Tuesday, July 16, 2013

That's right. A mother-effing ninja. (Thoughts on Mormon spousal abuse.)

Photo attribution here

I've written and re-written this post several times over the course of multiple months. I sent it to a friend, had her edit it, then scrapped it again and started back at square one. I finally have settled on this approach to addressing the incredibly sensitive issue of spousal abuse within the church.

Elder Holland states, "Physical abuse is uniformly and unequivocally condemned in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. If it is possible to be more condemning than that, we speak even more vigorously against all forms of sexual abuse. Today, I speak against verbal and emotional abuse of anyone against anyone... these things ought not to be." ( Tongue of AngelsApril 2007) 

This quote serves as a direct, authoritative declaration that God does indeed want us to knock it off when it comes to treating each other badly. One who has not traversed the dimly lit, maze-meets-haunted-mansion halls of an abusive relationship would likely consider this advice sufficient for those faced with serious decisions to make in this arena. If he's a jerk, he should shape up. If she's hitting you, she's out of line. Be nice. The end.  

But domestic abuse is a mother-effing ninja that specializes in making origami soup out of what once served as your framework for interpreting life. Most especially this ninja attacks concepts of what is safe and what is not, what is good and what is bad, what makes you special and what makes you terrible and how much you're worth and why. Like many aspects of the complexity that is the human experience, adding the social construct of belonging to the amazing Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints further complicates several issues relating to abuse within the family. Allow me to elaborate.

The Mental Ninja who double majored in Mormon Psyche is capable of taking the very doctrines that grant us security in this world of "shafts in the whirlwind" (Helaman 5:12) and twisting them, distorting them just enough so that they lose their structural integrity. Then he stealthily weaves them into Sunday school lessons and the subconscious minds of many members of our faith. 

When the inevitable collapse comes, he has done what ninjas do best: disappeared without a trace leaving us utterly alone. We then look around for an explanation, only to find the God that we hoped would prevent just such a tragedy doing what He does best: sticking around no matter what. This can be inexpressibly disorienting, not to mention life alteringly disheartening. This is one of many reasons some choose to turn away in the moments we most desperately need to turn toward Christ. 

Walk with me through this list of just three of many doctrines and their related harmful, unsubstantiated extrapolations that can so tragically serve as Mormon Psyche Ninja's double edged sword as he makes origami soup out of the lives of the unsuspecting faithful everywhere. (I think I like this ninja analogy a little too much.) 

God: Marriage is a commandment. It will bring you closer to me.
Ninja: If you break this commandment you will not be able to live with God again. He hates sin and will never be able to look at you the same if you leave your marriage, no matter how bad it gets.  

God: I give unto men my Priesthood. Serve one another. Love one another.
Ninja: (to men) A righteous priesthood holder doesn't leave his wife. Your relationship is the way it is because you're not fully fulfilling your God given duties as a husband.
Ninja: (to women) To be a good wife is to respect your husband's priesthood authority. He has a special connection with God that you cannot understand. To disagree or disobey your husband is to disobey God.

God: Endure to the end.
Ninja: Don't you ever give up, no matter how miserable or unhealthy. If you hold to the rod and be faithful God will make everything right in the end. Your spouse will be the person he or she was when you two fell in love once you cross over into the next life. God will change him or her to reward your good works. You just need more faith. Pray more. Read more scriptures. Fast more. Give greater fast offerings. Magnify your calling more. If you can be perfect in these things it will change the nature of your spouse and your relationship. 

See where I'm going with this? 

The thing about unhealthy relationships is that the way things are in daylight is often not the way things are behind closed doors. When everything you see looks sideways and everything you wanted and worked for is somehow upside down, how do you pull apart all the blurred and badgering voices, the opinions and interpretations and excuses and explanations to discern what is right for you in that moment of time? 

How do you know when you can rightly say, "Enough is enough" in a marriage sealed by God?

Because intimate relationships are infinitely unique and complex, I cannot answer this question for you. What I can say is that I stayed in a marriage that was detrimental to my mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing for too long because I was determined not to fail God. I was certain that if I was faithful and kind and good enough that He would make it work for us. We all make choices. Sometimes we or our partners make good choices. Sometimes we make bad ones. Sometimes leaving is the right choice to make. 

In a conference address Elder Oaks, true to his nature,  directly declares, "There are many Church members who have been divorced... We know that many of you are innocent victims--members whose former spouses persistently betrayed sacred covenants or abandoned or refused to perform marriage responsibilities for an extended period. Members who have experienced such abuse have firsthand knowledge of circumstances worse than divorce. When a marriage is dead and beyond hope of resuscitation, it is needful to have a means to end it." (Divorce, April 2007)

I'm fast approaching my eight month mark since my divorce was finalized. Every day it gets a little bit clearer that God didn't want me in that marriage any more than I wanted to be in that dimly lit, maze-meets-haunted-mansion marriage. The thing I know bone deep is that God wants us to be well. Sometimes that requires us to do the hard thing, but that's different than thing that kills our souls. 

If this --should I stay or should I go?--question is the question in your heart today, this is my unsolicited advice for you. Find a quiet moment and just breathe. Let whatever is tangled up inside you float to the surface and work itself out. Whatever the next step in your path with God is, there's a place inside you that already knows the way. Staying, separating, counseling, leaving, implementing new plans, books, establishing new ground rules, changing, whatever the path is you need to take, Jesus Christ knows it. He knows the lonely and misunderstood roads best. Wherever you go from here, know that when you walk with God, you walk tall. Regardless where that road leads He will not reject you. He will always love you. That's a concept that can be foreign and untrustable in a troubled marriage. Trust it anyway. He will guide you to health, to happiness, to peace. He will guide you home. 


  1. Oooooh, I love how you compared God's word to the Ninja-- it gets mixed up so easily!! I felt so torn over choosing divorce because I felt like that was NOT the way it was supposed to be. We were supposed to be an eternal family! But the marriage offered to me by my ex-spouse was not an eternal family and the best choice for me was to leave. It's taken me 18 months to feel comfortable with that. God's answer for me? "Leave it on the altar and walk away." He asks for me to trust Him instead of putting all of my trust into an imperfect person.

  2. Thank you for your being so open. I struggle with this. I am now going through a divorce and have found your blog. For me, I keep saying out loud that there was no abuse, that she is a good person, and that she deserves better. I came to a realization of how bad it was when I began to understand that I had become cold and unfeeling. But, just recently I know that it was in part me finally acting as she did. I have a lot to change in me but after over 20 years in a marriage that began in the Temple, I know that I could not be the abuser. This ninja is a real concept. I even found myself as Elder's Quorum President while teaching a lesson saying that I stay in my marriage more so due to my covenant with God than with her. Even then I did not realize how important it is to love each other. I do not wish any ill upon her. I pray that she will make it back to the Temple with someone and that it will be right in every way. But, I know that I could not continue to be with someone when I had no affection. There is no eternal progression in that. Thank you, again. I struggle to understand what I am going through. You have helped me.

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