When the Sam Young movement began, and the Church responded by revising guidelines to allow an adult to be present during the interviews (something many ProgMo parents were already insisting on), my first reaction was that children or teens who are being abused at home will be very unlikely to disclose that information if their parents are present. Additionally, if they have been sexually abused in another setting such as school, and they are unwilling to disclose it to their parents for whatever reason, this would shut off one more place they could get help from a caring adult. Disclosing abuse is not the overt purpose of the youth worthiness interview, but I know several people who have used it for this purpose, unfortunately with varying results.
My other concern with the push to have another adult in the room during youth interviews was the message it sends to our kids, that they are children in need of protection, not adults (or becoming adults). It felt a little helicopter-parent to me, more appropriate for a twelve year old, but less appropriate for a sixteen year old. How does the teen perceive this protective stance (that their peers probably don’t have)? Some may feel embarrassed or infantilized. They aren’t developing their own skills at assessing who is trustworthy and who is not. As I put it (tongue in cheek) in one discussion forum: “Kids need to learn to lie to the bishop on their own terms.”
In a recent Mormon Land podcast, therapist Jennifer Roach discusses what she views as the case for routine youth interviews in the Church. There is a follow up article to this interview as well. She is a fairly new Church member (less than 2 years) with a background in both Evangelical congregations and as an ordained minister in the Anglican Church. She is also a survivor of repeated sex abuse as a teen from a youth pastor. While she also wants children to be protected from grooming or predatory behavior, she believes that teens benefit from having a safe space like a routine youth interview to disclose sexual abuse that may be happening to them in other facets of life. Exposure to various adults may increase the likelihood that they can get the advice and help they need. There was a huge backlash against her stance in social media, but she does make a few points that have been lost in the clamor. I wanted to discuss some of the points she raises. Jennifer Roach asserts that abused teens may benefit from a private youth interview with a leader. That leader could be the bishop, a counselor, a young women’s leader, or any other caring adult. Developing a regular touch base with a trusted adult who isn’t a parent may help teens develop into adulthood and give them additional perspective on navigating sexual experiences during a confusing time.
Roach accused the Protect the Children movement and other critics of the Mormon youth interview process of a few mistaken ideas, including:
- That other faiths don’t have these types of processes and risks. I can attest to this one, particularly among Evangelical church groups with a youth ministry focus. During the #metoo movement, there was a sister movement called #churchtoo that was congregants sharing stories of being sexually harassed or abused by clergy, and the stories coming out of the Evangelical churches were on par with anything teed up by the Mormon Protect the Children group. So, yeah, they do these. And apparently they have the same problems we do.
- That any questions about chastity are always problematic. This is a key sticking point between progressives and conservatives, and probably also varies based on one’s personal perspective on the role of religion in a healthy sex life. So much bad advice is given by well-meaning Church leaders, and the advice varies so much from person to person that it’s hard for me to see these conversations as beneficial. Roach’s example is a teen struggling with masturbation, feeling guilty and lacking in self-control, who seeks counsel to help him or her overcome it. She does not, however, claim that all masturbation is wrong or sinful. In her example, it’s a teen who feels s/he has a problem to overcome, not that the action itself is the problem. Her view of the interview is that the valuable content is teen-initiated, not leader-initiated. But that leaves us with the role of religion in one’s sex life, and I just don’t see these things as symbiotic. Even a conservative friend of mine once observed that if sex isn’t dirty, you aren’t doing it right.
- That developing teens require parental protection and intervention. This was one of my concerns also. I suspect my kids would have been mortified if I said “I’m going to sit in with you” during a youth interview, and I’m a cool mom (wink). I like to think of my kids as savvy enough to figure things out, and just to be sure, I’ve raised them on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. When they say they think an adult is creepy, we talk about steering clear of creeps. I don’t defend creeps. If someone gives you the creeps, there’s usually a reason. I also pointed out that if an adult makes you uncomfortable, you don’t need to answer their questions or do what they say. The more they ask, the less you tell.
- That professional clergy are better at this, and that a lay clergy is worse due to lack of training. There are flaws with both systems. Basically, a predator can get a theology degree or be a doctor or lawyer or school teacher. Some abuses are due to misunderstanding or awkwardness or prudery or just a leader being an idiot, and training can help in those areas, but professional clergy aren’t getting great training in how to talk to kids about sex. They are getting different training than Mormon leaders get, and Mormon leaders get some training in protecting children, and a hotline to protect themselves (yikes), but in her view, you’re just as likely to get good outcomes with our untrained but well-meaning lay clergy as you are with a professional clergy. That may be so. I have certainly known great bishops on par with any professional Anglican priest, and also terrible bishops on par with any self-righteous prig with bad ideas and a toxic personality. I’ve also wondered if predators are like mercury in the desert. If you step on them, they just reform elsewhere. Shutting off the formal interview as an avenue for predators doesn’t mean it stops them; they just have to use whatever system they have to find opportunities, like rapists at BYU using the honor code to blackmail their victims.
One thing Roach did not specifically call out that I believe is an incredibly important criticism of the current youth interviews is that all interviews are done by men. I have no doubt that in many cases, it would be more appropriate for a girl to meet with a woman leader than with a man. Although it’s true that I’ve known many women leaders in the Church who are basically the worst (the ones that buy totally into patriarchy suck big time), on average, I’d trust the YW leaders over the bishopric for these discussions.
She also conveniently forgets that some of these teens are LGBT.
Jennifer Roach outlined four benefits she sees to youth interviews.
- Kids need a non-parent trusted adult as a safe place to talk about sex and work through their feelings and concerns, especially as a disciple who is trying to square sexual desires with the Law of Chastity. This may be valid, depending on how trustworthy the adult is, what their purpose is, and whether the advice they give is wise or dangerous. I’m sure lots of kids don’t want to talk to parents about these things. Is their bishop or counselor the best person, though? What if they are gay? What if they question their gender identity? What if they are a girl seeking advice–is it really best they talk to their friend’s dad??
- Mormons are not alone in providing this type of interview setting; it’s the norm. This one isn’t a reason so much as social vetting. We’re in company, whether good or bad. All the other religions are doing it. You’ll be popular. While some have pointed out that other religions receive better training in counseling, which Roach concedes, she also points out that nobody receives sufficient counseling in how to talk to teens about sex, that our approach of having random adults talking to kids about sex is on par qualitatively with what other faiths are doing. tl;dr, everyone’s bad at this, and we’re no worse (?). I probably wouldn’t use that in an advertising slogan.
- Teens learn what a high-demand religion is like through these interviews which continue throughout adulthood, including chastity questions. Teens can determine if they want to continue with that into adulthood. The problem I see with this one is that teens are learning what a high-demand religion is like, and they are leaving in droves. Do teens like youth interviews? I certainly don’t think they are a big selling point. They may wear down a teen’s resistance to authority, a prerequisite to participating long-term, but they are just as likely to turn kids off from my experience. Additionally, this “benefit” sounds like the very definition of grooming, wearing down someone’s normal defenses to allow an outside agent to control them. Do I think most leaders are trying to groom victims? No, of course not (although if they are, this is handed to them on a silver platter). But by putting it this way, she unintentionally points out that the Church is trying to groom us all to do what it wants, and honestly, she’s kind of right. From a psychological perspective, that’s kind of disturbing. You could charitably say that the Church is attaching the younger generation to the older, but can’t we do that without exposing our kids to the misguided sexual opinions and advice of their friends’ parents?
