Mormon Abusers

The Hulu series Under the Banner of Heaven has a lot of people asking “Does the Church create violent, abusive men? Does it foster the attitudes that lead to violence?” At the same time, many progressive Mormons have criticized the portrayal of supposedly mainstream Church members in the show, claiming that they are unfamiliar to us, that we don’t see ourselves and our experiences here.

A story broke this week revealing that the Southern Baptist Convention has been hiding clerical sex abuse that it said it couldn’t track (but was apparently tracking the whole time). This story is rocking that particular faith right now. Their abuse was unique because the SBC is a coalition of independently run churches, and the Convention had long dismissed victims by claiming that churches ran independently and they didn’t have the means to track abusive pastors. The scandal revealed this to be untrue; they were tracking them, and some board members were protecting the abusers through targeted intimidation of victims while allowing the pastors to just open a new church. There were roughly 700 pastors being tracked. You can hear more about it here.

We are all familiar with the Catholic priest sex abuse scandals, and the genocide against Native American children torn from their families and forced to attend religious schools in the US and Canada, suffering mistreatment, abuse and poor conditions. There have also been sex abuse scandals in the Boy Scouts of America organization, including victims from our own congregations. Each of these organizations has its own abuse narrative, the justifications abusers use, both to themselves and to others, the people in power who protect the abusers, the types of victims, the story of how the abuse unfolds and how it is then covered up or minimized. The stories may vary, but repeating themes emerge.

What does uniquely Mormon abuse look like? Lindsay Hansen Park has done some excellent work curating stories of abuse victims for whom the Hulu abuse narrative resonated. Several of these stories involve women whose partners tried to coerce them into practicing polygamy. Many stories also included men physically and verbally abusing women for not “submitting” to their priesthood authority. In the series, a father justifies incest using these same ideas. When women are reduced to gender roles, they are seen as interchangeable to some men, someone there to fill the various needs of that man: childcare, cooking, cleaning, running a household, and providing sex. A key difference in the Mormon narrative is that every man holds the priesthood. Clerical abuse isn’t confined to the Church; we’ve imported it into our living rooms and bedrooms. Obviously, the majority of men are not abusers, but those that are have a powerful narrative to intimidate their victims into silence. They can claim a power from God.

I’m not aware of any statistic that indicates that there is more abuse inside the LDS Church than outside; Krakauer’s post-9/11 thesis was that all religions lead to violence which strikes me as a reach, something that is unproven at least. I think we’d be hard pressed to find a violent streak in non-patriarchal, non-conservative Churches, for example. If so, is it religion that leads to violence or is it a patriarchal, conservative narrative? For example, there is a strong correlation between police officers and domestic violence (40% of officers are estimated). [1] In the discussion on this topic over at Wheat & Tares, a link to an article about religious-based child sex abuse was shared. From the abstract of that article (which included LDS case studies, among many others):

A number of uniquely religious characteristics facilitate this cultivation, which includes: theodicies of legitimation; power, patriarchy, obedience, protection, and reverence towards authority figures; victims’ fears about spiritual punishments; and scriptural uses to justify adult-child sex.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S135917891830315X?via%3Dihub

Families and Churches often contain unresolved, multi-generational trauma. This is another thesis of the Hulu series. Aside from the mantra that the abused often becomes the abuser, family trauma is even sometimes passed down through DNA in the form of epigenetic gene expression. Church trauma is passed down through rhetoric and dogma, and in our case particularly, fealty to the words of past and present leaders, even if we may sometimes hint that they were just “speaking as a man” or they are fallible humans who might make mistakes. We are careful not to name the mistakes, and to minimize any grave errors we might suspect. We sing “Praise to the Man” unironically, neatly excising the verses about violent vengeance (I do recall singing the violent parts growing up, though). We don’t talk about how problematic polygamy was, and we mostly avoid talking about it altogether if we can avoid it. If you want to know where the trauma lives, pay attention to what a family or organization avoids talking about and dealing with. Erasing and suppressing trauma isn’t the same as addressing and resolving it. [2]

Because we are in the business of “bringing the world His truth,” we also try very hard to avoid negative press that might turn converts off, which includes shows like this one, as well as news stories that bring abuse to light. It’s easier to consider abusers as mentally ill exceptions, impossible to predict, and difficult to rein in. In our quest to ensure the Church’s reputation, though, victims are often an afterthought, if they are heard and believed at all. Bishops are instructed to call for legal, not pastoral, advice when they encounter victims of abuse (this practice contains echos of the SBC’s approach that strictly focused on avoiding legal liability).

A much more common type of abuse within our congregations is domestic abuse of wives and children, not necessarily abuse by those in leadership roles. When every ecclesiastical leader involved in giving marital advice is a man, we foster an alignment with the male abuser’s perspective, not because bishops are abusive, but because they are not abusers (and don’t recognize it for what it is). While they can’t imagine being an abuser, they can imagine the horror of a false accusation more than they can imagine the horror of being a victim of abuse. Even abusers don’t admit to themselves that they are being abusive; they often cast themselves as the victim in their own mind. Everyone is the hero of their own story, even when they are really the villain. Asking abusers to self-identify in the temple recommend interview is no deterrent to abuse. A very common side effect of being abused is that victims can appear to lack credibility; the abuser has gaslit and manipulated them so consistently that even they question themselves. A victim who is crumbling under the pressure of their abuser often finds herself being interrogated and dismissed back into the arms of her abuser. So the cycle continues.

Every time we teach our young men that they have more authority than the young women, we set up a pre-written script for future abuses to be justified. We aren’t creating that abuse, and abuse is still the exception and not the rule, but we are providing the narrative. In other Churches, the abuse narrative is usually centered on the clergy. Our clergy reside in the home with us. By extending the priesthood to all males, we’ve also handed them a script that clergy in other faiths use to justify their abuses. By doubling down on gender roles, we’ve taught men that women are separate, a whole different species of being designed to support the home and family; any perceived failure on that front can be twisted by an abuser into a justification. A person living under the threat of violence is not going to be effective at any roles, much less the demands of motherhood and caregiving. The abuser creates additional justification through these intimidation tactics.

Obviously, the abuser bears the ultimate responsibility for their crimes. But if we want to help those who have been abused to survive their abuse, we need to understand their perspective and put victims first. As a missionary, I was approached by many women who were victims of domestic abuse. I had no training or personal experience with this, and the only tool in my kit was baptism. I suspect that as a sister, this was a more common occurence for me than the elders, although I’m sure they also were also sometimes sought out by abuse victims. One extremely distraught woman approached me because she was Catholic and had an abortion, and she was afraid she was going to hell. She had the abortion because she was sure her violent and abusive husband would kill her. My mission president told us to drop her because her abortion was a deal-breaker that in his view barred her from baptismal potential; her violent abuse was not even on his radar once he heard the word “abortion.” I didn’t know what I could personally do for her, and she haunts me still. Is she even still alive?

