Private Ecclesiastical Interviews for Children Are Abusive and Must Stop

TW: Sexual abuse, ecclesiastical abuse
man-and-woman-job-interviewThis morning the LDS Newsroom released a statement regarding its effectiveness of preventing child sexual abuse.

The statement includes:

“The Church has long had a highly effective approach for preventing and responding to abuse. In fact, no religious organization has done more. Although no one system is perfect and no single program will work with every organization, the Church’s approach is the gold standard.”

My initial reaction on reading this is surprise at the willful ignorance of how other churches in the United States operate. Based on my own experience attending the local congregation of the United Church of Christ (UCC), I found that other churches do background checks (not required for LDS leaders of children outside Boy Scouts) and hire professional childcare workers to watch over children. There is an outdoor playground structure with visibility. Furthermore, there is a corner of the sanctuary/chapel with beanbags, books, and crayons so that parents can have their children with them at all times. Not only is this safer, but it’s more welcoming to families like mine with small children.

But digging deeper into the assertion that the LDS Church has the “gold standard” on preventing abuse, I have to stand in amazement at the chutzpah in stating so. Take into account one common practice: closed-door interviews between untrained, lay clergy and children as young as eight years old. In my LDS upbringing in Utah, these “chastity interviews.” as they were called by my bishopric, were conducted every six months between the ages of 12 and 18. I and my fellow youth were interviewed by the bishop or one of his counselors about our adherence to the law of chastity. The leader may feel inclined to define chastity further in these interviews and question the youth about genital exploration or self-arousal and romantic and sexual practices with others. This created a norm beginning in the sixth grade for children to talk to untrained older men about sexual practices, a type of behavior that is grooming the child for abuse.

This predatory grooming behavior of interviewing children about sex behind closed doors is alarming. Minors (age 18 and under in Utah) cannot legally consent to sex. Because all sexual relations under the age of 18 are defined as non-consensual under the law, chastity interviews are completely inappropriate screenings of the sexual experiences of children. They are also ineffective for detecting any sexual abuse experienced by the child interviewed as they violate protocol for how trained professionals interview children where suspected abuse has taken place, including side-by-side positioning and placing the child in a higher position than the interviewer. The clergy member, attired in business uniform and sitting across a desk creates a physical position of power, which can convey a feeling of shame to the interviewee, even one who has very little sexual experience to discuss with this lay leader.

If we are serious about protecting children from abuse, we must stop all private interviews of minors by lay clergy behind closed doors. As members, we must demand that the Church stop interviewing children about their inherently non-consensual sexual experiences and mandating repentance. This is abuse in itself, which means that every child member who has been asked about sex/chastity/virtue/masturbation alone behind closed doors by untrained lay clergy has been a victim of both ecclesiastical and sexual abuse due to the questions asked, the power dynamic at play, the age of the child and legal definitions of age of consent, and the public and social consequences of not submitting to interviews, including missing out on youth temple trips and social events requiring these interviews and a limited use temple recommend. The majority of our teenage children are victims of this common practice, as are many adults who were children of record who experienced this as legal minors.

As I reflect on my own experiences in light of this morning’s statement, I’m nothing but sick considering the scale and harm of this practice.

 

Alisa

Alisa is a professional adult educator and corporate manager who enjoys spending time with her husband and son.

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173 Responses

  1. Seriana says:

    Brava, Alisa. This is a deeply weird and potentially extremely harmful cultural practice.

  2. Rachel says:

    Thank you for writing (and sharing) this. Your words are important.

  3. Kendahl says:

    THIS. YES, thank you.

  4. Michael says:

    Amen. Thank you for saying what needs to be said.

  5. Dovie says:

    Brings the hammer. This. So much this. We can’t see if we can’t say it. Thank you for saying it.

  6. Carole says:

    I agree completely. This has to change.

  7. Tim says:

    As long as LDS parents are expected to send their children and teens to 1 on 1 meetings with old men behind closed doors where they discuss topics like sex and masturbation, the LDS church will remain complicit in grooming children for sexual predators. Our kids are conditioned to overlook their own discomfort and unease by discussing these topics with an untrained, often charismatic male authority figure, desensitizing them to their own natural safety instincts.

  8. Jason says:

    I have heard this argument many times and maybe I’m thick or too trusting but I just don’t fully understand the rational of not having interviews. Too me this sounds too much like cultural grooming to live up to the standard of the world and not to the standard of God. As a member of a bishopric and having to do interviews with youth I am very careful of how I approach the chastity topic. The rational being used denies the importance of following the direction of our priesthood leaders and personal revelation. I don’t believe in following blindly but know for myself the importance of having these types of interviews. If parents object, we will make accommodations and we have done so in our bishopric. To me, it comes down to whether I have faith and believe that the leadership of this church is inspired and that if I follow the direction given in my training and in the church handbooks, these interviews can be safe and beneficial for all involved.

    • Cruelest Month says:

      Faith in leadership did not work out well for my ward in Punta Arenas Chile where primary children were sexually molested by the bishop.

    • sister survivor says:

      maybe I’m thick or too trusting but I just don’t fully understand the rational of not having interviews.

      Seems like that’s likely true. Perhaps you can work harder to see things from some perspective other than your own.

      To me, it comes down to whether I have faith and believe that the leadership of this church is inspired and that if I follow the direction given in my training and in the church handbooks, these interviews can be safe and beneficial for all involved.

      If you have that much faith, then you won’t be bothered when things are changed to avoid even the very appearance of evil, because having an adult man shut alone in a room with a pubescent girl just doesn’t look right,–especially when those same pubescent girls are told they have to wear t-shirts and shorts over their swimming suits at girls’ camps so the very same men interviewing them alone won’t be aroused by their bare skin.

      Creepy, creepy, creepy. Super, super GROSS.

    • Barbara says:

      The “can” be safe, but how do we know? How can you know that every person conducting these interviews does them in the same way? I conduct such similar interviews when it comes to abuse and I have spent years studying how to conduct proper interviews, knowing how my words will affect children, what words not to say. You are untrained and should not be having this conversations with children. It makes them think that it’s okay to talk to an untrained stranger about sex, which can then lead to abuse by a stranger.

    • Alisa says:

      Thank you for commenting, Jason. I hope that through reading the experiences of others here you will see why these interviews place the church and its members in a vulnerable place, and that it would be wise to incorporate the best practice of two-deep leadership going forward.

    • Debra says:

      Jason, school teachers, medical doctors, and others are prohibited by ethical standards and in many cases law, from conducting personal interviews (in the case of medical doctors, including exams) with girls and even adult women, alone with them. It is known and understood and respected that there is a power differential, that places the person being interviewed/examined in a vulnerable situation. it is known to be a set up for abuse. It is known that discussions of such topics is a boundary violation, and that this boundary violation needs to be minimized and the interviewee protected.

      In a medical context, even adult women have a second person in the room during an exam.

      the fact that the church ignores these standards of protection is just creepy and wrong, and in my opinion, an expression of the presumptions of patriarchy.

    • kimballthenom says:

      Does “the world” use untrained men to hold private interviews with children behind closed doors to ask them if they are living up to its standards in their sexual conduct?

      Didn’t think so.

    • Anna says:

      I worked as a social worker for several years in Utah with adults who had been molested as children. Three of my clients were touched inappropriately during these worthiness interviews. In that situation, this is sexual abuse, even if the bishop/counselor didn’t think it was. One client reported that the bishop was trying to show her where boys were not supposed to touch her, by touching her there! She was confused, but thought it must be alright because it was the bishop and he was just trying to teach her.

      This kind of interviewing needs to end. A young woman should never be alone behind a closed door with an adult male she hardly knows.

      And if the church was serious about preventing abuse, they would be teaching children not to let anyone touch them where their swim suit covers unless their mom or dad is there and it is a doctor. The children need to be warned about any kind of touching that is uncomfortable, even if it their father or grandfather. If it makes them uncomfortable or scares them, they need to be taught to talk to a trusted adult about it. As the children get older, the training can expand to cover date rape and dating violence and as Laurals, we could even teach them that there is such a thing as marital rape and domestic violence.

