LEAH: My heart is racing. I can’t believe you’ve done it again.
The card in my cold, shaking hands is addressed directly to my seven-year-old daughter. It wishes her a happy birthday and is signed, “your Primary presidency.”
You’re not her Primary presidency. You don’t even know her. But you and I know that this is far from the first time our name has been on your ward council’s agenda. This isn’t just a card. This is the beginning of another exhausting series of intrusive confrontations with you.
As you know from the many years we spent in your ward, my husband didn’t serve a mission, and my family isn’t sealed. Despite my husband’s monthly church attendance, and my holding two callings, attending weekly endowment sessions, bringing my seven children to church, you still considered us a project family.
I knew when you’d discussed us in ward council again when your bishopric and elders quorum presidency would stop me in the halls as I shepherded my big family from another exhausting sacrament meeting to Primary. Instead of thanking me for the sacrifices I’d made to prepare a lesson, lead music, and care for my babies all at the same time, your bishopric would stop me and interrogate me—in front of the rest of you—about why my husband hadn’t come with me to church
Worse was when your leaders assigned me to make him attend all three hours every week. Worst was when he didn’t, and then they’d stop me again, require a public report in the hallway, and tell me how disappointed they were. “Disappointed” was their word for frowning and looming over me while I ran late to lead music, for which your Relief Society presidency chastised me.
Your Elder’s Quorum president cornered me, alone in the hall, to instruct me on how require repentance from my husband. “Don’t sleep with him until he goes to the temple,” he told me, leaning in, backing me up until I was pressed against the rough burlap wall. When I wept to your bishop about how that intrusion into my spiritual and intimate life had affected me, a sexual trauma survivor, and begged him for help, he told me, “That’s a you problem.”
One of your Primary teachers walked into our house uninvited and tried to take my child to Sacrament meeting with her, without my consent, because she decided we weren’t attending punctually enough. I found myself arguing with one of you in my own living room over my own child. This violation left me terrified, and again I asked your bishopric and Relief Society leaders for help. They laughed, and told me it was funny.
They even tried to encourage my husband and me to go to the temple by bringing up our infant son who’d died soon after birth. “Don’t you want to see your son again?”
Despite my husband and I both being sixth-generation members born in the covenant and raised in the church and attending regularly, when one of our daughters reached baptism age, your leaders required us to have the missionary discussions before they’d permit baptism. I guess you all had decided we just were not Mormon enough.
After several months of being too sick with pneumonia to care for my seven children—the older five homeschooled; the youngest two in diapers—I asked your bishop to compassionately release me from my callings. He chose to lecture me about how I’d failed all of you, and how I was an unworthy freeloader, a lazy taker of all your tireless efforts. Then he refused to renew my temple recommend.
I was accustomed to years of trying to give you all, my brothers and sisters in the gospel, the benefit of the doubt. I wept outside your temple that I’d attended and cleaned and loved for years. I fasted to forgive. I believed your church when your leaders told me this was all my fault. I believed you when you told me that, without you, I would never be enough for God. That is how I kept coming back to your church.
I was determined to create something beautiful when I scheduled my son’s baptism. I was still recovering from my illness and from your bishop’s rebuke, but I happily planned our special family day with all of you. My son excitedly looked forward to being baptized. He told me, “I want to follow Jesus,” and I was so proud of him and glad to support him in making sacred covenants.
Then, the night before my son’s baptism, your stake president told your bishop to cancel my son’s baptism. He told me he was teaching our family a needed lesson in how to have proper awe and respect for church leaders. He refused to provide any other explanation. I told him about my son’s broken heart; he smirked. I wept; he rolled his eyes. I told him that I felt this wasn’t Christ’s way; he contended that I’d flaunted the handbook and this was our reward.
You said and did nothing. After all your eagerness to involve yourselves in my family’s church life, for the first time, you abandoned us to silence, and left us to carry this alone.
Later I found out that when we planned my son’s baptism together, you’d made a clerical error, but you never did tell the stake president that. You let us—my young son—take the blame and be punished on your behalves. And then you pretended that nothing had happened, not our pain, not your dishonesty, and certainly not your stake president’s unrighteous dominion.
Did you all know that this wasn’t the first time your stake president had hurt me and my family? Almost two decades ago, when I was a scared, pregnant teenager, he was my branch president. He told me his authority was as though I were being counseled by Christ, and he ordered me to give my son up for adoption as a condition of my repentance. I agonized, and prayed, and returned to him with my answer: no. At my refusal, he disfellowshipped me.