When we encourage women to be financially dependent on their husbands, to marry early, to have children often and early, we are creating vulnerabilities that make it nearly impossible for a woman to leave an abusive relationship and survive. Another commenter, PWS, shared a story that further illustrates the problem with anti-divorce attitudes in Church culture, even when abuse is happening. He shared the example of a BYU Alumni magazine article about “soft thoughts” about divorce, including the example of a woman whose husband was extremely controlling and abusive, with no regard for her mental or physical health.

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.

“I loved being a mother,” she says, “but I was overwhelmed and resentful because I felt I didn’t have a voice in my marriage.

https://magazine.byu.edu/article/divide-or-conquer/

That saving this marriage without clearly identifying the abuse would be lauded in the Church-owned school’s publication is concerning, whatever the intentions. If one spouse makes decisions “unilaterally” that harm the other spouse and cause her to feel she “doesn’t have a voice,” folks, that’s abusive. If we are so incapable of recognizing the abuses in our midst when they are this obvious, how much harder must it be when the abusers are clever enough to hide what they are doing? Apparently there are enough members in our midst who see this story as normal, that nobody batted an eye. I wish I could say that this article was from the 1970s, but it was published in winter of 2018. Is there really anyone who would want their daughter or friend to remain in such a marriage, where her feelings and well-being are completely disregarded?

While I as a lifelong Church member have never personally been abused, I know many women in the Church who have been. I know many victims of incest, and I also know many whose husbands verbally or physically abused them, intimidating them into silence, turning Church members and leaders against them by claiming they were crazy or untrustworthy. When terrible things happen, it’s like stacking slices of Swiss cheese on top of each other. Each layer is a support network or systemic element that should be there to stop or prevent abuse, but sometimes the holes all line up, and unfortunately, the more holes, the more likely the abuse gets through and continues. Family members, Church leaders, and Church doctrines often provide more support and privilege to the abuser than the abused, whether intentionally (he’s a priesthood holder! a provider!) or unwittingly (he’s such a good guy!). When a victim is imperfect, often a byproduct of abuse, we tell her to do better, to forgive, to be better, to be humble (which is a huge pile-on since abusers are already adept at filling their victims with shame). We poke more holes in her Swiss cheese rather than seeking to help her. We reinforce her abuser’s justifications that place the blame on her and encourage her to downplay her abuse, even to herself.

I have some mixed feelings about the Hulu series, and a lot of it was foreign to my own experience (as someone not from Utah), but it is raising some questions about abuse that need to see the light of day. We have some work to do. We need to become more victim-centric, providing better advice, support and listening to women, which is nearly impossible in a Church run entirely by men that encourages (in word [3] if not deed) families to also be run by men. We need to teach leaders and members how to recognize abuse for what it is, rather than consulting lawyers to protect our reputation. Leaders need to be taught skepticism about the abuser’s version of events at bare minimum, something that is pretty rare in the stories I’ve heard. We need to quit believing that the preservation of an abusive marriage (or one in which children are being sexually abused!) is preferable to divorce; there are so many things worse than divorce, and we seem to be unwilling to acknowledge that.

And lastly, we need to quit handing abusers a pre-written script that justifies their actions. That last one is particularly tricky with our Church’s history of polygamy and patriarchy. While our contemporary versions of both of these things is less extreme than our fundamentalist cousins’, it’s still a ready-made script for abusers, particularly when combined with mandated gender roles, encouraged female financial dependence, and every man having the priesthood. These things don’t create abusers, but they do give them ammunition to use in their abuse, and more importantly, a way to justify it to themselves.

I have grave doubts that we will do any of these things, unfortunately. The more women I know, the more these very similar stories I hear continue to erode my hope. We don’t listen to women. We don’t train leaders well enough at all. We care more about modesty than rape. We blame victims. We fear breaking up bad marriages. We imagine abusers to be protectors and providers because that’s what they claim to be, and we need men to run our congregations more than we need women.

Discuss.

[1] Unfortunately, Google now thinks I’m being abused.

[2] Hello, CRT!

[3] That word being “preside”

Comments

  1. Outstanding post!

    While I am a male and have never been a bishop, I have, by chance, had several experiences with women that have been “abused”. One by their boss at work, one by their husband, twol by one bishop (this is often termed “ecclesiastical abuse”), and one young non-member college student whom her member friend convinced to confide in my missionary companion and I–in 1967.

    All that is just by way of putting my praise in the context of some personal experience.

  2. That BYU mag article is really disturbing. I cannot believe that quote was used in an article about how it was good they saved their marriage.

    I appreciate the way you’ve balanced the reality that Hulu got a bunch of stuff wrong while still recognizing that there are ways our culture can foster or justify abuse that must be reckoned with.

  3. It’s fascinating that religious observance is protective against DV and also helps domesticate men while on the other hand we all know of examples of abuse amongst Church members. Communities of all stripes are at threat to abuse due to what we have found “by sad experience…”

    From what I’ve read same sex relationships have a higher risk for reported DV. Are we safe to assume secular relationships also have a higher rate of DV and violence due to likely increased alcohol and drug use?

    Agree with the idea as a community we have to try to further improve the safety of our community. I especially worry about folks without a robust community or from outlier situations of dysfunctional relationships.

  4. Roger Hansen says:

    I’ll have to disagree with you that the church tries to avoid bad press. It appears as if they court it: (1) Holland unchristian talk last Fall to BYU staff; (2) Oaks’ obsession with LGBTQ community; (3) BYU’s pathetic Honor Code; (4) POX and reversal; (5) Smith, Bytheway, and Bott’s comedy routine; (6) BYU’s police Dep’t; (7) attacks on outside-the-tent (mostly progressive) Mormons; (7) demotion of Uchtdorf; (8) the way they handle rape victims at BYU, (8) things at BYU-I are a continual joke; etc.

    Either the Church isn’t very good at public relations or they court it. Any publicity is good publicity.

  5. Left Field says:

    I’ll go along with the general idea that the church doesn’t seem to care too much about bad publicity. But I have to push back on the idea that Uchtdorf’s “demotion” constitutes bad publicity. Nobody outside the church cares who is in the First Presidency. Don’t get me wrong–I would prefer that Uchtdorf be in the First Presidency, rather than not. But as church scandals go, I’m underwhelmed. I count five counselors in my lifetime that were not called into the succeeding FP. And I really, really don’t like the idea that once you’re in the FP, you are entitled or expected to remain for life. Give different people the opportunity to serve and let the new guy choose his own counselors, just like in every other level of the church.