      • Rose says:

        I think it makes sense that the same rule should apply to teenage boys, as there is the same risk.

      • Jess says:

        Anna, I completely agree! If I had been informed about these safety issues, or had an appropriate forum for talking about them as an older teenager, it would have saved me from an abusive marriage. Instead, I was taught to marry a returned missionary and I wouldn’t be saved unless I was married. Soooo sad.

    • ThatOneThere says:

      My uncle was a known child molester, but was protected by his family and the church because he “repented”. He eventually became a bishop. Who knows what went on behind closed doors with young children during his tenure. His ward was never made aware of his past transgressions. Scary.

    • b0yd says:

      No. They’re not inspired. And people with your attitude are a danger to children

    • Ethan says:

      ^ Congratulations, Jason, on justifying your grooming behaviors and that as long as we “just believe,” everything will be okay. You’re part of the problem, man! How can you not see that?

      Your church leadership is NOT inspired and the directions given are often wrong (see: history). That includes those are the lowest and highest levels – not to mention all those in between.

    • Rebecca says:

      Jason could you expound on what accomodations were made. I’m truly curios because I’m trying to come to a resolution with my own bishop interviewing my 12 yr old daughter.

      • Marguerite Hart says:

        I just don’t see how a any private interview between an adult man and an underage girl is appropriate. If I had had a daughter I would not have allowed this, period! I have been a member for 35 years and was told right from the beginning that a male member should never be alone with a female member if they are not related, it was “unseemly” and could be misconstrued. So how does that rule change just because the female is underage?

      • Rebecca says:

        I agree and that’s why I have refused to let my daughter be interviewed one on one. If others have made accomadations I would like to know what those were and take those stories and ideas back to my bishop. I’m doing what I feel is right and the consequence is that my daughter is currently not allowed her temple recommend.

  9. Lee Ann says:

    I won’t let my daughter behind closed doors to have the liberty to excercise his priesthood to explore chastity, masturbating, etc. Not right. Very creepy.

    • Jason says:

      That is not the primary purpose of these interviews. And if you think that the priesthood leader is there to explore chastity with the youth, you don’t understand the purpose of these interviews. Our instruction has been to not ask questions that may cause a youth to question or explore sexuality.

      • sister survivor says:

        Dude. They’re often called worthiness interviews, and one of the primary ways worthiness is determined in the LDS church is through obedience of the law of chastity.

        If so many people fail to “understand the purpose of these interviews,” perhaps the people conducting them are doing it wrong.

      • Emily says:

        When I requested to sit in with my 12-year old son during a bishop’s interview (b/c my son was uncomfortable being alone), he responded that I could sit in…until the end, when he would need to ask me to leave so he could discuss masturbation and other matters. (*Face palm!*)

      • Cherie says:

        Emily, really? Wha???? I grew up in the church and was never ONCE asked about any of that. I was asked if I kept the law of chastity. But that was about it. They never went into weird questions.

      • Nancy says:

        Never once was I asked anything inappropriate or uncomfortable during Bishop interviews and I’ve had many many Bishops throughout my lifetime. I suspect a few Of the Bishops I’m hearing about have not read nor understand their roll and responsibility. There are those who, it would seem, make up their own rules. This is not, by any stretch, the norm.

      • Alisa says:

        I too didn’t have bad leadership, but even though I was chaste I felt weird talking to a grown man privately about sexual laws and chastity when I hadn’t even started my period yet. I interpreted this discomfort as a vague indictment on my own character. So the very act of being asked sexual questions by a much older man I didn’t know was harmful to me–I took something away that was shameful. I would like to help children avoid that experience in the future.

      • Rose says:

        I respectfully think that you have more faith in your fellow priesthood holders than is safe.

      • @intorainbowz says:

        You seem to be ignoring those here who ARE saying inappropriate things happen in these interviews. Please listen to people who had a different experience than you. Our stories and experiences are as valid as yours.

      • ThatOneThere says:

        I was always asked about masturbation in my worthiness interviews, growing up in Utah. We’re not raising our children in the church now, maybe things have changed since then.

  10. Em says:

    I think a big part of the concern is the norm for these interviews to happen one on one. Sure a parent could insist on coming, if the parent even knows the interview is happening which they may not. I remember being asked to describe in very specific detail any experiences I had, not because my leaders were pervs but because they felt it was their duty to do so. In retrospect, it was inappropriate. It also set up this situation where even though I was deeply uncomfortable talking about it I was expected to describe my sexual experiences to an older man I scarcely knew. This made me more vulnerable if other (less righteous) older men pressured me to cross my comfort boundaries.

    Professional training, background checks, transparency about what the interview is supposed to be about (and what questions are NOT mandated by the handbook) and parental presence would all be ways of addressing the problem while still maintaining that the temple requires certain behavior to enter it. This isn’t about abandoning chastity as a standard. It is about changing how we approach questions of worthiness so we don’t put kids at risk unintentionally.

    • Rachel says:

      Or perhaps a trusted Young Woman’s leader or Young Men’s leader, if the youth is uncomfortable with her or his parent there. And I agree that knowing exactly what questions are mandated and which are not would be very helpful.

      • Andrew R. says:

        So that not one person, but two people, get to hear any confession.

        This entire thread, and the OP, leave me wondering, as with other posts and threads here, why you stay in such an abusive Church?

        I have never had a Bishopric member explore my sexual experiences. I did have a YM president (not so trusted) spend many priesthood lessons talking about how we should not masturbate.

        I don’t believe there should be a need to ask about specifics, I do believe it might be that someone would want to talk about them to be sure in their mind. Wet dreams, being aroused but not doing anything, etc. are situations youth need to understand are normal and should feel no guilt about. Sometimes talking to a priesthood leader is easier than a parent – maybe as uncomfortable, but not leading to further questions or scrutiny – as can happen with parents.

        I believe the simplest way of exploring the question of Chastity is to use “For the Strength of Youth” as the words you use.

        To simply stop worthiness interviews until 18 would lead to many more problems than the ones we have currently.

        I have 6 daughters to my knowledge, and we are fairly open when it comes to discussing these types of things, none has ever been asked exploratory questions.

      • Alisa says:

        Em and Rachel, these are both easy, no-brainer implementations that would significantly decrease the liability the Church is currently open to and would allow children some protection. I hope it becomes the norm soon, although I also don’t know why the Church would want to know about the illicit sexual practices of minors in the first place–seems that puts them in a legal bind and would be better to not interview people before the age of legal sexual consent.

      • Brian says:

        @ Andrew R.
        “To simply stop worthiness interviews until 18 would lead to many more problems than the ones we currently have.”

        Huh?? Says who? I’m raising two boys who are kind, involved in their community, help others without being asked, excellent at school, give meaningful service, respect others and contribute in positive ways to society. They are not LDS, and don’t particularly want to be, and they do not need private interviews with some pretended religious authority to turn into good men. They need active involvement with their parents to teach them good principles. Your leaders are not going to solve “more problems” that don’t actually exist.

  11. Lisa says:

    Yes. So much YES.

  12. Heather B from SC says:

    When I suggested this in our ward, (the old bishop used to do it, the new one, no.) I got labeled a radical, patted on the head, and discredited. When I said that for MY children it would be happening, I say in one interview, and then got told I sn’ supporting my leaders.

    • Alisa says:

      This is why 1:1 interviews need to go away. It’s not appropriate, and depending on leadership roulette, it puts too much on the child and parent to navigate the current norm.

    • Joni says:

      I think, by sitting in on your kids’ interviews, you are doing your leadership a favor.

      Can we assume that the “adults are never alone with children” rule cited in the press release is codified in Handbook 1? (I’m not allowed to read it; I’m just guessing.) If so, then the only reason this important rule would be overlooked is that the bishopric is already spread pretty thin, and rounding up a second adult to satisfy the “two-deep” rule may be difficult. As the parent of the child being interviewed, you are already present, and presmably didn’t have anywhere else you needed to be during that time, so it’s actually incredibly helpful to take the place of that second adult.