- Leaders can uncover abuse and help address it. This goes back to the same concerns as the first point. Does the bishop (or counselor) understand what abuse is and know what to do to address it or to assist the teen? While this may be a side benefit to the youth interview, it’s not the point of it, and I know of many, many examples of young people (mostly girls) disclosing abuse who were told they needed to repent and were put on church discipline. That’s horrifying and totally common. I love the idea of a wise and caring bishop sleuthing out the abuse and protecting the teen congregant just as much as anyone; I just see too much counter-factual evidence to imagine it’s the norm.
She points out that having these interviews be routine rather than voluntary is one reason they are helpful. Routine conversations are important for abuse victims to be willing to disclose. They will put out a little “bread crumb” or clue that they were abused to see if the adult will pick up on it. If the adult responds supportively, then they might tell them more.
Aside from the rare abusive monsters who use their position to groom kids or gain sexual gratification from their disclosures, most bishops likely see the youth interviews as a way to stay close to the youth and to help them stay members of the Church. If so, that’s consistent with the role Jennifer Roach sees them taking, the same role these types of interviews fulfill in other churches. She also cautions that teens need to trust their feelings and not confide in a leader who gives them the creeps. I completely agree, but to be clear, kids receive ample encouragement to trust leaders over their own feelings. This wasn’t always the case, but it has become more so in my lifetime. The idea that human authority figures shouldn’t be questioned is one that has gotten legs in the last few decades, to everyone’s detriment. A local leader who thinks their “lofty” position makes them more infallible than others, a trustworthy “Judge in Israel,” will probably not be a wise counselor to a confused teen (or anyone else).
What is the best case outcome to a discussion of chastity? Jennifer Roach would say the best case is that the teen wants to discuss troubling feelings or events and the leader listens and gives thoughtful advice, stepping in to assist. I’m just not convinced that’s a very likely outcome of our current system. I’d give that about a 25-30% chance of happening if the teen initiated such a conversation. I’d also guess it’s a similar percentage who would misunderstand and assume the teen was at fault, encouraging them to repent. The remainder would mostly be either clueless or bewildered, leaving the “bread crumbs” on the table. A few might reach out to the church’s counsel line and be given advice on how to protect themselves legally (and the church), not how to protect the abused teen.
Her observation that sex is a topic that can’t be off limits because it’s important to discipleship sounds legit, on the one hand, but also problematic because the way the Church talks about sex is not always correct, consistent or informed. For example, when gay Church members have come out to their bishop, they’ve been given advice that runs the gamut. Some have been accepted and loved for who they are. Some have been told they are unworthy sinners and should be disciplined. Many have been told they can become straight if they just pray and date the opposite sex. Some have even been encouraged to marry someone of the opposite sex as a remedy, and we all know how that turns out. The one thing that’s consistent is that ALL of those Church leaders think they are perfectly aligned with Church teachings.
But is all this sex-related hand-wringing, confessing peccadilloes to church leaders, beneficial and necessary? If so, why? Roach points out that sex is a big deal, and it’s a big part of childhood development. I certainly agree with that. She never goes so far as to say that masturbation must be confessed, only that it can be a problem for some teens, and that if it becomes a problem, they should have someone to talk to about it. OK. Maybe. Like, what’s a problem vs. normal? (I usually think in terms of something preventing you from holding down a job–that’s when I know it’s a problem).
In writing this article, I did the unthinkable–I read the comments in the SLTrib. If I strip away the dumb ones and the hysterical ones and the just plain anti-Mormon ones, there are some themes that are worth reviewing:
- If we have good sex education in the schools, we don’t need clergy to insert themselves into this type of discussion. In general, schools are going to be more science-based and less opinion-based, but of course there’s a spiritual component that will be lost. However, that “spiritual” component (according to other comments) may consist of hyperbole, calling normal teen sexual behavior to “the sin next to murder.” As a commenter put it, this just results in church people spreading their own weird sexual hangups to others. A few of those hangups as described in other comments included the idea that oral sex is evil, that sex should only be used for procreation, and that women don’t like sex. (Odds of women liking sex probably go way down the more repressive the religious culture is).
- Any religion with only one gender in charge (and only cishetero males) is going to have problems in these types of interviews as only one perspective is represented. Male and female sexual experience, motives, and behaviors are not all the same, not at all. There are many power differentials in sexual relationships that cause male leaders to assume attractive girls are seductresses when they are victims, for example. Teens of all types are subject to emotional manipulation from peers and others in sexual situations; assuming they are fully in control of their actions is uncharitable at best, extremely harmful at worst.
- One commenter accuses Roach of suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. I’m not quite ready to go that far, but all religious adherents develop a view of “normal” from within their system, and so long as that system hasn’t killed them, they will stay within that system. Any system we live in that is partially a protection to us, even if it is also harmful to us in other ways, works like this. We haven’t literally been taken hostage, but it’s hard to leave a system that we see as also protective or beneficial.
- It’s shocking that we don’t do background checks on all those who work with kids and older youth.
- The Church vets leaders well, but doesn’t train them well in counseling, preferring to let them follow “the spirit” which usually means to follow their own instincts, whatever those may be.
- The Church’s record on LGBT, particularly electric shock and other conversion therapies at BYU, should disqualify it from conducting these interviews. Some of these kids are gay. Their odds of receiving good advice are very low when the Church’s party line is already psychologically harmful to them.
- Converts like Ms. Roach are always enthusiastic with rose-colored glasses about the Church, but don’t always know what they are talking about. She admits that as an adult convert, she hasn’t been through these interviews as a youth in our Church (although she did go through them as an Evangelical and was abused, and then disclosed her abuse to a different leader who addressed it).
- Interviews are not framed as “Is your life safe?” but instead are framed as “Are you worthy?” which will sometimes lead to the interpretation that someone who is unsafe is unworthy.
- A few lamented that this OP was just Church propaganda, and that they expected better from the Trib. They called it amateur hour.
The points Ms. Roach doesn’t address that I think are most salient are:
- The Church’s record on LGBT issues makes these interviews unsafe for any kids who aren’t cishetero.
- The fact that only male leaders conduct these interviews makes them less appropriate for girls. (She does address it as possibly preferable to invite a female leader to join, but at some point the kid feels outnumbered).
- The purpose of the interview creates a problematic framework for abuse disclosure that will cause leaders to blame victims.
- Lived experience with these interviews shows that the interviews are all over the map in terms of effectiveness. They may not be the source of abuse, but they are often harmful in other ways, creating sexual repression and negative sexual attitudes that have decades-long consequences for people. As many newly married Mormons have said, it’s incredibly difficult to transition from “all sex and sexual feelings are sinful” to “anything goes” in the course of an afternoon.
What do you think?
- Do you agree with Ms. Roach that bishop interviews are a good place for abuse disclosures?
- Do you see benefits to the worthiness interviews that make these interviews necessary for Church members, particularly for teens?
- Do you think these interviews are a way for the Church to groom and control member thought and behavior? Is this different than in other faiths or is it the role of all religions?
- Do these interviews lead to spreading of hangups and misinformation, if not outright abuse by leaders, or is that still a “few bad apples”?
- Do you think it’s ever appropriate for a Church leader to discuss chastity with teens or adults? If not, do you nevertheless believe the Law of Chastity should be observed?
