife at the time did not deny it it. My first.Bishop counseled me strongly not to leave my wife casually without first considering our temple vows and leave am our unborn child (miscarried at three months) in a broken home. He pointed us toward counseling and since we were struggling financially, the church even paid for the sessions. Not living in Utah we had a non LDS therapist. Things improved for a while … but eventually she returned to abusive behaviors. Enter the second Bishop. When it became evident that divorce was inevitable for my own personal safety, he stressed that his role was to assure us we both had a place in the church, that we were loved and he would assist us as possible one offered to help me attend a different ward since we lived in the came watd boundary. I do not know what private conversations the.Bishop had with my ex wife. I know that she ledt the church 8 years. I know that members of the church live under a microscope when it comes to the rest of the world. That’s okay as we should not be doing anything that we shouldn’t have fear of being found out. Bishops come in alll sizes, shapes, and flavors. Their appointments are generally for 5 years. They do this work while balancing a family and a job. It is the system we were given and which by large measure most members accept. In my case they seeem to have done what their Bishops manual told them to do. As a result I am I’m a safe and loving marriage today. I’m sorry I’d did not work oubso well for others sharing their stories here.

  173. Retired old woman – AMEN. When I was a young woman my experience was identical to yours. The young men played so much basketball I am surprised there were not NBA scouts called in. As far as I can recall, they never actually had “lessons” at any time. This non-teaching of half the population, while the other half is browbeaten about modesty standards and motherhood is a huge part of societal problems. Where are young men to learn about being husbands and fathers? Where are young women to learn that life is not an ongoing assignment of being the family morality police? I recognize that the answer might be “in the home” but reading the responses here don’t give me confidence in that answer. How do dating couples, of any age, know how to see the warning signs of a potential abuser? Where is that information taught?

  174. Joy Viselli says:

    #metoo

  175. I think that it’s interesting that the CNN article that linked to this picked up only on how the systemic problem with spousal abuse in the Church is men’s fault. To be clear – spousal abuse is always the fault of the abuser. But when it comes to laying this at the feet of the church, and more specifically, at the feet of the men in the church, I offer a different perspective. And from a Mormon woman with my own #MeToo experience which I have tried mightily to understand.

    I am educated, I am a professional why did it take me so long to call a spade a spade, to call abuse, abuse? Why, even when I finally came to recognize it (and that was long after he hit me –
    that I was able to explain away), did I believe the “you made me do it, it’s your fault, you pushed me to it”? Why? It’s so much more complicated than “because my bishop didn’t recognize it.”

    It is a complex blend certainly of ecclesiastical ignorance (not always willful or bad), but also of a theology that elevates marriage as the most sacred, a culture – of which women are very much a part – that views divorce as a failure, an embarrassment, a belief in forgiveness as divine and a deeply ingrained belief in the power of the Atonement and repentance to change. And there’s always a period, after something really bad, of a contrite spirit and a broken heart, and we latch onto that promise of the Atonement and power of repentance, and remind ourselves of the obligation to endure to the end.

    And women, perhaps as much as men, are enablers of this as well. Relief Society Presidents don’t have any more training in understanding or recognizing abuse – or how women who have been abused will present — than the male leaders. On what basis are they to disregard the charming persona that appears at church and to be able to fathom how different an abuser is at home And why should she? We are taught that the Priesthood is sacred, that Mormon men are different than other men, they are set apart and have different standards. It’s so much easier to believe that the woman – who by then will absolutely present as something of a mess – is the problem.

    It is not my experience that abuse is always knowingly and intentionally enabled by our ecclesiastical leaders or fellow ward members. And I am so sorry for those of you for whom that has been the experience. But it IS my experience that as a culture — of both men and women – we have unwittingly created a system and community in which abuse is even less acknowledged and understood and where women are even more disenfranchised and unprotected than in America at large. And that’s saying something because it’s not like women are believed or supported as a rule in the rest of America either.

    As a general rule we Mormons don’t like messy. We like perfect. We like pleasant. We don’t like to admit that the deep underbelly of life pervades our community as much as anywhere else. Unless and until we come to accept that our Church is not and will never be made up of perfect people, but only of people who are striving each day to become better people, we will not create an atmosphere than will permit the women themselves to stand and say “this is abuse, this is wrong.” And until we can do that, we are, as a culture and as a Church, as far from perfect as anyone or anywhere else.

