Ex LDS Julie Abused By Mormon Bishop
My name is Julie. At the time of this writing I am 34 years old. I was born and raised in Utah within the Mormon church. I come from a multi-generational family with deep roots in Mormonism. Most of my family joined at the very beginnings of the church under Joseph Smith or Brigham Young. My husband comes from the same kind of background (TBM) and was raised in the same town as I. We are the only members of our families to leave the mormon church. We have been married for almost 15 years and have a 10 year old son.
I have been “out” of the church for almost 4 years now. Sometimes (for some unknown reason) I want to go back. There is no rhyme or reason to this except that perhaps it’s the only religious experience I’ve ever known or been part of. I know in my head that Mormonism is a cult and is abusive. I need to make sure that my heart realizes that.
There are a couple of things that I would like to share — to GET OUT of my mind and share with someone so that perhaps I can go on and resolve my conflicts within the church.
The first experience began when I was 7 years old. I lived in Nephi, Utah across from the church. My father was in jail for several DWI’s and for domestic abuse against my mother. My mother turned to the church for financial help because she was trying to raise me, my sister, and my brother on her own.
She did have a job at a nursing home, but it wasn’t quite enough to cover food. The Bishop agreed to help her, providing that she would clean the church. Just a few light duties: washing the windows and vacuuming, mostly. I was in charge of vacuuming. My mom had a key to the church and I would go over there when she was at work and make sure that it was all vacuumed every Saturday so that it would be ready for Sunday. (Remember, I was only 7 years old.)
My experience all started when I ran into a counselor in the bishopric. On that particular day, I remember being very upset because I was constantly being teased by the other kids because my dad was in jail. The counselor sat me down on his lap in the chapel and asked me to tell him why I was crying. He was so kind! So wonderful! This was a man of God wanting to know about ME! I told him everything. I trusted him and was really happy for the attention! I went home that day very happy and grateful for my new friend.
The next time I went to the church to vacuum, the counselor in the bishopric was already there. He asked me if things were better and I told him they were. He asked me if the children were still bothering me, and I told him they were, but it was okay. He took me again on his lap as if to comfort me, but this time his hand rested inside my shorts. As he kept talking to me (I don’t even remember what about) his hand kept snaking up toward my private area inside my shorts. He acted like this was very natural, and although I remember feeling anxious, I did not stop him. He touched me where no adult should touch a child that day. I went home feeling confused this time, but I didn’t really understand or question it, because, after all — he was a member of the bishopric.
Each time I went to the church to vacuum for my Mom, my involvement with this man became deeper and took longer. It got to the point where I couldn’t finish my job and was always afraid my mom would be angry with me. And she often was! After a few weeks, he was touching my genitals as if it were second nature to him and kissing me often. He also would touch my little girl chest and had me massaging his genitals as well. I was extremely uncomfortable with this behavior, but he always told me that I was “special.” And that he loved me like I was his own little girl. I should never tell, because that would break the promises we had made to each other in the church. I remember each time going home and taking long baths until my mother would get home from work. I was constantly getting into trouble with her because she relied on me to babysit my younger siblings as well. They were left to fend for themselves during those hours. Once when I told my mom that I didn’t want to clean the church anymore, she told me that if I didn’t then I would be responsible for the church taking food away from our family. Did I really want to do that? NO. I couldn’t handle it. (I WAS ONLY SEVEN YEARS OLD!)
Shortly after the counselor began “molesting” me, he brought a camera with him (one of those old “Polaroid” cameras) and would take pictures of me in several different ways of undress. Sometimes I would hold my shirt up, sometimes my pants would be down and my bottom would be facing the camera. Several times I was nude. I just kept thinking it MUST be okay because come Sunday, he would be sitting up there on the stand and wink at me once in awhile, or lead the opening remarks and after all, this was a man called of God. If God thought that it was okay, then it must be okay.