  6. Geoff - Aus says:

    I would add that extreme political conservatism must be more likely to be abusive culture. Male feminist more likely to respect/women than trump.
    And the gun culture of the mountain west.
    Each of the above are more likely to produce abuse or make its manifestation worse.
    About 1 in 5 women suffer abuse at some time.

  7. Please do your research on this. The members aren’t called Mormons. For several years the media has been asked to refer to them as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Not Mormons.
    Also, not all men in the Church hold the priesthood. And not all men who do hold the priesthood abuse their families – or anyone.

  8. Angela C says:

    ML: Please read the article. It does not say ANYWHERE that all priesthood holders are abusers. Also there are two reasons I’ve used the term Mormons: 1) the Hulu series includes non mainstream groups that came from the restoration and do not fall under that name, and 2) this isn’t the New York Times. This name change business is frankly silly, and I refuse to engage with it.

  9. Angela, because you and I have multiple avenues of conversation I’m just going to say Amen here. Except for one matter where I would go further. You say that you have never been abused, but when I read about your mission president’s “drop her because her abortion was a deal-breaker” I register that as ecclesiastical abuse. The fact that the circumstances still haunt you witnesses that you were harmed. I suspect Hermana Plunge has even more examples. I think we need to call these things out and name them for what they are.

  10. And yet by naming every shocking memory as some form of “abuse,” we dilute a term that really should be saved for its intended use.

  11. Angela – Thank you. This is a much needed discussion.

    To ML, I offer a correction to your assertion. For many years the Church has requested the media to use the full name of the Church and not refer to it as the Mormon Church or LDS Church. But that request was not about naming, identifying, or referring to the members of the Church. There is a significant distinction there. In fact, from Joseph Smith to Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson the nickname Mormon was widely embraced for referring to the members.

    And here I will point out how ML’s comment actually reflects quite well one of the points I took away from Angela’s analysis. There is too much deference and power given to men in authority positions in the church. Too many members of the church defer all judgment, all critical thinking, to the men in charge. Under both Hinckley and Nelson the church spent millions of dollars promoting the moniker Mormon under “Meet the Mormons”, “I’m a Mormon”, and http://www.mormon.org. It is well known that Hinckley and Nelson did not agree on this point. It should not have been a surprise that once Nelson was in the seat of power he would assert his will. As disturbing as this was to me, even more disturbing was how quickly and completely some members took Nelson’s pet peeve as their personal cause to enforce.

    Some men, because they have the priesthood, and because they have a calling of authority, they interpret their own personal opinions, beliefs, and biases to be from God.

    That is part of the problem. Men with power and authority will assert their will. And under the banner of the priesthood, they feel 100% justified. It isn’t that all prophets, bishops, husbands, or fathers abuse their authority. But enough do to make it a problem. We need to call out the real risks and dangers inherent in authoritative hierarchy structures, in patriarchy, in priesthood authority, and in trusting in personal impressions and personal revelation. Whereas there can be value in each, there is an inherent danger, which sadly has too often manifested in real harm to real people.

  12. I agree with most things here, but would argue that the church’s culture DOES play a big part in creating abusers. However, I know the audience for this post is people who are members, so there is a fine line to walk.

    Teaching young people who are raised as boys that they have more authority at 12/16 than their mothers/grandmothers ever will creates the perfect environment for them to become abusers. Teaching them on their missions that companionships model marriages and then controlling them right down to how they part their hair creates the perfect abusive environment for them to then go into abuser mode in their marriages. On and on.

    The church actively teaches and encourages every member to accept abuse. Every member must accept the fact that Joseph Smith “married” his 16 yr old foster daughter (adopted daughter in Emma’s eyes.) Every member today must accept that the leaders have the right to excommunicate people for simply questioning their authority.

    Every LDS child is actively and intentionally taught to accept abuse. The church would not be able to maintain its power heirarchy without that teaching. The only difference is the church promises those raised as boys that they’ll be able to escape the abuse some day by becoming an abuser themselves.

  13. Chadwick says:

    Thank you Angela. You wrote “A key difference in the Mormon narrative is that every man holds the priesthood. Clerical abuse isn’t confined to the Church; we’ve imported it into our living rooms and bedrooms.” I had not yet made this distinction before, and it is very sobering. Because how do you escape ecclesiastical abuse if it can follow you home?

    We often speak of the abuse that occurs due to the power differential between men and women, and rightly so, and that power differential is real and harmful. There can also be a power differential that exists between men since the priesthood and callings in the church are hierarchical. We don’t talk about this as much, but it is also very real and harmful. I appreciated that Lindsey Hansen Park’s documentation of abuse actually covered both of these.

  14. Roger Hansen says:

    Left Field, I suppose that the demotion of Uchtdorf wasn’t national news, but it certainly caused a rumble among progressive Mormons. He has charisma and exudes an empathetic spirit. Oaks has a legal background and his obsession with with the LGBTQ community is problematic. And in my eyes abusive, given the problems it engenders.

    Tim, I was born Mormon, and I will die Mormon, even if I’m excommunicated. Mormonism is my heritage. But I’m very uncomfortable with current edition of the Church. LGBTQ abuse is certainly one of my discomforts.

  15. Thanks, Angela. Just one complaint. I’ve looked through this post three times looking for the in-text note number connecting to footnote [3], and I can’t find it. Do I have male-pattern blindness, or did you somehow delete it by accident? I’m wondering where CRT fits in here.

  16. I read the BYU article linked here and was horrified that couple stayed together. Withholding birth control is a form of abuse. The author of that article wrote about it as though it were a minor, normal, everyday squabble married couples have, which is appalling in every sense of the word. I can’t help but wonder if we’ll be seeing more of this behavior now with the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned. Frightening.

  17. “If so, is it religion that leads to violence or is it a patriarchal, conservative narrative?” I think this assumes a lot and is a dangerous way to look at questions of abuse. There are a whole host of things that cause someone to abuse another, and it is unlikely to be any of these things. At the same time, religion and a “patriarchal, conservative narrative” may contribute to enabling abuse, but this post appears to brush aside that other narratives may also contribute to enabling abuse that are explicitly not patriarchal or conservative. It’s difficult to see how Hollywood is, on the whole, patriarchal or conservative, yet there has been plenty of abuse there. I would argue that liberal attitudes towards sex (specifically that consent is not only necessary, but also sufficient for just about anything) have enabled abuse in those settings.