  13. Heather B from SC says:

    *sat

  14. Martine says:

    Do I have faith and believe the leadership of this church is inspired? Mostly, no. And I won’t take a chance that I might get the one or two who are. Too much abuse of authority. Too much believing that “every calling comes from God–as my stake president is fond of repeating–so, of course, bad stuff couldn’t be happening, or very, very rarely. It happens. It happens a lot. And the church doesn’t deal appropriately with abuse. Too often the abuser, be it a bishop, father, brother, bishop’s son, cousin, is given a slap on the wrist and goes on, including serving missions. Stop the interviews under the current conditions.

    There’s no background check for anyone working with youth except sounds and only because BSA requires it.

    • Alisa says:

      In the cases where abuse unfortunately happens by a church leader, it is magnified by the element of spiritual abuse that coincides with it–that the abuser is a stand-in for God, or that God put that leader there for that child. This is why it’s so vitally important to decrease the opportunity for abuses like this to happen in the church.

  15. Richard Redick says:

    I have instructed my children to tell the person interviewing them that if the interviewer asks anything beyond “do you live the law of chastity,” they are to remind the interviewer, “In that area, you may only ask me if I live the law of chastity.” If the bishop or other leader persists in asking deeper, my child is to answer, “This interview is over. My dad says that is none of your damn business, and you can take this up with him. You had better have YOUR ANSWERs ready, for I promise you will hear from him!”

    • Alisa says:

      You’re smart. I think this is wise advice for any parent to give a child about inappropriate questions a church leader, teacher, scout leader, coach, or any other authority figure may ask. Good work teaching your kids healthy boundaries as a way to protect them.

  16. L. Bush says:

    I was sexually abused by an older brother when I was 9 years old. When I went into YW at age 12, I was taught that all sexual sin had to be confessed to the bishop to be considered morally clean. Because I was over the age of accountability when the abuse happened, I thought that somehow it must have been my fault. My dad was also in the bishopric and I was sure the bishop would tell him if I confessed and my dad would kick then my brother out of the house. I would then be responsible for breaking up our family.

    I was terrified but so glad to finally “confess” this horrible sin to my BYU bishop in a temple recommend interview prior to getting married. I had carried the burden for so long and I desperately wanted to be forgiven so I could be pure and qualify in every way to begin this new life with my husband as we were married in the temple.

    The bishop asked me “Are you morally clean?” With my voice trembling I told the bishop what had happened to me. The bishop’s first angry words to me were “Why did you lie to your home ward’s bishop when he asked if you were morally clean?!” I sputtered my fears about my dad being in the bishopric, my family breaking up because of me etc. He then accusingly asked “Have you forgiven your brother?” I had never previously in my life even said the words out loud, let alone considered if I’d forgiven my abuser, I hadn’t yet processed any of it. I told him I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d forgiven him. He then said “I’ll sign your recommend if you PROMISE me that you will forgive your brother.” I was getting married in two weeks, what else could I do except to say ok, I would try to forgive.

    On my wedding day I knew I hadn’t yet forgiven my brother so I still felt unworthy and like I was defiling the temple by my presence there. I had felt the same unworthiness as I was forced to lie in answering the same temple recommend question “Are you morally clean?” throughout my youth so I could go to baptisms for the dead. Each time I felt my very presence was defiling the temple and driving out the spirit on every youth temple trip and now the same was happening on my wedding day. It was devastating.

    I received no absolution from that BYU bishop but, instead, I was accused and condemned for having experienced childhood sexual abuse at 9 years old. The bishop didn’t say the abuse wasn’t my fault nor did he give me the resources to process the abuse. The sexual abuse what bad enough in it’s own right, it was then compounded by the ecclesiastical abuse.

    NO ONE should feel that way and I’m still dealing with the ramifications.

    • Deborah Jones says:

      I know that we will probably never meet; however, I want to thank you for your courage and candor! My heart aches for you! I hope that you have found health and healing! You completely articulated the point that in the hands of untrained leaders, abuse becomes more devastating and harmful. Would you one day consider writing and sharing how you overcame this? If this would not open old wounds, I know many including me would be blessed. Take care!

    • Ziff says:

      I’m so sorry, L. Bush. That’s truly awful, that you felt you had to keep the fact that you were abused a secret to protect your brother, and then that your bishop’s only concern was to have you forgive him. That’s just horrifying!

    • Jenny says:

      Thank you for sharing. Just when I think nothing else done by leaders in this church could surprise me, I hear a story like yours. My heart aches for you as a young girl and what you had to work through on your own. I second the idea of writing your story if you feel up to it, and send it in as a guest post.

    • Alisa says:

      When I read this last night before going to bed, my heart sank. I can see how this has rippled through your life and has been coupled with rituals. Once these mesh together, it’s extremely difficult to tease out the abuse from the rest of it. They become intertwined. This is why spiritual abuse on top of sexual or any other type of abuse contributes to a special kind of gaslighting that has lifetime impacts.

      Thank you for sharing your heartbreaking story here to illustrate the points. You are brave and wise, and I’m so sorry that these very wrong and harmful experiences happened to you. I hope that as you speak your truths and tell your story you come to find more peace and more nurturing for yourself.

    • Recovering Mormon says:

      I just typed up a huge reply to this, and my phone deleted it. So here we go again:

      Our experiences are surprisingly similar, except I was six, and believed that when I was baptized, all the feelings of shame and dirtiness would magically go away and I would feel forgiven and refreshed. (Surprise — didn’t work like that).

      I never told anybody anything until my first worthiness interview when I was twelve, which I honestly can’t remember most of, beyond the bishop asking me an explicit and specific question about the abuse, and feeling sick and crying. I thought I would leave the interview magically feeling clean and forgiven and know that all was well.

      Surprise — didn’t happen like that. I was instead ashamed, and felt sick every time I saw the bishop, and was terrified he would tell my dad — the second counselor at the time. I avoided all worthiness interviews from then on, and left the church when I was fourteen.

      It wasn’t until I was eighteen that I was able to realize I didn’t need to be forgiven, since what happened happened TO me. I didn’t learn to love myself and shake off those feelings of shame and unworthiness until I left the church.

      The idea of one on one interviews makes me really uncomfortable. Not necessarily because I’m afraid of bishops being the initial abusers, but because the way people in the church view and handle anything regarding sexuality just exacerbates the shame and confusion any vulnerable child might feel. The very concept that an abused child needs to be forgiven by God for the things that has happened is ridiculous, and whether or not they need to forgive the abuser is something they should be talking to a therapist about.

      • Alisa says:

        Thank you for sharing your experiences. And wow, I am so devastated to read about this and the shaming you experienced after the abuse you survived.

  17. DaddyB says:

    I can understand this type of article coming from an outsider who has not raised their hand to sustain the leadership of apostles and prophets to make general policy in the church, but to hear this call to “demand” a change in church policy from someone who claims to be an active member is appalling.

    Do you believe Jesus Christ is at the head of this church or not? If so, are you aware that general policies are not made by political influence from the masses? Where do you get the idea that you are more entitled to revelation from God on this issue than the 15 men God has appointed with this stewardship?

    If this issue is as important as you insist, would it not be just as important to Jesus? Do you really think that Jesus is not able to influence his ordained prophets to make such a change? Please understand that you are not just rebelling here against prophets and apostles, but Jesus Christ himself, assuming of course that you believe this is Christ’s church.

    • nrc42 says:

      So how many cases of child abuse as a result of Church policy do you think Christ finds acceptable, exactly?

    • s says:

      Wow. Since when did the leadership of the church become infallible? Daddy B, do you really hear what you’re saying? I wonder if you’d be saying these things if you’d ever been abused by someone you trusted, someone in authority over you. Someone you’d been taught your whole life was speaking for Jesus. It hasn’t happened to me. But it has happened to many who were taught the very things you’ve stated here. As a mother of 5, I trusted church leaders. I didn’t ask questions. Our kids, as far as I know, were not physically abused by church authorities. But the guilt heaped on to kids through these confessional interviews is a form of emotional abuse. If I had it to do over, no private interviews. But I can only speak up now for my grandchildren.

    • Ziff says:

      I can understand this type of objection from a fundamentalist, but from someone who claims to have voted against Satan’s plan, it is appalling. Drop your condescension and open your eyes. Just because you wish for the Church to be perfect does not make it so.

