I run my hands over my thighs to smooth my skirt. I’m nervous so my leg is bouncing. I notice it and force myself to hold still then I smooth my skirt again. The big, fluffy arm chair I’m enveloped in is too comfortable. The dissonance between it’s squishy softness and the sharp, pointed tingling of my nerves is disconcerting.
“Sister Jepson?” I hear my name called from the hallway and look up to see the Bishop of my single’s ward. I am a Mormon and I am here for a confession. This is the first time I have ever had to do this. Before, I had never done anything bad enough to require confession to gain forgiveness from God. I have tried to repent on my own, but I still feel dirty. Which is why I am here.
I follow the Bishop to his office door, which he opens for me as he asks,
“So, how are you doing today?”
“I’m fine.” I say automatically, even though it isn’t true. He gestures to a chair, indicating that I should sit down, which I do as he rounds his desk to sit behind it.
“What can I do for you today, Sister?” I wish, not for the first time, that Catholicism was true instead of Mormonism. This whole confession thing would be so much easier if it could feel even just a little more anonymous.
“Well,” I start, “I’ve been drinking lately…” I take a deep breath and then continue, “A couple weeks ago, over spring break, I went to this cabin with some friends. They brought a lot of alcohol and I drank most of the time we were there…. I was a real mess.” I have been fighting back guilty tears the whole time I’ve been speaking and now I can’t hold them in. They tumble out, hot and shameful.
“This is pretty serious Sister Jepson. But it seems to me that you are sincerely sorry. You know that all our Heavenly Father requires of us is a broken heart and a contrite spirit, you seem to possess both. I am sure that you have been forgiven of your trespasses. I do not see any reason that we should have to take disciplinary measures with you.” I am, at once, relieved and apprehensive. This is exactly the kind of response I had been hoping for but,
“There’s more.” I say.
“Okay.” The Bishop replies. He waits patiently while I stare down at my lap, trying to work up the courage to tell the rest. I smooth my skirt out again before I start.
“I had sex.” The flow of tears, which had slowed considerably while the Bishop was speaking, is heavy again but I have to power through, to explain, “I didn’t want to. We had already gone too far and I didn’t want to. I told him no, I tried to make him….” The tears are too much. I can’t continue. I take several deep breaths until I can speak again, “He wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t make him stop. I’m sorry.” I say it more to God than to the Bishop. I keep staring at my lap for what feels like a very long time.
When I finally look up, he takes my eye contact as an invitation to respond,
“Sister Jepson, it seems to me that our Heavenly Father is attempting to teach you a valuable lesson about the slippery slope of sin. It starts off as small things, missing church meetings, using questionable language, then it grows into more insidious transgressions like alcohol and drug use. Do you see how those kinds of sins limit your freedom and enslave you? In his infinite wisdom, our Heavenly Father willed that there be natural consequences to our actions. We reap the benefits of righteous choices and we must endure the consequences of our sins.
You have made an important step in the right direction by coming to me today. Together, and with your Heavenly Father, you can repent and be clean again.” He pauses to pull a book from the shelf behind him. I am reeling as he sets it on the desk in front of me, face down. The thud of the hard-bound book hitting the wooden desk cements the finality of what I’ve just discovered: I have done something so awful that even my sincerely broken heart is not enough for God to forgive me. The Bishop interrupts my thought as he continues, “I think that we should check in with one another after church each Sunday for the next few months. And you should read this.” He slides the book closer to me. When I pick it up I see that it is called “The Miracle of Forgiveness.”
“When you’ve finished it we will have a talk about whether you’re ready to start working toward being worthy to take the sacrament and participate in Temple ordinances again.” I nod numbly.
The meeting only lasts another couple of minutes, then I leave. As I exit the building and walk into the afternoon sunshine I do not consciously realize that I have just added almost a year to the time it will take me to begin to seek healing. I do not realize that the feelings of shame and guilt, which I have just had justified by a man charged with looking out for my well-being, will not seem strange and illogical to me for another eighteen months.
As I walk in the afternoon sun I do not see myself as victim of sexual violence. I do not acknowledge that I have been raped. No, I can only see myself as a guilty woman in need of redemption. I am valueless until the man my God appointed sees fit to make me otherwise.