The Pedestal and Ecclesiastical Abuse

Stake President Russell Clayton has apologized to Tiercy Hadlock in an email, copied below for easy access. To understand the context, you must listen to the recordings of their meetings and read Clayton’s follow-up emails. However, in summary, Clayton rescinded Hadlock’s temple recommend, then threatened her with a formal disciplinary hearing on the grounds of apostasy when (he asserts) she didn’t follow his direction to “stop talking” about the “emotional affair” between her husband and another female ward member.

Surely some think his apology should be the closure that makes it all go away. But it isn’t much of an apology. He doesn’t apologize for priesthood abuse, for bullying her, for placing the needs of the organization ahead of her needs as an individual. He sounds as if his aim is to resolve the problem at the point at which it intersects with his life as a leader and not at its root–her life. His apology for “not understanding her feelings” ignores her legitimate complaint of ecclesiastical overreach. And that’s the crux of the matter for me: a woman’s legitimate grievances are too often de-legitimized  as emotional and non-rational muckraking.

MormonLeaksApologyThe outcry about the toxic pedestaling of women in the church isn’t new, nor is it widely understood. The church culture in which I have lived four decades asserts a) that spiritual experiences manifest as feelings, and b) that women are more spiritual than men because we supposedly feel more deeply than men. In other words, spirituality has been feminized in ways that are toxic for everyone.

This likely explains why our (male) priesthood leaders often adopt, as Clayton does, a feminine tone even when behaving aggressively. This mask of alleged spirituality allows plausible deniability and safeguards the priesthood leader from direct confrontation. Ironically, the pedestaling of women has compelled male leaders to use our own traditional (and problematically stereotypical) gender characteristics as a weapon against us. Men may not recognize they do this, but women, who, historically, have had to rely on manipulation to get by in a patriarchal world, recognize it clearly, even if we won’t risk naming it.

But we must risk naming it. No matter how softly and sweetly Clayton attempts to address Hadlock, he is manipulating, diminishing, and bullying her to make his own life easier, to establish a “house of order” (D&C 132:8) as he writes in his follow-up email. Tyrants use power to create order. Jesus surely never did. It isn’t lost on me that Clayton resorts to quoting the infamous section 132, containing as it does a threat against Emma’s salvation if she isn’t silently accepting of Joseph’s polygamous (and sexual) relationships beyond their own marriage. “Sweet bullying” is an unfortunate pattern of patriarchal religions, and no number of patriarchal scripture quotations will sanctify such a pattern. The Holy Ghost will affirm this.

But I also want to call attention to Hadlock’s language throughout the interviews. Notice as you listen how many times she predicates her assertions with “I feel.” It seems clear from released material that Hadlock is a victim of unrighteous dominion, but her exchanges with Clayton also demonstrate the deeply harmful results of the false way our culture has pretended to empower women through our feelings. Engraved on the pedestal is the idea that our feelings make us more spiritual than men, that our strength and worth comes through our emotion, which is allegedly linked to the divine. But this fails us, as it failed Hadlock.

In addition, centuries of existence in a patriarchal world has taught women to soften our statements so powerful men have an escape route from direct challenge, all in the hope of improving our odds of safety or survival. Hadlock seems enmeshed in both the narrower Mormon and wider cultural expectations. As a result, and in the end, she remains disempowered by a Mormon authority who reduced her complaints to personal feelings and then limited his apology accordingly. He made no acknowledgment of his abuse of power, in part because the language women have been trained to use permits him to reduce our claims to emotional, non-reasonable assertions.

The pedestal will never empower women. Women will not be valued in the arena of authority or ideas if we allow ourselves to be valued primarily for our emotions. In an environment where there is little ability to change the patriarchal system, women must recognize the potential empowerment that will come from recasting the way we speak about our experiences. Not “I feel.” Not “I think.” But “This is what is happening.”

I’ve had a brief conversation with a decades-long acquaintance of mine who resides in the stake over which Clayton presides, and she made clear her affection for the man, identifying him as someone with a good heart and even better intentions who made a monumental mistake. She can forgive him. I may not know him, but I empathize with him for the difficult situation he found himself in and for the human foibles that lead him to respond so poorly. Yes, he owes Hadlock an apology for his misuse of power, but this action on his part is a small symptom of the actual problem.

