The sexual assault and abuse scandals rocking Hollywood these days, along with the “Me, too” campaign that is encouraging victims of unwanted or abusive sexual advances to speak up make this a prime moment to re-release one of Mormon Matters podcast’s most powerful episodes. Below is a description of the episode.
The April 2012 General Conference featured a terrific talk by President Uchtdorf that reinforces the importance of being forgiving and non-judgmental. He “bottom lines” his message with the following statement: “This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!” Earlier in the talk, he cited D&C 64:9, “Forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not . . . [stands] condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.”
For the vast majority of Latter-day Saints, such messages are wonderfully received. When it comes to judging and hating and resenting and holding grudges, yes, we should “stop it.” Most listeners would also hear in an earnest spirit of striving to do better the scriptural statement that those who fail to forgive others are sinful—perhaps condemned even more than the one who did the offending. But what about abuse victims? What about those who have been physically, sexually, emotionally abused—sometimes relentlessly and violently? How would they hear such messages? Is a warning that they must forgive their abusers, rapists, torturers or else they are even worse sinners than them a good one to hear? Can certain messages that are wonderful in most cases (and no one is imagining that abuse victims were on President Uchtdorf’s mind when he gave his remarks) be heard in spiritually and emotionally damaging ways by those whose self image distorted by internalized shame over the abuse they received as a child or whose lives are in danger or souls are being warped by abuse even in the present? Are there circumstances in which even the beautiful message of “Families Are Forever” be heard as a threat—heard in such a way that a person might express a deliberate choice to live in hell rather than be forced to associate with their abuser(s) in heaven? The answer is yes.
In this episode, LDS therapist Natasha Helfer Parker and blogger and abuse survivor Tresa Brown Edmunds share deep insights about how important it is for all of us, whether it is through official church capacities or friendships or other relationships, to understand and keep in mind the realities of abuse and all the ways it can affect its victims. They discuss the mindset of victims that often includes deeply internalized shame and warped thinking about their own role in the abuse, the effects of trauma and helplessness on physiology and normal bodily responses that manifest in many and varied ways beyond the victim’s control yet somehow still get carelessly talked about (often in wrong-minded gospel frameworks) as if these “problems” are actually the victim’s fault, that if they were only stronger or a better person they would just suck it up and move on.
This discussion is a difficult one but powerful and very important. We encourage you to share it widely.
Exponent II issue (pdf) with Tresa Brown Edmund’s article on Abuse (see p. 32). Natasha Helfer Parker also has a short essay in this issue (see p. 18)
Amazon links to books mentioned in podcast by Natasha Helfer Parker:
How Can I Forgive You? by Janis A. Spring
Integrating the Shattered Self by Nicki Roth