    • Abby says:

      DaddyB, Have you read any of the above comments? That might explain the concerns. If you believe no one should ever ask for change in policy or request revelation from the leadership of the church, then you clearly don’t know D&C or Church History. I suggest you review it to help you.

    • sister survivor says:

      Where do you get the idea that you are more entitled to revelation from God on this issue than the 15 men God has appointed with this stewardship?

      Your comment is like that story about the people sitting on their roof during a flood and praying for God to rescue them. A neighbor comes by in a rowboat, the police come by in a motorboat, the national guard comes by with a helicopter. And the person just sits there, saying, “I know God will rescue me.”

      So then the water gets really high, and the person says, “OK, God! I need your help. If you don’t rescue me, I’m going to drown.”

      And God says, “I sent you a rowboat, a motorboat and a helicopter. What more do you want?”

      Why would revelation from God be required to fix this very serious problem when common sense is enough to help one think of all sorts of very practical, very solid, very easy-to-implement solutions? How do you know that a post like this one isn’t an answer to the brethren’s prayers?

      You might try being grateful that someone offers straight-forward suggestions that will, in the long run, protect both the church as an institution and its members as individuals, instead of sitting on the roof and rejecting efforts to save people from drowning.

    • Heather Sather says:

      DaddyB, shame on you! So you believe Jesus supported my bishop asking me, when I was 13, if I ever used a coke bottle to masterbate? WWJD?

      • DaddyB says:

        Heather, you misunderstood my point. I am saying that Jesus supports the policy or he would have changed it. No matter what policy is in place, it is administered by imperfect people. Just because a bishop makes an error in judgement, does not mean that every policy he was following at the time is uninspired.

      • nrc42 says:

        That’s… Not how it works, DaddyB. There have never been any claims that all policies came directly from Jesus.

        If the system needs perfect leaders to avoid these sorts of problems, or if the system is based around the assumption of ideal circumstances, the system itself is neither perfect nor ideal.

    • Alisa says:

      /Mod/ Review our comment policy. DaddyB, I understand you feel strongly about this, but like Jason above who also disagrees, you should stick to your own experiences and testimony. You don’t have stewardship to ask me the questions you did–that isn’t the proper spiritual boundary the Lord set. I’m sure you see the irony in trying to set up a spiritual stewardship over me against the Lord’s organization while claiming you are supporting the Lord’s way of setting up the organization? Check yourself and your stewardship and look to yourself first.

      Furthermore, this is not doctrine or policy. It is merely a practice. A parent, another bishopric counselor, or trusted leader could easily accompany a child in an interview without changing anything in scripture. It wouldn’t take a major revelation to do so. And while my suggestions to end private interviews protect members and children, they also protect the Church. Everyone wins when we examine the costs and the benefits and decide to go with best practices for leader-child interactions.

    • sister survivor says:

      I am saying that Jesus supports the policy or he would have changed it.

      That’s really out of character for a guy who said that anyone who offends a child would be better off if they had had a millstone placed around their neck and been drowned in the depths of the sea.

      Jesus made clear that the well-being of children was far more important than adherence to policies and procedures–that was his part of his beef with pharisees and their rigid loyalty to the letter of the law.

      Just out of curiosity, when did Jesus make you his spokesman? I do think the 15 would be interested in knowing there’s someone who feels entitled to announce exactly what Jesus does and does not approve of now.

    • Joni says:

      Nothing about this is demanding a change in Church policy.

      The Church ALREADY HAS a two-deep policy preventing adults from being alone with minors.

      It was in the Newsroom release which was first printed in 2010 and accidentally re-released yesterday.

      • nrc42 says:

        I’d love to see a source for that. The only policy I can find only applies to male teachers. In my ward, most of the Primary classes are taught by individual women, not pairs.

    • MrSelatcia says:

      “Do you believe Jesus Christ is at the head of this church or not? If so, are you aware that general policies are not made by political influence from the masses?”

      LOL

      The priesthood ban on blacks was lifted specifically because of political influence from the masses and a pending case heading to the supreme court. See Bob Jones University v. United States. See also the many Universities that refused to play against BYU at the time for this very reason. Suddenly God changed his mind in the midst of all this and all was forgiven. How short the memories are of the true believer.

      Further, any parent would have a hard time allowing full access to their child to anybody that didn’t have the absolute trust of the parent. Just because some stake president has a warm fuzzy about who to call to be the leader of the ward doesn’t mean I automatically have to submit my child to them. “Inspired” or not, my child’s safety comes first.

    • @intorainbowz says:

      God gave me direct authority to protect and teach my daughters. I am absolutely entitled to direct revelation about them. I absolutely trust myself and their father over 15 distant authority figures who do not know my children.

      My children will not be alone in these interviews.

    • Dr C says:

      DaddyB,

      I sense you are Trolling, I’ll answer you anyway.

      Actually most of the major changes, that included some type of claimed revelation in the church happened after a great deal of social, or legal pressure. Examples are Blacks and the Priesthood, and Polygamy. Not until it became a question of money did the leadership of the church seek a change. I think is Jesus really was as influential as you would like him to be this wouldn’t be the pattern of things for the last 120 years.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if you were in a position as a bishop you would probably engage in this ecclesiastical voyeurism, as well as screwing up the lives of the people you were trying to help.

      • DaddyB says:

        Now you’re making sense. I agree with your reasoning if you believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not Christ’s church and is not leading it. I agree that a logical explanation for the revelations such as the one dealing with race and priesthood was from social pressure if you believe this is like any other church of man.

      • Abby says:

        DaddyB, you’ve further confirmed for me that you don’t know the history of the church as well as you think you do. You are aware of the essay that was released this past year by the 15, that denounced past presidents of the church who called for a ban on blacks and the priesthood? That the “revealed” ban want of God at all, but was a result of these men’s racial prejudices? How about you visit the essays on LDS.org and then get back to us.

      • DaddyB says:

        Abby, I am very familiar with the essay and you have misread it and jumped to inaccurate conclusions. Nowhere in the essay does it declare that the policy of blacks not holding the priesthood was wrong or not of God. It only clarified that the reasons and time table assumed by early leaders were not God’s reasons and that they were in error.

        But whether the policy at that time was inspired or not, it is clear that if we believe that this is Christ’s church, he was okay with the policy or he would have changed it. Some say he was unable to do so because of the necessity of a unanimous agreement among the 15 and there were some who had too strong of opinions on the subject for him to get through to them. This is of course silly when you consider how much more contrary to the opinion of the leaders the revoking of plural marriage was and the instituting it in the first place. God knows the beginning from the end and puts leaders in place in particular times to accomplish his purposes. If he wanted a different policy for who could hold the priesthood, he would have made sure there were men in place capable of carrying out that decision.

        How can anyone rationally believe that the perfect loving being that God is would allow his church to deny such a large block of the earth’s population such important blessings unless there was a higher purpose for such, which we may not understand?

      • Abby says:

        Dr. C, you’re right, he’s a troll. No one is that blind. He’s having a good laugh at the expense of common sense.

      • DaddyB says:

        Abby, So when has an alternate opinion you automatically call them a troll? I have only expressed the same point of view of any faithful Latter-day Saint. I realize that you do not believe that Jesus Christ leads the LDS church, but there millions that do. Are you saying that any faithful LDS who expresses their opinion here is a troll?

      • sister survivor says:

        I agree that a logical explanation for the revelations such as the one dealing with race and priesthood was from social pressure if you believe this is like any other church of man.

        Actually, it’s worse than many other churches. Many other churches make far greater effort to protect children.

        I’d still like to know, DaddyB, why you think someone who said it was better to be drowned in the ocean than to offend a child would be OK with a policy that makes it so easy to abuse and harm them.

      • DaddyB says:

        sister survivor, I do not believe that Jesus would be OK with a policy that makes it easier to abuse and harm children than an alternate policy. I believe that Jesus would disagree with you that this policy does this more than any other policy would. Just because a policy allows for the potential of abuse, because those implementing it are human, does not mean there is a policy that would be less potentially harmful. You have to take into account the abuse this policy is preventing and the other objectives it accomplishes. God knows all of these things better than any of us. Just because he directs his apostles to put a policy in place that seems to us to be short sighted, doesn’t mean it is bad. His ways are not our ways, so we should expect some of his decisions, that come to us through his servants, to be contrary to how we would do things if we were in charge.

