The traditional LDS practice of bishops giving regular sexual worthiness interviews to minors has suddenly become a hot topic. No one really cares if bishops ask whether a kid attends church or reads her scriptures from time to time. It’s the sex that is stirring the pot here. Some recent Salt Lake Tribune articles:
- “Some say bishops’ interviews with children about sexual matters are intrusive, inappropriate“
- “The LDS Church should revise the bishop’s interview“
- A Robert Kirby piece, with this statement: “If you’re an older guy in a room alone with a 14-year-old girl and asking questions about her moral cleanliness doesn’t make you nervous, then there’s something wrong with you.”
- A “no problems here” statement to the SL Trib from an LDS Church spokesman, citing several policies regarding interviews that no one seems to be aware of or follow.
Almost every LDS bishop has been involved with Scouting and has received training about two-deep leadership. Why does this approach, which everyone agrees is sound and responsible, not strike these same bishops or others in the LDS hierarchy as a good idea for LDS practice as well? Here is a short quotation from the BSA site on youth protection (emphasis in original):
One-on-one contact between adults and youth members is prohibited. In situations requiring a personal conference, such as a Scoutmaster conference, the meeting is to be conducted with the knowledge and in view of other adults and/or youth.
I am sure that 100 out of 100 bishops would sincerely claim they have nothing but good intentions toward LDS youth. Good intentions aren’t enough, however. Just off the top of my head, here are a few problems: (1) bishops receive little training about how to conduct interviews; (2) interview guidelines in the Handbook (do more listening than speaking; let the member bring up concerns and come up with ways to address those problems) don’t seem to apply to youth interviews; (3) bishops receive pretty much zero guidance or training on human sexuality or development; (4) bishops receive no training on how to proceed when a youth discloses abuse; (5) it’s not clear many bishops would even *recognize* a disclosure of abuse by a minor; (6) no one in the system seems to recognize that training LDS youth to regard as normal private interviews talking about sex with unrelated adults sets those youth up to be victimized by predatory adults they might encounter in other situations; and (7) there is almost no supervision or accountability for bishops who conduct inappropriate or aggressive or intrusive interviews. The Church really needs to do some serious thinking about this youth interview system before it blows up into another (avoidable) PR disaster.
I expect some readers have stories to share of their own or of family members. If so, no names or identifying details, please. A recent account posted over at the Exponent, “Being Disfellowshipped at 14,” illustrates some of the problems noted above. A longer and more detailed story is in the book Saving Alex, subtitled “When I was fifteen I told my Mormon parents I was gay, and that’s when my nightmare began.” It is a book and a story that will make you angry but is well worth reading. The bishops who appear in the story were utterly unequipped to recognize the nature of the problems they observed, or to provide helpful counsel to the youth and her parents, or to recognize abuse when it was disclosed and take action to protect the minor who disclosed. A high school teacher, a youth shelter worker, an attorney, even a bus driver helped the girl. Bishops, Mormon missionaries, and Mormon neighbors who were in various degrees aware of the situation did nothing.
I am confident there are very few bishops who intentionally traumatize or victimize LDS youth. But the system doesn’t do much to educate and train bishops or to supervise and correct those who cross the line. What line? There is so little guidance and supervision, how would an LDS bishop or an LDS youth or an LDS parent even know when an LDS bishop crosses the line? Maybe some of that extra tithing revenue that is being invested in ranches in Florida and Montana could be diverted to fund a serious internal study of LDS interview practices and guidelines, and provide some focused training for our bishops. Seems like a good investment to me.