Recently critics and dissidents have been clamoring for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to abolish the common practice of having lay bishops hold private interviews with youth in which they ask them questions about sexual morality and the Law of Chastity.
Many of these critics are concerned about the propriety of having a bishop talk about sexual issues with young men and women alone as well as the potential for abuse. And they point to legitimately tragic anecdotes from people who feel that the practice had a negative effect on them as youth. Some even claim that it facilitated abuse by a bishop.
Earlier this year, the church announced that it would update its policies to optionally allow youth to have a parent attend the interview with them. The church provided bishops with standardized questions to be asked. And parents and youth were also to be given information about the kinds of questions and topics that would be included in the interview beforehand.
But the changes do not seem to have appeased the critics, who will not be satisfied until they have pressured the church to abolish the interviews completely and with them any enforcement of the Law of Chastity.
I just wanted to raise a point in support of the interviews that I have not seen made elsewhere, and that I hope the critics will seriously consider:
Unlike many, I don’t believe that a patriarchal priesthood creates a power imbalance that leads to gendered injustices, such as domestic violence. I don’t think it is necessary to give women the priesthood or adopt identical family roles. Yet, though I don’t believe they are cause-and-effect, these things do play into a power dynamic that exists independently. I believe this power dynamic can be changed if we are willing. I realize that in a few short sentences, I have managed to alienate both sides of the divide. But I think my perspective, as a woman faithful in the Church and a survivor of domestic violence, has something to add to the conversation.
My husband was not a member of the Church when I met him. I was a freshly-returned missionary, he was separated from his wife. We both worked at the same retail store. At some point, I invited him to hear the discussions in my parents’ home. During the course of his investigation, he confessed to me many problems in his past and present. Still stuck somewhat in the role of missionary, it was easy to forgive things that I would not have, had I been looking at him as a potential future mate. I think that’s why he was able to get to me.
Many ask why a victim of domestic violence stays. This is not an easy question to answer. There are a number of resources which help make sense of domestic violence situations. An excellent one is Hidden Hurt, which contains much of the information below. My next post will deal specifically with how to help.
I have been told many times that victims should “just get out,” and that there is nothing that outside parties should do to interfere until the victim asks for help. But it is not that easy. Abusers have waged a long war to convince their victims that they have no choices, or that they are the ones who cause the problem. Some of that emotional mess has to be detangled before victims can extract themselves from the situation.
Today, I am wearing a purple ribbon. Two years and eight months ago, my husband left me. It was not unexpected. He had threatened to leave me many times. This time was different. This time, he had told me weeks ago he was planning to leave me, and this time I had decided to let him go. I couldn’t continue trying to do everything I could to keep him. This time was also different because this time, three months pregnant and constantly nauseous, I refused to leave the house to give him some alone time with his movies. This time, he decided to try to make me leave by grabbing me around the waist, dragging me across the living room, and trying to force me out the door in front of my two-year-old daughter.
But what I lived through that night was physically quite minor, and it was the first and last time he put his hands on me in anger. I am not wearing the purple ribbon for me. I am wearing it for the three women and one man who will die today because of intimate partner violence. I am wearing it for the more than 20,000 people this year who will be hospitalized because the one person in their lives who should cherish them the most believes that frightening them, and even hurting them to get what they want is acceptable.