I went to the temple to be sealed to my first husband when I was 19. That marriage didn’t last, but that was OK because when it came time to marry Nathan, President Hinckley moved pretty quickly to clear the way for our temple marriage.
I remember that September morning like it was yesterday. After the ceremony was over Nathan and I were left alone in the sealing room, holding hands, with the palpable feeling that we were in the presence of angels and the Divine who blessed our union.
When we adopted Finn we had him sealed to us. I remember when he was brought into the room by a temple worker as we knelt at the altar. It was as if beyond the veil our ancestors were talking among themselves, moving themselves around with a chorus of farewells and welcomes to this child who through tears of joy became ours for eternity.
I was sealed to my mother and father by proxy in the Salt Lake City Temple in 2009. They hadn’t been married in real life but to be able to make that bond in the temple healed a lifetime of feeling adrift because of their poor decision making.
I’ve been sealed to husband, children, parents, grandparents and hundred of ancestors over my lifetime. Each thread creating bonds of connection and belonging that continue to matter to me. Each connection involving the care of bishops, stake presidents, temple workers, family members, financial sacrifice, travel, time and deep faith.
Despite it all, because I am a woman in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one man now gets to decide the future of these eternal bonds. One man with a knee-jerk reaction to my receiving a baptism into the body of Christ (which he understands as formally joining another church); One man who finds my vocal disappointment with the idolatry of President Nelson and the church to be problematic; One man who is troubled that while I believe the LDS Church to be a part of the Body of Christ I don’t believe it to be the only true church on the face of the Earth; One man who I don’t know, and who doesn’t know me can bring it all to an end.
You see, I’m a woman in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and as such, I am not entitled, as of right, to appear before a full Stake Council – many of whom have been present in my life since I can remember. I could use a provision in the handbook to make that happen but I shouldn’t have to, so I won’t.
I have certainly made no secret of the fact that I have never had a testimony of Church Presidents or General Authorities or the hierarchy, or the patriarchy, or the corporate operations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that is as bright or lovely as my testimony and love for Jesus Christ. In fact, I’ve spent years arguing against spiritual abuse as seen in the power-posturing; The idolatry of Presidents; The authoritarianism; The whitewashing; The gagging; The expectations of blind obedience to poor policy; The American cultural imperialism; The Patriarchy or my antipathy for poor leaders who weigh the people down spiritually.
Eventually I had to find another place to worship because I couldn’t bear the weekly diet of church that made only vague references to Jesus in favor of endless and repetitious affirmations that the church is true and that President so and so is a Prophet of God and scandalously poor exegesis.
I’m not ashamed of making those feelings known and I certainly don’t believe that my eternal bonds should be severed because I speak up about spiritual abuse. But for some Mormons this is treasonous indeed.
But the reality is, I’m a woman in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and as such one man can find that problematic, collect all of the evidence against me, convene a ‘council’, preside at that council, act as jury in that council and make a determination there and then to sever my eternal relationship with thousands.
But, he’ll do it nicely. Mormons are good at being spiritually abusive with a smile…
“…they will probably not see or admit to the harm they are doing.
There is a curious innocence in these leaders. They act with cruelty without having any conscious aim of doing so. They usually don’t want to hurt people. Ironically, what they do want is, on the surface, good evangelism, commitment to the mission of the church, respect for authority, church growth, mature discipleship, a balanced church checkbook.
They can’t see that they become abusers in the pursuit of these good aims. If they give any acknowledgment at all of the abuse, it’s often minimized. “After all”, they say, “I am seeking first the kingdom of God.” They fail to realize that they are actually closing the door to it. “ (van Vonderen pg 98 & 99)
I was observing to Nathan (my Temple Recommend holding, Stake serving, faithful true-blue Mormon husband) the other night that the irony is, everything I have claimed to be profoundly wrong with the church is proving itself to be true in my case. And for the first time in our marriage, he agreed.
So, on the 20th of December, one man gets to reshape my eternal bonds.
But, not my relationship to God or Jesus Christ. That, I am happy to report, remains the sacred hum that gives me immense peace in spite of all of this spiritual violence.