law, LDS, religion, true crime

Repost: Rape culture in churches

I am reposting this blog entry that originally appeared on October 16, 2016. I have no reason for reposting it, other than I think it’s an interesting piece. Bear in mind that it was written almost five years ago and I haven’t changed the content, so some comments may be outdated.

I just read a very disturbing article about a lawsuit that was just filed against a Jehovah’s Witnesses church in Weber County, Utah.  The lawsuit was filed by a woman who claims that she was repeatedly raped by a church instructor and JW officials later her made her listen to a recording of one of her assaults.  The woman seeks a jury trial and $300,000 to cover medical care, legal fees, and general damages. 

According to the article I read, the woman may or may not have gone to the police after she was allegedly raped by a church instructor.  The Salt Lake Tribune states that members of the JW faith are encouraged to bring problems to church elders rather than involving outsiders.  Having done my share of reading about Jehovah’s Witnesses and having had a relative who was once a member, I can affirm that this attitude is prevalent among people involved with the Witnesses.

In this case, the assaults against the woman allegedly took place after she went out with the instructor on a date.  He took her cell phone from her and said she had to kiss him on the cheek to get it back.  She refused, so he kicked her out of his car.  Later, he came back for her and the assaults apparently escalated from there.  When the assaults were brought to the attention of JW officials, they began an investigation…  but it was not an investigation against the perpetrator.  Instead, the young woman was investigated.  Below is a quote from the article linked above:

In April 2008, the Roy church formed a judicial committee to investigate whether the girl engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior — “a serious sin” in the religion. During the meeting that included her mother and stepfather, the lawsuit states, church leaders played a recording of one of the purported rapes, obtained from the instructor, for four to five hours “repeatedly stopping and starting the audio tape … suggesting that she consented to the sexual behavior.”

The woman alleges that she was raped several times.  Realizing the patriarchal culture within the Jehovah’s Witnesses, it’s possible that she felt like she had to do what this man said.  She was likely taught to do whatever the church officials told her to do.  As the attacker was apparently her church instructor, she probably felt that she had no choice.  It really is a shame that people continue to get and stay involved in religious organizations that promote this kind of thinking and do nothing to empower everyone, not just the men. 

This situation among the JWs in Utah sounds an awful lot like the recent hullabaloo about Brigham Young University’s policy of bringing rape victims up on Honor Code violations.  Women who dared to report rape to the police or University officials were getting in trouble for putting themselves in situations where they might be assaulted.  For the record, I think these kinds of policies are disgusting and they keep our society in the Dark Ages.  

Of course people– male or female– who choose to sexually assault others should be held responsible for their actions.  At the same time, I don’t think it’s wrong for people to look out for themselves.  I wish these churches and universities like BYU would do more to promote personal safety outside of the religious sense.  I wish they wouldn’t simply tell women to protect their virginity and purity because that’s supposedly what God wants.  They should be empowering them to protect themselves because they don’t want to be victims of crimes. 

It’s interesting that this subject came on my radar this morning.  I just saw a Facebook post by 11th Principle: Consent about how rape culture develops.  Although I would absolutely never say that it’s okay to rape someone, I do think it pays to be careful.  One young woman made a comment about how she’d gotten very drunk at a party and was raped while she was unconscious.  She wrote that it was wrong that she was raped, but she shared some responsibility in the situation by drinking so much that she passed out.  She got a lot of indignant comments from people who said that no part of the rape was her fault at all; she bore absolutely no responsibility toward the crime perpetrated against her.

At the risk of pissing off a lot of people, I will go on record as saying that I agree that rape is never a victim’s fault.  However, I do think that everyone– males and females– should take some responsibility for their personal safety.  One of the comments I read on the 11 Principle: Consent Facebook page was this:

– if you went for a walk, but someone chose to stab you, should you have stayed in?

-if you decided to go for a drive, but someone drove into your car, is it your fault?

-if you went for a swim, but someone drowned you, was it your fault because you put yourself in a position where you could be drowned?

My response is that in the above examples, precautions could have been taken to lessen the chance of harm or mitigate the harm that did occur.  For instance, when you take a walk, you choose areas where there are people around.  You carry a cell phone that is charged and ready in case of emergency.  You tell someone where you’re going.  You might learn self defense.  These are things you can do to lessen the chance that you’ll be a victim.  You might still end up being victimized, but you will have taken steps to lessen the chance of it.