      • Andrew R. says:

        “Not until it became a question of money did the leadership of the church seek a change.”

        Not so, David O McKay sought the Lord’s guidance on this matter, and that was long before it had anything to do with money, or social change.

        Whilst we do not have a doctrinal explanation for the ban, as stated in the essay, and we can not therefore accept one as such, it does not mean there isn’t one which God has decided not to reveal. After all, there is much that God has not revealed.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Could someone please explain why Dr C posting:-
        “I wouldn’t be surprised if you were in a position as a bishop you would probably engage in this ecclesiastical voyeurism, as well as screwing up the lives of the people you were trying to help.”
        doesn’t elicit some type of warning. Surely this is not acceptable behaviour on this site?

  18. nrc42 says:

    I don’t want to claim I had anywhere near as painful or abusive of an experience with ecclesiastical interviews as many, many people have had.

    However, it was only recently that I realized that Bishoprics were only instructed to ask if the interviewee kept the law of chastity. From age 12 to 20 (when I got married), I had 6 bishops (and their counselors). Of all of the men who interviewed me, only one simply asked if I kept the law of chastity. Most asked deeper questions about specific acts, asked if I knew what certain things were, or asked me to define sexual terms (and corrected me on them). When I was 13, I found out what masturbation was because one of the counselors explained it to me in a “worthiness” interview. At 14, I found out what oral sex was in the same way.

    At the time, I was horribly uncomfortable with worthiness interviews, but it never occurred to me that it was because my Church leaders were asking me inappropriate questions and going beyond what they were supposed to. How could I know? I didn’t know what the interview questions were supposed to be. These were men who, I was told, were representing Christ, who could perceive my thoughts and my heart, and who I was brought up my entire life to trust implicitly. For years, I thought the reason interviews made me uncomfortable was because I had committed some sin (though I didn’t know what) that made me unworthy. I dreaded temple trips because of the inevitable interview. I begged God to tell me what I had done wrong that made me so uncomfortable. Wasn’t discomfort supposed to indicate an absence of the Spirit, and wasn’t absence of the Spirit supposed to indicate sin?

    I didn’t realize that leaders weren’t supposed to go into that sort of detail until literally last year.

    • Alisa says:

      This is an important perspective. I think your experience is probably the most common. I also didn’t have abnormal or uncommon Church leader interview experiences. It was the fact that my discomfort was with the very common, every-day kinds of interviews that makes me question this practice. Even when a leader is well-meaning, it is still a breach of boundaries and propriety. It still causes shame and discomfort in even the most “chaste” children. It’s not developmentally, psychologically, or legally appropriate even in its most benign form. There are easy changes that should be implemented to change this common practice that would make it healthier for everyone.

      • Alisa says:

        I need to correct myself here. I absolutely think that learning about the definition of oral sex and masturbation and the discussion of acts and definitions behind closed doors, in a 1:1 setting, with the power dynamic and with your age, is sexual and ecclesiastical abuse. In my state, a man who has these conversations with a teenager over text or email would be arrested. I’m very sorry that this happened to you. Unfortunately, I know many, many people who as children had leaders who went “off script” like this during private worthiness interviews.

    • Tricia says:

      Oh my goodness, I could have written your response, your experience is the same as mine. Now as an adult, I’ve identified the awful feeling I’d get before and during worthiness interviews as a child as anxiety and panic attacks, which I’ve learned to deal with now.

      As a child, I thought those feelings meant I was horrible, because it must be the spirit signaling to me that I was bad. And then to have my bishop tell me on more than one occasion that I was “disgusting” when I confessed sexual sins led to panic attacks later in life in sexual scenarios.

      It took me years to realize that all the evil I thought was in me was actually just the normal sexual development of a human being and I’d been conditioned to think any sexual thoughts meant I was sinning.

  19. Deborah Jones says:

    To DaddyB: I have faith in Christ as my Savior, the author and finisher of my faith. I also know that ALL of his mortal servants are imperfect and need our patience. Jesus taught, “by their fruits ye shall know them.”. When the fruit of mistakes causes pediophiles to roam free (it happened to three of my friends AFTER their abusers confessed to Priesthood leaders) or in my case, when the combined effect of my parents’ harsh teaching methods that actually caused body shame as well as 6 month interviews that also explored chastity, I actually went into physical shock on my honeymoon. This was unfair and frightening to both my husband and me! I personally think we all need some frank training on how to teach and live the law of chastity. Is it important! You bet! But we need to see the fruit of people who live this law out of love and respect for the gift of both our incredible bodies and the power to create rather than fear and shame. When I have leaders that can convey this message, they may interview my children. If not, the deal is off! I know and value my responsibility as a parent!

  20. Heather says:

    I totally agree with this! I’m wondering if you saw this in the Newsroom? It doesn’t have a date on it, and it’s not under News Releases either. I can’t find it without searching for “Child Abuse”. I looked into when the page was created and it was created May 2013, and it was also updated today. (https://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/effectiveness-of-church-approach-to-preventing-child-abuse) I’m wondering if this has been there, but has just recently come to light???

  21. Heather says:

    *I totally agree with your post!

  22. Debra says:

    I absolutely agree! this standard practice a gross boundary violation, and should be stopped immediately!

  23. Libby says:

    The assertion that “no religious organization has done more” seems to me to be willful ignorance. Were we really looking for best practices, we’d certainly be aware of the Unitarian Universalist curriculum for safe congregations: http://www.uua.org/safe.

    • Alisa says:

      In researching this, I have had members of Catholic diocese, UU, and evangelical Baptist organizations share their two-deep leader policies and safety training with me. My own experience is that the UCC does this as well. It’s only in the LDS Church that this seems to be missing. This is no “gold standard.” This is a significant gap that needs to be addressed in the Church.

  24. Jenny says:

    Thanks for speaking up Alisa. Based on my experience alone growing up, I could say amen to everything you said. Now as an adult, spending time among many brave souls who have spoken out about their own experiences, I say amen, amen, and amen.

  25. Shane Cunningham says:

    As someone who served as a Bishop, and in several Bishoprics, I think the recent counsel to limit Chastity questions to “do you keep the law of Chastity” is very good counsel. Thinking back to my own experiences, and the line of questioning that was common, when I served, there was already an informal movement to limit the questioning and not needlessly explore sexual topics. I occasionally was asked by youth what the law of Chastity entailed, and I wish that I had simply referred the youth back to their parent(s), knowing that parental sex education often falls short, but I do not believe that eccliesiastical settings are the proper domain for sex education and awareness. My answers were always general and to the point (leaving out descriptions or embellishments), but I now see more wisdom in including the parents, with the young man or young woman, in any attempt to answer the questions of a curious teenaged Young man or Young woman. As the victim of sexual abuse, as a child, before I joined the church, I was always extremely sensitive to the delicate and almost defenseless position of a young man or young woman in the temple recommend setting, and I always tried to honor the personal boundaries of any young person meeting with me. It is deplorable that some Church leaders would demean, accuse, or berate a child who has been abused. For the good sister who was so poorly treated by her BYU Bishop, I apologize and ask for forgiveness; for anyone who was mistreated, miscounselled, abandoned in your suffering, by a Church authority, whether done by me, during my service, or any other Church leader, please forgive us, and continue to speak up, so that we can seek your forgiveness, and learn how to better conduct our individual stewardships. I think that there are many of us, out here, amongst the members that want to lift up the downtrodden, wipe the tears of those suffering, and help provide a path of healing and justice for those abused and mistreated. I have had extensive experience with the professional counseling fields and see the wisdom in bringing much of what has been learned in that setting into the ecclesiastical setting, while still maintaining the important and valuable insights that come from inspiration. My greatest hope is that those who came to their Bishop or Branch President for healing, and left damaged can someday fully enjoy the healing that the Savior intended for each precious daughter or son to receive.

    • Alisa says:

      Thank you for taking the time to share your personal experiences and thoughtful reflections on this practice. I too agree that never going off script with the chastity question is wise, as well as having two-deep leadership (or a parent). Your thoughts are appreciated.