    That isn’t to say that it’s not worth examining how religion or a patriarchal, conservative narrative enables abuse. On the contrary, it’s important for societies and institutions to examine how elements of their society or institution may enable abuse. The implication that “non-patriarchal, non-conservative churches” are somehow less susceptible to abuse seems to assume facts not in evidence. To the extent that we hear less about abuse in non-patriarchal, non-conservative churches may have a lot more to do with the general lack of institutional influence in those churches than anything else.

  18. One thing that struck me about that horrible BYU article is that even though it’s not stated, I’m confident that the husband in that scenario was also insisting that he got sex whenever he wanted. Although Natural Family Planning doesn’t have great statistics for preventing conception, it’s still better than nothing. 4 kids in 5 years? That’s a husband who assumes that his reward for being chaste in his teens is sex whenever he wants it once the temple marriage is done. (Heck, even as a female that was implied in my chastity lessons: stay pure now and you’ll be rewarded with a satisfying sex life once you’re married.) That’s not even touching the awful messaging around “Work hard on your mission and you’ll get _______.”

    I’ve been following the work of Sheila Gregoire for years now and it’s been fascinating to watch her evolution as an evangelical blogger who gives marriage and sex advice. She eventually realized from the many, many women who wrote to her pouring their hearts out and pleading for help that 1) marriage advice for healthy relationships is often the WORST advice for an abusive marriage and 2) teachings in the larger evangelical culture that talk about male lust, female modesty and sexual duty are horrible for marital satisfaction. She did a peer-reviewed study of 20,000 evangelical women and the results are astonishing and heartbreaking. (If you’re interested, check out “The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended.”). Some of the the conversations in her social media spaces are about the commonalities of these teachings – and the fallout – in different faiths that are hierarchical and patriarchal. “Sins of the Amish” is about Amish-flavored abuse.

    I absolutely agree we have Mormon-flavored abuse. I’m not sure which is worse: seeing how our unique doctrine contributes to the problem, or seeing how our shared doctrine with others is horrible for women and families across different religions.

  19. Angela C says:

    Tom: The missing footnote was [2], and I think it just got lost in editing, but I have corrected that.

    DSC: You raise some great points about Hollywood (as well as something you didn’t mention, that there are many abusers among politicians on the left as well as the right), but I would quibble with your assertion that Hollywood is *not* patriarchal. Women are often preyed on in Hollywood, which the foundation of the #metoo and #timesup movements, as well as many women in Hollywood choosing to strike out on their own rather than continue to reward the vile predators and their casting couches. (If you haven’t watched it, I recommend Morning Show on Apple+). My comment was strictly regarding churches, not a left / right swing politically because frankly, both sides suck. One’s just openly antagonistic toward women; the other pretends to be better, yet keeps getting caught out.

    The other point you raise is that even if conservative patriarchal religious movements have a higher prevalence of abuse, it doesn’t prove causation, just correlation. One reason I can think of off the top of my head is that these faiths don’t generally allow women or LGBT people to be pastors, so the field is stacked a certain way, but perhaps proportionality would reveal that both groups are similar. I can’t say because I don’t think that data exists.

  20. Angela,

    I would dispute that the victimization of women is indicative of patriarchy. Unfortunately, I think victimization of women is tied to biological differences between men and women, where men are on average much stronger physically and on average more aggressive. I suspect that even in a heavily matriarchal society, women would still represent a disproportionate share of victims of abuse or violence—the male perpetrators would just have a different societal position. I don’t see any indicia of “patriarchy” in Hollywood, but even if it is, I don’t think the victimization of women is an indication of it.

    I also don’t have data about religious groups and the prevalence of abuse based on philosophical leanings, but I am highly skeptical that including women as pastors has much of a protective effect within an organization. Men would still form part of the organization, even if a higher proportion of women are in the clergy and other leadership positions, men would still presumably serve other functions. So the proportion of clerical abuse could be lower, but I’m not convinced that the gender makeup of the clergy alone would much affect abuse generally.

    As for including LGBT people in the clergy, I don’t see how that would affect anything at all. As far as I’m aware, LGBT people are no more or less likely to commit abuse than others. Maybe you have data that tell a different story.

    At any rate, women and LGBT people can commit abuse. A quick Google search of clerical abuse in the most theologically liberal denomination I could think of returned some disturbing stories. See www (dot) uuworld (dot) org/articles/reforms-aim-clergy-misconduct

  21. Angela C says:

    DSC: While your theory about men vs. women biologically sounds logical-ish, and is the foundation for an incredibly cheesy episode of Star Trek: Next Generation, this belief is normally tied to the higher levels of testosterone in males than in females which increases muscle mass. What is interesting is that more recent studies show that aggression is situational and the aggression leads to increased T, not the other way around. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/strange-but-true-testosterone-alone-doesnt-cause-violence/

    As to whether 100% male clergy religions have a higher abuse %, as I said, I have no data; my comment was just that if abuse is committed at slightly higher rates by men (as data suggests, although we have to be careful not to assume intimate partner violence occurs on par with clerical abuse), then any decrease in the % of men in positions of power is going to appear to have a lower abuse rate, even if the abuse rate is equal among all men.

    Yes, it’s true that women can commit abuse, but statistically at lower rates: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/what-is-domestic-abuse/domestic-abuse-is-a-gendered-crime/ Reports do show that there is often a higher instance of domestic abuse in LGBT households, but this is mostly irrelevant to abuse in the LDS Church since we’ve hounded LGBT individuals out of our congregations. The point of abuse within the Church is not strictly an issue of clergy abuse; it’s the power-differential we create in the home (aside from any clerical abuse that takes place).

  22. Since @Dsc made a ton of evidence-less guesses about abuse, I’ll counter with my evidence-less guess: a church or other organization that had egalitarian leadership would have lower incidences of abuse because the leadership would be less concerned with covering up abuse by men and would foster a more egalitarian culture and would focus less on policing sexuality (which is fertile ground for sexual abuse, especially ecclesiastical) and less on men presiding (one of the ready-made abuse excuses we currently supply men, as Angels mentioned).

    Of course I’m not saying that women never support abusers or commit abuse. But part of that is because women in a patriarchal organization are rewarded for supporting patriarchy. I think we’d see different trends in a truly egalitarian organization, but it’s hard to say since there’s literally no examples of a truly egalitarian org that I’m aware of.

  23. (*angela not angels. Thanks auto-correct.)

  24. Rebecca says:

    I am genuinely curious. For those of you who do not see Hollywood as patriarchal…how do you define patriarchy/patriarchal that Hollywood would be excluded?

  25. Elisa,

    You’re emphasizing my point, so thanks. My original point was that Angela’s assertions and assumptions lack evidence. My instinct and impression is that they are wrong. Those are based on precisely the same amount of evidence as Angela’s assertions. So here we are, opining without evidence. But that’s precisely my point.

