Commentary: Church completes Mile One of a long journey for women

FILE- In this Jan. 3, 2018, file photo, the angel Moroni statue, silhouetted against the sky, sits atop the Salt Lake Temple, at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

The recent changes to the temple by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have brought joy and rejoicing to many. These are steps forward. As one Mormon feminist once shared with me, “Small changes that help address any existing inequality are like completing Mile One of a never-ending marathon. But we have to start somewhere.”

I rejoice that we are completing Mile One. But there are miles left to go.

I am a survivor, as many women are, of insidious and horrific spiritual abuse by church leaders and within personal relationships. I have felt massive amounts of sorrow, confusion and pain in my journey to healing. I share this grief with many other survivors.

Throughout my recovery, I attended a battered women’s group in a heavily populated LDS area. The majority of the women who were survivors of domestic abuse also experienced damaging spiritual abuse within their relationships. This abuse was also often compounded by their church leaders, who, instead of protecting or helping these women, told them they needed to obey, honor and heed unto their husbands, some even quoting portions of the temple ceremony, using scripture and quotes from prophets as proof for this unethical counsel. It became apparent to me that the rituals, the ceremonies and the ordinances of the temple enabled spiritual abuse toward women, sadly, in the context of eternal salvation, obedience and righteousness.

I rejoice that abusive men may have less language to draw from the temple to rationalize abuse in these ways. I rejoice that the decision-makers decided to finally listen to the heartache that many women have held privately for years when it comes to the temple. I rejoice that women may feel more equal and see themselves as worthy and deserving of safety and peace. I rejoice that these changes may lead to more empowered women within the church.

But still I grieve for the ones who were harmed. For the ones who were lost. For the ones who were forgotten about. For the ones who never felt this empowerment. For the ones who tried and tried, but were still abused, shamed, coerced and manipulated. For the ones who wondered amid this confusion, “Is this really what God wants for me?”

To magnify the exact gravity of the pain that still exists among many women and survivors, I ask these persisting questions to the same decision-makers who hold a multitude of future fates within their reach:

Can you repair the mistrust I felt for those I respected for reinforcing misogyny?

Can you give me back all the silent tears I cried thinking that I was the problem?

Can you replace the lost years of having no opinion because it wasn't valued anyway?

Can you rewrite all those situations I willingly settled for sexism?

Can you erase all those moments I felt unimportant and lesser because I am a woman in a system where I come last?

Can you give me back all the time I spent trying to make it work despite my dissonance, convinced that this was God’s way?

Can you give me back those moments that unrighteous dominion was exercised over me in the worst of ways?

Can you acknowledge the moment that I realized that the pain of staying was greater than the pain of leaving?

Can you replace the community I lost because I finally chose my safety over my religion?

Can you erase the shame I felt when the bishop told me I needed to be a better wife and mother instead of being prideful and perseverating on issues of inequality?

Can you give me back those countless occasions that my own covenants were coercively used against me?

Can you undo the belief I carried that I must outsource my own authority to another person?

Can you release the bishop who told me to always hearken to a man, even in abuse, because my temple covenants said so?

Can you acknowledge that the hurt and pain my family has endured are everlasting and irreparable?

Can you address the continued existence of male-centered polygamy, male-only priesthood and male-dominated leadership?

Can you address the underlying problems of the policies and doctrine rather than just treating the symptoms?

Can you do even one of these things?

I acknowledge Mile One. But I still hurt at thoughts of what other traumas lie upon our altar. I am unable to shield myself from the problems, no longer willing to veil my face to the issues. For so many are still seeking further light and knowledge on the senselessness of so much spiritual suffering.

Lesley Butterfield

Lesley Butterfield, Roanoke, Va., is a registered nurse who works in the areas of community health, abuse and trauma. She is host of the Rational Faiths podcast, “Mormon Women Speak,” and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.