      As a bit of a tangent that comes to mind reading your comments, I first began to form my thoughts around the chastity question and the legal age of sexual consent when I first heard that 7-almost-8-year-olds were being asked about chastity in pre-baptism interviews. I was taken aback. Any sexual experience a 7-year-old has had could not be their “sin,” nor their fault! Not only are they not at the spiritual age of accountability, but the law in my state says that they can’t consent to sex until age 18. It was looking at this practice that made me seriously question all the shaming and questioning we do to our children in the first place, children who just cannot legally give their consent to sexual interactions.

      • Shane says:

        Alisa, I was a Bishop twenty years ago, and we never asked any chastity questions of children, even then. The “do you keep the law of chastity” question was reserved for Temple recommend interviews, which, yes, our youth experienced. I am grateful that you raised the topic, and I certainly think it would be appropriate to include a second adult (preferably a parent, where possible) and perhaps more guidelines can be developed to make the whole experience more beneficial to each young person. When I step back and look at the purpose of the Temple Recommend interview, it was two-fold; to establish a standard of behavior for Temple Worship, and to provide a safe and confidential setting for confession. It could be that we have tried to accomplish too much by “formalizing” the conversation, and then “processing” people through it (especially by subjecting children and teens to the same experience that we have expected adults to endure). And perhaps efficiency has trumped efficacy, in this case. One of the blessings of the day in which we live is that women are finally empowered to share their authentic experiences with these intimate church matters, and I think (and hope) that our church is now mature enough to seriously consider the experiences, some of which are voiced here, and amend our practices to account for these tragic cases.

      • I don’t know what policy was then, but 2010 Church Handbook of Instruction Volume 1, sections 7.1.7 and 7.1.8 requires every local bishopric worldwide to interview every 12-15 year old in their ward at least annually, and twice annually for 16 and 17 year olds. This is not limited to youth who want to do baptisms for the dead at the temple. Even if a youth does not want or need a temple recommend, they are supposed to do these interviews. Item #2 on the 5 item list of interview topics is about sexual activity.

  26. Violadiva says:

    Thank you, Alisa, for the precision and eloquence you use to express this. There is much we can do to put better safeguards for our children in place.
    I think it would be wise for the church to adopt the “two-deep leadership” for all activities and all classes, regardless the gender of the teachers, and not just for the scouting Groups. I know some states (is it Pennsylvania?) require criminal background checks before working with children in clergy roles (so even primary teachers) and I think that would be another good precaution. We can’t be too careful when it comes to our kids! No matter how much we love or trust their leaders.
    As a leader, I would want those precautions in place to protect me!! I imagine that many bishops are as uncomfortable asking these questions as well, and do so out of some perceived sense of duty to the calling. They should not ask minor children about these topics at all, and for everything else, they’d be well-served to follow that two deep leadership guideline. BSA had to learn that one the hard way.

    • Alisa says:

      My school district makes all parent volunteers go through background checks. In a predominantly LDS state, this is the norm when we volunteer at school. It shouldn’t be that much harder to do background checks for church. This is what we need to do.

  27. MP says:

    Amen! When I was younger I somehow got this idea that any discomfort I felt during a bishopric interview was an indication that I had unresolved worthiness issues. It’s only fairly recently that I realized that my discomfort was actually due to the inherent awkwardness of having a grown man ask me privately about my sex life. I know (now) that bishops aren’t supposed to pry about sexual matters, but I’ve had several ecclesiastical leaders ask in detail, tell me to define explicit terms, or pose aggressive questions like, “What was the last time you did X?” with no prior reason to believe that I had done anything of the sort. It made me feel dirty and hurt my self esteem. I also avoided telling people I trusted about incidents of minor sexual coercion involving LDS boyfriends, because I was afraid that they might encourage me to go talk it over with a bishop.

    Tangentially, I’ve also had a few bishops betray confidentiality; most certainly accidentally or with good intentions, but with disastrous results. And several times I’ve reported (non-sexual) family abuse to bishops only to have them suggest that the offending family members had my best interests at heart and that I was probably misreading the situation and should exercise patience and forgiveness. I’m sure it didn’t help that the bishops were generally better friends with the family members in question than they were with me. One bishop (apparently) advised my husband against telling me about a certain set of behaviors he’d been engaging in, and consequently my husband lied to me over several years in ways that really hurt both of us. Most of these leaders were good men and people I really like. But the system doesn’t deal well with stopping or preventing abuse. I don’t think bishops even get much training on this.

    • Alisa says:

      Yes, this is going to be what many of us experienced, which is the feeling that our own personal, sexual, and psychological boundaries are being violated. No intentional abuse, but just an awkwardness of submitting to an untrained, mostly unknown authority about something sexual and private at a tender developmental age. Because most of the members I’ve talked to have not been abused but experienced shame around these inappropriate interviews is the reason I think all of these private sexual interviews need to stop. Thank you for your comments.

    • Brian says:

      “One bishop (apparently) advised my husband against telling me about a certain set of behaviors he’d been engaging in”

      I’m assuming you mean porn and masterbation, this is all together another topic that i think Alisa should address. The demonizing of sexuality. I would say the almost forced lying that the bishop made you do is far far more damaging then looking at porn etc..

      • Alisa says:

        I’m totally unclear about the “certain set of behaviors” referred to here, if they are at all tied to abuse or illegality in any way, or if they are a moderate viewing of pornography and moderate engagement in masturbation. I have no idea, so I can’t speak to MP’s comment in any fair way.

        But Brian, since you were more specific, I will weigh in here. I think moderate masturbation is normal for coupled and uncoupled people alike, and can be normal for children as well. I also think that pornography can be a part of an adult’s exploration of arousal. As a feminist, I am suspect that a lot of pornography is exploitative and underpaid (or unpaid) and creates unrealistic fantasies that it’s important to be mindful of. There are alternatives that are less likely to be exploitative. Either way, shaming normal, common behaviors that are kept in check such as moderate masturbation and careful consumption of pornography isn’t going to help our adult members be sexually healthy. Sexual appetite is real. It’s a fact. And it’s not shameful. My .02.

      • Alisa says:

        Oh, and it’s also private. I don’t think untrained lay clergy should be counseling on this. There are certified, trained, and licensed therapists (even specialized sex therapists) for times when this behavior is pathological. And for those who are risking finances or their jobs for compulsive habits of any sort, there is counseling for anxiety and OCD behaviors that may underlie this issue.

      • MP says:

        For the record, I’m sex positive (and very much agree with Alisa’s views on this–Bishops aren’t sex therapists). The issues that the bishop supposedly encouraged my husband to hide concerned drug abuse, massive hidden debts, and emotional infidelity. These things were really affecting me and the marriage, and I could have helped and dealt with them better if I were in the know.

      • Alisa says:

        MP, I feel like you’ve been put in a position where you felt the need to defend yourself with stuff that is totally none of our business, and I’m sorry. I’m so sorry you experienced those things in your marriage. That is so wrong.

  28. Joni says:

    I was present when my husband was extended a calling to work in Cub Scouts.

    I was NOT IMPRESSED when the bishopric member made a big point of emphasizing that the Scouts’ youth protection training would cause my husband only a little inconvenience.

    If The Lord is concerned about protecting His children from abuse – and I believe He is – then a few hours’ training and a two-deep policy is a very, very small sacrifice to make.

    • Alisa says:

      This speaks to a lack of training for the leader who says that background checks are an inconvenience rather than an important step! The culture of how we feel about protecting our children starts right there in those conversations. This is why bishoprics and other leaders need this training. They need to be examples and leaders of protecting our little ones.