If you go for a drive, you wear a seatbelt (even though I hate them).  You make sure your car is safe to drive.  You don’t drink alcohol or take drugs before getting behind the wheel.  You make sure you are well rested.  You might still have an accident, but you’ve done your part to lessen the probability.

If you go for a swim, you make sure you can actually swim.  If you can’t, you learn how and stay out of the deep end until you have the appropriate skills.  You take someone with you when you swim.  You use floatation devices if you need them.  You might still drown, but the chances are not as high as they could be.

When it comes to assaults, sexual or otherwise, I think the same responsibilities apply.  Don’t get so fucked up that you black out.  Don’t go to parties alone, especially if you don’t know the people hosting them.  If you do get assaulted, it’s certainly not your fault.  But my guess is that you will learn from the assault and take steps to be sure it doesn’t happen again.  It sounded to me like the young woman who said she shared in the responsibility of her attack had simply learned from it.  She’d made a mistake by getting so intoxicated.  I have made the same mistakes myself on a number of occasions.  There, but by the grace of God, go I.  

Is it ever your fault if you get assaulted?  No.  The person who chooses to perpetrate a crime is always the guilty party.  But the point is, there are things you can do to lessen the chance that you will be a victim.  I don’t think it’s wrong to acknowledge that.  I don’t think that line of thinking promotes “rape culture”.  I applaud the young woman who realizes that she was wrong to get so drunk that she passed out.  At the same time, I think it’s sad that there are shitty people out there who would take advantage of a woman so distressed.

I’m reading the article about the lawsuit against the JWs just as everyone’s talking about Donald Trump’s infamous “locker room” talk.  I have friends of every stripe opining on a potential U.S. president talking about grabbing women by their pussies.  I have a number of very religious relatives criticizing Hillary Clinton because– well, probably because she’s a female liberal.  These same supposedly God fearing people see no problem with voting for a man who brags about forcing himself on women and grabbing their crotches.  But if a woman gets assaulted, instead of being outraged, they look for ways to blame her.  I don’t think that’s right.  But I do think there are things people can and should do to protect themselves.

As for the woman suing the JWs, I don’t think it’s wrong that she’s filed a lawsuit.  This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of a pervert ending up in power.  It’s not just the JWs, either.  Lots of churches empower creeps who then victimize their supposed underlings.  I’ve read about plenty of religious organizations who don’t do enough to keep bad people from powerful positions.  I think they should be held accountable when these things happen.  Again, from the article:

A leader from the congregation apparently warned the girl’s parents in November 2006 that the instructor — who previously attended church sessions in Ogden and Oregon — was a “bad kid” who had “engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with a female member of the Clearfield congregation.” The plaintiff says that warning wasn’t enough.

How did the guy end up a “church instructor” if church leaders knew he was a “bad kid”?  One has to wonder.  At the same time, isn’t it crazy that someone like Donald Trump, who openly admits to being a pervy creep– even if it was privately– might end up leading the country?  No wonder we have issues with so-called “rape culture”.

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book reviews, LDS

Repost: my review of Carol Lynn Pearson’s Goodbye, I Love You…

Here’s another reposted Epinions review from May 2008 that I’m trying to save from obscurity. I’m posting it as/is.

You never know what will happen in a relationship, even when it seems to be made in heaven… In her 1986 book Goodbye, I Love YouCarol Lynn Pearson explains what it was like for her to be Mormon and married to a gay man.

When she met her husband, Gerald Pearson, for the first time, Carol Lynn Pearson thought he “shone”. In warm, glowing terms, Pearson describes the man whose charisma had captivated her at a party she attended back in the spring of 1965. Gerald had been telling a funny story about his days as an Army private, posted at Fort Ord. Carol Lynn Pearson enjoyed the story, and yet she was horrified that the Army had deigned to turn this gentle soul into a killer. Later, Carol Lynn had a conversation with Gerald and discovered that he’d just returned from a two year LDS church mission in Australia and was preparing to finish his college education at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah. Pearson had already earned two degrees at BYU, both in drama. The two had a lot in common besides theatre and religion. As good Mormons, they also felt the pressure to be married, especially since neither of them was getting any younger. They became friends and started dating.