  176. another old woman says:

    Retire old woman, things have changed since the implementation of the Come Follow Me lessons for YM and YW. I was called into YW just as this was starting (2013?). I was not familiar with the lessons before that, as this was my first calling in YW, but I’ve watched the lesson material and objectives evolve over the course of the last 5 years, and it has been encouraging.

    The YM and YW lesson objectives and most references are parallel. They are BOTH taught about becoming good parents and the importance of chastity. The lessons evolve every year, with new objectives and references added or changed. In the beginning, there were no lessons for the YM that included references to general conference talks given by women leaders, but now there are. A small step.

    There is still one month entirely devoted to the Priesthood, which was hard because how do you talk about the Priesthood for 4 WEEKS to the YW? Frankly, it’s awkward and uncomfortable and boring. One of weekly objectives was something like ‘What is the work of the Priesthood’, detailing the nuts and bolts of Priesthood responsibilities. A couple years later, it was changed to ‘What is My Responsibility in the Work of the Priesthood?’, asking the YW to consider what her responsibilities are in the work of bringing people to Christ. Again, a small step.

    The one thing I believe is still missing: leadership is still the overall flavor of the YM lessons, while it is almost absent from the YW lessons. My own opinion is that our YW are not challenged nearly enough, and are actually even coddled. (Especially at girls camp (what in the heck are these nightly pillow treats?). When they changed the age of mission service for women, they ought to have also started emphasizing leadership for YW, and this needs to start with the weekly lessons.

    But I believe some of our women leaders are making a difference, such as Sister Oscarson, Sister Eubank, and others. We are headed in the right direction, but much too slowly.

  177. I married my husband 29 years ago in the temple. It was apparent early in our marriage that something was wrong, but I could not figure out what. He was never physically abusive to me, however we had a very difficult time connecting emotionally. Over the years, I discovered that he is addicted to pornography. And I have stayed in my marriage for all the reasons that were stated in the original article. We went to counseling and talked to our bishops. 6 years ago, he was disfellowshipped from the church for acting out on his sex addiction. Again, I stayed because our son was preparing to leave on his mission. 3 weeks before our son was to return from his mission, my husband had a major relapse. I desperately wanted to leave him then, but didn’t because I did not want to traumatize my son, who I knew would have a difficult time adjusting to being home. We started going to the church’s Addiction Recovery Program. He has been sober for 3 years now, but the emotional barriers still stand and I have no emotional connection to my husband. Our children are all adults now. So here I am, 61 years old, completely dependent on my husband financially. I want out. I don’t want to stay married to a man I don’t trust, respect or like. I know that by leaving my marriage, I risk the alienation of my children, my extended family and my ward. Not only is spousal abuse a plague, but pornography addiction is rampant in the church. And bishops are ill equipped to handle this issue as well. I have educated 4 bishops on this matter, including the one who ended up disfellowshipping him. By the way, my husband is a former bishop. I want to believe that Heavenly Father doesn’t want me to stay with a man who is so self-centered and will never change. He was returned to full fellowship 3 years ago, but I don’t see the mighty change of heart that is supposed to happen after sincere repentance. The sad thing is, there are so many women I have met through support groups that are in the same situation. And there are many more in my ward, I am sure, but I will never know about them because of the shame and stigma surrounding this issue. God help us all.

  178. Anonymous, that’s not a letter, it’s a manifesto, and I love you for it. How I hope the cynical, yes cynical, men who administer this church will come down to our lowly places and, as Bonhoeffer counseled before the Nazis hanged him, See from below! What are they waiting for? What is the timeline for empathy?

  179. When I wanted out of my marriage, it wasn’t the priesthood leaders who pressured me to stay. It was the other women in the family. Bad marriages ran in the family. I had to break relationships with my mother, my mother-in-law, two sisters-in-law and a few other women in order to get away from the nice Mormon women who were full of advice on how to stay in the temple marriage and be happy anyway. After all, they were all doing it. Our marriages weren’t full of physical abuse, though. It was porn addiction and the emotional and verbal abuse that goes along with that. Sexual nastiness too, I guess, if you count being pressured to fulfill porn fantasies when you’d rather just go somewhere and cry. It wasn’t rape. I agreed to do it, but later I hated myself. Every time.