On the question of abuse disclosures, I think this is a fine idea, but it would only work if we were intentional about it. Leaders would need to be trained on this topic, and girls should be meeting with a woman ideally, not a man. I’ve often wondered why the “advisors” aren’t doing this role. It’s practically baked into their job title. On that last question, I suppose my view is that there is no need to discuss every single commandment with a leader behind closed doors, and a policed testimony or commitment is not one at all. If we need to apply social pressure to conform, we aren’t as committed as we would be without those pressures.
In changing the title of this OP to “Defund Youth Interviews” I’m making a tongue-in-cheek poke at the term “Defund the Police” which doesn’t actually mean the same thing as “abolish” the police. It means that we should rethink, fundamentally, what we want to accomplish with policing (and youth interviews) and then make the changes that support those actual outcomes. Until we do that, we will keep getting the mixed results we are getting, and like most things, they work fine for those who have worthiness privilege (not abused, given trustworthy leaders), and they hurt the most vulnerable who don’t have those same privileges.
I really like how many points you’ve hit here, Hawkgrrrl, both in summarizing Roach’s argument, and in raising (I think) a ton of excellent objections to it. Just to pull out one point, I think that having adult leaders interview teens as a way to help teens who are being abused might work *in theory*, but only if we changed a ton of the context around the interviews. For example, they shouldn’t be mandatory, the leaders should actually be trained with this end in mind, and teens should be given the option to talk to one of a number of leaders, rather than requiring them all to talk to the same guy (which as you note is particularly likely to be a problem for teen girls).
But as you also note, the larger context of the Church just isn’t set up well to make these interviews useful for this task. The Church is heavy on shaming, particularly around sexual issues, which makes it more likely that bishops are going to jump at the chance to shame teens for even having sexual feelings. FTSoY says that doing anything that arouses sexual feelings is wrong. For most teens, I imagine, *being alive* arouses sexual feelings. The Church would have to totally back off on this type of rhetoric. Also, as you note, if teens aren’t straight and cisgender, such interviews are really unlikely to do them any good, and are very likely to cause harm, as few bishops are likely to accept a gay or trans teen for who they are. So that’s another big thing that would need to be changed for the interviews to be actually helpful in doing something like helping detect abuse, like Roach thinks they’d be so good for, rather than making teens’ lives worse.
I kind of think of youth interviews like capital punishment. No, not in that way. I mean that I can imagine a world with a far more fair criminal justice system where I could see capital punishment as a valid alternative. In the world we live in (I’m speaking of the US here), where the criminal justice system punishes people of color so much more harshly than other people, I think capital punishment is an abomination. Similarly, I can imagine a church where youth interviews do more good than harm, but the LDS Church as it exists now absolutely isn’t it.
Hawkgrrrl–I hope all is well for you and your family. My wife and I returned from a mission a few months ago. We returned prior to the pandemic which I have been expecting based on Mosiah 29:26-27. I wonder what will be next.
I wasn’t active in the church to experience youth interviews, but after military service when I applied to be a missionary I was interviewed. I had to go see GA before my missionary papers were approved. As you aptly pointed out youth interviews are a mixed bag, but we live in a sexualized culture and the risk-reward ratio in my opinion falls heavily on the side of doing interviews.
Anyhow, because of moderation this is a note to you personally. The best to you.
Great and thorough post. Because you cover so much, I’m only going to focus on one or two things:
Your comment about systems and the sense of “normal” that adherents feel seems particularly relevant here. One consequence of having supposedly strong faith or “knowing” the church/gospel is true is that it often prevents people from being objective and rational. Add to that the continually harped upon idea from our leadership that “the world” is evil, will lead you astray, etc., and you get a couple of really toxic ideas about sexuality, chastity, etc. Two of the major ones, the ones that I think prevent the church from making any kind of true progress on this subject, are
1)To echo what Ziff said above, the LDS Church teaches that sexual acts (and therefore, by extension, sexuality/sexual feelings in general) are either absolutely evil (second only to murder, blah blah blah) or they are absolutely good, wonderful, holy and sacred (within the bonds of a temple marriage). That binary is harmful on a number of levels, but especially so when it’s used to indoctrinate our young people and compel them to think that only temple marriage sex is okay. That kind of shaming, I would think, has to impact the decision that an LDS young person would make about disclosing abuse (or not).
2) The church is simply stuck in the medieval period when it comes to any kind of thinking about sexual and gender identity, making it highly unlikely (that leadership roulette thing again) that a church leader would be able to effectively counsel youth who express any ideas or emotions about their sexuality or gender identity that deviates from the LDS norms . Because the church wants so much for things not to be complicated or real or complex, it cleaves to its simplistic (and wrong) narratives about sex and gender, thereby ensuring that more and more LDS youth will simply not share what they’re going through and will leave the church. The harder any system or organization clings to orthodoxy, the more people it alienates.
As the father of two teenagers who no longer attend church, I have to say that I’m deeply satisfied about the choice they both made to no longer attend church. They are grateful for what church taught them about kindness and how to treat people, and they are hardly “anti”, but they recognize that the church often does more harm than good and they refuse to participate in such an organization. It has simply become irrelevant in their lives. And I believe that’s happening to a lot of our youth. When someone seeks an earnest, open, honest conversation and only receives platitudes and beliefs presented as absolute facts, they’re most likely going to walk away and look elsewhere for meaningful interactions.
I’m pretty against youth interviews period so it was good for me to read a more balanced view and think through the positives. I can see where given youth a trusted adult from church to talk to could be helpful to those who don’t have other trusted adults in their lives.
I think many of the positives could be retained, and some of the downsides avoided, by doing the following:
-jettison “worthiness” from the process (I think the concept of “worthiness” interviews is itself spiritually abusive). No intrusive series of questions about beliefs or behavior. No recommend to obtain that hinges on the outcome of the interview.
-don’t limit to the bishopric. Offer a wide variety of men and women to meet with and let the youth choose. Let the youth also choose to have someone else present.
-make the interviews voluntary.
-do the interviews in the youth’s home, if appropriate – not a sterile office where a man sits behind a desk.
-make the interviews pastoral in nature. Rather than doing faith audits and worthiness checks, simply ask the youth open-ended questions about what’s important to them, what challenges they are facing, and what support they need.
-I don’t really think it’s ever appropriate for an adult male to ask teenaged girls about sex in a compulsory process. (Don’t think it’s appropriate for boys either.). I can see the value of giving teens a place to talk about sex if they want to. So again, keep that open-ended and pastoral focusing on what matters to the youth, what their own values are, if they have any questions or problems, and support and guide rather than preach and shame. Affirm and support LGBT youth. I think this point is pretty much impossible though because we have such a narrow view of healthy sexuality; we’d really have to get over that. (Side note: my brother is gay and one time my mom told her bishop that she was having a conversation with her son about safe sex and safety overall. That bishop was *relatively* gay friendly but essentially told her she would go to hell for that. She said if she was going to hell for doing her first job as a mother—keeping her child healthy and safe—that was fine with her. Just goes to show that it would be super tough to find a gay-affirming leader in our church.)
I never had a “bad” experience in a compulsory interview as a teen or adult but I never had a good one either – I’d say they were uniformly uncomfortable, and looking back I think it’s crazy that we were expected to meet with men we didn’t necessarily know or feel comfortable about whenever and wherever they asked and talk about whatever they chose to talk about. Like – crazy. I did, however, have positive experiences with leaders, including when they would stop by my house to see how I was doing and offer encouragement. I do think it’s valuable to give our youth access to adults who know and care about them. But I think right now we are too focused on managing behavior to a narrow set of expectations in a compulsory and hierarchical process.
