Date June 05, 2002

Religious not immune to abusive situations

By JARED COWLEY

The Daily Herald

OREM -- Domestic abuse happens in LDS families, too. Despite extensive efforts by the church to address the issue, the problem hasn't gone away.

The Clothesline Project on display at UVSC last weekend brought that fact home.

Many of the displayed T-shirts, which were created by abuse victims, communicated direct messages not only about terrible experiences, but also frustrations that many times the abusers acted as if they were upstanding members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One T-shirt read, "Garment-wearing Mormon man, I was 18. I was naive. You were a predator. "

Another read, "My brother molested me because (I quote) 'It feels good.' Are families really forever? "

LDS leaders have publicly lamented the spread of domestic abuse within the church. Church President Gordon B. Hinckley addressed the topic as early as 1985 during a General Conference address.

"Perhaps (child abuse) has always been with us, but has not received the attention it presently receives, " he said. "I am glad there is a hue and cry going up against this terrible evil, too much of which is found among our own. "

Connie (not her real name), a recovering victim of emotional, physical and "spiritual " abuse, said her father used his interpretation of LDS doctrine to tell her he was entitled to beat her.

"He used to say, 'Because I have the priesthood, God says I'm supposed to do this,' " she said. "Until I was 12 or 13, I believed him. Even into my 20s, I continued to be haunted by those doubts. "

Jared Curle, children's program coordinator at the Center for Women and Children in Crisis in Provo, said that, in his experience working with victims, he has heard accounts of abusers interpreting LDS beliefs to justify the abuse.

"The LDS Church teaches that the male is the patriarch of the family, " he said. "From what I've seen when working with LDS victims, it does seem that male abusers often misconstrue that or other similar doctrines to justify the abuse.

"Many times, they'll tell the victims that because they're the head of the household, it's their God-given responsibility to do what they're doing. Many truly believe that what they're doing is right. "

Connie said she left the church for a couple of years while she recovered from emotional scars left by her father, a man who served in church callings, partook of the sacrament and attended the temple.

"I tried to tell my bishop what was happening when I was a kid, but he didn't know what to do, " she said. "He just kept telling me that my parents were good people.

"For a while there, I wanted nothing to do with the church. I didn't understand that the church actually doesn't condone what my father was doing to me. "

LDS Church leaders have condemned all forms of abuse. President Hinckley addressed the topic again in a 1998 General Conference address.

"We condemn most strongly abusive behavior in any form, " he said. "We denounce the physical, sexual, verbal or emotional abuse of one's spouse or children.

"No man who abuses his wife or children is worthy to hold the priesthood of God. No man who abuses his wife or children is worthy to be a member in good standing in this church. The abuse of one's spouse and children is a most serious offense before God, and any who indulge in it may expect to be disciplined by the church. "

Connie said once she understood that the church did not justify abuse, she began mending her relationship with the church. She is now an active member.

Connie said the church has improved its capacity to handle abusive situations since she was a child.

"The church has made a big effort to help the victims, " she said. "The prophet and general authorities speak often on the topic, and the church also provides training for bishops. There are also abuse centers the church cooperates with by referring victims for help. "

Curle said it is difficult for the untrained eye to spot warning signs of abuse in a home.

"Most abusers -- LDS or not -- try to hide the abuse and erase any obvious signs of what's happening, " he said. "That's why a family that looks like a happy, normal Mormon family on the outside can have these terrible things going on inside the home without anyone knowing. "

Jared Cowley can be reached at 344-2559 or jcowley@heraldextra.com.

Copyright 2003 The Daily Herald

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