    My XH and I were talking to a bishop once after I started kicking apart our marriage and reported his behavior to the bishop. The bishop gave some good advice for a normal man, but nothing that would even come close to addressing what was really going on in our marriage. The spirit whispered to me, “He has no idea what you’re up against.” I didn’t go back, and I didn’t tell the bishop until after I filed for divorce. But he was always kind to me, and he did take my XH’s temple recommend away, which both surprised and gratified me.

    But again, it wasn’t the priesthood leaders that were my biggest barrier to leaving. It was the other women in my extended family who were staying in their marriages for all the reasons discussed above. When I filed for divorce, it must have been a real kick in the teeth for them. I condemned their decisions to stay by leaving. Those relationships have never healed.

  180. For those in need of support or advice or merely seeking information that may be helpful for themselves or a friend or family member, here is the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (operates 24/7/365).

    Here is the helpline for WomensHealth.gov that deals with abuse: 1-800-994-9662 (operates 9 AM-6PM, Eastern Time, M-F).

    These services are free and confidential.

    Other resources can be found online, including hotlines in other countries. Using a trusted friend’s computer or a public computer that can be used anonymously and that the abuser can’t monitor is highly recommended.

  181. retired old woman says:

    Another old woman, I appreciate your comments, since I am 67 and was talking in my first post about how things were when I was a teen in the 1960s. But today I was floored when I went to sacrament meeting, which was a missionary “farewell,” and heard that things in Young Men’s apparently haven’t changed that much, at least in my ward. The young elder who spoke did a very fine job, and I don’t have concerns about his becoming a good missionary. But then the Young Men’s president spoke, and he talked about the yearly planning he and his counselors do for the during-the-week meetings with the boys. He said the boys mostly just want to play basketball and dodge ball and then eat pizza, so that’s what they do. He and his counselors play too. He even told of throwing the dodge ball as hard as he could at the boys so they would understand he was no wimp and meant business. He described hitting the young man who was leaving on a mission right between the eyes with a ball he threw at him really hard. The young man sat there and grinned, but I thought, “Why would any Young Men’s leader be boasting about hitting the boys with a ball as hard as he could throw it? Is this how we teach boys to be men? What if that young man had been injured? What does it teach him that his leader will throw a ball at him that hard? Is this the only way we can get boys to come to the weekly meetings? Aren’t there better ways to use the time?”

    I looked around the chapel, and it seemed that the husbands and fathers in the room wanted to be there at church. They looked like they loved their wives and children. I would like to ask them, though, if they really felt prepared at the time they married to take on the roles of husband and father or if there is more that the Church might have done to help them get ready.

    I agree we do coddle the girls too much. I’m glad I didn’t go to the namby-pamby girls’ camps that they have now. When I was a teen, we had a couple of women leaders who taught us to make fires, lash latrines, hike with a compass, and find food in the forest. I think girls are capable of harder stuff, and we ought to encourage a spirit of self-reliance in them (but without dodge balls in the face). I have never married, and reading some of the posts here, I often feel glad about that. But I have had to support myself and make my own way in the world, and I am glad that when I was young, I was taught to believe that I could. We should teach all girls to get an education and learn how to do something that will pay a living wage so that they can support themselves if they don’t marry or have to divorce an abusive spouse.

  182. Thank you for this post.

  183. One of the things this week has made me ask is this:

    What if the LDS church took assault and abuse between spouses as seriously as it took its fight against homosexuality, gay marriage, and/or pornography?

    We know what a full-on four-alarm-fire kind of campaign from the church looks like, at least those of us who were in California during prop 8. We know what ongoing efforts like “Fight The New Drug” look like.

    Is domestic abuse a less important issue?

    I *know* we’re a church that holds domestic abuse as deplorable in our *teachings* — that’s completely clear to me. I hope that helps some people not become abusers. But sometimes I think that just makes us “all is well in Zion” about how some of our other practices might enable abusers.

    And sometimes, it doesn’t look like we take the right things especially seriously.

  184. Another Victim says:

    #metoo. In addition, if you take Oaks advice quoted in the post and wait for five years, you’ll probably add some children, which makes the consequences even more weighty.

    Thanks for this post.

  185. I was appalled a few years back when a ward member in Fast & Testimony meeting talked about the “terrible things happening in Stubenville.” At first I assumed she meant the girl who was assaulted with pictures of her posted on line. No, she added how terrible it was that the girl could “ruin those boys’ lives when they had so much potential.”