LDS bishops get zero training on how to respond to a minor disclosing abuse. So they don’t know how to respond. And, predictably, they generally respond badly to the discloser, take the wrong actions, and don’t pass information to the authorities. In my opinion (an attorney who has worked with a lot of juveniles) no youth should ever disclose to an LDS bishop. LDS bishops are more likely to act to protect the abuser than to protect the abused juvenile.
There are trained professionals who youth come in contact with who will respond appropriately and will take action to protect the youth. Such as: (1) law enforcement; (2) medical professionals; (3) therapists or counselors; (4) teachers or counselors at school. That’s who LDS youth should disclose to if there is an abuse situation. Period.
Great analysis, Hawk.
While I do think teens need trusted non-parental adults with whom to talk about sensitive topics, I don’t think the friendly neighborhood plumber/accountant/orthodontist who happens to be serving a turn as a lay minister of your geographically assigned congregation is the right person for the job. Keep in mind, it’s an exhausting, thankless job that he never asked for in the first place, has no background check, and he likely has no training in things like child/adolescent development, sex education, or proper handling of abuse allegations. I believe the vast majority of bishops are good men with good intentions, but the current program sets them (and our youth) up for failure.
Another potential problem with bishop’s interviews is the lopsided power differential. Bishops hold priesthood keys and claim to speak and act and hand down judgements with the authority of God, which is super intimidating for a young person just beginning to understand Mormon theology. Even as an adult, I’ve had bishops start interviews by saying “now imagine you are speaking to the LORD when you speak to me…” which I think is incredibly manipulative, and at least very uncomfortable. By invoking divine privilege and authority, it puts all of the power on the bishop’s side of the desk. For a teen on the verge of a sensitive disclosure, that discomfort is probably magnified 10x. Like the OP, I have mixed feelings about having a parent in the room, but I can see it as a useful hedge against this kind of power imbalance.
Which is why I’m also concerned with the grooming aspect of these interviews–not just grooming for sexual abuse, but grooming a child to be fearfully deferential to authority figures, and unwilling to question authority or stand up to it when it is being used unlawfully, unethically or abusively.
Another advantage to having a parent or other trusted adult present is that it serves as a check on Bishop Roulette–the fact that different bishops may have widely varying views on sex, sexuality, LGBTQ issues, etc. and a teen might have a drastically different experience depending on which ward her family happens to live in.
I’m not sure what the best solution is, but I think the use of the word “defund” here is appropriate. My oldest child is still a couple years off from being invited to regular bishop’s interviews. In the mean time, I teach her that (a) these interviews are totally voluntary; (b) you can stop the interview and leave at any time for any reason or no reason at all, no explanation required; (c) you don’t have to tell the bishop anything you don’t want to; (d) bishops do not have special divine powers of lie-detecting or reading your thoughts–even if he says he does, and; (e) tell me or your mother or another trusted adult if he does or says something that makes you feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable. Trust your gut.
I love this Angela, great post. I am torn by this topic. I had great bishops and great interviews. My bishop during my teen years was a local farmer who had kids my age. Zero training, yet when I went to confess of my porn and masturbation sins, he told me not to be so damn hard on myself and that what I was doing was completely normal. He told me my whole life would be me trying to fight off natural urges and that I had to try and control these urges the best I could. He said to not worry about telling him if I did it again and that I for sure would do it again. He encouraged me to talk to my parents about it, but that was not something that I could do. My parents put way too much pressure on me and had unrealistic expectations. I would not have told this Bishop if my parents would have been in the room and I think that holding that “grave sin” secret inside me would have been more damaging to me. I would have preferred to have been taught by my parents, church lessons, and seminary that it was normal, but that is not the message I got in lessons. In fact, the reason I went to confess was a Ted Bundy interview we were showed in seminary that said there is a slippery slope from watching porn to killing people and raping people.
On the other hand, I have heard of terrible things done behind bishops doors. I refuse to send my kids in there alone and also protect them the best I can from the negative messages I heard at church. When they turn 16, and if I trust the bishop, I would let them go in alone if they wanted to. My kids are not the type to be groomed so I am not too worried about that. I completely agree that women should be interviewing young women. I also think that parents should be allowed to interview and sign the temple recommends of young children.
As a gay Mormon man, never in a million years would I have come out to my bishop or discussed my sexual orientation with any church leader. It wasn’t until I was an adult with a lot of experience and a tool chest full of information, that I engaged in any discussion about it. And then, they knew they could not shame, guilt, or persuade me. It is interesting, though, that I have been asked by various priesthood leaders to offer my advice on how to discuss sexual orientation and gender issues with members both young and old. I believe some folks in the church are genuinely trying to help.
@Jack Hughes 100% on the power dynamic. Even if we aren’t grooming kids for sexual abuse (I think we may be by putting them in this uncomfortable situation where they are probed about sex by a stranger), we are grooming everyone to be overly deferential to authority figures. That had been something I personally have had to work through and has negatively impacted me.
“Imagine you are speaking with the Lord …” They may mean well but the hubris there is a bit much.
Brother Sky: You are right on the money and I too have daughters who have left the Church for similar reasons. Let me expand on something you mentioned: the “sexual sin is 2nd only to murder” argument. I believe this argument is very destructive because it provides the foundation from which a bishop can view a sexually active teenager as someone who is similar to a murderer. That is a very destructive perspective and is likely going to result in a conversation in which the two parties (the bishop and the teenager) are never going to connect unless the teenager is simply scared straight via guilt and fear. That’s not healthy.
Some bishops have the “2nd only to murder” mentality and some don’t. That in of itself is an issue. I really don’t blame the bishops who view premarital sex this way. That is what they were taught in YM, GC, priesthood lessons. But in my view it is wrong. We like to rank sins, don’t we? We like to rank sexual sin right up there as #2 or #3. And while it’s true that premarital sex can have absolutely awful consequences, I have a hard time ranking it above so many other sins that are probably very common such as emotional and psychological abuse.
So what’s my point? We would be much better off if we were able to address sexual sin like other sin instead of treating it like the end of the world. And I would challenge the reader to research more about what Alma might have been saying to his son Corianton:
Click to access 143-34-43.pdf
When I was a teen, I had a bishop who believed his priesthood keys entitled him to the skillset of a licensed therapist (he was a general contractor) and had me convinced that he could “see into my soul” (which I interpreted to mean he could read my thoughts and tell if I was lying or not). He didn’t do anything blatantly abusive, but speaking to him felt manipulative and uncomfortable, and I never really liked him. I didn’t have the emotional language or maturity to understand that what he was doing was inappropriate. As an adult, I talked about it with my parents once, and it turns out they never liked him either, and for the same reasons. Unbeknownst to me, he had a reputation among the adults in the ward of thinking very highly of himself and his own divine favor. There was a running joke (behind his back) that the real reason he installed a new pool at his house was so he could practice walking on water. It was somewhat validating to hear years later that my parents also had reservations about him, but at the same time frustrating, because I wish they did more to protect me from that kind of manipulative behavior, especially because they knew what he was like behind closed doors.
Zach: Two things: 1) it’s pretty common in a gender essentialist Church for male leaders to see male sexual behavior as “normal” and female sexual behavior as “not normal” because girls are supposed to be passive and innocent, not interested in sex, and 2) Ted Bundy’s statements that porn led him to murder were completely intentionally designed to get attention from the far right by telling them what they already believed. It was a total lie. It’s an embarrassment that anyone fell for it, and yet a LOT of Mormons did. It was never true, and he knew it, and anyone who knows anything about his history knows it’s not what caused it. He was violent towards women from a very young age, probably due to serious abandonment problems.