Gerald continued to impress Carol Lynn with his sense of fun, creativity, and sensitivity. She fell in love with him. He seemed to return her affections. One night, they went on a date to the movies and Gerald’s roommate, Paul, drove. Carol Lynn thought they were going to double date, but Paul never did pick up a female companion. Gerald sat between Paul and Carol Lynn and seemed to enjoy the film. Paul pouted. Gerald told Carol Lynn that he wished they would fall in love and have many children. Not long after that, Gerald proposed marriage. A couple of months after Carol Lynn accepted Gerald’s marriage proposal, he revealed that he’d had relationships with other men. In fact, his roommate Paul was actually his lover. But Gerald promised that he wasn’t gay and he swore that he would never have relations with a man again. He told Carol Lynn that he wanted to have a marriage and a family with a woman. His homosexuality “problem” was over and in the past.

Though Carol Lynn was troubled about Gerald’s revelation, she trusted him and she trusted herself. She also trusted her church, which took the position that everyone was created heterosexual. Though people sometimes got “off track”, homosexuality was a problem that could be solved with enough faith and repentance. Carol Lynn, who by that time had been affectionately nicknamed Blossom by the glowing man in her life, decided to get married.

Carol Lynn and Gerald got married in 1966 and, for awhile, they were very happy. They had four children together and appeared to be devout Mormons who did everything right. Carol Lynn became a successful writer who published books of poetry and plays. Gerald was a good husband and a fine father. He had a talent for the culinary arts and music. But as the years went on, Gerald became restless. He started talking more about his homosexuality, reading the works of Walt Whitman and attending plays about homosexuals. The couple began to have arguments about how people should love each other and found that they could not come to a consensus.

Not long after that, Carol Lynn found out from third party that Gerald was unfaithful to her, having relationships with men. Neither Gerald nor Carol Lynn wanted to split up, so they tried to stay married. But the couple soon found that their differences eventually and inevitably pushed them apart. Twelve years after their temple marriage and the births of their four children, Carol Lynn and Gerald decided to get a divorce.

Even after the divorce, Carol Lynn and Gerald remained great friends. Carol Lynn met Gerald’s boyfriends. Gerald stayed in contact with his children. And when he eventually contracted AIDS in the early 1980s, Gerald came home to die with his friend and ex wife and their children by his side.

My thoughts…

I’m a sucker for a good memoir and Carol Lynn Pearson has written an eloquent one in Goodbye, I Love You (originally published in 1986). As I read this book, I was amazed by how graceful, understanding, and kind she was to her former husband. They truly did love each other. Unfortunately, they could not be married to each other. Carol Lynn Pearson was monogamous and could not share her husband’s love with anyone. And Gerald Pearson loved his ex wife, but he could not share the bond with her that he could have with a man. Naturally, because they were Mormons, their church would not approve of the lifestyle Gerald led.

With heartbreaking honesty, Carol Lynn Pearson describes what it was like to be in her situation. Gerald had contracted AIDS when it was still a very new disease. Carol Lynn explains what it was like to have to prepare their children for their father’s inevitable death. They had figured out that he was gay and accepted it. It hadn’t occurred to them not to love their father, despite his desire for men.

I will warn readers that there are a couple of passages in this book that may be shocking. For instance, Carol Lynn writes about meeting one of Gerald’s friends who had tried to get treated for his homosexuality at a clinic run by BYU. According to Pearson, in the early days of the clinic, homosexual men were literally given shock treatment to try to cure them of their sexual feelings toward other men. Although I had heard about this program before I read the book, I was still somewhat horrified as I read about it. This same friend related a story to Carol Lynn about a young man who had also gone through the shock therapy and ended up killing himself because the treatments did not work. Gerald agreed that he had known many men who had committed suicide because they couldn’t stop being gay. The men had been led to believe by church authorities that they were better off dead than homosexual.

While I can understand on some level that perhaps the church authorities meant well when they advised their homosexual members to repent and “get therapy”, I am also disgusted by it. It makes me sad to think about how many promising lives were snuffed out by suicide because these men had been expected to change their feelings and they found they could not change, no matter how much they prayed, fasted, and repented.

Aside from that horrifying aspect of the book, I found Goodbye, I Love You to be very educational. I also felt a lot of empathy toward Gerald, Carol Lynn, and their children. Because of their belief system, Carol Lynn and Gerald felt they had to get married. I’m sure Gerald really did think he could overcome his desire to be with men. I’m sure he wanted to. When one of the children dramatically declared that she was through with boys and wanted to be a lesbian nun, Gerald told her that if she could be straight, she should. He told her that being gay was difficult and that no one would ever choose it.