  186. Retired old woman said: “I have never married, and reading some of the posts here, I often feel glad about that. But I have had to support myself and make my own way in the world, and I am glad that when I was young, I was taught to believe that I could. We should teach all girls to get an education and learn how to do something that will pay a living wage so that they can support themselves if they don’t marry or have to divorce an abusive spouse.”

    Amen. Same here. Never married, have a good education and a nice paycheck and that’s all I keep thinking as I read the comments. Women need to be financially independent so they can get away if they have to. Also, we need to stop teaching our young women that they are nothing without a man or that their contribution is less if they don’t have children.

  187. “What if the LDS church took assault and abuse between spouses as seriously as it took its fight against homosexuality, gay marriage, and/or pornography?”

    W – Good question, but I would eliminate pornography from the list now. It hardly gets mentioned anymore, other than in a list of other sins.

    Based on my experiences, I have concluded there are only two sins left in the Church: gay sex and telling a priesthood holder that he owes you an apology (that’s my sin, because I chose to get offended, not his sin for doing something offensive). Everything else is just a mistake or a “nobody’s perfect.”

  188. Thanks for using your platform here to bring attention to such a terrible pattern, Carolyn.

  189. Wow MW! “Based on my experiences, I have concluded there are only two sins left in the Church: gay sex and telling a priesthood holder that he owes you an apology (that’s my sin, because I chose to get offended, not his sin for doing something offensive). Everything else is just a mistake or a ‘nobody’s perfect.'”

    I’m very sad to say this rings true. You’ve nailed it.

  190. Thank you, Michael Austin!

  191. Everything here describing how these women were treated, the emotional toll it took, the feelings of anxiety in telling anyone, and all of the rest of it were my own experiences being married to an emotionally and physically abusive woman. Domestic abuse is exceedingly under reported by men because of cultural expectations and pride. I would encourage the writer of this piece to seek out all of the MEN in the church who have dealt with, or are sadly currently dealing with, abusive women. I know many will scoff at the idea that such a thing is prevalent, but it is. I am one of the few men who will admit to being in the club that these women are in, but I am not ashamed of it. I did my duty to my sons and protected them from evil as best I could. That it came so readily from one who should have been nurturing and kind makes it that much worse. My temple marriage was valueless in this situation. I spent too many night praying for God to make it all better. Guess what, HE CAN’T!! You have to. My family and HERS were so relieved when I finally pulled the plug.

  192. I said above in the comments but I’ll reiterate here: I’ll accept and publish a professional guest post from a man, anonymous if needed, on the unique affect of LDS doctrine on abuse against men.

  193. Does the public nature of an offense have bearing on church discipline? I’d be heartened to know that Rob Porter was being exed for the his domestic violence and the very public nature in which it is casting the church in a negative light. There isn’t any way of knowing if this happens though, is there?

  194. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    jaxjensen, if that were the case the entire Bundy clan would’ve been exed years ago.

  195. “Why would any Young Men’s leader be boasting about hitting the boys with a ball as hard as he could throw it? Is this how we teach boys to be men? What if that young man had been injured?” I had a Mission companion do this intentionally to me during basketball, when I wasn’t looking. It seems that violence is a problem in general for some in the Church.

    W & MW: The Ordain Women Movement also seems to hit a bigger panic button than domestic violence. And, yes, there’s likely some women abusing their husbands out there, but husbands beating their wives seems to be MUCH more often.

    We need more Leaders like OldBP.

  196. @jaxjensen
    Yes, it is among the 3 primary purposes listed for church discipline. Those purposes are: 1) Save the Souls of Transgressors. 2) Protect the Innocent. And 3) Safeguard the Integrity of the Church. The handbook specifies, “The third purpose of Church discipline is to safeguard the purity, integrity, and good name of the Church. Consequently, transgressions that significantly impair the good name or moral influence of the Church may require the action of a disciplinary council.”

    @Mike H. “but husbands beating their wives seems to be MUCH more often”. That is the common assumption, but the data seems to show that is false – that instead it is roughly equal. Check out my previous comment that lists some of that data.

  197. If publicly known actions are reflecting very poorly on the church (as are Porter’s) then does the church make disciplinary action publicly known? It seems it is the only way to help repair the church’s image that has been damaged. Does anyone (Steve?) know the history/precedent for this?