Then came the day that I was naked in the Sunday School classroom. I was sitting on his lap and his pants were down around his ankles. He started to push his penis into my vagina. I started to cry. He told me that it wouldn’t hurt if I could just relax. He made me feel as if it were my fault that it was hurting because I didn’t relax good enough. I don’t remember how often this happened, but I do know it was more than 3 times.
Then I turned 8 years old and it was time for my baptism. I was afraid. I memorized my “Articles of Faith” like I knew that I should. (I ALWAYS did everything that I should!) It was time for my interview with the Bishop. I was so afraid to go into his office because I knew from what my Primary teacher and Sunday School teacher told me what he would ask. I knew I couldn’t lie. I was so afraid that everyone would find out and I would not be able to come to church anymore. I was afraid that the Bishop probably already knew about what was going on because God surely would have let him know!
After I recited my scriptures that I had to memorize and the Articles of Faith, the Bishop started the interview. He asked me if I had been a good girl and if I felt worthy to be baptized. It took me a few seconds to answer. Then I told him, “No.” He asked me why. I told him that I couldn’t tell him. Perhaps he assumed that I had stolen some candy from a store or something like that because what he said next surprised me. He said, “Julie, when you come up from the waters of baptism, you will be as clean and pure as the white driven snow.” (I remember those exact words as if it were just yesterday.) Well, I felt pretty good about that! It almost felt — actually it DID feel like I had a ‘do-over!’
I was baptized on a Saturday. My beloved Grandpa who lived in Payson (20 miles to the north of Nephi and where I had most of my growing up years beginning at 8 and a half) baptized me. When I came up from the waters of baptism, it felt like my bishop was right! I felt so wonderful and sparkly and CLEAN! Not just on the outside, of course, but on the inside! I didn’t feel evil or bad anymore.
The next day was Sunday and back in those days they confirmed you in church after all the babies are blessed. I felt so proud walking up the aisle in my new dress and my long, dark hair in curls. The bishop put out the chair and had me sit down. While he was waiting for others to join the circle for my confirmation, he mentioned to the congregation how proud he was of me. I glowed! This was really my day! The men began to surround me. My grandpa (who was to give me the blessing), some of my uncles (my mother’s brother’s) and a neighbor. I closed my eyes as they put their hands on my head and my Grandpa began to speak. I opened my eyes a little and looked up. To my horror and amazement, I saw the counselor in the bishopric standing off to the side of me with his head bent and his eyes closed. After seeing that, I began to cry. I think everyone assumed that I was crying because the “spirit” was really with me or something. But I was crying because HE was there. I never felt any spirit or felt the holy ghost or anything I was told I would feel. I just felt anxious and dead inside. In my little girl mind, I believed with all of my heart that the baptism never “took.” That I never received the “gift of the Holy Ghost” or was worthy of any of the promises that I was supposed to have as a Child of God.
As if that weren’t enough, the VERY NEXT SATURDAY I went to vacuum the church again. HE wasn’t there at first, but he came in a few minutes after I did. This time I didn’t want to do anything he said, but HE FORCED ME! For the first time, I struggled and he was mean and he HURT me more than ever. I tried not to cry, but I couldn’t help it. I wasn’t really crying so much because of what he was doing to me, but because I felt that if this were a man of God and he could do these things to me, then God must HATE me. It was that day that I realized that I wasn’t special or any of those things that I was taught. That God had turned his back on me and I was on my own. I never prayed again. My “do-over” was gone….
We moved back up to Payson soon after that and away from that church. Away from the counselor in the Bishopric. I told myself that I would never, ever go to the church again, ever. But sure enough, the next Sunday I was there. But this time my Grandpa was sitting next to me, proud as could be that his Granddaughter whom he had just a baptized a few weeks earlier was with him. It was fast & testimony meeting that day and he got up and bore his testimony and talked at length about how proud he was of me and the path that I had chosen. I felt like a liar and a cheat. I felt dishonest and dirty. I was dirt before my baptism and I was dirt after my baptism. I wasn’t worthy to be sitting there listening to my Grandpa shower his praise on me. It took awhile, but I finally blocked these things from my mind. But the thoughts that I wasn’t worthy and was dirty and that God hated me continued to exist in the back of my little girl mind.