Likewise, I’m sure Carol Lynn felt cheated and betrayed. She believed Gerald when he told her he could change. They were sealed in the temple for time and all eternity. When it all fell apart, she was left with their four children and no marriage. As a true believing Mormon, this was not a small issue for Carol Lynn Pearson. Fortunately, people in the church were understanding about the divorce and no one seemed to judge her for it. But she had feared they would.

In any case, Goodbye, I Love You is not a happy tale, but it is one of great beauty, honesty, and tragedy. I admire the way Carol Lynn and Gerald were able to be friends after their divorce. I especially admire Carol Lynn’s ability to come to terms with Gerald’s homosexuality and present their story with such love and sensitivity. I’m pleased to recommend Goodbye, I Love You and give it five stars.

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book reviews, LDS, religion

Repost: Martha Beck’s Leaving the Saints…

This is a reposted book review I wrote for Epinions.com in May 2006. It’s being reposted as/is.

“The choice to believe or disbelieve, that’s what makes you free.”

I didn’t know it when I purchased it last week, but the book I’m going to review today, Martha Beck’s Leaving The Saints: How I Lost The Mormons And Found My Faith (2005) made a lot of waves when it came out last year. Of course, having never been a Mormon myself, I had no reason to be scandalized by the subject matter in Martha Beck’s book, nor did I have an inkling that I would be reading a somewhat scathing indictment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I didn’t know anything about Martha Beck or her famous father, Hugh Nibley. While I don’t claim to be anywhere near an expert on the subject of Mormonism, I have known a few members of the church in my lifetime and most of them have, at least on the surface, been fine people. In fact, I even married a member of the LDS church, although he very recently formally resigned from the faith. In any case, I was looking for something interesting to read when I found Martha Beck’s book, and indeed, I did find something interesting.

Leaving The Saints begins in the early 1990s, as Martha Beck and her husband, John, decided to move back to Provo, Utah after their second child, Adam, was born with Down Syndrome. They left their home in Massachusetts, even though Martha was finishing up her doctoral degree in sociology at Harvard University. The Becks longed for the security and sense of community they would get in Provo, Utah, where both John and Martha had grown up and where many of their family members still lived. They knew their son, Adam, would be universally accepted by their neighbors and they would be around people who would understand and support them. Like most of the people living in Provo, the Becks were devout Mormons. Martha Beck is the daughter of the late Hugh Nibley, a very famous and much revered man in LDS circles.

Beck writes that when she and her husband arrived in Provo, they were given the sort of enthusiastic welcome they had been expecting when they made their decision to move. Both Martha and John Beck started teaching at Brigham Young University (BYU); Martha taught on a part time basis while she finished up her doctorate. Before too long, she and John welcomed their third child, a girl named Elizabeth. For awhile, the Becks assimilated into life in Utah.

Beck became disenchanted with Mormonism when she started to discover how much the LDS church influenced the curriculum at BYU. She watched many of her most brilliant and talented colleagues get fired from their jobs simply for voicing opinions that undermined the church’s teachings. She both experienced and witnessed blatant gender bias on the job and claims that the church actually censored controversial topics. Despite the fact that she worked in what she describes as a very repressive environment, Beck counseled her students to question whatever didn’t ring true to them. However, according to Beck, BYU was not the intellectual bastion it was purported to be, as professors anxious about losing their jobs stifled themselves in order to keep church officials happy.

The bigger bombshell within this memoir, of course, is the fact that Beck openly accuses her father, the beloved Hugh Nibley, of sexually abusing her when she was a child. She writes about the memories of the abuse, which she recalled after she and her husband moved back to Utah. She also writes about some of the physical evidence of the abuse which was supposedly discovered during medical exams. Because Hugh Nibley was so well regarded within the LDS church, this aspect of the memoir is particularly scandalous, and if what Beck writes is true, quite damning.

Beck confronted her father before he died and intersperses the story of how that meeting went between anecdotes about her marriage, career, children, and the local culture. Toward the end of the book, she writes the story of how she and her husband left Mormonism and Utah. Evidently, the couple was forced to start their lives anew once they resigned from the faith. By Beck’s account, they were lucky enough to have the ability to start over elsewhere; apparently, other LDS members who doubt the veracity of the church do not have that luxury, mostly due to career or family constraints.