  198. I think it’s pretty rare. From this article:

    “even if an individual decides to publicly share information about the [disciplinary] process and seeks to position that process in their own light, the Church will be circumspect in any public statement. In rare cases, the decision of a disciplinary council may be shared publicly to prevent others from being harmed through misinformation.”

  199. Thanks Steve. So we probably won’t know if any action is taken? Disappointing. What is the point of taking action against someone who makes you look bad if you don’t let people know that you did it? In Porter’s case, where it has become publicly known that he’s a reprehensible human being and the church looks bad because of his membership, it seems the only way to safeguard the good name of the church is to let the public know that steps are being taken. It would continue to tarnish the church to let the public think they had taken no action, right? Even if they don’t tell us the outcome, don’t they need to at least put out a statement that disciplinary action will take place?

  200. Two challenges.

    1. Men “preside” in the home and in these major clerical roles. Women are taught this means they not only have authority to lead, but that this authority is ordained by God. It makes it very hard for even strong women to question this without the implication that they are questioning God. Women who are being abused are already disempowered. This unique Morman dynamic means that even well-meaning clergy are at great risk to become part of the abuse pattern.

    2. Bishops and other clergy have almost no training on how to deal with issues abuse, sexuality, psychiatric illness, complicated grief and similar issues that people commonly come to their leaders to discuss. There is just this assumption that, with the aid of scripture study and prayer, God will guide them to counsel wisely. No wonder they often tell women who are being abused to pray and read scriptures! It’s all they have ever learned on the topic.

    We need to cry against abuse at the pulpit. But we also need to fix a broken system where people are given heavy responsibilities without the tools to know what they don’t know and women are taught they should not question church leadership.

  201. @steves

    While men can certainly be the victims of abuse, the argument that IPv is symmetry is weak and dated. You appear to have only read one section of the Wikipedia article on ipv, and to have missed the last pry of that section. There is a mountain of evidence that the violence against women in Ipv is much more likely to cause significant injury (or death) than violence in the other direction. Furthermore, the violence assumed by women is often instigated as part of self-defense.

    My personal experience as a physician and the mountain of clinical studies on the topic leave no question in my mind (or in the minds of most people who have looked objectively at the evidence) that this is an assymetric issue. Arguments to the contrary have too often been used to blame women for their injuries.

  202. @Heather
    I did read all of it. I don’t wish to detract much from the excellent things brought forward by Carolyn here, she’s clarified her intent and position which I appreciate. My only worry was that this could feed into a cultural perception of men as aggressors and females as victims, which I think can be harmful to everyone. I get concerned when an issue only seems to matter if it aligns with a particular cultural narrative and feeds a sense of self-righteous indignation and reveling in a victimhood that is likely not even someone’s own. Instead I hope that abuse is the real issue being addressed, and the abused our real concern. I think Carolyn has done that here. There are real gendered concerns to be addressed surrounding the issue, and as men are on average bigger and much stronger physically I agree with you that there are genuine asymmetries that exist and are important to acknowledge as discuss as well.

  203. @jaxjensen
    My understanding is that the policy is to not make anything public in regards to a particular individual’s case, until any actual disciplinary decision has been reached. Yeah, it does seem like at least a general statement that the church does condemn and discipline this type of behavior would be helpful.

