Several years ago, my bishop took my temple recommend for masturbation. My wife was devastated and I felt tremendous crushing shame. I hated myself and was convinced I had a serious addiction. Fast forward seven years: My wife and I both have left the church, I have a much healthier view of myself and my sexuality, and that bishop is now in jail for the rest of his life for child molestation."
"While attending BYU, I would hook up often with a man [who] taught[there]. He had a regular practice of hooking up with his students. He targeted cute, slightly overweight girls with low self-esteem. I'm glad I got out of BYU without an STD."
"When I was 18, I broke up with my returned-missionary boyfriend (also the son of a bishop), because he tried to force me to take my clothes off so he could 'just look at me.' A few weeks later, my dad died suddenly. He came to the funeral and was being very kind to me so we started dating again. He took advantage of my very fragile state and raped me just a few weeks later. When I finally had the guts to talk to someone, I went to my bishop. He told me that I should not tell anyone about it because I would ruin his (my rapist's) life and he had so much potential as a strong priesthood holder in the church."
These are a few stories from just the first week in the existence of the Facebook group Anonymous Mormon Stories & Secrets, which went live Sept. 1 and quickly exploded with likes and follows.
Read through the many stories that have been posted since: tales of sexual assault and rape, horrific abusive relationships, gay shaming with failed attempts at conversion therapy and more. There also are milder revelations, like one woman who shares her experience of not being allowed into a stake dance because she committed the sin of wearing Levi's.
While there's no way to fact-check these anonymously submitted stories, many are so richly detailed and personal that it's difficult to believe they could be fiction.
Page admins Clint Worsley, 37, and Brett Wells, 47, say secrecy is a helpful outlet for those posting—an avenue for people to reveal their often-pained experiences, perhaps for the first time publicly.
"I wanted to help people in a way they haven't been able to get help before," Worsley says. "They relived it in order to share it. How many do you think just wanted to block those experiences out? But now they have a way to tell their story to people. I imagine for them that's not easy."
"I was crazy surprised at the response," Worsley says. "People are embracing it and sending us stories. I have another Facebook page called Bite My Shiny Metal Ass, and it took eight or nine months to get to 500 likes, so to hit that number in two weeks is just mind-boggling."
Worsley was raised a Christian Scientist; Wells is an ex-Mormon who was brought up in the faith and had his name removed from church records in 2013.
Both have had negative experiences with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Worsley feels its influence on Utah state law contributed to him losing his child.
"My ex got pregnant, then didn't want anything to do with me," Worsley recalls. "She tried to adopt the kid out and I tried to stop it. She went through LDS Family Services, and they told her to move from Salt Lake City to Orem ... never gave me the sex or due date or her new address, because I would've needed all that to stop the adoption. She kept all that from me. We went through court and I ended up losing, because the laws here are so against men that they really don't have a chance when the woman decides those things. And the religion has a lot to do with that."
Wells served a mission, but eventually started questioning the faith. Like many who have left the church since the rise of the internet in the 1990s, he began researching church history online and didn't like what he read. In addition to the Anonymous Mormon Stories & Secrets page, he also either started or moderates several other public and members-only Facebook pages with names like ExMormon, Religious Nonsense, Apostates of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Silliness.
But none of those took off as quickly as Anonymous Mormon Stories.
"In two days, it got 200 likes," Wells says. As of press time, the page has 959 likes, 1,026 followers, and many more stories have been added.
Kloey Willis, 22, submitted a story about having sex as a teen then being interviewed by the bishopric, where she was asked very sexually explicit questions. Contacted by City Weekly, Willis is now OK with sharing her story on the record.
"When I was 15, I had consensual sex my first time," Willis says. "I wound up pregnant and told my mother. During my repentance process, the elder told me to reveal as much information about it as I could—was it foreplay, what positions were you in, did you do anything with your fingers or mouth? My mom and dad were in the room, and I was kind of weirded out. After 15 minutes, I realized he was masturbating under the desk. He told me if I ever came forward, he'd excommunicate my family. In prior years, I was raped and molested endlessly. The bishop blamed me for that abuse and said if I didn't wear such tight clothes, I wouldn't have caused the temptation. His son was the first boy to ever force himself on me."
Willis sent her story to the anonymous page because she felt it could help others who have found themselves in similar situations, and say, "That happened to me, too." She's also certain that most, if not all, of the stories shared on the page are factual.
"It's more possible for the stories to be true than not true," she says. "And there have got to be so many more living in secrecy. I know women who are too afraid of coming forward about their husbands raping them or someone in the church taking advantage of them sexually because of the repercussions. They're afraid of how they would be treated, because they've seen it happen to their friends. It's hard to leave a life when it's all you've known."