  26. Rebecca,

    How would you define patriarchy so that it is included?

  27. Angela C says:

    Patriarchy = run by men, giving supremacy to men’s needs above others’. I suppose you could make the case that Hollywood is becoming less patriarchal over time, but it absolutely started out as patriarchal as they come. Most would define anything that was founded on patriarchy as patriarchal, even if it has had some recent gains, because patriarchy is the default.

    DSC: this brings us to the real point of the OP which is not how much abuse we have among Church members, but why we have it and what we are doing about it. If you are arguing that it’s not a problem, well, I don’t know what to say to that. It’s too much abuse when it’s you or your family member or friend, right? That’s how we determine that actions must be taken, not when it hits 20% or 40% (like the police department).

  28. I am an atheist, never raised in any religion, and I have no organizational religious experience. Your article was highly Intelligent, conscientious and sincere.
    I have no respect for your religious doctrines, BUT I have complete and total respect for your relegious values. I hope you convert no one to your silly religion, but I hope you convert EVERYONE to your values and way of life. I ADMIRE YOU.

    Ain’t this a great country? THANK YOU.

  29. Angela,

    Where did I say it’s not a problem? Any abuse is a problem, and so until we have literally no abuse among us, it will be a problem. My objection is to your apparent assumptions about what does and doesn’t contribute, specifically your assumptions that “non-patriarchal, non-conservative Churches” are inherently less prone to abuse within their ranks. Without data, which you acknowledge you don’t have, we are left only to conjecture about causes, and without knowing causes, we don’t have good solutions. There are some things that would obviously help to diminish abuse at least in some situations, and we absolutely should pursue those.

  30. Rebecca says:

    DSC,

    Angela’s definition of patriarchy is great. Examining both power distribution (ie “run by men”) and how that power is used (ie for whose benefit?—although this can be tricky because people are experts at claiming altruism for rather self-serving choices—think “benevolent patriarchy”) can help determine whether an institution is patriarchal. Again, I’m curious how others define or describe patriarchy/patriarchal in ways that would not encompass Hollywood. (I don’t have hard data to cite, but I’m quite confident that most power in Hollywood is still held by men, even if there has been some movement toward inclusivity.)

  31. Rebecca,

    I would define patriarchy as a system by which women are systematically excluded from power. I don’t think the fact that there are more men in power than women, which I think is the best you can say for Hollywood, fits that definition.

  32. Loursat says:

    Let’s not get caught up in Dsc’s misdirection and muddying of the waters.

    Dsc wrote, “Without data, which you acknowledge you don’t have, we are left only to conjecture about causes, and without knowing causes, we don’t have good solutions.” Whatever “data” means to Dsc, we don’t need to wait for it in order to talk about the nature of the problem or about solutions. What we can do productively is what Angela is doing. We can discuss what we experience in the organizations and systems that we live in. We can reason about what to do differently. That kind of discussion can’t be dismissed as mere “conjecture.”

    Angela shows that specifically Mormon discourse about relationships between men and women tends to excuse and foster abuse. She gives examples. As individuals, the correct response to these examples is not to wait for “data” or to say, as Dsc also says, Hey, look at Hollywood! They have a problem too! The correct response is to be more reflective, critical and creative about the way we discuss gender and authority in the Church.

  33. Loursat,

    Do you think ensuring that we know the causes of things that contribute to abuse is “muddying the waters”? Do you think it’s not worth making sure you’re not following a red herring that ultimately doesn’t affect anything. About 15 years ago I was assured by progressives that religious oppression and backward attitudes toward LGBT people caused suicide. But suicide rates have increased while religiosity and opposition to LGBT acceptance has decreased. As a society, we’ve missed something critical, and chasing theories based on our assumptions hasn’t helped.

  34. Loursat says:

    Dsc, I think Angela wrote about abuse in our church, and you’re trying to change the subject or shut down the discussion.

  35. JustTrying says:

    Those who are involved in the mental health treatment of survivors and perpetrators of intimate partner violence (IPV) as well as other types of family violence point to the dynamics of power and control. There is a graphic that is often used, the “power and control wheel” and you can Google it or see it at https://www.thehotline.org/identify-abuse/power-and-control/

    The National Domestic Violence Hotline website states that “Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors used to gain or maintain power and control…The wheel serves as a diagram of tactics that an abusive partner uses to keep their victims in a relationship. The inside of the wheel is made up of subtle, continual behaviors over time, while the outer ring represents physical and sexual violence. Abusive actions like those depicted in the outer ring often reinforce the regular use of other, more subtle methods found in the inner ring.”

    The inner part of the wheel includes “making light of the abuse,” “shifting responsibility for the behavior,” “treating [partner] like a servant,” “making all the big decisions,” “being the one to define men’s and women’s roles,” and “preventing [partner] from getting or keeping a job,” among other behaviors. These behaviors on any personal or institutional level should give us pause and motivate us to engage in change processes. Any teachings within the church would ideally steer members from these behaviors, and certainly not encourage them.

    The church has many strengths as an institution, but it is hard not to see some concerns that would be best to address openly and thoroughly as our understanding of healthy relationships grows. When we know better we do better. Input from members whose lived experiences may differ from those in leadership positions is beneficial and necessary if there is a desire for healthy change (and ideally not simply through highly controlled focus groups). No one in any family or socioeconomic situation is immune from the effects of family violence, and we are all better off if we address concerns that lead to and perpetuate it.

  36. Loursat,

    You’ve either misunderstood or are deliberately misrepresenting my position. I’m not trying to change the subject. I’m challenging the assumptions about the causes and contributing factors to abuse by focusing on a few of the assumptions that Angela articulated.

  37. JustTrying says:

    (Along with Loursat, I would encourage blog readers to avoid engaging with Dsc whose comments serve derail an important conversation. Intimate partner violence and other types of family violence are serious and deserve serious discussion. Family violence is a matter, in some cases, of life and death, and affects male as well as female victims and survivors. While family violence disproportionately affects females, it does also affect males and is not a female-only issue. Most IPV agencies serve male as well as female clients and the number of males served is higher than most might assume. Finding ways to address and reduce factors that lead to perpetuation of IPV and family violence is crucial on individual, institutional, and societal levels.)

  38. JustTrying,

    “Finding ways to address and reduce factors that lead to perpetuation of IPV and family violence is crucial on individual, institutional, and societal levels.“ I have said nothing in conflict with this statement, with which I wholeheartedly agree.