I 100% disagree with Jennifer Roach. There’s nothing I agree with about what she says. I never felt any bond with my bishop because of these interviews. Instead I felt fear, judgement, and borderline PTSD anxiety… and I was a good kid!
The only bonds I ever felt with leaders where when they engaged with me on an informal basis and asked open ended questions to engage me with how I was doing.
As a father with a 13 year old daughter, I DO NOT want my daughter feeling obligated to be in a room alone with a man who’s asking her questions about her sexuality. My daughter also gets nervous about interviews and I told her that if the clerks wants to pull her out, she can tell them she wants a parent and we’ll gladly be there to sit with her and the clerk has to oblige.
If she doesn’t feel comfortable with us in the room (which I totally get) and voluntarily wants to talk to a leader about issues she’s having, awesome! Maybe have some designated sisters that she can pick from to go talk to.
If she wants to pull a friend in with her to go talk to the bishop, also fine with me.
Josh H. I just read Michael Ash’s article. I appreciate the reference to it as I have never understood how sexual relations could share context with murder. His explanation of the “murder of testimonies” makes complete sense. For the thousandth time let’s look at the real meaning of the word harlot.
I think we should junk the idea of “worthiness” altogether, but I’m not completely against bishop-youth interviews as a way for bishops to develop healthy, trusting relationships with the youth in their wards. I think the only way to accomplish this is to stop making them about “worthiness” and just make them about knowing the individual youth better. Asking kids whether or not they live the law of chastity should not enter into it or be expected. If the bishop has proven himself to be trustworthy and genuinely interested in the youth’s well-being, that youth will be more likely to speak voluntarily to the bishop about sensitive topics. But I also agree that young women especially need the option of seeking counsel from another woman, with whom she might feel safer/more comfortable. Also, normalize the idea that maybe bishops don’t need to know about your sex life, no matter what your age.
josh h: Yeah, I had seen Ash’s article previously. He makes some good points. I also think Rebecca J makes a great point: The bishop has to earn the trust and respect of young people and that’s hard to do if the bishop is emphasizing strict obedience to the law of chastity (or any other “law” of the church) rather than inviting friendship. Of course, one of the sad ironies of the church’s view of sex is that the more experienced, familiar and comfortable anyone becomes with talking about and having sex, the more likely they’re going to know more about birth control, consent, etc., meaning that they’ll be less likely to have risky sexual encounters . Keeping the members sexually straitjacketed means keeping much of sexuality, sexual behavior, sexual politics and sexual identity “under wraps”, putting members more at risk for any number of things than the average non-member. The church is doing great harm in a number of areas by approaching the issue in the manner that it is.
Josh H – a great article. The church’s ranking sexual sin next to murder is a gross distortion of morals in my opinion and does far more harm than good. Sadly, in its gospel topic essay on “Chastity,” which I understand is a recent addition, it reinforces this unfortunate interpretation. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/chastity?lang=eng
In Dante’s Inferno, sexual sin and gluttony were among the lowest of sins, followed in the hierarchy by more serious sins (in his opinion) such as greed, anger, violence, fraud and betrayal. Sexual sin and gluttony were weaknesses of the flesh and did no harm to another (the non-sexual part of adultery however could fall under the worst sin of betrayal). Dante’s hierarchy reflects how most of Christianity has thought of these sins throughout history. Then along comes Alma 39:5 and the church’s interpretation that upends this thinking, which has had the effect of distorting sexuality and causing untold shame and grief. What if the church taught our kids the evils of greed and violence in the same way they teach them about sex before marriage? I am often amazed at those I see “on the covenant path” who are consumed with materialism and even treachery, which makes them far less moral – in my opinion – than someone who may be living with a boy/girlfriend but who is kind, trustworthy and unselfish.
On a separate but related topic:
Why do we have two back to back interviews for temple recommends? Why interview with the Bishop and then repeat with the Stake President?
Before I listened to the Mormonland Interview, I had read a very lengthy FB thread on which Jennifer Roach emphasized her research and credentials. “If you want to know what backs up my opinion, read the speech” that she gave in a Fair Mormon conference – which costs $30 to access and is not yet available. So when I queued up the podcast, I was expecting some data. There was none. No research to gather statistics. Just her opinions and her reasoning for them. Her answers were couched in hyperbole and she mocked differing opinions. And has been pointed out she never experienced these interviews herself and has a whole two years of experience in Mormonism.
When my youngest daughter turned 12 (5 years ago) we happened to be outside the bishop’s office. He said there was a youth temple baptism date coming up and would she like to go. Yes. Then let’s have an interview. She was hesitant so he said my wife and I could join. The sexual questions were extremely explicit. I was shocked – and embarrassed that we didn’t up and leave.
When we walked out – she with her recommend in hand – said “I never want to do that again.” We said, “Neither do we.” When contacted by the bishopric to set worthiness interview appointments since then I’ve told them that we don’t want her to have interviews. We’ve never had pushback. BTW – that experience was so traumatic for her that she left the recommend pinned to the fridge and never used it.
One son was molested by a former neighbor. Our bishop called the church hotline. He was instructed to call the bishop in the other ward and tell him – but to expressly say that he was not to contact the family but to leave it up to law enforcement. That lasted about a minute before he called the perp’s dad.
A relative confronted the parents of a boy who has molested their daughter at a party that night, pounding on their front door at four in the morning. The father asked the son about it. He said, yes it happened. The dad pleaded that it be handled “bishop-to-bishop” and keep the police out. The yawning young man – still groggy from the pills he took at the party – said, “Can I go back to bed now. I have to get up easy to bless the sacrament.”
This system is seriously screwed up – in many ways already pointed out. There would have to be serious reforms before I could endorse youth interviews.
When youth interviews became a “thing” (In the 1970’s? What is the history?) they were just called birthday interviews. Or 6-month interviews. When did they begin being called worthiness interviews? They consisted of the bishop, or his counselor if it was a 6-month interview, checking in with you. Maybe asking how your scripture reading was going. Bishoprics and branch presidencies were often lackadaisical about doing them and they were frequently neglected.
In the 1970’s most baptism interviews consisted of the child and parents meeting with the bishop. In more recent years many bishops met alone with 7-year-old children. When did this start and how was it seen as being appropriate?
In the 1970’s a temple recommend consisted of maybe the ward clerk (or executive secretary?) putting the names of the baptized youth on a group form that was probably signed by the bishop and handed to the youth leader in charge. No interviews, no shaming of individuals who were designated “unworthy.”
In the 1970’s it was extremely rare to see a youth or young adult excluded from taking the sacrament. Only the most serious issues would place an individual in that category. Now, in any given year maybe a third of the youth in some wards (half?) will be advised not to take the sacrament at least once, some for months or even years at a time. This is also the case for priests blessing the sacrament. In a ward full of priests the same few will bless it each week while others sit shame-faced with their families (if the families can still persuade them to come), ostensibly for minor sexual “sins” which in other contexts would seem as normal human sexual development. They are being publicly shamed and then we wonder why they drop out of church participation.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
(Things weren’t perfect in the 1970’s, but it’s worrisome to see things going in the current direction, with interviews being used increasingly as a tool of social control. I had an acquaintance who had been sexually abused in one of these interviews; there have been issues from the beginning.)