  204. I have often wondered why it’s such a huge problem in the Mormon Church that women are encouraged to stay in abusive marriages. There is no question that the problem is bigger than we could ever imagine.
    I have my own story to tell. I was raised in the LDS Church. I was married to a convert at 21 years of age. I was punch, pushed, spat on, urinated on, and smothered. Sex and affection was either withheld for months or used as a way to inflict physical pain or to insult me! I didn’t know if or when the “rules” were going to change. One day it was ok if the garage door was open, the next day I would be smacked over the head and dragged across the bed by my hair for leaving the door open! I lived in a constant state of anxiety and I literally felt like I was having a heart attack and would drop dead at any moment next to a man who could not care less. He seemed to fool the whole world that he was nice fun loving successful guy! I wondered what part of all this was my fault.
    Since I considered my marriage included God I sort guidance from my Bishop. He saw the bruises. I showed him. He saw the tears that flowed from my eyes! I told him of the $700 worth of sex calls and dating line calls I found on our phone bill. I really don’t recall what was being done to help, I was certainly never told to call the police. I remember receiving a few priesthood blessings that told me to stay, that we are supposed to be together, and to have many children together; we were supposed to come unto Christ together and we are equally yoked and so on.” The Bishop visited our home one day to offer some “advise.” As a victim of domestic violence I can tell you that words don’t come easy and it’s always in the back on your mind that whatever you say may have horrible consequences once you are alone together. My husband told the Bishop I punched a cupboard. The Bishop looked at me with disappointment. I felt ashamed and embarrassed! 20 years later I wish I could hug the younger me and reassure me that everything will be ok, it’s not my fault and I have every right to leave. What I didn’t have the words to say was this “I am suffering, living in fear and constantly being abused. I pounded the cupboard in frustration and no one is hearing me!”
    Thinking that my eternal welfare and the eternal welfare of the children I would soon have depended on my marriage working, it seemed necessary to have children with my abuser! After all God wanted that for me right? That’s what the Priesthood blessings said. After giving birth to my son things got worse. My “husband” sold my car and I was stranded at home and was given very little money to survive. I was dying inside. My husband would tell my tiny baby boy how dumb I was. I hated the thought of my baby growing up hearing those words. I kept thinking maybe if I serve him more, do more, pray more all this would get better but thing weren’t getting better. I sort out another priesthood blessing from the Bishopric. Finally I got the blessing I was hoping for. It said “God doesn’t expect you to stay and be abused.” FINALLY! The next day I made plans and I was packed and gone within the week while my husband was at work! No tears just utter relief.
    I moved in with my parents. I asked my father why he thought God gave me permission to leave at this time. My Dads reply shocked me. He said “because I rang the Bishopric and I told them to stop telling you to stay.” I could barely take in what I just heard. So why did I stay? Who are Blessings from? Are they not from God? I felt duped! It’s no surprise that what followed was me leaving the church for many many years. Even 20 years later I can only bear to have one foot in and one out. Trust is gone!
    Over the years I have spoken the many LDS women who no longer go to church. One of my close friends found child pornography on her husband computer. She rang the Bishopric, who promptly came over and erased the child pornography! Police were never called! Why I am not sure as possession of child pornography is a criminal offense! My friend could not bear to live with her husband’s addiction to child pornography so she left him along with their 5 kids. Child Pornography was what ended their marriage but the truth is her husband had a sex addiction. In the years prior, my friend sort the Bishops council and she was told that she should submit to her husband and have sex with him. That was her duty. She felt that she should just shut her mouth and please her husband. When my friend made the decision to leave following the discovery of Child pornography on her husband computer her husband raped her on numerous occasions. Despite her desperate plea for help the Bishopric did absolutely nothing. In a relatively short space of time her husband went on the remarry in the temple. My friend left the church.
    Another LDS friend married a man in the temple. She was a virgin bride and this was his second marriage in the temple. Their wedding night he told her she would always be his second wife and he emotionally taunted her by telling her how he didn’t really love her. She stood on the ledge of the balcony of their honeymoon suite and she considered jumping to her death. After urinated all over herself she decided to come down off the ledge and she collapsed on the floor. Her husband then raped her anally damaging and scarring her. Anal rape happened numerous times over the following few years. She was a mess! I still remember seeing her at church, her shoulders hunched over, her head hanging, she looked completely broken. That’s when I reached out and we became friends but she told me nothing of her abusive marriage. She sort advice from the Bishop. When questioned by the Bishop he told the Bishop she had emotional problems. Unbelievably no support was given! NONE! Eventually she left him but not without the subtle death threats from her husband that he had a gun and would use it. I was stunned to see her a year later! A Stunning women with her head held high ready to discover the world! She was free from this serial perpetrator who is nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Her husband kept his church membership and priesthood and was soon remarried to another lovely LDS lady and not surprisingly divorced again a few years later. To this day he continues to use the Church as a hunting ground for vulnerable LDS women! My friend left the church. Can you see a pattern here??
    These stories are real. They are not one offs! In the Church we are bought up to trust our leaders and to believe in the priesthood. We are told that Priesthood blessing are from God. But what we need to know is that priesthood blessing are not always inspired! and that Bishops are not counsellors! They are men often with limited experience and understanding of the complexity of marriage and domestic violence.
    I wish I could tell every Bishop in the LDS church to ask every person who is a victims of domestic violence this one questions. ARE YOU SAFE? If you are not safe LEAVE! Call the police. Get out! Abuse is never ever ok! You don’t deserve it! God does not want you to suffer!
    How many women have left the church because of bad advice from the Bishopric? How many more will leave the church taking their children with them? How many women remain victims to this day because of priesthood blessings and uninspired advice from church leaders?
    A shake up needs to happen! Abuse is not ok! And it’s not ok with God!
    #MormonMETOO