That experience left a mark on my records, which may be why your leaders kept bringing up my past unworthiness and treating me differently; it left a mark on my mind, so that I’ve had nightmares for years about him declaring me unworthy, and all of you walking into my home to take away my children and give them to families you had declared “enough”.
No matter what I did, or how I’d tried, until I felt like I was dying inside, we were not enough. You wouldn’t stop hurting me, and now you’d hurt one of my children. That was too far.
In anguish, I informed as many of you that would listen that I’d be gone for six months. I had hoped this clear communication would prevent unwanted drop-ins and intrusive confrontations.
But my becoming less-active only seemed to spur further seasons of zeal. You all started dropping in more, not less. It was as though being less-active made me less of my children’s mother in your eyes, and you felt free to assume that authority.
Despite this, I steadfastly supported my children in attending your activities. I asked you if my daughter could come home a day early from your YW camp, and offered to pick her up if that was a problem. You assured me you’d found her a ride, but didn’t give me the details. At the last minute, when her bags were already in the trailer, I learned that you intended to put my Beehive alone in a car with your bishop, for two hours. I also learned that no amount of your pleasant smiles meant you had my children’s best interests at heart. My husband and I dropped everything, taking a personal day off work, so we could come get her ourselves and keep her safe.
I told you communication to my children needed to come through me. Soon after, I walked past my front door and found my son there—the same one you had wounded when you denied him baptism—and your scout leader quietly instructing him on how to walk himself to a church activity that she promised would be full of friends and delicious treats. She told him Mom didn’t need to know. I was terrified to hear a nice Mormon mother sound like a stereotypical kidnapper, enticing my son to leave his house alone.
But I remembered Christ’s counsel to forgive seventy times seven, and counseled myself to forgive you and try again anyway, as safely as I could manage. I notified your bishopric that my children could still participate in youth temple trips, but that I needed to know when they were interviewing them so I could be present during it, because I would not permit them to take my daughter alone into a room behind a closed door.
Your bishopric promptly ignored me, and took my daughter out of Young Women’s to interview her alone. I felt sick when she got home and told me what you’d permitted the bishopric to do.
That Sunday was the last day my children participated in your church’s activities. I told as many of you as would listen.
Even then, your harassment didn’t stop. Every few months, when our names cycle back to the top of the agenda, you all come back. Your leaders send youth to my house to invite my children to activities. My children think that old friends are coming to see them, but then find, again, that they’re only spoken to when they’re being treated as less-active quarry. I watch your ward hurt my children all over again.
I loved you all, you know. I was loyal to you. I believed your testimonies when your leaders told me that your church is the one true church, without which God would abandon me and my children into spiritual death. I compromised. I looked for the good in you. I appreciated your attempts to bridge the painful gulf between us, and how you tried to extend the hand of fellowship, though you gloved your hand in calls to repentance.
But I can’t help but see that even though you all are willing to get involved enough to intrude on our lives, and put my children at risk, none of you are willing to get involved enough to ask why we’d stopped coming, or how you can help us be safe. Never once have any of you asked what you and your leaders have said or done, or what we’ve suffered at your hands.
I tried to tell you anyway, so you’d understand why I needed you all to finally leave us alone, but you all have refused to acknowledge my explanations and pleas. You’ve conveniently not heard or not remembered or not cared, and you’ve crossed every line I’ve drawn.
And now, you’ve done it again. I’m still staring at the card you’ve sent my daughter without my consent. The latest evidence that we don’t matter enough to be heard, and will never be safe from you, is shaking in my hands, and I’m fighting the urge to throw up.
I’ve tried to forgive and live alongside you. I’ve supplicated you to stop. I’ve tried to protect your good name in our community by not telling our neighbors how you’ve acted. I did this in loving memory of the years I thought we were friends.
But this is not how you treat friends. Maybe some of you never meant to hurt us—you never meant to stop hurting us, either. My family and I deserve safety and peace. I’ve had enough.
I resign from your church. I resign my children from your church.
Do not contact us. I’ve had enough.
Sisters Quorum exists to give voice to those who are not being heard and is seeking submissions. If you have a story to tell, SQ invites you to visit our submission page for guidelines.