If the goal is to identify abused youth, after there better ways to accomplish the goal? Perhaps use some of the approaches society has developed already based on well-researched professional approaches. Have periodic professionally developed presentations on identifying abuse and sharing resources for obtaining help? Posting in each church building warning signs of abuse and lists of community resources? Youth interviews by untrained leaders are likely an outdated approach to a serious problem and may create as many problems as they solve.
It can be different.
@It Can Be Different, I think the church’s goal with youth interviews is most definitely *not* to identify abused youth – that was just used as a justification by some for why interviews are a good thing (but as many have commented, they’re not good for that purpose – a church with a very shame-based approach to sexuality, and lay ministers with no training or bad training, is a pretty bad vehicle to address sexual abuse).
The church’s goal, I think, is to make sure youth are keeping all of the rules. Enter one million problems & shame around worthiness. I’m sure it’s also to build relationships, etc., etc., but I don’t think worthiness interviews are good for that purpose.
My kids had a mixed bag on baptismal interviews (I was there with them). With one, it was a nice little “here’s what baptism means, do you feel ready?” chat that was fine. With another, it was super weird and awkward – “are you worthy to be baptized” – which I think is really weird, I didn’t know 7 yr olds needed to be worthy to be baptized. I thought they were without sin … That, I think, was just an awkward bishop but I think it was an uncomfortable situation for my 7 yr old.
If building relationships of trust is a purpose of bishop’s interviews, it doesn’t work. I was a fastidious rule-follower growing up, and I still disliked the interview process. I always viewed bishops as authority figures, never as trusted friends or mentors. Even when they tried to be friendly, they still came off either intimidating or awkward. It’s just inherent in the process and in the office, and may have something to do with the kinds of men the Church tends to call as bishops. We can eliminate that aspect by doing away with one-on-one interviews completely.
Just one note….In order to understand why these interviews are helpful to youth who have been abused you have to understand exactly how youth disclose abuse. No young person is going to just plop down and say, “Im being abused” or “I was abused when I was 10.” 75% of the youth who do disclose, do it on accident. That is, they say something that the adult sees as odd, and asks follow up questions. The chastity question is perfect for this. Of the youth that do disclose on purpose, they do it in a “breadcrumb” manner….giving one piece of info at a time to see what the adult will do with it. And although the interviews are not set up for this specifically, one can see how the regularly scheduled nature of them helps this process along.
It doesn’t bother me any if people disagree about my conclusions….if you take no other information from my talk, take this so that you may listen to the youth around you in a more helpful way.
Amen to Jennifer’s comments. Very often, the person being abused does not immediately understand that abuse has taken place, especially if that person is a child or adolescent. And it often takes much longer for the abused person to actually share with someone else that the abuse took place—and the telling often happens in bits and pieces.
By way of painful personal example in my own family. A year before she died at the age of 76, my mother told me privately that the year she was nine, her 17 year-old uncle had molested her several times over a period of six months. I finally understood why she had always disliked the guy. I asked her why she had not told her parents, especially her mother, who was the older sister of the man. She told me that even at the age of nine, she clearly understood that her revealing the abuse would have blown everything apart in her family, both immediate and extended, during an economically difficult time. Over the years, Her uncle probably had forgotten what he had done.
I think this personal story has lessons for the debate on the issue of Church youth interviews: (1) Families are often NOT safe places for children, whether at home or in accompanying a child into a Bishop’s office; (2) Adults very often react badly when a child makes allegations of abuse.
So Bishop’s interviews CAN be safe places for a child. especially a child in difficulty. All too often, though, they cross the line into creepy intrusiveness—not just with questions, but with attitudes and opinions that were expressed. That happened to one of my daughters as a teenager, who had the Bishopric First Counselor tell her, not in response to her question, but on his own initiative, that a woman should choose death if faced with rape. Aargh! When my daughter told me this, years later (re-emphasizing Jennifer’s point), I wanted to fly back to Maryland and rip the guy’s tongue out with a pair of pliers.
The Church needs to move beyond its obsession with sexual issues and its “purity culture.” By all means, teach children the importance of sexual restraint, but until this can be done in healthy and non-creepy ways, we are better off dropping Bishop’s interviews, even if they are often helpful.
Great post! My teen years were in the 1970’s and the only interviews we had were for temple baptisms. They consisted of a brief talk on the temple and if we felt we were deserving to go. It was pretty straightforward. Fast forward several years and I was married and serving in YW. A stake dance was coming up and the kids had to have an interview to get a dance card. I couldn’t believe it!
I have adult children 25 and 30. It never occurred to me that they were being asked sexually explicit questions on a regular basis by the bishop. After listening to the This American Life episode that covers this unusual rite of passage in LDS life I called my daughter. Yes every interview they were asked if they masturbated and other invasive questions. Apparently with my son it was even more invasive. Ostensibly to check for porn use. I’m still upset with the Church for allowing this and with myself for not being aware. It’s so vastly different from my own teen experience.
It really all depends on what kind of person the bishop is. I’ve had one creepy bishop as an adult and I’m glad that my children were not teens when he was in charge. When I was in a YSA ward and engaged I had a pervert bishop. My dad had been on the high council with this man and had made comments on how uncomfortable it made him to have a church court. He would want way too much detail on sexual transgressions. With this in mind I had to get my temple recommend interview. He pressed me to make sure I was being truthful and was there anything I needed to confess. Was I sure? Maybe I needed to think about it. I had to go back two more times to get the recommend. Honestly he was just waiting with excitement for some kind of “confession “. My attitude was any kind of physical interactions with my fiance were none of his business. I shudder to think of how many students he pushed into confiding things that were personal. I would certainly not want someone like this interviewing.
We need to do away with one on one interviews and asking teens sexually invasive questions.
I have no doubt about your sincerity or hopefulness. However, it’s too large of a leap to take your explanation of how youth disclose abuse, to “the chastity question is perfect for this“.
Being abused does not make one unchaste or unworthy. Being abused happens to someone.
Many within religion seem unable to recognize that, LDS not excluded. “The chastity question” can blame the one being abused.
“The chastity question” itself is inappropriate and too often invasive. It is a form of abuse.
A one-on-one interview between an authority figure and a vulnerable person is not a setting for building a relationship of trust. Especially when the interview is perceived as mandatory.
There is just not a line that connects them.
When my son was a teenager, I told our bishop that I (the father) would teach my son about sexual matters and that he (the bishop) was not to raise the question of masturbation in interviews. The bishop was a good and kind man and did not cause me any concern — I trusted him — but it was the principle of the matter.
I have never been asked an inappropriate question in an interview.
@Jennifer, I think you’d have a different attitude if you had the experience that we all did when we’re 12, sitting in a room alone with a 50+ year old man, asking us if we masturbate and the shame we all dealt with an either answering the question as yes and getting reprimanded or lying and saying no and dealing with the guilt of lying to God’s Judge.
And yes, when the bishop asks the youth about chastity, they do clarify what this means. This always includes masturbation.
The breadcrumb trail you discuss unfortunately turns from “finding abuse” to the child learning about masturbation (which happened to my friend who had a different bishop than I did), discussing the methods that they use for masturbation (read Sam’s testimonials), and everything else that this breadcrumb trail can lead to by leaving an older man alone in a room with a child, discussing sexuality.
Sasso – I don’t believe the chastity question is in-and-of-itself abusive. If it were any conversations about chastity would be abuse. Im a parent and a therapist and I have questions about chastity/sex frequently with young people, but that’s not abuse. If chastity is a requirement in our church – and there is no indication that will ever change – wouldn’t it be cruel to abandon kids to figure that out themselves without support from their church?