The anonymous page is just the latest in a rapidly growing trend of people speaking out about the church. Sites like mormonleaks.com; mormonthink.com (which brands itself as "neither an anti-Mormon site nor an LDS apologist site"); the legal site quitmormon.com, which helps church members formally file the paperwork needed to leave the church; John Dehlin's Mormon Stories podcast; Fred Karger's Mormon Tips site; Mike Norton's secretly-shot YouTube videos of temple ceremonies and many others ... for Wells, it's sort of a Great Awakening that takes a warts-and-all look at the faith that wouldn't have been possible without the internet.
"We have a lot of people in our ex-Mormon group who have left the church and are now atheists," Wells says. "Their whole life, they've been taught this is the true church, all the others are false, and they see it's BS and they throw it away, kind of like I did."
The pair also were inspired to start the page by Sam Young's recent public protests against the church conducting sexually explicit interviews with young children and teens.
"We thought, why not give people an outlet, let them say what they want, give them help, build a support system so people can tell each other, 'Hey, you're not alone, you can get through it,' and give them a voice to the world?" Worsley says. "I didn't realize that so many horrible things would be posted. Not being Mormon, it's opened my eyes to all this stuff that I had no idea people went through."
Stories are edited for grammar and formatting, and names of anyone being accused of wrongdoing are removed. But mostly, they are copy-and-pasted directly from email submissions. They're not completely anonymous because the administrators can see who they're from, but Worsley says he's working on an app that would allow total anonymity. All they ask is that stories be as true as their memory permits. And if recounting a story is too uncomfortable, authors can always use a pseudonym.
"One person told me they didn't believe one story, but that's ultimately up to the reader to decide," Worsley says. "For the most part, I don't see any that aren't plausible."
"When I was a teenager, the leader of the young men came up to me and asked me what time I went to sleep at night. I asked him why and he said that he knew I didn't have blinds on my windows and wanted to watch me undress. No one was surprised when I told them, but no one did anything about it either."
"I was sexually abused by a well-respected neighbor at 8 years old. Unbeknownst to me, he had picked me out and set out to become a grandfatherly figure in my life. He spent several weeks grooming me before he molested me. I didn't even really understand what happened to me, I just knew it felt wrong and I was scared. I internalized guilt and shame for something that wasn't my fault. I couldn't tell anyone and instead became depressed and ran in front of cars at 9 trying to die to go home to Jesus. It got worse when I turned 12 and at my first worthiness interview I was given a pamphlet called Chastity, in it were a couple of sentences that left me feeling worthless and dirty. Those words were, 'If you did not fight, even unto death you had allowed your virtue to be taken.' I thought even God did not want me. I was suicidal for years, I didn't just want to die, I wanted annihilation, I begged in prayers to die. I had one attempt at 15 years old that should have killed me. I lied in all my worthiness interviews and then hoped that God would still honor the people I was being baptized for or doing endowments for. It took years to feel like it was OK to have boundaries."
"In the back seat of his car, our seminary teacher started in on the sex questions with me and my friend. We admitted to beating off. (He) asked us to record our habits. For over a year, I kept a calendar of the days I beat off (and how many times) along with my friend's habits. A year later, (he) ended up being my sexual abuser ... Another person has also reported him as I did. The church has done nothing."
"My bishop ... was an incredibly creepy guy who would hug all the young women, and would say inappropriate things like, 'You're very beautiful, it's nice for us old guys to see,' and would sit right in front of you with his knees touching yours during interviews."
"Over the past few years, I had come to realize how crazy this church was. I just broke away from it in February of this year. I'm 16 years old, and I've had five suicide attempts due to this church's treatment throughout my childhood. This incident and many others involving manipulation and brainwashing have traumatized me to an extent that I wish I could forget it all."
"When I was living in Provo, a former friend of mine from California had me do some work at his home. He worked for BYU during the day. I knew he and his wife well. One day when I went to the house, his wife came to the door sobbing, black eye, wearing just a robe and her garments. We went inside to talk. She told me how they had no food because he took their only car everyday to BYU (Mr. Perfect Husband) and wouldn't buy groceries because he thought she was too fat. She was five months pregnant and the doctor reported her as being vastly underweight and might lose the baby. She also told me he wouldn't do laundry and wore soiled garments to work. She said he would watch porn on cable TV (1990s). But the worst of it was when she told me how he raped her to have more kids (she didn't want another child). Marital rape is real. Welcome to Utah County."
"I was called into the bishop's office. He told me he had been receiving multiple complaints from the young men in the ward because I had been turning down all their offers to go on dates. I explained as best I could that I ... had just gotten out of a really long, really bad relationship and I just wanted to be me. He told me I was being incredibly selfish, and what I should be concerning myself with was what the young men wanted, and not what I wanted. He told me the other young men in the ward were looking for wives, and were ready to start families of their own, and I needed to be thinking about their needs and desires. What I wanted didn't matter, because it was my duty to accept their date offers, get married and eventually become a mother."