  205. Another Victim says:

    There is another factor that needs to be considered when talking about violence against Mormon women: Their children. When a woman is counseled to stay in an abusive marriage, the children unconsciously learn that this is what marriage and relationships look like–to their detriment.

    As someone who has lived through this, I have watched as my two daughters grew up and then married into abusive relationships themselves. Fortunately, after (finally) getting out of my own abusive marriage, I was able to help them get out of theirs (at a much earlier stage) – but the cost has been high, oh so high. Spiritually, financially and emotionally.

  206. It took years for me to understand that I was being abused until I read a book on the subject and on every page, I saw something my ex had done or said. A marriage counselor actually participated in the verbal abuse during a session with the ex…men with abuse in their childhoods are more likely to abuse than men with good relationships with their parents. My ex had a severely alcoholic mother that his father divorced when he was 2, and his stepmother beat him with coat hangers and never held him or cuddled him when he was little. I was lucky (I guess) that during his first marriage he hit the wall (often, a tell for future physical abuse) during an argument with his then-wife, and made the mistake of hitting the wall over a stud and broke his hand. He never hit me, but there were times I knew if I were in arm’s length he could have killed me, his temper was that bad…and over trivialities. 18 1/2 years into it, with complex PTSD thanks to the ex, I filed for divorce; he’d gone out and gotten a girlfriend and paraded her around the house and I knew that was it. Some marriages are made in heaven, and we all want one, but some marriages aren’t, and we’re better off out of them, physically and emotionally safe.

  207. I started recording every conversation I had with my abusive husband to prove I was telling the truth about his insane behavior. This led to me even recording our conversations in the bishop’s office. I have on audio the bishop chastising me for going to the police with sexual abuse allegations my daughter made regarding her father. He told me he would ‘be pissed’ if his wife went to the police like that instead of talking to him. He also swore at me (in his office) when I challenged him on believing my spouse’s lies. He printed off Ensign articles on forgiveness for me to read (I had already forgiven & forgotten for 15+ years and was tired of that ineffective approach.) I was told that I needed to move back in with my abusive husband so I could give my kids “a normal life”. (This was a man that raged at our family on a regular basis, pushed me, poked me in the chest, blocked me from leaving the room, punched a hole in the door while my toddlers screamed at my feet, hit our kids with belts if they forgot to flush the toilet, would hit, kick and slap our little girls if they did something that upset him (they were 3 & 6 years old when he started doing that to them). The bishop became angry and defensive when I insisted I only wanted to go to a trained psychologist that understands abuse and the manipulative and charming behaviors an abuser engages in. He wanted to counsel us weekly and for me to take his marital advice.

    He also shared our private conversations with my husband, and texted my husband advice on how to ‘get me in line’ and take control of the situation. (he told my husband to make sure to delete the texts so I wouldn’t find them. He did not realize it was a group text that included me, so I saw everything he said.) I’ve heard this same bishop makes derogatory statements about his wife, and women in general. His child relayed a story about her dad flying into a rage of anger and throwing her cellphone. Needless to say, I did not seek the counsel of this bishop ever again.

    I have also had WONDERFUL bishops that told me I did the right thing by leaving my abusive husband and protecting my children. They were truly wonderful…so it is just the ‘luck of the draw’ with some priesthood leaders I guess.

  208. I have noticed a different reaction in family members between the abuser being an in-law and the abuser being a sibling. Either way the siblings seem to protect their own. It is hard to see things as they really are when the abuser is a member of the family or a dear friend. Therefore, since my abuser is a friend of the BCC, it would be interesting to see if his friends would stick up for the wife in this case as much as they seem to in this post when it is one of their own. Like other websites, people can hide who they really are. Just a thought.

  209. It seems like the response of Senator Hatch is quite normal. It is natural to want to believe our family or those we know, and see them the way we want to see them.