  39. Rebecca says:

    For those of you who find anecdotal evidence useful, here’s one real-world example. I was in an abusive marriage for over a decade. Over the years, when I went to various males in church leadership for help, I was doubted and gaslighted, the abuse was minimized, I was told that the leader had to remain impartial, I was implored to forgive, etc. etc. A few were sympathetic. One seemed genuinely appalled when I told him about one piece of the abuse, but he was released from his calling the next morning. He was out. Not one labeled the actions of my husband as abuse (except the impartial one, and that was only after our marriage ended), and no one helped me get out. I learned to keep quiet about what was happening in my home.

    My friend (who was raised Quaker and is now an Atheist) believed me when he learned about the abuse, was emotionally supportive, and hooked me up with resources to help me get out. He didn’t excuse or minimize the abuse. He didn’t tell me I needed to forgive. He didn’t guilt trip me about putting myself (rather than my eternal family) first.

    Do I think the church caused my husband to be abusive? Absolutely not! In many ways it encouraged him to be a better man. Do I think it provided a shelter for him where abuse could thrive? Yup. Do I think more egalitarian religions/institutions would be less willing to protect abusers? Probably. It’s pretty easy for me to draw these conclusions from my own experience.

  40. nobody, really says:

    My grandmother was a Relief Society president in Weber County for a couple of decades. She visited every sister in the ward at least once a year, and in some cases, weekly. She would evaluate sanitation, nutrition, upkeep on the home, and health of the children. She described domestic abuse as “a huge problem”, so she was part of a network of safe houses across northern Utah. Within ten minutes, she could have women and/or children whisked away to a safe location, and she provided a safe house for multiple people over the years. There was a mini-apartment in the back of their shop, outfitted with bunkbeds, a bathroom, a small kitchen, and all the amenities. She never had to discuss matters with the bishop, or get approval for checks. The Relief Society oversaw its own finances. She even arranged job training so mothers and women could support themselves.

    Can you imagine something like that now?

  41. DSC, there is evidence. I worked with domestic violence and it is well known in the field that religious women stay longer, are more likely to be killed, because their religion encourages them to stay in the marriage and to forgive. This just makes it harder for them to protect themselves. Maybe Angela can’t quote you statistics, and neither can I right now because I got rid of all my professional books. The statistics do exist. The idea that the Bible tells women to obey their husband is used as permission to beat her if she doesn’t want to obey. I heard that out of the mouth of a Catholic abuser as he was arguing that he had e very right to discipline his wife. I have also heard battered women say that their husband uses his priesthood as justification for his abuse. Most of our clients where I worked were Mormon, so I heard stories of bishops siding with the abuser, even when the abuse had hospitalized the wife. I heard how the husbands felt justified because “priesthood.” I reached the point where I was embarrassed to be Mormon, really really ashamed of my church. You want evidence that the church teachings and lay priesthood contributes to abuse, then go work in a battered women’s shelter. Or look up the statistics. Abuse happens because there is a power differential. The church giving men permission to preside and telling wives to obey increases the power differential, therefore the church contributes to abuse.

  42. Anna,

    You can assume that if I say I haven’t found evidence, I’ve already looked. I have no doubt that people use religious beliefs and systems to justify their abuse. What I’m not certain of, and the thing for which I’d like to see evidence other than anecdote, is whether those justifications are the cover for something they would have done anyway. I’d also be interested in knowing the net difference in abuse when accounting for people who, upon experiencing a religious conversion and being taught that along with the duty to preside in love and righteousness, a husband is obligated to to help his wife as an equal partner.

  43. Angela C says:

    DSC: The OP does not assert that religious adherence *causes* or creates abusers, only that abusers use religious dogma to justify their abusive behavior. The point of the OP was not whether they would have abused anyway. My assumption is that most would have, finding other justifications. The abuser is the responsible party here, which I said in the OP.

    Again, to repeat what the OP says, what can we do to make it harder for abusers to use our dogma as a weapon, and what can we do to get our local leaders to see it for what it is when they do? Also, how can we do a better job at identifying abuse in our midst and helping victims to survive and get out of these terrible situations rather than implying agreement with their abusers’ justifications?

    I would absolutely hope that a religious conversion prevents some abuse. I imagine that it does. Regardless, that is not the point of this discussion, and nobody has asserted otherwise.

  44. DSC, the thing that I saw where religion makes the biggest difference is not in what the abuser believes. It isn’t HIS religion that makes a difference. It is hers. It isn’t the abusers beliefs or excuses. He would most likely abuse anyway. The difference is, does the victim believe that he has the right, and how long does she stay in the abusive relationship thinking she needs to forgive and keep the marriage together. So, I am totally with you that abusers gonna abuse. But does the battered wife have #1 community and religious support to leave? #2 skills to support herself and her children #3 religious beliefs that keep her in the relationship, such as temple marriage. See, what I heard was not so much what excuses the abuser gave, but the wife’s reasons for believing she deserves that kind of treatment, that she needs to stay no matter what. Take a woman who has been taught that priesthood gives a man a bat phone to God, and you have a woman who is going to think that man is right, and believe him when he says the abuse is her fault. It ups the man’s authority over his wife. So, abusers gonna abuse, but the woman raised in an egalitarian religion is less likely to get in a relationship with an abuser and less likely to think he has a right, less likely to think she has to forgive. When the woman goes to her clergy for help, is that clergy going to tell her she has to stay because temple marriage, is that clergy going to side with her husband as so many Mormon bishops do? Mormon bishops are taught never ever to advise that she leave. But that is the only way the abuse stops. So, Mormon bishops do not support the woman to leave, will not help financially to keep a roof over her and her kids heads. So, there is no community support for her to protect herself. That’s the biggest problem.

    There are statistics that show that women who are religious, especially in patriarchal religions, stay with their abuser 7-10 years longer.

  45. Angela,

    I agree with much, even most of the OP, and the only thing I disagree with strongly is this statement: “I think we’d be hard pressed to find a violent streak in non-patriarchal, non-conservative Churches, for example. If so, is it religion that leads to violence or is it a patriarchal, conservative narrative?”

    This, to me, demonstrates unsupported assumptions that moving away from a “patriarchal, conservative narrative” (whatever that means) will by its nature lead to less abuse. I’m skeptical of that. Surely there are actions that we can and should take that could be characterized as moving away from “patriarchal” or “conservative” aspects of our institutions and culture, but I don’t think it’s the non-patriarchal or non-conservative nature of them that would make them effective.

  46. Anna,

    Again, I’ve looked for studies like the ones you refer to. I even tried searching the 7-10 years figure you just cited, and what I found were claims all over the map, ranging from 2.5 years on average to 5 years on average, but I couldn’t find sources for those claims. I also found claims that people who attend a church sporadically are more likely to abuse than people who do not attend a church at all, but that those who attend sporadically are less likely to abuse than those who attend frequently.

