Some Sweat It Out When ‘Called In’


Almost nowhere is the power discrepancy between Mormon men and women as apparent as in the practice of “calling in,” Mormon feminists say.

In the church, lay ministers--men who typically hold other full-time jobs--can “call in” members for interviews. The reason, feminists say, may be as benign as to give them a new church assignment or as intimidating as to question them on reported moral or doctrinal transgressions. In the extreme, the sessions may end with scolding or threats to deny church privileges, and can lead to a church court trial and excommunication--an act believers feel threatens their salvation.

Because members rarely learn beforehand why they are called in, “you sweat and sweat,” said one Mormon woman. Lavina Fielding Anderson, a trustee of the feminist Mormon Alliance, an organization that has documented 70 cases of “emotional and spiritual abuse,” said disobeying the directives of priesthood members, even sometimes disagreeing with their opinions, can be grounds for excommunication. Tolerance for nonconformists varies, depending on the individual in charge.


Some women have found themselves questioned extensively about their sex lives. “It was mortifying to share intimate details of my life--things I wouldn’t even tell a girlfriend or my mother--with a man I hardly knew,” wrote an unnamed woman in a recent edition of the feminist Mormon tabloid Exponent II, which is published in Boston. The woman said she had been previously seduced by a church leader. Anderson said others reported having to fight off advances of bishops, one of whom, they alleged, had sex with a young girl.

At the church-run Brigham Young University, some women professors say academic and ecclesiastical lines blur when male department heads call them in. One BYU professor, called in by an administrator who chastised her for discussing feminism on a TV talk show, said: “It was humiliating, especially for an adult woman who was teaching at a university.”

Others have been told not to pray to a “Mother in Heaven” (even though she is a part of Mormon theology) or asked to reveal the names of church members who subscribe to independent magazines that print feminist points of view.

Don LeFevre, the church’s spokesman, said that because the church has 20,000 congregations, it is “impossible to determine if there has been an increase” in calling in. He added: “Any church leader who might be guilty of seduction would automatically lose his membership” and said that individual weaknesses cannot be blamed on the church. But feminists say the practice of calling in has become not only more frequent, but also more systematic.

Elbert Peck, editor of Sunstone, an independent Mormon magazine published in Salt Lake City, said that if the general authorities in Salt Lake City do not like a talk that a member has given, they “send down through the lines of authority, a letter, copy of the talk, (or) a report (of the talk) to a local church leader, who is given an assignment to call in a member. Some see it as a natural good thing, others see it as inquisitional,” he said. “That kind of monitoring is troubling to many people.”

In a recent issue of the Mormon Women’s Forum, a feminist newsletter published in Salt Lake City, Anderson suggested “protective measures” members can take to reduce the intimidation of being called in. “Take a witness who will tape sessions or take notes. . . . Take an active rather than a passive role. . . . Press for the leaders’ reasons, motives and information. . . . Take an attorney.”


Some Mormons are starting to insist the meeting take place on their own turf.

Days after “Secret Ceremonies,” a memoir detailing church taboos, was excerpted in Cosmopolitan, author Deborah Laake, a Mormon who hadn’t been to church in 12 years, was called in by her local authority William Monahan, president of the Phoenix stake (which is comparable to a Catholic diocese).

She said she insisted they meet in her office at New Times Inc., where she is executive managing editor. Laake said she explained that she no longer believes Mormon men speak for God, nor that her eternal life depends on them.

“He said, ‘You don’t have to recognize my authority. My calling comes from Jesus Christ.’ ”

Said Monahan:

“The fact that she did not recognize my authority doesn’t change my calling or my commitment to a wonderful organization that is genuinely trying to help people come to Christ, to bring families and individuals together and make a difference in the community and the world.”

Later, when Laake opened his letter saying she had been excommunicated, she said she felt old waves of helplessness wash over her. “I felt sick,” but, “I don’t seem to be worried on any level they’re right.”