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.