  210. I agree with everything you said.

    Wanna hear something absolutely crazy?

    Women abuse men in the church, too. If you go back and read the post from the top to the bottom, you could very easily switch genders.

    I know. I’ve lived through. I was told reaply bad advice by several well meaning priesthood leaders. I stayed way longer than u should have in a soul crushing abusive nightmare for all the same reasons you stated many women do. And when I finally ended it, I got blamed and labeled and mistreated by members of the church who assume women can only be victims of abuse, not perpetrators.

    So all I can say is, let’s work together to change church culture for the better as it relates to abuse in all it’s forms. And let’s be careful not to perpetuate the false stereotype that every every case of divorce, the man is to blame.

  211. I too have been abused by my wife. We were married in the temple over 15 years ago. For 15 years I was constantly belittled, demeaned, insulted, emotionally emasculated, and finally neglected after a stroke, major surgery, and a broken ankle. My Bishop, loving as he was, would only counsel me to pray.

    I finally had enough of letting my children see this toxic relationship, and divorced her last year. After our therapist dismissed us, the next morning I slumped to the floor of my shower, crying my eyes out, and I prayed. I received my answer before I could finish speaking the words.

    Sisters, please do not perpetuate that men are the only abusers in marriage. It is hurtful to those of us (as few as we may be) brothers that endure it as well.

  212. One note from the article Carolyn points to:
    “as I understand it, the Church’s legal department has survivors sign non-disclosure agreements when they report abuse by Church and Boy Scout leaders, so the full extent of abuse cannot be determined.”
    I don’t have any independent information, but to the extent this has been happening–NDAs–I suspect that it won’t work nearly as well going forward. Nor should it. How the Church deals with abuse is seeing some daylight and should stay there.

  213. Aussie Mormon says:

    The question I’d have about that, is whether those NDAs are actually part of an out-of-court settlement rather than just upon reporting abuse.
    If it’s the former, then isn’t that a fairly common legal procedure? If it’s the latter, then I’m not sure how it would actually work at all since the survivor wouldn’t actually have received privileged information from the church that they could share.
    Any legal eagle readers know what would happen in similar cases outside the church?

  214. Ginger and Fred, I think your comments are really important–anyone can abuse, and we all (whether we’re in leadership positions of not) need to stop feeling qualified to judge whether a person is actually be abused or not. It’s not our business. It’s our business to support.

  215. Thank you CJ. How have I fared? After giving all that I could my husband abandoned me; leaving me penniless. He ended up in homeless shelters for years, finally found a weak, lonely woman on-line who would pay the mortgage and utilities and moved in with her while we were still married. Since the separation he is able to tell Bishops whatever he pleases and holds a current temple recommend.
    I rent a room from people in my ward. After 40 years of marriage and having financially nothing I hoping to work until I am 70. Although I cannot convey the pain I have been through I am at peace not being afflicted with horrendous debt. The Lord has compensated and has taken care of me through the goodness of countless family members and friends. On good days I move forward in faith and joy; on bad I call him “The Great Deceiver”. I try to “let the Lord be the judge”. Sorry to say he is a friend of the BCC family.

  216. It is my Bishop who took it upon himself to find me a place to live. Most faithful, active men of the priesthood are valiant. I honor and revere them for the heavy responsibilities they carry. Thank you over and over again.

  217. It is very sad that these women have suffered so much. I have an idea, I too have suffered. I feel that the time has come where training of church leaders (men and women) on abuse, addiction, etc is essential. I know from first hand experience that in general church leaders have very limited understanding and often give the wrong counsel and can inadvertently cause so much pain to the true victims. I say true victims because the perpetrators are very skilled at making themselves look like the
    victims. The good news is I have been able to call out these well meaning leaders and let them know they are misguided. There are so many men who forget that it is a privilege to act in the name of God and in doing so are challenged to be humble and act as Jesus would act. Men who have the priesthood can greatly benefit by remembering where this power comes from, not from them.
    We are all called in these difficult times to be “super human”. Both leaders and victims need to learn so very much by reading, attending groups, going to counseling, and most importantly by living close to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Through the power of the Holy Ghost, we will be guided to what is best for our circumstance. The power of Jesus Christ to heal is real and forgiveness is powerful, but only the victim gets to decide whether she is being guided to stay in that marriage as guided by the spirit. So sad that so many people still don’t know where to turn for help.