  29. Marguerite Hart says:

    I may not put this as eloquently as some of the previous commentators have but I will give it a try….I have never been so grateful as I am today at having become a convert to this church at 30 years of age! I could not and would not have been able to answer these questions of chastity to anyone at such a young age as some of these children and am even uncomfortable answering the basic chastity question now at 64.
    After much thought and prayer I know one thing to be true in my life, Heavenly Father is the final authority on every issue. He knows your weaknesses and strengths and He loves you beyond all earthly comprehension no matter what, so ask Him first and let Him guide you.
    I love the leaders of this church but I am not a slave to that love and I do not place anyone but the Lord in such an exalted position in my life that I would slavishly obey them without question. As pertains to my private life? If I feel I have Heavenly Father’s forgiveness for any transgressions I have committed then that is all I need, no one else’s approval is needed. And as a mother I would NOT allow my child to be interviewed alone, period! As a mother I was given a sacred stewardship by the Lord to raise and protect my baby always and I take that too seriously to ever sit quietly and hope for the best where he was concerned. If the leaders of this church don’t understand these parental concerns then we have a problem and it needs to be addressed quickly! Thank you.

  30. Katie L says:

    I also had some very, very inappropriate and negative bishops interviews. The entire practice is abusive and appalling. I’m a little concerned to see some people still defending that even asking the question, “Do you live the law of chastity?” is okay. Would you be okay with your child’s school teacher asking that? Would you be okay with your neighbor asking your child that? Any questions of a sexual nature and wildly inappropriate and would not be tolerated in any other context.

    I’m a student at a protestant seminary and whenever I have described this practice to colleagues, students, or pastors, they have been shocked. I don’t think Mormons understand that this is unprecedented in contemporary Christian practice–even Catholic confession is voluntary and anonymous, and priests are trained not to ask explicit questions. The whole thing is super gross.

  31. Beth says:

    I was sexually abused by my stepdad when I was 9 and aside from the lack of discernment on that one by church leaders who at any time could have felt compelled by the spirit to literally save my life yet were what, lacking in that ability maybe? I had to sit through countless worthiness interviews one on one with different bishops who knew some of the story and seemed to blame me in different ways. The step dad was convicted and sentenced to prison for this so even the state knew who to punish. But I felt like it was my fault and these guys thought so too, after all, victim blaming and shaming is something even men called of god do. The church family services were providing me counseling and then I’d go into these interviews and get the opposite treatment. I couldn’t walk away from any of it, parents forced me to go to church and all my friends were mormon, it was my social world and I had to talk to the bishop, I had no right to not do it, he was the authority. It was the dynamic my step dad had minus the sexual assault all over again. I sat in court while his lawyer asked me over and over why I didn’t just run away or say no, as if I had that agency. Did he really think that was even a possibility as a kid? So now when I tell members some of this story they always tell me the bishops weren’t supposed to say that or go off script, it’s not supposed to be like that, like at any time the bishop can’t just pull out the ‘spirit led them there’ or some bs. These guys can do whatever they want, they are THE authority in that room. All we can do is pick up the pieces later and either pretend it wasn’t that bad and keep going back or leave.

    • Alisa says:

      This is horrific. It is absolutely common that victims of child abuse blame themselves. They experience gaslighting by the abusers, which means that victims do not trust themselves. The very nature of child abuse, and the way a child’s developing mind finds a way to survive, is for the child to blame themselves and exonerate the abuser. As a child grows and begins to understand the abuse, it is critical that those whom the child confides in release the child from any blame in the abuse.

      Members who were abused often feel the need to “confess” to their leaders some “sin” regarding the abuse because they feel deep shame. It’s entirely normal for a child abuse victim to blame herself! This is why the victim should not be counseled for those untrained in the dynamics of child abuse and counseling.

      It is also why children who are unable to legally consent to sexual relations should not be brought in to confess and repent of sexual relations.

      • Beth says:

        At BYU one bishop told me to read the Miracle of Forgiveness, I started then became suicidal. For those that feel like there is nothing wrong with these interviews let me reiterate. I was called to repentance and told to read this book for being sexually abused at age 9. Seriously. And the bishop knew this and talked about my part in the sin. I don’t want to hear from apologists who will say that he strayed from the handbook or he wasn’t following the spirit because sitting in his office that’s pretty much all he was doing. He was the voice of God himself as far as we both were concerned. It’s all leadership roulette in the end and I get that now. But these guys are still representatives of the church as evidenced by some of their supporters here and the rest of the members everywhere else. What they do matters. You can’t claim a few bad eggs in these cases yet say they are called of God. That’s an all or nothing thing.

  32. AuntM says:

    To those who argue that most bishops are good and responsible therefore advocates for change are overreaching, please explain how a two-deep rule and banning 1:1 worthiness interviews with youth undermines those good and responsible bishops. Then explain how those “undermining” consequences outweigh the protection of children and the reassurance good bishops will have knowing they will not be accused of misconduct.

    I think those good and responsible bishops should be demanding a change in policy knowing it will help protect children and will also provide a way to show their own behavior is correct. To me, it’s a win-win.

  33. Nathan M says:

    If we’re wanting to challenge the Church’s claim to setting the “gold standard” for this process, shouldn’t we look a little harder into what exactly that standard is as outlined by the church? This article is great for identifying harmful exceptions to the Church’s process, but it claims that those somehow reflect the overall effectiveness of the standard. This church would, by a flawed standard, present millions upon millions of opportunities for abuse by ecclesiastical leaders. Judging by the exceptional nature of these reports, I’d still be hesitant in declaring the entire thing inherently flawed. Wouldn’t a more constructive conversation be based on what that “gold standard” is, beyond the shock and awe, beyond the “behind closed doors” expose?

    • Scott Roskelley says:

      For me if there is even one abuse case then the system is “inherently flawed” and in need of reformation immediately. A yw/ym president, RS president, primary president, or at least one parent should be in the office during the interview, and the interviewing gateway to ordinances process itself needs to be entirely revamped. The stories I could tell from serving as a young missionary and interviewing candidates for baptism. Our handbook 1 has 4 pages on “interviews and counseling” that’s it! There is a lot more on military relations, finances, and records and reports than on pastoral counseling.

    • sister survivor says:

      This church would, by a flawed standard, present millions upon millions of opportunities for abuse by ecclesiastical leaders.

      That is exactly right. By relying on untrained lay clergy, the church creates millions upon millions of opportunities for abuse by ecclesiastical leaders. That’s pretty foolish on the church’s part.

      Judging by the exceptional nature of these reports, I’d still be hesitant in declaring the entire thing inherently flawed.

      In other words, because you don’t feel you were harmed by the system, it can’t be that bad.

      Wouldn’t a more constructive conversation be based on what that “gold standard” is, beyond the shock and awe, beyond the “behind closed doors” expose?

      The press release applied the term “gold standard” to what it discussed. It’s not some big secret–it’s right there in the statement linked to in the first sentence of the OP. How did you miss that?

  34. Scott Roskelley says:

    Currently I am serving in a bishopric, and was asked by a young woman during an interview for a temple recommend what sins or misdeeds were required to be confessed or discussed with a member of the bishopric? Question 13, “Has there been any sin or misdeed in your life that should have been resolved with priesthood authorities but has not?”
    I told her that it would be best to discuss this question with her parents. However, when I spoke with our bishop about what to say during this part of the interview he said you need to review the section on sexual purity in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. In For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, there is a section which could cause problems as some could interpret it as a mandate to ask children in an interview about sexual self exploration. “Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body. Pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit so that you can be clean and virtuous. The Spirit of the Lord will withdraw from one who is in sexual transgression.” This can induce a self-shame abuse cycle, because if they do not understand the question and the priesthood leader does not defer to parents and instead begins describing what sexual self exploration is and why it is from Satan, the child will begin to hide these feelings rather than talk about them with trusted parents. The child may feel shamed and embarrassed and confused if the parents have one policy on chastity/sexual purity, the school system another, and the priesthood authority yet another policy which could change from ward to stake, leader to leader.

  35. Joni says:

    Even if nothing untoward happens during these interviews, the process itself is inherently abusive.

    A child or teenager who feels uncomfortable at the idea of meeting alone with an adult is encouraged, even forced, to suppress those feelings. The child understands that his parents, his bishop, and even God expects him to participate in this interview – his own feelings on the matter are to be disregarded or even used as clear evidence of guilt. The Process is more important than the child’s own internal compass, even after he or she has reached the age of accountability.