There will, of course, be those who fault Hadlock for making her story public, just as they have faulted others. But what other recourse does she have? Within the present power structure of the LDS Church, there is no legitimate avenue for her to rectify abuse. For this, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should apologize, not just to Hadlock, but to Clayton who might have been spared this public humiliation, and to all of us who remain open to ecclesiastical abuse. I don’t need to hear or read the words “We are sorry” from some church spokesman: I know that will never happen. I need the Church to recognize its bureaucratic weaknesses and correct them so that individuals who are being abused have safe, legitimate recourse.


We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. (D&C 121:30)



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10 thoughts on “The Pedestal and Ecclesiastical Abuse

  1. Freedom Wins

    I have stories if my own that are FAR worse than Tiercy Hadlock’s.
    The take-away is this:
    Don’t put your trust in the arm of flesh.
    Don’t give anyone the power to steal your testimony of the gospel; it’s true.
    Men who abuse their priesthood power (and there are many) will answer to a much higher authority.
    These abusers are NOT crying over how they have treated you at night; only you are.
    Forgiveness is not for them; it is to help victims us this move on and stay strong in the gospel. The faster she can do this the less cancerous it will be to her.
    Take comfort in knowing the Lord knows the truth.

    I would love the opportunity to talk to Tiercy.

    I pray she will use the power of the atonement to help herself. The Lord loves her dearly. XOXO


    1. Hello again, Freedom Wins. Let me say out the gate how sorry I am that you’ve experienced things worse than this. I’m not surprised. There are many stories worse than Hadlock’s, stories in which wives who are raped and beaten are counseled to better obey their husbands, to “put out” more, and so on. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful husband, but many in my personal circle have endured horrific domestic abuse, only to have bishops not believe them, or blame them, and to have temple recommends removed. The accusation of apostasy in this case is over-the-top and less common (perhaps), but as D&C 121 states plainly, nearly all men with power will abuse it. I’d add in some form or another. I’d also add that I can forgive them that, but that doesn’t mean I won’t demand better. We can do better.

      Because Hadlock is pursuing mental health counseling (and perhaps her “I feel” is training stems, in part, from that), I trust she will, eventually, emerge a stronger woman. Hadlock’s case is an example because she has allowed it to become an example of the powerless of women.

      I’m not satisfied with the idea that women who endure this simply need Jesus to get through it. It strikes me that she is already intimately involved with Jesus as a source of healing, as well as with professionals, and I wish her all the best. I also wish the best for Conrad. But I also yearn for a way women who come up against ecclesiastical overreach to have a legitimized way to report it within the church structure. As it is, any letters sent up the proverbial ladder are simply sent back down the ladder, often to the very person who doesn’t believe he has done anything improper. This leads to continued abuse. There is no “two-deep” concept for women behind closed doors.

      You take care of yourself. And thank you for both reading and commenting.


      1. Freedom Wins

        Greetings again, Lisa.

        I too, wish for a better way to petition grievances. You are absolutely right about the chain of command when you contact your Area President. Mine went right back to the abuser, at which point, he further abused his power.

        It’s been decades now and I’m glad I didn’t give him the power to take my away testimony nor my activity in The Church. Since that time I can’t spot these men a mile away and try to stear clear of them. They are not worth being offended by. They are not worth my tears yet I have given them many! They are not worth my life here on earth yet I thought, at one point, perhaps they were.

        I too, saw an LDS counselor who suggested we have an affair to really ‘see the issues’. I did turn him in to The Church and got an answer back signed from the First Presidency. “He will NEVER be allowed to use sacred funds to counsel another church member. We have flagged his records.”

        There are MANY great LDS counselors out there. Interview them carefully before you make the same mistake of trust.

        Absolute power corrupts absolutely.


  2. Your article has many valid points. I have suffered abuse while employed in the LDS Church.

    “Within the present power structure of the LDS Church, there is no legitimate avenue for her to rectify abuse”: In my case, as an employee, I had absolutely no avenue to rectify the abuse. I reported it to my manager who ignored me and also retaliated against me. I reported it to my director who did the same. Amazingly, I reported it to the director of HR and it was as if I never said a word about abuse. He then used gaslighting techniques to deflect the issue back onto me and tried to me it my fault. It is appalling that the Church would act this way when abuse is reported.

    “manipulating, diminishing, and bullying”: This was used daily by my manager and director which resulted in many employees complaining of abuse, a hostile work environment and intimidation. Reports to HR management and HR were ignored.

    ““Sweet bullying”: My director in the Temple Department did this. He would talk softly and sappy sweet while at the same time being completely brutal. Once I sent a “Thank You” letter to his boss and he hauls me into his office to reprimand me for doing it. I explained it was a “Thank You” and he proceeded to rip me apart for “going above his head”, “violating protocol”, and said “I better never do that again”. Wow, really? It was a thank you!