    None of this is a defense of the status quo, by the way. No one should be telling women that they have to put up with abuse. I just think it’s important to have accurate facts to find effective solutions.

  47. I agree with @Roger Hansen that sometimes the LDS Church policies, obsessions, focuses (foci), priorities, defensiveness, conservative lean, purity culture, patriarchy, etc. often lead to bad press. I side with his first “either”: “the Church isn’t very good at public relations”.
    I am probably badly paraphrasing a comment I read somewhere in the bloggernacle (but unfortunately I’m not able to give the author deserved credit) that the Church wants to hang out with the cool kids, but can’t figure out who the cool kids are.

    Possibly it’s more that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is quite good at manufactured PR, but falls hard in some areas.

  48. I feel like the church was good at PR during the Hinckley presidency but not so much since. I suspect the PR professionals are constrained by the current First Presidency, who are terrible at PR but maybe not really asking for assistance.

  49. DSC, the studies that I am familiar with are older ones, because #1 I am older, my education is probably even outdated #2 the newer studies steer away from anything that would criticize religion. That has become a political nightmare. Pointing out harms from religious belief, let alone naming say the evangelicals would just get the author screams of religious persecution and accusation that the study was slanted. So, get off the internet because you will need to go to a real library if you want documentation that there are studies that document that statistically religion has a down side for women.

    I don’t think you want documentation, I just think you want to defend religion and I am just not going to argue with you. I heard story after story from Mormon women, evangelical women, and even a few Catholics about how their husband used religion to beat them, and how their clergy told them to go home and forgive, how their clergy and religious community sided with their husband. That to me is good enough proof. No such stories from our sister church, the ones who went astray by giving women the priesthood, or Unitarians, or any of the less patriarchal churches.

  50. Anna,

    I already posted a link (albeit obscured because I’m not sure what the URL filtering process is here) to a series of stories of abuse among Unitarians. A quick Google search showed me two high profile abuse scandals within the Community of Christ in recent years. Forgive me for not taking which stories you have and haven’t heard as representative of the truth.

    And for the record, I want to get to the truth and I want to improve safety in our communities. That requires getting past our own confirmation biases

  51. A very interesting discussion/debate going on here. After reading the article a couple of times and reading every comment, I’ve found it challenging to distill my thoughts into a coherent comment, which (for me) is usually evidence of an article that made me think. Or one that got me really upset. (But which one was it?! Read on to find out more!)

    I confess I find it disconcerting that Dsc’s comments (if I may be so bold as to summarize them) argue, essentially, for some root cause analysis that goes beyond anecdotes, only to be met with accusations of, “don’t change the subject!”, and “you may not care about fragile women being abused, but *I* do!” Congratulations to all who embody pearl-clutching compassion – as for me and my house, I’d prefer interventions that actually improve what they purport to fix.

    The OP writes in elegant language and raises some valid points, but seems to extrapolate a few horror stories over the general priesthood-bearing population, as if potential abusers are basically groomed and socially constructed via religious language and participation. (Yes, I realize the OP knows abusers exist outside religion. S/he who hath never generalized in this article or in a comment to it may proceed to cast a stone at my own generalization.) Many of the author’s observations on abusers, when applied to the broader religious population, struck me as reaching. It’s like taking your shoes off at the airport. “Well, three men last year tried to slip plastic knives through security through their shoes, so we’re now going to require EVERYONE to remove their shoes to fly.” Yes, some abusers have definitely used Mormon-specific religious language to justify their abuse. And this, in turn, justifies a widespread indictment of religious language and structure?

    As one who has spent decades in men-only priesthood meetings, please accept as valid *my* personal anecdotal account: no teacher or priesthood leader has ever equated “presiding” with “dominating” or “crushing” or any other twisted synonym. Not in any ward I’ve ever attended across at least 26 US states (from coast to coast), several European countries, up-and-down the Pacific Rim and South America. Rather, the consistent message has been, “[H]e that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” Modern scripture is equally clear that *any* unrighteous dominion leads to dramatic cessation of priesthood authority for that man.

    Rebecca’s story above is simultaneously heart-wrenching and heart-warming. If this traumatized woman can see areas for improvement in the Church without lambasting the whole and pretending the whole edifice is a big fat whited sepulcher, perhaps we can all work on our capacity for nuance and grace?

    Oh yes, one last note: “Mormon bishops are taught never ever to advise that she leave. But that is the only way the abuse stops. So, Mormon bishops do not support the woman to leave, will not help financially to keep a roof over her and her kids heads. So, there is no community support for her to protect herself.” This statement is categorically false. Please don’t use toxic paint derived from a small handful of accounts to broadly brush the rest.

  52. nobody, really says:

    Bensen:
    >Oh yes, one last note: “Mormon bishops are taught never ever to advise that she leave. But that is the only way the abuse stops. So, Mormon bishops do not support the woman to leave, will not help financially to keep a roof over her and her kids heads. So, there is no community support for her to protect herself.” This statement is categorically false.

    Uh, from all the stake level bishop meetings I’ve been in, this is absolutely true. I’ve sat there as A70s said to the bishops in the stake “The family is the fundamental unit of The Restored Gospel, and nothing should ever get in the way of that. You keep families together, no matter what” That sounds like a pretty authoritative statement that women shouldn’t leave, even if the husband has a long pattern of abuse. Those same bishops are required to watch a video, annually, telling them that before opening the fast offering checkbook for ANYTHING, they MUST reach out to extended family family first, and tell them that they must give assistance before the church will.

    If this is toxic paint, so be it.

  53. Angela C says:

    Bensen & DSC: Let me step back for a minute to make an observation. I think there’s a fundamental difference between your comments and approach and what I believe Anna & I and a few others are saying, and that approach is two-fold.

    First, our perspectives seem to be very gendered, unsurprising in a church that has a lot of sex-segregation. As I said in the OP, most men in the church don’t recognize abuse because they are *not* abusers, not because they are. Second, and far more importantly, it seems to me that Anna & I are focused on discussing how to help victims, which is after abuse has occurred, and you are hoping to prevent abuse before it happens by identifying why it has happened (and perhaps exonerating the Church from culpability, which is unnecessary as the OP doesn’t assert its guilt).

    That’s a noble enough goal, and I’m sure we would all love for that type of “minority report” prevention of abuse to happen. I just don’t really imagine that it’s very possible or likely because abusers exist both inside and outside the church, and often those who abuse grew up in abusive households, living in a secret shame. Inside the church, though, as in other organizations, abusers weaponize the church’s rhetoric and use it to control and shame their victims because their victims believe it. It’s not because the abusers were told to do this by the Church, which is a mostly ridiculous idea. Only someone from outside the Church who is the most irrational critic could assert that. Nobody is saying that the Church is “pro-abuse.”

