The Discernment Myth

DEBORAH: In LDS theology, discernment is a God-given ability of priesthood leaders that allows them a type of spiritual eyes with which to judge people under their stewardship. Discernment is at play when a stake president selects a new bishop, or a bishop calls his ward’s auxiliary presidents, but discernment is also alleged to help leaders spiritually sense when someone isn’t living the commandments or is in need of specific, divine guidance he alone can voice for them. It’s a lofty idea but also a dangerous one.

The idea of discernment took a few solid blows to the chops last week when news broke that two bishops, one in Idaho and one in  Utah, currently stand accused of serious sexual misconduct. Here in our little quorum of sisters there have been incidents where discernment failed us. Pilar’s story comes to mind (read here and here). Several of our SQ readers have shared their personal experiences in which the discernment of priesthood leaders was absent when they needed it present. As examples, both SQ readers Jane and Verlyne shared that, after being raped, their bishops held disciplinary councils against them on the grounds of fornication and exacted punishment, even disfellowshipment (read Jane’s story here and Verlyne’s here). There’s no end to the pain caused when discernment fails.

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Sexual Assault, Discipline, and Overcoming Church Sexism

READER POST: In June of 1985, I had just graduated from nursing school and was working in a nursing home. I had become friendly with a coworker, a guy who flirted with all the girls, and I ended up at his apartment, alone, late one night. This is a difficult story to tell, and I’ll leave out many details, but the gist of it is, sex happened. In retrospect, I came to the realization, I’d been raped. I’d said, “No” and resisted. I didn’t want to have sex. I was 24 years old, a temple-endowed returned missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and had planned on remaining a virgin until marriage. In my mind, I had to have been complicit, and I got what I deserved. Therefore, I reasoned a visit to the bishop of my single’s ward and a confession were in order.

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