READER POST: And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.
Two thousand years ago, our Savior made his victorious entry into Jerusalem. His people looked to him as a living prophet and Son of God, the messiah who would save them in victory and power. I try to imagine shouting “Hosanna!” and laying palm fronds before Him. What would it have been like to be so near my Savior, to give Him marks of His kingship?
But Christ’s kingdom was not of this world; it would not be founded in the powerful structures of men. His lack of military or financial power disappointed many followers. His social and spiritual might was taken as a threat to the powerful institutions of his day, especially the high priests and scribes, who laid plans for his painful and humiliating death.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the last mortal week of our Savior. One full of suffering and, eventually, grace.
This last week has been a harrowing one for many in Mormondom. An audio and written transcript was released of an interview with an LDS church leader. In this interview, a woman confronts Joseph L. Bishop, now in his 80’s, about how he sexually assaulted her when he was a fifty-something MTC president, and she a young sister missionary.
Bishop admitted his abuse of her, of multiple other victims, and to being a sexual predator, which is a problem he reports having had throughout his life. He’d confessed his sins to his church authorities. Yet he served as a bishop, stake president, mission president, and president of the MTC. Until a few days ago, Deseret Book still sold his books, one of which is endorsed by another church leader to whom Bishop confessed, but who did nothing.
Now other people are stepping forward and laying down their stories of abuse at the hands of church leaders like palm fronds before our Savior. Thus begins our #MormonMeToo moment, where we will hear from the lambs of God who’ve been wounded in the house of their friends.
It‘s normal for Mormons to sustain untrained leaders we cannot choose, without the protections of background checks or institutional accountability. We obey their summons, and go meekly behind heavy, windowless doors with these priesthood leaders to discuss sexual confessions, sometimes in great detail.
We are taught to not say “No”.
Just last Sunday I attended a relative’s stake conference. The stake president urged members to avoid social media and any criticism of the church they may come across; and reminded members that anything other than total loyalty and instant, unquestioning obedience to the church is to step away from the Lord’s side and to choose Satan instead.
Dealing with institutional abuse in any human situation is challenging. For Latter-Day Saints, it can be terrifying.
If the church won’t help the people coming forward, then that must mean victims are in opposition to the church. And the church represents the will of God on earth, so, choosing to believe the victim means unchoosing the Lord. Believing the victim means not just an undoing of our own community, into which we’ve invested our time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed us; maybe it could mean endangering our souls and being cast out. We’re taught it was priesthood power that created the universe; to question priesthood leaders is to unmake our Mormon cosmos.
I hear these fears, my fellow Mormons. I have been there. I denied even my own abuse for years because I was willing to sacrifice anything, absolutely anything—even my own life, if necessary—in order to be part of the people of Zion and found acceptable before God.
I get it, and I love you. I honor your hearts. I honor the sacrifices you have made, and the loyalty you’ve shown. I know so many of you are doing what you can, and I know many Mormons who are creating powerful good in the world.
I think about the Savior, who taught in his Sermon on the Mount, that following Him means seeing His face among the least of these—the poor, the hungry, the naked; the widow, the orphan, the prisoner. Lepers, women caught in adultery. The woman who comes forward with a story of abuse at the hands of a beloved church leader. I think about He who was willing to sacrifice everything for the least of these, marginalized by the powerful priests of his day.
All of these people are worthy lambs, named stars, the treasures of a King whose kingdom is beyond this world. They are also an opportunity for us to faithfully follow our Savior in loyal obedience to His words. I believe this is His gospel in action, and the mission of Christ’s church.
There is no hiding the abuse; Jesus already knows all about it. What is yet to be determined is our response.
Will we believe, succor, and change? Will we choose to turn our faces from the bitter cup of truth? Will we traumatize survivors a second time? Will we trust Jesus’s words and love to be sufficient for the healing of an entire church?
In the words of my patron saint:
“He knows all that. He’s been there. He’s been lower than all that. He’s not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don’t need a Savior. He came to save his people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes. He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief.”
― Chieko N. Okazaki
I know Jesus can fix this. We’re invited to do His work, by drinking the bitter cupfuls of truth and bearing the burdens of His wounded lambs, whom He intends to heal. If we can be loyal to our Savior’s teachings, even when it is so hard for us to do, I know we can help Jesus bring light to our dark and broken places and make us whole. He created this cosmos, and He can fix it. That’s why He came to dwell among us in the first place.
Our Savior is already here. Let the Son shine in.
Bio: Rebecca Sachiko Burton is a part-Japanese heritage Mormon. She loves kundalini yoga, running up library fines, and she home schools most of her seven kids.
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