It sounds like the lead-in to a bad joke, but the reality is, Joseph Bishop, a former LDS bishop and repeat mission president, is also a sexual predator. In the recent MormonLeaks audio release, a former female missionary confronts Joseph Bishop, her MTC Mission President in the 1980’s, about his attempted rape of her in the basement of the MTC, and then levels additional accusations of sexually predatory behavior with other women, including another young female missionary. He withholds confession of the attempted rape (he just doesn’t remember that pesky detail; it was so long ago), but aligns himself with adulterous husbands and accepts the title “sexual predator” without denial. To make matters worse, priesthood leaders up the chain of command—specifically Carlos E. Asay (deceased) and Robert E. Wells (emeritus)—took no disciplinary action against him. In fact, they allowed him to remain in his positions of authority and did not prevent him receiving other assignments in which he had private, intimate contact with vulnerable women. Needless to say, people are talking. Screaming. There is justifiable, warranted outrage. But the one thing that I have not heard anyone say is “I don’t believe it. This could never happen.”
We all know it can happen. If you’ve lived to a certain age, you’ve seen it happen. You’ve experienced ecclesiastical abuse yourself or had a close family member or friend experience it. Women are becoming more vocal everyday. This is not to say all ecclesiastical leaders are abusive; of course not. But we can all see holes in the current patriarchal system, a system that can be repaired only by the very men who could potentially benefit from those holes.
So yes, while I, too, am outraged at Joseph Bishop and the leaders in-the-know who placed the reputation of the church over the well-being of victims and potential victims, I’m more outraged that the church hierarchy is deaf to the cries of women who demand protection against abuse. I don’t see anyone standing up for Joseph Bishop, but I do see people reminding us that he is not “the church,” but only one man; “One man may do evil,” they say, “but the Church is good.” This is the way we’ve been conditioned to think. It is our training—our grooming—revealing itself.
“Grooming” is the act of manipulating someone in a way that prepares them to submit to abuse, and often to accept partial (or even full) blame for that abuse. Looking back at my life in the LDS culture and church, I now see how some of the behaviors we encourage in members do precisely that—groom us to silently accept abuse.
People who argue the church isn’t to blame for the Joseph Bishop scandal are excusing a Church system that has, throughout its existence, been willing to threaten our standing in the church—even our salvation—if we murmur, if we complain, if we say anything that might shine a negative light on what our leaders do even when what they do is evil. The faith of these people is as small as their courage is limited, but they are rewarded as if their faith is made large. We do not sustain leaders by allowing them to continue in their sin. We call them out. That’s what faith in God looks like. It looks like courage.
Just as the woman conducting this interview was told by Joseph Bishop, when he was her MTC Mission President, that no one would believe her version of the story should she tell it, each of us understands that the word of our leaders (men called of God) outweighs our own. Priesthood leaders have the power to diminish our social and religious standing in our church community, to withhold callings and temple recommends, to permanently mark our records, to instigate action that will remove our name from the membership roll of the church and dissolve (at least in mortal records) the covenants we make in our quest for salvation.
Our church system has trained us to sit down and shut up. We’ve all been taught that Laban had to die so a nation would not dwindle in unbelief; today we are expected to take abuse silently so that, as the audio transcript reveals, no one loses their testimony. Oh, how we have been conned into living such a small faith!
To be pointed, falsehoods never produce, nor encourage, faith. Sin never produces, nor encourages, faith. Neither fear nor cowardice produces or encourages faith.
So what do I want? Besides Joseph Bishop being held accountable, that is. I want the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to create a new system, one that will protect the vulnerable and hold abusers accountable. I want the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to:
- acknowledge that priesthood is not the power that guides us in righteous, loving ways toward God, or that blesses mortals with discernment. The gift of the Holy Ghost is.
- recognize that women possess the gift of discernment, through the gift of the Holy Ghost, and do not need priesthood to be included in meaningful ways, either in the confessional, in disciplinary proceedings, or in leadership callings.
- protect the vulnerable by ending mandatory, closed-door meetings, especially of women and children.
- create an empowered reporting system, independent of the priesthood line of authority, that includes women as responsible, authorized leaders and participants.
- use disciplinary councils only to address egregious sin, like sexual predation, and stop using them to police vulnerable members.
- instigate transparency about the outcome of disciplinary councils; after all, repentance requires accountability and ownership.
What I want foremost, however, is for President Nelson to rise at the General Conference pulpit and behave as if he truly does love women; apologize for the way the formal church has been turning a blind eye to the abuses allowed under the current system, and to commit to action that will change the words “zero tolerance” from a catch-phrase into a covenant the leaders of the Church make to its members.
Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us? (Isaiah 29:15)
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