In the meantime, around the age of 9, I started being molested by 2 uncles. (My father’s brothers.) It just seemed the norm at that time. I never told anyone. Why should I? I was always threatened not to, but since I was always obedient I wouldn’t have told anyway.
Until I grew up, that is. When I was 28 years old, I told my Grandmother (my father’s mother) about the abuse that had been heaped upon her by her sons. Her reply was, “I didn’t know they had ‘bothered’ you, too.” Just like it was the “norm” to have that happen! Apparently she confronted one of her sons about the abuse. His name was Russell. When I was younger, he was especially violent. His favorite game was taking me to the cemetery and having sex with me in front of his friends…. He always told me he’d kill me if I EVER told and that I would die before I was 30 anyway.
After my Grandmother confronted him about my “stories” he came to my home while my husband was out of town. I heard a loud knock at the door. I didn’t look through the peephole. (An action that I still feel responsible for to this day.) As soon as the door opened, he came busting through the door.
I had been cutting up some slices of cheese for my (then) two year old son to tide him over until dinner. Russell grabbed the knife, held it to my throat and after a lengthy struggle which entailed him throwing my baby into his room and slamming the door…. he beat me and raped me. I didn’t tell anyone until the next day. My next door neighbors had heard noises (we lived in an apartment complex) but didn’t report them. It wasn’t until they saw my face that they put two and two together. I let them know “kind of” what happened, but instead of going to the police, we went to our Bishop. The police weren’t called in until the next day. (I was too ashamed….) The police just simply took my statement and that pretty much was that. It was his word against mine. Oh well….
My husband, son and I moved to Florida in 1990. We were not active in the Mormon church, but were believers at that point. We were visited by missionaries and started going back into activity in 1992. But every time I would go into the chapel, I would have anxiety attacks. I would look up at the Bishop and his counselors on the stand and find myself unable to breathe. 9 times out of 10, I had to leave. I found myself not going to church because I didn’t know why I couldn’t just sit still and find comfort in the church. Wasn’t I supposed to find comfort being in God’s true church? Everyone around me did, but I didn’t.
So, I started studying at home instead. I read the BOM several times. I read all the books I was supposed to. It was then that I began to find historical discrepancies, prophecy and doctrinal discrepancies, etc…. I became confused about this. It was also at this time that I came across the book “Miracle of Forgiveness” by Spencer W. Kimball. He had been my favorite prophet and I was always in awe of him. But his statement regarding chastity left me feeling like I had been kicked in the stomach:
“Restitution for Loss of Chastity. Also far-reaching is the effect of loss of chastity. Once given or taken or stolen it can never be regained. Even in a forced contact such as rape or incest, the injured one is greatly outraged. If she has not cooperated and contributed to the foul deed, she is of course in a more favorable position. There is no condemnation where there is no voluntary participation. It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.”
All of the past came rushing back to me with such a force that I was in bed for days. I didn’t struggle for the most part. I did cooperate in most of the cases of my molestations. I didn’t struggle much when my uncle raped me as an adult because I feared for the life of my child. Now I knew for sure, even as an adult, that I truly was not one of God’s favorites or even worthy to be a member of HIS True Church.
I made an appointment with my Bishop. I told him of the abuse that my uncles did to me. (I didn’t make any mention of my questions regarding church discrepancies at this time.) He said all the right words, “It’s okay, You are forgiven..It isn’t your fault, etc…” Then I showed him what I had read in “The Miracle of Forgiveness.” He told me that the book was “outdated” for today and that those words wouldn’t stand in my situation. I was again confused. The prophet of the Lord wrote this book, and it wouldn’t stand? It was outdated? But I did find comfort in the fact that this Bishop said he would do anything he could to help me rid myself of my past so that I could go on with my life. He and I had a few more sessions until I felt better about things. He did everything he could to help me and I began to rely on his talks with me a great deal. I felt good about my life.
