I had intended to spend the night at home, in my room reading. It was going to be like many other Saturday nights for me, as I had already begun to seclude myself from social activities. The rumors had become vicious at this point, and I was having a hard time deciphering who I could trust, and who was getting close to me so they could spread more information around about me. I’d already fallen prey to a couple of people who had once been my friends, and were now gossiping the loudest about me. My reaction to each round of gossip had been to steel myself even further, and remove myself from those so-called friends. This, of course, was leaving me with little to no interaction because, it was what I deemed safest.
“Just come with us,” my roommate pleaded as I rolled my eyes at her. There was a church function at the single’s ward- nothing ornate – popcorn, ice cream floats, and a movie. She said she’d sit with me the entire time, it’d be just fine.
Eventually, I gave in, and opted to wear my last pair of jeans that still fit, and a baggy sweatshirt. You could barely tell I was pregnant, unless you knew I was. There was no way I was going to walk in waving my belly around. The idea of getting out of the house sounded fabulous, more than I would have cared to admit.
When we entered the building, my anxiety rose, and I wondered if I had made the right decision in going. There I was, pregnant, unwed, and completely in a different universe than most of these people. I was a complete outsider. A sinner who was showing her sin to the world. Would anyone say anything to me?
No one did, and possibly, it was because the Sister Missionaries sat on either side of me, laughing with me as we snacked on popcorn, and half watched the silly movie that was playing. My roommate wandered off when she saw that I was content, and our other roommate joined us later, sitting in front of me. It was almost as if these women were trying to ward of any possible negativity, their body language saying, “We have her back, so don’t you dare come near.”
But there was this one girl, who kept staring at me. I waved at her, trying to be friendly, but she didn’t respond, instead turning her gaze to the screen, only to occasionally shoot daggers at me. This girl? She was the ward Relief Society President, the one who is “in charge” of leading and guiding the women in the ward with compassion. Every single time she laid her eyes on me, I felt nervous, and completely unwelcome, but I stayed the duration, because up to this point, I’d endured much worse than a couple of sideways stares.
As we walked home, all of my roommates and I, I smiled. I hadn’t had that much fun in a long time. I hadn’t allowed myself to have that much fun, and I was glad that I hadn’t resisted, and had instead gone out into public. I deserved to have fun, I told myself.
The next day at church, in my parent’s family ward, I sat quietly in the pew, reading my scriptures waiting for the services to begin, when the Bishop approached me, and sat in the pew directly in front of me.
“Can we have a word?” he asked in his quiet voice.
“Sure”, I smiled. We’d been having conversations over the last couple of months, something that was required because of my pregnancy.
“You went to that YSA activity last night, right?”
“Well, it seems, and I don’t know how to say this, but your presence offended some people there. I think perhaps it’s best if you don’t attend any YSA activities anymore.”
A giant lump formed in my throat.
“I didn’t…I didn’t do anything…” I managed.
“It’s just that we should avoid the appearance of making this situation, ‘okay’. It’s best if you stay in the family ward, and only attend family activities until you are finished your pregnancy.”
“But…” I couldn’t finish because tears were streaming down my face.
“I’m sorry, but I think this is best for everyone.” The look in his eyes told me that he was pained to have to pass this information on.
I bowed my head and didn’t say another word. Instead, I sobbed into my open scriptures, trying not to do so too loudly. Soon, my mom joined me, and noticed I was crying. I tried to explain what had happened to her, but I couldn’t, and instead stood up, racing to the bathroom as fast as I could. I spent the rest of the service crying in the bathroom stall.
I felt shamed. I felt lower than low, and I knew in my heart of hearts, that I had done nothing wrong.
The next day, I called my worker at LDSFS. I explained, through more tears, what happened. I could hear her voice crack, as she apologized, and told me it was wrong. She said she would pass it all down the line, and we would get it fixed. I told her it didn’t matter because I didn’t want to go to anymore YSA orientated events. She argued that it needed to be heard because it was undoubtedly the wrong way to handle the situation. I reluctantly agreed.
At my next session, the psychologist, another LDSFS worker, told me what he had done. He expressed anger, and told me in his area, women were allowed to go to whichever church they felt was most comfortable for them. He said that there was no church policy banning me from attending, and that since I was planning an adoption, that there was no reason for me to be excluded from the YSA wards in the interim. Then he told me,
“You should know, because it’s been made clear with all the leaders involved that the way you were treated was wrong, so you can go wherever you like now, but it was the Relief Society President who filed the complaint.”
I shook my head, and relayed how she’d looked at me while I was there. He nodded, listening as I continued to cry.
“I won’t go back there, I’m obviously not welcome, even by one person. But, I want to make sure this never happens to another girl again. I didn’t do anything wrong. All of those people there? They sin too. You just can’t see their sins. I’m wearing mine. They don’t, and if they did, I suspect many of them wouldn’t be welcome either. I just want to go to church. To worship, and go home. ”
* * * * * * * * * *
This weekend, I watched as women were barred from attending the Priesthood Session of the LDS/Mormon General Conference. When I saw that they had physically barricaded the door, I felt this overwhelming sadness, an ability to relate, hat I wish I didn’t have. I too have stared in the face of rejection from a church that was demanding so much of me, and a simple activity, a simple request to be involved was thrown in my face because I was declared “not worthy”, or didn’t measure up to the supposed standards that one is apparently supposed to meet in order to attend a church function.
Exclusivity in the Mormon church is nothing new. It’s a rampant part of the culture, and it’s perpetuated further by the notion that “ignoring” it is the best way to deal with it. The truth is, ignoring it is akin to ignoring the bully on the playground who pushes and shoves everyone around. Eventually, someone gets really hurt. And at that point, as a bystander, you are almost as guilty as the parties who aided in the bullying in the first place. When you tend to break out of the culture’s “appropriate” role within the church, you set yourself up to be a victim. You put yourself in the line of fire of those who act as though they are better than you, that they know better, and will do what they can to show you all of that. I wasn’t the only person who suffered through situations such as this during my pregnancy. My sister was alienated by the leaders and other young women. My parents were chastised, and spoken about in harsh tones that should never be present within the hallways of a church.
When I see Mormons saying that they have never seen this sort of negativity, or don’t understand why it’s not just ignored, I feel angry. You can’t ignore this sort of hurtful behavior, because it’s terribly personal, and it’s not at all how any person should be treated. There was, for me, no sense of justice in my own situations because there was no one who would really listen to me. The Relief Society President remained in her position, despite her mistake. She was the one who erred, and I was the one who was punished, because it was easier for everyone to tell me to hide from the big bad bully- rather than take her down.
How I was dealt with in this situation played a huge role in my doubting as a Mormon. It played a huge role in the trust I had for the leaders above me. The message was clear: they would support a bullying, exclusive attitude before they would support the victim, or person who was harmed.
That’s mighty harsh message to take in.