Andy – The best criticism of my argument is that I have not experienced this myself. And its true, I’m an outsider to all of this. But I’m not pretending to have experienced it. I’m speaking for the teen who has experienced abuse and needs somewhere to disclose – an experience I know all too well. I am truly sad for those who have had rough experiences with these interviews, and I’ve spent a great deal of time reading their stories, and talking with people about their experiences. But that doesnt change my perspective of looking out for the 1 lost sheep (the child who has been through abuse)….even though it pisses off the 99. I’m okay with that. As a youth I would have given anything to have just a few moments alone with a leader – I would have disclosed (and stopped) my abuse years earlier. Eventually when I did disclose it was in private to a male leader who was willing to ask the probing questions to put my breadcrumb-trail together.
Ji, your life has been blessed indeed, but some of your blessings are as random as the cursed suffering that others have met with. What to do? Heck if I know. But there are many better ways to educate and protect young people than this system. Thanks, Hawk, for the disinfecting light.
My preference, after the fact, would be to have my kids participate in an OWL program, which is sponsored by many churches, and could be adapted (in theory) by wards and stakes. In fact, I would love to have participated in this program myself, starting as a pre-teen. How different my life would be. I can think of very little more loving and useful for myself as a Beehive. (Google “Our Whole Lives”)
There’s another elephant in the room making a big smelly mess whenever this topic comes up, which is Sam Young’s excommunication. For the life of me, I cannot see any offense from him other than publicly pushing against the current party line, which party line was badly in need of changing, and is now, in fact, undergoing (slowly) some of those very changes. Without due credit to Bishop Young’s effort.
That’s a pretty big breach for me.
MDearest – I might have this wrong, but I believe the OWL program (which is well designed and good for what it is) would be incompatible for a church that values chastity and sees heterosexual marriage as the only appropriate place for the full expression of sexuality. You’re not asking for an education change, but a doctrinal one.
An adult male authority figure Calling a girl into his office , then asking the girl sexual questions does not lead to disclosing abuse. It is simply MORE abuse. It is too close to what her abuser is doing to her in content if not intent. It crosses her boundaries, on his initiative not hers. So, it just furthers the abuse trauma. I grew up in the church as an abuse victim, so I have experience that Jennifer, growing up Evangelical does not have. What I needed was leader who had a friend relationship with me, where trust could grow, not an authority figure dragging me into his office and sitting across a desk from me asking me if I followed all the rules and punishing me by withholding the recommend if I didn’t. I needed someone whom I trusted not to judge me, not a religious leader who saw his job as judging me. So, quite frankly, And cruelty blunt, Jennifer doesn’t know what she is talking about. She has her experience of learning to trust a youth leader who saw his job as ministering to the youth, so the comparable position inMormonism is the young women’s leader, not “the judge in Israel.” It is the difference between the school counselor who has worked with this child before, whose job it is to find and solve problems the kids have, and being sent to the principal’s office for doing something wrong.
If the youth initiated the conversation, and the bishop’s job was to help them and never judge them, maybe it would be different. As it is, sexual abuse should be disclosed to legal authorities.
And, yes, my experience when I disclosed to a bishop was for him to tell me that because I was over the age of 8, I was fully accountable. Didn’t matter to him that my father used parental authority to abuse me, or that I had no idea what sex was when he started. I person simply cannot be accountable for what they do not understand.
@Anna 100%. You’ve put that into perspective perfectly. Judge in Israel is not a counselor or a friend.
I truly feel sorry for people that need the Bishop to be the trusted confidant for their children to report abuse. My kids are blessed to have some amazing neighbors, amazing parents of their friends, a super amazing piano teacher who has built trust with my kids, swim team coaches, wonderful school counsellors who both care and are trained to provide help, and countless others they could confide in if they couldn’t talk to family. If the Bishop is your fallback for your kids, I would highly suggest you start building a strong network for your kids. These poor Bishops simply are not trained to deal with sexual abuse.
Weighing the pro that a Bishop may potentially uncover abuse against the cons of exposing kids to sexuality before their time or creating issues with the worthiness culture, I’m 100% on the side that these interviews need to end yesterday.
Chadwick – I hear you, and this is what abuse does. It isolates the child from everything…from family, other adults, all resources. The kid is left believing there is no one to talk to. Sometimes the only hope is official channels. In my case, there was no other possibility than for me to confide in a male church leader, and once I had the chance I was glad to take it. That is the reality of abuse victims.
I’m glad your children are growing up differently.
And, its true, Bishops are not trained in how to deal with child abuse, and they are certainly not therapists. But they are skilled in answering the spiritual questions that come after abuse….”Why did God allow this?” or “Doe God even care that this happened to me?” Having those questions answered by someone who represents God is a specific kind of healing. Its not the same as therapy, but a therapist can’t do what a bishop can do in this regard.
I am genuinely curious to know how many Bishop’s interviews have led to discovering abuse. Is this a large number? If it saves one kid from getting abused, is it worth the damage it is causing to other people?
Another serious question, if I go in with my kids, is it going to be whispered that there is a chance I am abusing my kids and going in to make sure they don’t rat me out?
I don’t know Jennifer, but she is friends with a lot of people I am friends with on Facebook, so I get to see other things that she thinks and writes about. She seems like someone I would love to have in my ward and seems like a great person. I like that she came on here to speak her mind and am a little upset that people are going after her a little bit. There are good things that can come out of interviews and I appreciate that she is willing to jump into this discussion.
Zach – thank you for the kind words about me as a person. 🙂
I welcome any serious engagement with this question, even when folks disagree. I found this W&T post to be a fair attempt to understand what I was saying. I dont mind if people disagree. And when they go low and attack my character just for having a different opinion its pretty easy for me to disregard their thoughts.
@zach fwiw I’ve not seen anyone personally attack Jennifer on this forum? Most of this discussion has been about her ideas / position / arguments (which is totally appropriate) and there have been a few comments pointing out that her background gives her blind spots (also seems appropriate and not a personal attack). Disagreeing with her ideas isn’t attacking and I imagine she knew what she signed up for when she took a public stance on an issue that people feel pretty strongly about.
And hi Jennifer, it’s nice you came to listen and share, truly.
Zach: “Another serious question, if I go in with my kids, is it going to be whispered that there is a chance I am abusing my kids and going in to make sure they don’t rat me out?” I totally have wondered the same thing.
Jennifer: Thank you so much for joining the discussion!
Everyone: I can attest that Jennifer is lovely, willing to discuss open-minded ideas, and not fazed by disagreement with her own ideas. IMO, the discussion is the valuable part. Agreement is optional.
Jennifer, you are correct. In my overly optimistic theorizing, I forgot that the church can’t/won’t accept the human holiness of LGBTQ folks in the same way as cis-het folks. The current OWL accepts that there will always be LGBTQ pre- and post- teens who need education to prepare to safely manage their sexuality, and that conducting this learning prep in the presence of the cis-het kids normalizes their healthy sexuality. This principle similarly applies to conducting healthy sexuality education prep for both male and female (cis-het) in each other’s presence which teaches as normal the perspectives of others.
Regarding the way chastity is taught by the church, in my opinion the OWL program has a much more pragmatic application of the atonement, teaching the young individuals to wait until they are ready to meet their responsibilities to themselves and their partner (which have been thoroughly covered,) and taking a forgiving approach to repairing problems that arise that aren’t prevented by the education. By contrast, the church teachers complete abstinence until marriage and not much else, leaving practical matters mostly to parents (and schools), but teaching relentlessly any problems which arise are a sin next to murder, and any consequences which result are permanent and not ever fully repaired.