But the anxiety and panic whenever I would go to church would continue. I thought it must be God’s way of telling me I didn’t belong. The Bishop would insist that perhaps I wasn’t “doing my part” by reading the Book of Mormon. That I should study it more diligently. God would give me comfort if I TRULY seeked it… I finally told the Bishop about my experience with the counselor in the Bishopric between the ages of 7 and 8. (Before and after baptism.) He immediately got a cold look on his face and shut off completely. He told me right then that he was unable to help me any further and that he wouldn’t be able to speak to me again until I got professional help. I would try and call him at home and he would refuse my calls. (My calls were always a priority before.) I felt abandoned again. I felt alone and discarded and violated. I had shared things with this Bishop that I hadn’t shared with anyone and he just plain didn’t care anymore. I was suicidal. I didn’t believe that God could or would love me if His Bishop couldn’t love and accept me. I truly believed that with all of my heart.
In the meantime, my husband watched me struggle through a suicide attempt and loss of faith in my Church and myself. It was at this time that the old bishop was replaced by a new one and I felt encouraged to seek his help. Perhaps things would be different. Well, they weren’t. Not even close. I felt disfellowshipped. We had no home teachers, no visiting teachers. And since we had no family around us (because they were all in Utah) I felt so alone.
My husband and I became disillusioned with what we had been reading and the experiences we had gone through. We wrote the bishop a letter asking that our names be removed from the records of the church. We never heard back from him. After several attempts and 4 letters later, (he said he had ‘lost’ the letters) we received a plain white piece of paper (with no letterhead) from the clerk in our ward telling us that we were no longer members. That didn’t satisfy me because ANYONE could have written that! I mean, this was not even an official document! We spent the next few years wondering if we were even members or not.
We have suffered so much. I feel I’ve lost my identity, my God, my legacy, my heritage, my family’s respect, etc.
I wrote to my Grandpa on April 23, 1993 telling him of my decision to leave the church and why. (I left out the sexual abuse parts.) My grandfather was the only person in my life that I felt loved me unconditionally. He never responded to my letter. When we would talk by telephone, it was as if my letter never was sent. I still felt the love and joy in his voice when he would hear mine. I asked him at one point if he read the letter, and he told me he did, but that’s all that was said. I knew he was disappointed. He told me that he knew I’d come back when I figured things out. Three months to the day I sent that letter (June 23, 1993) my grandpa died. So did a major part of me. I flew back to Utah for the funeral. My Grandmother (even though she knew I had left the church) asked me to speak. I did. It was hard, but so joyous to be able to share my thoughts and feelings about my beloved friend, mentor, father, grandfather. The only rough spot was my Grandmother telling me that my grandpa was disappointed with my decision to leave the church and felt that I had turned my back on the Lord. This made me angry. I never turned my back on the Lord. (Did I?) Wasn’t he the one who turned his back on ME? What my Grandmother said to me hurt me more than if she had slapped me as hard as she could.
So now I am back to here. Here and now. I don’t consider myself a Mormon. I am learning what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. (Because sometimes I still crave the fellowship I had in Utah as a teenager.) I miss my Grandfather giving me a “Father’s Blessing” when I was going through a rough time or ill. But I still have the shame. I still carry the burden of what happened in those secret times in the chapel and the sunday school room in Nephi, Utah with a Man of God. I still, even though I am an adult, cannot put it into a perspective that I can deal with. I have sought secular counseling and have been able to put the abuse that my uncles heaped on me into their proper place and go on. And for that I am both proud and thankful.
But this…. this is too big for me to deal with alone. And I don’t know how to resolve it.
I realize that Life is a continual process. That maybe someday I will be free. Maybe I will have to die before that takes place. I hope not. In the meantime, I feel like I’m carrying around poison.
That’s it. I don’t know what else to add. This is a very long letter, but as you can see from reading it, a few sentences wouldn’t have helped me or anyone else understand the situation.
I just hope that you can make sense of it.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this. I think the only way that justice can be done (if there is such a thing) and the only way I can feel like my life has been worth something at all is if my story can help someone else.