Like Porter’s Ex-Wives, Many Mormons Are Encouraged to Stay With Their Abusive Partners

Image via AP.

Rob Porter took leave of his post at the White House
last week
after two of his ex-wives alleged that he’d
domestically abused them both. One of those wives, Colbie
Holderness,
wrote
yesterday in the Washington Post that she
and fellow ex-wife Jennifer Willoughby had each
“raised our cases with clergy. Both of us had a hard time
getting them to fully address the abuse taking place.”

To the non-religious among us, it may seem shocking that an
issue as grave as domestic abuse shared with a trusted clergy
member would be met with anything other than unwavering
support. But many in the Mormon church—to which Holderness,
Willoughby, and Porter all belonged—were hardly surprised that
a bishop would encourage a woman to stay with a man who was
hurting her.


According
to a report in Buzzfeed, the experience endured
by Holderness and Willoughby resonated strongly with many women
in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Every one
of the more than 20 current and former women members the outlet
spoke to said they’d sought help within the church after
experiencing domestic abuse. In the majority of cases, they
turned to bishops—men who function as the LDS version of
pastors on a part-time basis alongside other jobs and
responsibilities, frequently with little by way of formal
training. More often than not, their advice was deeply harmful.
From Buzzfeed:

In response to their requests for guidance, the women said,
they were told by their bishops to stay in abusive
relationships, that their eternal salvation could be
jeopardized by leaving violent partners, and that they were
to blame for their marital problems. Though some reported
positive experiences with church leaders, every woman who
spoke with BuzzFeed News for this story said there are
widespread inadequacies in the way local Mormon leaders
handle reports of abuse and domestic violence.

LDS doctrine holds that families are eternal and relationships
persist into the afterlife. That belief tends to directly
impact the advice that bishops offer victims of abuse,
frequently leading to warnings of the potential impact that
divorce could have on the afterlife—at the expense of the here
and now.

Examples peppered throughout the report are numerous and
disturbing. In one case, a woman named Rebecca told her bishop
in 2012 about the abuse she was suffering at the hand of her
husband.

“I was told by my bishop, ‘You’re ruining your family for
eternity,’” Rebecca recalled. “So it was traumatic to realize
that I had been living in this marriage for decades that was
terrible and demeaning and degrading, and then I was being
told that if I left it I was ruining my children.”

Another woman, who asked to remain anonymous, told her own
bishop she was assaulted by a man she was dating:

“He said that it was a very serious situation, that I needed
to repent, and told me I had to meet with him weekly to
discuss what had happened,” the woman said. “At the time, his
response was more damaging to me than what the guy had done.”

In response to these allegations, an LDS spokesperson told
Buzzfeed that “it is difficult to speak to specific
circumstances without complete information from all involved,
but the position of the Church is clear: There is zero
tolerance for abuse of any kind.”

Read the full report
here
.

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