Editor’s Note: I am honored to have a guest post today. I have gotten to know this incredible person, Jenna Rae, through an online community. She has her own blog, Diary of a Feminist Slut, which is amazing. Go Read It. Wait, read this post first! She made a Facebook post about her feelings and opinions concerning Joseph Smith and his polygamy/polyandry, given her life experience. It hit me…. Hard. I love her voice, courage and strength. With no further introduction needed, here is Jenna Rae:
TW: Rape & Victim Blaming
When I was 19 I was dating a guy. I was a freshman in my second semester of college and I was trying to figure myself out. This guy was attractive and charming and I really liked him. He invited me to spend spring break with him and a group of his friends. I did.
On the second night we were there, he and his friend, raped me.
It took a very long time for me to be able to use the word “rape” to describe what they did to me. I thought of rape as something that was done at knifepoint in a dark alley by a stranger so when I went to my bishop for help and guidance I did not say “rape.” What I did say was,
“He had sex with me. I asked him to stop, I told him no. I couldn’t make him stop. I’m sorry.” And my bishop traded me a copy of “The Miracle of Forgiveness” for my temple recommend.
I needed him to tell me that it wasn’t my fault, I needed him to say that it would be better for my rapist to have a millstone tied around his neck and dropped in the river than to hurt one of God’s children the way he did… I needed what every survivor of sexual violence needs: A safe space and someone to tell me it was not my fault. I needed someone to tell me that if I survived, I did the right thing. I needed someone to tell me that God knew my heart and I was still clean in His eyes and that He would help me heal.
But that is not what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches. “The Miracle of Forgiveness” says,
“Also far-reaching is the effect of loss of chastity. Once given or taken or stolen it can never be regained…. It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.” – Prophet Spencer W. Kimball, LDS Prophet, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 196
And it isn’t just President Kimball. David O. McKay said,
“Your virtue is worth more than your life. Please, young folk, preserve your virtue even if you lose your lives.”
More recently President Hinckley said,
“I know what my mother expects. I know what she’s saying in her prayers. She’d rather have me come home dead than unclean.”
This experience, perhaps more than anything else, started me on my journey of disillusionment about the church.
It’s been 6 ½ years since then. I’ve not been religious for several years now, I’ve identified as an atheist for the last two or three. I don’t say much about it, I don’t post publically about the reasons I left the church I was raised in, I don’t bring it up with people I know are believers. Even though many of those people are part of my support group, even though the grief and loneliness and fear and betrayal I felt while transitioning were intense, I didn’t bring it up out of love and respect for those people in my life who believe.
However, in light of the polygamy essays coming out and the subsequent research I have done about the issue since then, which almost exclusively included primary sources (journals of Joseph’s wives) I feel that I cannot, in good conscious continue to be silent.
I have spent much of my adult life fighting against oppression and sexual violence. I cannot be silent about the fact that Joseph Smith was a sexual predator and that the institution he built is racist, sexist, homophobic, and oppressive. It sets up the perfect conditions for sexual violence to run rampant and solidifies victim blaming thought patterns and culture. This is much less surprising now that I understand that it’s always been that way; that the man who started it all built it that way on purpose.
The LDS church was founded by a sexual predator. He coerced and intimidated, he lied and manipulated women into marrying, and in some cases at least, sleeping with him. He married CHILDREN.
It brings me no joy to speak against the church. I spent 20+ years of my life dedicated to it; loving it and it’s leaders. But the foundation that Joseph Smith built the church on is strong and one of the consequences of that culture is the continued blaming of victims and excusing of perpetrators. It is horrifying, but unfortunately not surprising, that Utah was recently named the worst state for women (other states with high rates of mormonism were also ranked in the top 5). In Utah, violent crimes are lower than the national average, except for sexual violence: crimes of sexual violence outpace the national average here quite significantly. These things are not coincidence and the church is still handing out copies of “The Miracle of Forgiveness” to survivors.
And all of us who have been victims of sexual violence, the victims of Joseph Smith perhaps, are/were left unable to heal because instead of focusing on that healing, we’re feeling guilty that we didn’t die- that we didn’t force our abusers to kill us or kill ourselves before they were able to finish the act.
The church was built on, and continues to perpetuate, oppression and sexual violence. I have dedicated my life to abolishing these things and so I can no longer remain silent on this issue. When it comes to the institution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I am firmly in opposition.