  3. Cory

    Interesting perspective. It is a bit disconcerting to think that really serious issues can be mishandled. And surely it does happen – because, as we know, imperfect people in leadership positions are making judgement decisions every day. These judgement decisions are not always correct – and with over 30,000 wards/branches worldwide, this is bound to happen from time to time. I’m not sure how you could rectify this situation if you feel that your voice isn’t being heard. I unfortunately don’t have a perfect solution.

    But I don’t agree with the methodology of making a private matter very public. Whenever there is some controversial issue, you can always gain cyber support and cause a little bit of resistance with the status-quo. I don’t like the idea of politicizing our beliefs and viewpoints that differ from local leadership. Sure, many people will support us and back us up. But that inevitably will lead to schisms in wards and stakes. I believe the Stake President was correct when referencing the verse from Doctrine and Covenants. The Lord’s Church is a house of order. And yes, Jesus created order, too. He established order in his Church by ordaining the 12 Apostles and conferring upon them the power of priesthood. The Church does not make decisions upon popular vote. Bishops and Stake Presidents are not called upon by popular vote, either (thankfully!). If we were to publicize every contention and disagreement we have with Bishops and Stake Presidents, surely we would not have a house of order, but a house of chaos. It would become nothing more than a Facebook arena where we try to one-up one another through put-downs, slanted view points, and little to no empathy for opposing sides.

    Men make mistake, no doubt. But, I believe, the majority of them are trying their best to handle cases with care and sensitivity. I suppose victims/offended parties can always be re-assigned to other wards/stakes if they have lost complete faith/confidence in their local leaders.


  4. Doug

    “Sweet bullying” What a short, yet perfect description.

    It absolutely happens enough that it’s undeniable. I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said; however, as a man, I’m uncomfortable with framing the issue as male leaders abuse female victims.

    Being newly divorced, I was crushed by a “caring” tool of a bishop. In one case my membership was threatened after I literally followed his counsel to the T. Yeah, that was some bad counsel.

    As a cubscout leader I had a stake primary president kick me in the privates regularly. She never spoke above a whisper and was offended by phrases as harsh as “the other boys moved away from him because he enjoys passing gas.”

    As a high priest group leader, I, along with the bishop, were weekly whipped by the relief society president. She was equal parts of caring, panicky, controlling, and knee-jerker. One time she told us the old home teaching assignments were completely broken. She had spoken with the sisters being taught, and it wasn’t working at all. She insisted we had to change a dozen home teaching assignments NOW! We did so, and faced confusion from the men who thought they had bonded with their home teachees, but after minor complaints they accepted the changes. Then the impacted women complained. Half were like the men, a little hurt and bewildered. Half staged an angry coup. None of them were sweet bullies. They ripped me a new one. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? was the kindest phrase I heard. Most were demeaning insults. When confronted by angry sisters, RS Pres blamed the whole thing on us. She even did the unthinkable, she demanded we change everything back–which we did. She was and is a great neighbor. Love her. Holy Hell that woman was a terror to work with.

    That leaders abuse power is a burden some of us have to carry. I just don’t think we need to add gender issues to the burden. If we reversed the wife with the husband, I could see the whole issue playing out the same. I assure you the husband would get the same voice. I know I have.

    I know what you mean by the voice, but I’m not sure the voice is feminine. Not being from Utah, I was offended by some native accents. President Monson’s voice was so bad for me that I had to read his talks instead of listening. I later learned about the Sugarhouse accent. Eventually I loved Monson’s voice.

    If it’s not feminine–it might be feminine; I’m not totally sure–what is the quality that grinds at us? I think it’s one in authority talking in a slow, measured, controlled manner as if explaining for the umpteenth time to a stupid rebellious irritating child. In short, I hate the voice because I’m being talked down to, but if I call it out, the careful speech provides deniability. I’ve heard the same soft voice from my boss in New Jersey. She normally shouts, but I was in trouble, and the HR woman was present. HR ALWAYS uses the voice.

    Sweet bullying is done by men and women to men and women. It’s painful and I feel for folks who experience it.


    1. I agree. Mormons tend to be passive-aggressive because being outright mean is contentious. And contention is of the devil. Kind of amusing. I’m glad you took the time to point out these other issues. In this post, my concern was the pedestal, or benevolent sexism (a term I probably din’t use here). Regardless, I’m happy see your comment and appreciate you drawing attention to the degree to which sweet bullying occurs.


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