So yeah, the church would not sponsor OWL without removing significant parts of it.
MDearest – I know this is getting a bit off topic, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on healthier ways to teach chastity. I don’t think the requirement for heteronormative chastity will ever change (or if it does, it won’t be in our lifetimes)….so if that is the reality for members of the church, how do we teach it in healthy ways? I absolutely believe it can, but would love to hear your thoughts.
A few years ago I was serving in the YM, the YM President had the idea of inviting all the YW to her house for a standards night. I liked how she approached the topic. She worked as a nurse in the ER and talked to the girls not just about what the church says about chastity but also discussed some of the health benefits of waiting until marriage to have sex, such as avoiding STDs etc. I thought it was a very good discussion, very frank, not typically what happens at church–but very important information.
BTW when my children were taught maturation and sexuality in health class in junior high, their health teacher also encouraged them to not have sex until they had found a marriage partner. (This was a school on the east coast).
My apologies if I’ve come off as attacking you, I really appreciate you stepping into the hotseat to explain your side. I have extremely strong opinions on this topic. Before I turned 12 I was told by my parents that the bishop would talk with me about masturbation and other things, which did happen.
Now that I’m older, I find it completely disgusting that I was being prepared by my parents to talk to an adult, alone, about this and everyone was completely on board with this. I feel like I was being groomed by my parents to allow and accept whatever filth a bishop wanted to ask. I find this completely abnormal that children are being talked to like this and will do what I can to confront it and not let it happen to my child while still leaving the door open to allow them to talk to a leader that they feel comfortable with if they had issues that they want to talk about.
I’m sorry to hear your story but unfortunately I’ve heard many other stories that started in the bishop’s office. So I feel like this isn’t a good solution and would like to hear from other experts about training for youth leaders on how to build relationships and how to spot abuse.
Andy – thank you for sharing your experience. Before I go into analytic mode I want you to know that I hear the pain and difficulty in it. And I think you’re brave for sharing your heart and experience.
For me, the question becomes a very practical one…..If the church is going to have the expectation that teens (and adults) act only with chastity, how should it offer support around this expectation?
The question of, “Should the church require chastity?” is an entirely different question.
I could be reading you entirely wrong – and please correct me if I am – but it seems like you’re saying that the church was wrong to offer support on these issues at all. But chastity is the expectation. Should the church give this heavy expectation and then never give space for kids to talk about it? That feels like a very cruel kind of abandonment. In my thinking, high-expectations requires high-support.
As far as how to spot abuse, if you listened to may talk you know that the vast majority (75%) of disclosures of abuse by teenagers happen by accident – that is, the kid says something that the adult realizes doesn’t make sense, and the adult probes for an explanation. That’s how abuse is spotted. If you want adults (bishops, YW or YM leaders, teachers, doctors, anyone) to spot abuse, you have to accept that they are going to be asking probing questions. Even the 25 % of teenagers who willingly report abuse do it in a way that the adult is going to have to do some probing – this group of teens “breadcrumb” their way into tell…..they give one little piece of information and wait to see what the adult does with it. Adults who care for kids have to be given room to ask some really difficult follow up questions – knowing sometimes they’re going to be getting it wrong. The adult may end up looking like they’re being abusive (or at least trying to gain information for their own titillations) when really they’re just following the trail the kid is taking them on. This is a real risk for the kid who isnt actually being abused – they might get asked some follow up questions they find disturbing. But the actual kid who is being abused NEEDS those questions to be asked. Do you see the difficulty here? We want adults to spot abuse – but don’t want to give them the freedom to do so.
I appreciate the discussion. It’s boiling down to a few simple concepts for me – and I would guess for many of the W&T regulars:
1 – Is it fair and right for me to be OK with a system that puts all youth – including my own children and grandchildren – in this awful situation of Bishop’s chastity interviews – to subject them to very real potential harms – just because the system may uncover some abuse? If it were my own sensibilities at stake, I could make an informed judgment. But I don’t feel I have the right to give my consent with other’s lives.
2 – If a family has the awareness to think through and be concerned about #1, they can certainly muster the ability to find alternative ways to recognize the breadcrumbs and get appropriate help.
2.1 – The bishops aren’t trained to find the breadcrumbs – most would need to be bashed with a baguette to have a clue.
3 – I think the consensus here on W&T (certainly not everyone) is that chastity as taught by the church is inappropriate. We have no problem with this requiring a doctrinal change.
4 – And we would disagree with the concept that the bishop “is someone that represents God” in a real way in this context.
Jennifer’s logic is correct: If ABC is ordained of God, then one must accept the XYZ practices that follow. I just don’t buy that much of ABC originates with God. For me – the foundation for ABC is shaky at best and is controlling, manipulative, and abuse at worst.
Whatever the purposes are for youth interviews, they DO NOT include uncovering abuse. That might happen ever so rarely, but that is not any part of the purpose.
Been There – I appreciate your forthright response. I suspect that most differences between us come down to this….I’m coming from a place of focusing on living within the church’s doctrine; and you are coming from a place of wanting to reform it. I love a good reformation, so I say that with much kindness and warmth.
I would add another dimension or two. There are nuances that Jennifer may not recognize. To me it appears that she equates a bishop’s interview with an interview a child might have done at the children’s justice center after abuse has been suspected, where a trained professional provides a nurturing space for the child to tell what happened in their own way. Jennifer’s view of a bishop’s interview has felt somewhat idealized.
As has been pointed out, bishop’s interviews in previous generations were called birthday interviews. They were largely a friendly chat. They somehow evolved to become “worthiness” interviews. The chastity question is not asking if anything bad has happened to the youth, it is asking if the youth has done anything bad. It doesn’t take much imagination to recognize that a manipulative abuser can twist things so that the youth feels responsible for what was done to them. Bishops’ skill and compassion levels vary greatly.
For anyone unfamiliar with it, the Salt Lake Tribune’s series on sexual assault at several universities in Utah is worth reading, to help understand a more comprehensive picture. They were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for their reporting. Particularly notable for this discussion is the interaction of the Honor Code Office at BYU with their Title IX Office, with BYU police, and with the Provo police. The collaboration between the HCO and both police forces was particularly chilling. Victim blaming is a fair description. They have made some reforms, but large authoritarian loopholes remain.
The church overseeing BYU affairs is the same church asking the chastity question.
You are spot on about the evolution in interviews — but officially, they were never changed to worthiness interviews — any change has been unofficial. They were always supposed to be helpful interactions, and bishops were supposed to listen more than speak. They were not supposed to be worthiness or temple recommend interviews. But unofficially, in our culture (or in some parts of our culture), they may have turned into worthiness interviews.
I always objected to calling them worthiness interviews — I insisted on using handbook language of annual or semi-annual interviews. Now, since the June 20, 2018, letter, they are called youth interviews.
If everyone who reads this blog will stop calling them worthiness interviews, and will correct others who call them worthiness interviews, then some progress will be achieved.
Ji–What about the changes in youth temple recommends? I never had an interview to get a temple recommend for baptisms at the temple. My name was just put on a group recommend and I’m pretty sure all that it verified was that I was a baptized member and that I’d turned 12. That’s it. The temple recommend interviews (even for children as young as 8 when there’s a temple dedication) began at some point. When? Why?