Commentary: An open letter to the LDS Patriarchy

The realization that you <i>knew</i> about this pervasive issue for decades and have nothing to address the system enabling it is incomprehensible.

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Russell M. Nelson waves to the crowd at the end of the Sunday afternoon session of General Conference on April 1, 2018.

Dear LDS Patriarchy,

I have learned, in my personal and professional life, about the framework of healthy community. I’ve also become familiar with damaging effects of spiritual abuse and psychological trauma.

I can assert that it is never a sign of a healthy system to deny facts, rationalize abuse, minimize assault, enable predators, shame a survivor, and placate a population that looks to you for leadership. Nor is it ever acceptable to re-traumatize those who have been affected by abuse.

You have done this, LDS Patriarchy.

The sexual abuse case involving former Missionary Training Center President Joseph Bishop has shocked the nation, as has the alleged domestic abuse committed by former White House aide Rob Porter being mishandled by lay clergy. The effort to protect LDS children from grooming and abuse has also highlighted your faults. This Mormon #MeToo moment has filled many in your flock with pain, fury, and profound despair. We have witnessed your attempts to scrub details, discredit survivors, and dissociate yourself from accountability and justice.

You have done this, LDS Patriarchy.

I have held on to hope that I will see you live your values. Certainly, you must care about “the least of these.” You must realize how painful this is for us. You will have the utmost integrity in handling these horrific issues. My expectation is that as church bearing the name of Christ, you will swiftly right these wrongs. You will work tirelessly to address abuse. You will acknowledge your extensive failings and reform the unhealthy system that exists. You will provide safety for victims who wish to come forward. You will commit to desperately-needed cultural change. You will deconstruct your practices and reconstruct your policies.

But, you haven’t done any of this, LDS Patriarchy.

My hopes in you have faded. The realization that you knew about this pervasive issue for decades and have nothing to address the system enabling it is incomprehensible. I am angry. Call it righteous indignation if you wish. I am being honest. Something I wish you would do.

Don’t villainize my anger. Joan Chittister states, “Anger can be a positive thing that moves us beyond the acceptance of evil.” Won’t you honor our anger and effect ethical change?

Don’t characterize me by my membership. Don’t equate my worth with my willingness to trust in my priesthood leaders, especially when those leaders have enabled abuse or have been abusive themselves.

These qualifying commodities should not matter. But my story should. Brene Brown said it best: “My story matters because I matter. I am enough.”

Abuse expert Lundy Bancroft explains, “Abusers thrive on creating confusion, including confusion about the abuse itself.” They are unremorseful and unrepentant. They tell white lies, misdirect, deflect, hold double standards, use religious beliefs to control and coerce, have a sense of superiority, and operate under benevolence. Their words do not match their actions; they gaslight and manipulate. They are also concerned with their image, instead of their integrity.

This sounds a lot like you, LDS Patriarchy.

You say you have a zero-tolerance policy against abuse.


You say you take reports of abuse seriously.


You say you share our anger and distress.

False. False. False.

I just don’t believe you anymore. Not only have you not validated your countless victims, but you have not even acknowledged our existence. As Christian therapist Shannon Thomas says, “We are unable to heal from what we cannot, or will not, acknowledge exists.” You seem to be in denial that there are victims sitting in the pews of every single one of your congregations and, undoubtedly, even more that cannot even think of attending church again.

Please tell me, LDS Patriarchy, where are the women within your patrilineality, paternalism, and male gaze?

In your system of male dominance, male privilege, male leadership, male decision-making, male control, and male authority, what’s a woman to do....besides what you tell us to?

You use self-coined terms like “nonconsensual immorality” to talk about rape, sexual assault, and abuse. You fail to see how harmful this is to your own community of survivors, but also how this language enables and protects predators.

You see, LDS Patriarchy, in your system:

When we are abused, we have no one to believe us.

When we are hurt, we have no one to help us.

When we are neglected, we have nowhere to go.

When you hold power, we hold pain.

And I’m starting to think you want it this way.


Questioning Everything You Stand For

Lesley Butterfield

Lesley Butterfield

Lesley Butterfield, Bent Mountain, Va., is a registered nurse educator, survivor advocate and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.