    But it is quite clear that the Church doesn’t do a great job at identifying abusers, doesn’t see them for who they are, and often hinders rather than helps victims by eroding their support network (due to siding with abusers they fail to recognize). Those are all, unfortunately, things that happen *after* abuse occurs. Personally, I believe that a person who abuses inside the Church would also abuse if they were not in the Church. They would just use a different narrative to shame and control their vicitim(s).

  54. Angela,

    I feel like we’re talking past each other because you keep bringing up points that I agree with as though we disagree on them while largely ignoring the things on which we actually disagree. So I’ll sign off on this conversation with this: we should always be on the lookout in our institutions for ways to stamp out abuse wherever it happens. I believe the solutions are multifaceted and can include everything from better training about abuse and when to encourage victims to leave, to empowering the Relief Society to provide resources to abuse victims independent of the bishop, to changing the way we discuss gender roles in the home. My only point is and has been that blaming “patriarchal and conservative narratives” writ large likely misses the point and risks being a red herring that distracts us from effective solutions.

  55. Loursat says:

    When the ways of thinking and talking that are peculiar to a given group are tools that abusers use to justify their behavior, those ways of thinking and talking make the group vulnerable. The group can fail to see the very existence of abuse if it does not grapple with the ways its own customs accommodate abuse.

    That’s why I can’t fully agree with Dsc’s last comment. It’s nice to see that Dsc wants to address the problem of abuse. But the whole point of Angela’s essay is to show ways that abuse finds a home within the peculiarities of our culture. Our patriarchal, conservative traditions and modes of discourse are part of the issue. Trying to exonerate patriarchy and conservatism “writ large” misses the usefulness of Angela’s essay, which is to help us see abuse in the ways that it actually occurs among us.

  56. purple_flurp says:

    > “Mormon bishops are taught never ever to advise that she leave”

    yikes, is this still the case? I had always assumed that when someone comes to their bishop to tell them their spouse has been abusing them, question #1 should be “is there somewhere safe you can go? (family/close friend/etc), and if not, let’s get you somewhere safe. (like a women’s shelter or something)”

    I had thought the physical safety of the abused should be the immediate priority, issues of forgiveness or whether or not the couple should remain together permanently can be addressed later when physical safety has been achieved.

  57. john f. says:

    nobody, really (June 1 @ 1:42pm) — that is amazing. How truly tragic that this has been taken away from us as a people:

    “My grandmother was a Relief Society president in Weber County for a couple of decades. She visited every sister in the ward at least once a year, and in some cases, weekly. She would evaluate sanitation, nutrition, upkeep on the home, and health of the children. She described domestic abuse as “a huge problem”, so she was part of a network of safe houses across northern Utah. Within ten minutes, she could have women and/or children whisked away to a safe location, and she provided a safe house for multiple people over the years. There was a mini-apartment in the back of their shop, outfitted with bunkbeds, a bathroom, a small kitchen, and all the amenities. She never had to discuss matters with the bishop, or get approval for checks. The Relief Society oversaw its own finances. She even arranged job training so mothers and women could support themselves.

    “Can you imagine something like that now?”

  58. purple_flurp (and others),

    Thankfully, the church is getting _better_ with its messaging about abuse. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be doing a whole lot more or that there aren’t institutional/doctrinal features that may contribute to abuse. But our messaging is improving. As for “Mormon bishops are taught never ever to advise that she leave,” here’s what the current church handbook says:

    “When abuse occurs, the first and immediate responsibility of Church leaders is to help those who have been abused and to protect vulnerable persons from future abuse. Leaders should not encourage a person to remain in a home or situation that is abusive or unsafe” (General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 38.6.2, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/general-handbook/38-church-policies-and-guidelines?lang=eng#title_number92).

    Technically, not encouraging a person to stay isn’t quite the same as advising someone to leave. But on that last point, the handbook does say that “Church leaders should not counsel a person whom to marry. Nor should they counsel a person whether or not to divorce his or her spouse. While divorce is an appropriate option in some situations, such decisions must remain with the
    individual” (38.3.5). This might go back to something Margo said above: good advice for healthy relationships may not be good advice for abusive ones. Still, I like the explicit acknowledgment that divorce is appropriate in some situations.

    So that is the official church instruction.

    But on the other hand, I don’t doubt at all nobody, really’s experience. There is often a huge gap between the church’s official positions and instructions and the beliefs and practices that happen on the ground, which have developed over decades (centuries?) of patriarchal teaching and structures. Is there improvement in official church messaging and resources? Yes. Is the church also accountable to some degree for not doing more to emphasize anti-abuse messaging, training, and practice? Yes, in my opinion. Appropriate instruction about abuse doesn’t help if church leaders don’t recognize the abuse when it happens.

    Imagine if the church spent as much energy on just about any pro-social issue—abuse, gun safety, sexual violence, racism/white supremacy, sexism, etc.—as it spent on making sure we know not to use “Mormon” anymore. If we can have a transformative campaign that changes something so ingrained as “Mormon,” what else could we have a ground-level change about if the church cared to prioritize it?

  59. Carol McConkie, former member of the YW General Presidency (2013-2018) and currently vice president of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, is currently highlighted on the official church website: https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/empower-women-by-strengthening-identity-relationships-and-service-says-sister-carol-f-mcconkie
    In view of all the comments about abuse and the church’s attitude, I found her comments totally appalling. She acknowledges “the huge degree of inequality women and girls experience around the world,” including “abuse, violence, mental health struggles, dysfunctional families and so forth,” and what is her solution? Educating women (and men); providing women with adequate health care and economic opportunities; holding men accountable for their actions; changing government policies? No, it’s to teach girls and women about their “divine identity,” help them understand “their value, and then confidence to know their direction and their purpose in life — and prepare for the eternities ahead,” including “getting on the covenant path.” Only then are girls and women supposed to serve and care for each other (no mention of boys and men). What absurd, sexist nonsense.

  60. B. Randy says:

    While it certainly can come across as a bit too idealistic, I actually found her message rather substantive. In many countries of the world, our NGOs find that local cultural expectations shape women to believe they are meant to be subservient and dominated. Realizing that you have a divine origin and destiny – and that a loving God will help *you* personally – is an excellent introductory message when of necessity speaking from a 30,000 ft view.

    I agree with some of your suggestions, NYAnn, about more pragmatic approaches to help that seed of hope flourish. I hope there’s more progress here. We need it!

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