I found Beck’s writing to be very colorful and interesting; in fact, it was also often very funny, even as she lambasted the LDS church and made serious sexual abuse allegations against her father. Although at times Beck’s writing has a sarcastic, angry flavor, she’s able to temper her edginess with humor and warmth. Beck uses a lot of hyperbole to get her point across, which may actually make her account less believable to some readers. After all, when a person often exaggerates in order to make a point, it becomes harder to know where the exaggeration stops and reality begins. However, even though Martha Beck accuses her father of molesting her, I still got the idea that she still loved him and on some level, respected him. Even as she confronts him, she still is able to relate to him in a bittersweet way.

Before I read Leaving The Saints, I had heard of Hugh Nibley, but I didn’t really associate anything with him, positive or negative. For instance, I did not know that Hugh Nibley was a revered LDS apologist and scholar, nor did I know anything about his distinguished career at Brigham Young University, the premier institution of higher learning among devout Mormons. More importantly, I had also never heard of Martha Beck, herself a Harvard educated scholar, author of several books, Oprah Winfrey darling, columnist, and life coach. This is important, because in the few days it has taken me to read Beck’s book, Leaving The Saints, I have run across a number of different opinions about the book. Some people have praised it, calling it a moving, well-written memoir and heralding Beck as a brave heroine for sharing her intensely personal story. Other people have called the book an unfair, inaccurate, and hurtful attack against the LDS church and Hugh Nibley. I want to note that many of the people whose opinions I’ve read have had some direct exposure to the LDS church, either as current or past members. Again, I’ve never been a member of the church, so I’ve based my opinion only on how I feel about the book, instead of trying to determine whether or not Beck has written the truth.

Frankly, whether or not Leaving The Saints is an entirely true account, I found it a fascinating and engaging read. It appears to me, however, that if Beck did not write the truth, she paid quite a price for writing this book. First of all, Martha Beck and her husband, John Beck, are now divorced, a fact that she does not reveal in Leaving The Saints. John Beck has even posted a negative review of Leaving The Saints on Amazon.com, claiming that she lied about some of the content. Secondly, Beck’s family has publicly come out against her, accusing her of lying about the alleged sexual abuse. I don’t know if Martha Beck is telling the truth or not. At this point, I have no reason to disbelieve her, since I don’t know anything about her aside from what I’ve read. And again, since my religious faith is not being attacked in this book, I have no reason to criticize what Beck has written about the LDS church. I can only base my opinion about her allegations against the church on what I’ve heard and read about from other people. Based on those aspects alone, I’m inclined to believe at least most of Beck’s story. Even if what she wrote isn’t entirely true, it’s still a hell of a story.

That leaves me to explain the title of this review. I found the above quote toward the end of Leaving The Saints. John Beck had just resigned his church membership and it had been all over the local news. Martha Beck was still a member in good standing and was moderating a women’s issues forum being held at BYU. The forum was discussing domestic violence and sexual abuse in a roundabout way. Some of the attendees were getting upset, claiming that no one on the panel had ever experienced sexual abuse and therefore none of them knew what they were talking about. Martha Beck had, up until that point, been portrayed to the women as a blueblooded Mormon above reproach, even though her husband had just left the church and privately, she was often “counseled” about her outspokenness. As the angry women in the crowd continued to grumble among themselves, Martha Beck stood up and announced to the attendees that she was an incest survivor. And after she told them about her personal experience as an incest survivor, she said those empowering words, “Choose to believe or disbelieve, that’s what makes you free.”

The aftermath of Beck’s public confession was not exactly what she had expected it to be. After the conference, she was swarmed by appreciative women who thanked her for sharing her story. Now that her story is in print, many others have also thanked her for sharing her story. It’s clear to me that even if Martha Beck hasn’t told the truth, she has helped a lot of people who have lived with the shame of sexual abuse and moved many others who haven’t lived that unfortunate reality. If she has unfairly tarnished her late father’s name, I suspect she will answer for that someday.

I doubt most devout Mormons, especially those who admired Hugh Nibley’s work, would enjoy reading Leaving The Saints. Martha Beck certainly does not cast the LDS church in a flattering light and I suspect that many Mormons will feel that she is attacking their beliefs. Personally, I liked this book. Now that I’ve finished it, my husband Bill will read it and hopefully he will add his own review from the perspective of someone who has direct experience with Mormonism.

Martha Beck’s Web site: https://marthabeck.com

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