    To understand why teaching children and teenagers to ignore that inner voice is a terrible idea, I’d strongly recommend reading ‘The Gift of Fear’ by Gavin De Becker. Since reading that book I’ve never tried to convince myself that ‘I’m just being silly,’ or ‘he would never molest my children, he’s such a nice person!’

    • Alisa says:

      The sad truth is that child molesters prey upon children by being incredibly gregarious, nice people. That’s how they win trust. It’s also how they keep their victims from outing them: “I’m really important and your parents like me. Why would you want to hurt your parents?”

      Unfortunately, the gregarious, outgoing, likable men who fit the profile of most pedophiles have the exact same qualities that make them desirable as lay leaders in the church. Let me be clear: I’m not saying likable, outgoing men are all pedophiles. I’m just saying that the lay-leader selection process favors men who also have the same personality and social profiles as those who intentionally misuse positions of trust to gain access to victims.

  36. Anonymous says:

    In 2009 I posted on FMH about my aversion to bishop’s interviews. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to read such an articulate and clear declaration of the seriousness of the present practice. Thank you for keeping this subject alive. We are past due for a radical change.

    Just for clarification–in Utah a minor sixteen-years-old and up can have consensual sex, as long as the partner isn’t ten years or more older. I know a girl whose boyfriend missed going to prison because he was nine months shy of being ten years older than her. Our state laws also do not protect children.

  37. Les says:

    The author’s blanket condemnation here is deeply flawed. I know of no one who ever conducted an interview in the manner and purposes described here. The concern is always for the child’s welfare and is not predatory in any manner, either intentionally or unintentionally. There are people who are more or less skilled in their interviewing capabilities and, given the curve of tens of thousands of people involved, there may be some predators but these are very much in the minority. Ending practices which in fact do so much good in denting society’s “anything any time” philosophy is wrong.

    • Beth says:

      “there may be some predators but these are very much in the minority”

      In the bishopric? Are you serious? Do you want your children to find out who they are the hard way or someone else’s kid? Or do you want to be the one and go through our fight for change with other members giving you the same rhetoric, ‘there may be a few predators, it’s not that bad but it does so much good’. Are you listening to yourself?

    • Joni says:

      If The Church says it has a two-deep policy, what on earth is wrong with asking for a two-deep policy? How does it demonstrate a lack of faith to ask for the very thing that apparently makes us the gold standard among churches?

      • Beth says:

        Do you want to teach your kids to answer personal questions about their chastity, dependent on the interpretation of someone not trained in child development and with no background check? Someone with undoubtedly no history of discerning via the power of the priesthood any child/spousal abuse, illegal activities, ect? In a church that is so sure of itself that Utah is ranked the highest in affinity fraud and a religion that has its own problem with pedophiles in leadership positions? So, are you trying to groom all kids or just the ones in your ward? Sure, put another adult in the room, I’m sure the extra coercion will be good for the kids.

  38. sister survivor says:

    I know of no one who ever conducted an interview in the manner and purposes described here.

    That speaks only to your ignorance, not to the issue of whether or not interviews are abusive.

    The concern is always for the child’s welfare and is not predatory in any manner, either intentionally or unintentionally. There are people who are more or less skilled in their interviewing capabilities and, given the curve of tens of thousands of people involved, there may be some predators but these are very much in the minority.

    Those two statements are mutually contradictory. If the concern is always for the child’s welfare, then there can be no predators, even if they are in the minority.

  39. Brigham Kimball says:

    I vividly recall as a young man aged 12 being asked by my then Bishop if I masturbated to pornography or engaged in oral sex. I remember being so naive thinking”What’s oral sex?” This sort of situation was and is clearly inappropriate and frankly weird.
    However I ask my 3 teenage sons (who 2 are active) if they get asked such question and they tell me they don’t. For the church to say it is the gold standard however is patently untrue.

  40. Cobalt says:

    While I do not have the pain of overt sexual abuse that made my experience with this difficult, I remain permanently damaged by the process. These interviews only left in me self-loathing about my body. I confessed to many, many ecclesiastical leaders “transgressions” of sexual nature, confessions that left me, decades later, hurting. Shame, not repentance, was what usually came from these encounters. What I needed was someone to love with me, accept me, teach me about my own development, and let me know that God still loved me and that sexual desires were normal. Alas, not so.

    • Alisa says:

      I’m glad you can tell yourself now that your sexuality is normal and that you are loved. Your experience is one that is all too common and why this practice needs to stop even when there is not overt, intentional abuse involved.

  41. JP says:

    At age 17, I confessed to my Bishop that I had been sexually abused at age 12. His reaction? Not making sure I was safe, helping me cope, or reporting to the authorities …. rather, he actually asked, “Was it fun?” … it took me 30 years to reach a semblance of recovery. The abuse and shame heaped upon me by the Church was a thousand time worse than the sexual abuse itself.

    These interviews are horribly damaging and abusive – please end the suffering!

  42. Linda says:

    I seriously was shocked by this piece. Where on this earth have I been for 69 years in the church that I know to be true? In all that time I have always been active and been involved in the gospel. And during all that time I have met with church leaders in interviews and haven’t ever discussed sexuality, not once. I have been interviewed as a primary child, I have been interviewed as a teenager, and I have been interviewed as an adult. The most recent interview I’ve had was for a Temple recommend and they only ask one question about that-seeking a yes or no answer, but no discussion. Having said that, let me say that nobody goes into an interview in my ward and stake without someone right outside the door. Children are interviewed with the door ajar and a clerk listening for any disturbance. I do appreciate the change in policy having one leader/teacher in the classroom. Also the regulations for scouting, etc. We are human and people may suffer abuse – both the giver of the interview and the one being interviewed. Having more eyes and hears is very smart since not only could the child or adult be abused but they could claim abuse without it even happening. Both circumstances could ruin a life and/or an individual’s spiritual growth. Thank you for writing the piece. It helped me to see things in a new life. It is so sad that we live in an age where we have to be so on guard and suspicious, but better that than have people is so hurt by situations such as these. My heart goes out to them all.

    • Joni says:

      A parent or clerk on the other side of a soundproof, windowless door is unlikely to be able to detect any disturbance short of a child screaming bloody murder.

      Yes, a child or teen would be well within his rights to scream bloody murder if he is touched inappropriately, or asked ‘off-script’ questions such as “do you masturbate.”

      However… Sexual abusers are smart. They choose the victims who are NOT going to scream bloody murder. They cultivate an environment where their behavior is seen as okay (This is called ‘grooming,’ and the OP lays out how the process of private ecclesiastical interviews facilitates grooming). Abusers convince everyone around them, including the parents of their victims, that they are trustworthy and would never do such awful things. Simply having another parent (or ward clerk, who is likely to be loyal to the bishop) in the building does nothing to prevent this.

      I’m sure that 99% of bishops would never do such a thing. But multiply 1% by the number of units in the church, and then multiply that by the number of minors in an average ward.

  43. withheld says:

    These interviews are degrading, demeaning, and dehumanizing. A worthiness interview is disgusting for anyone. It completely diminishes any confidence, feelings of self-worth, and dignity. The whole process is a reminder that the individual is not worthy and the church condescends to accept you. No one should have to go through this ugly process regardless of age or how many people are conducting the interview. I no longer will allow anyone to judge me other than my Lord and Savior.

    • Anon for This says:

      I am a 50 year old single woman. I can’t think of anything more inappropriate than me sitting alone with another woman’s husband and talking about my sex life (or lack thereof).

    • JP says:

      This is the best statement on this subject I have ever read! You’re absolutely right! These interviews are degrading for ANYONE!

      • Debra says:

        Even as an adult married woman, whose life is “in order”, according to mormon church standards, I find these interviews creepy, intrusive, demeaning, dehumanizing, and profoundly disrespectful. Even if no inappropriately intrusive questions are asked, the presumptive hierarchy and power differential from the system can and does both induce and trigger deep feelings of unworthiness, self-doubt and self-blame, and anxiety. This is particularly so in a system that culture-wide, puts women in a one-down position, and especially so for emotionally and spiritually sensitive individuals.

        For these reasons, I believe these interviews are fundamentally emotionally and spiritually abusive, vulnerable to doing greater injury, including passive sexual abuse, should be stopped, and why I personally choose not to participate in them any longer.

  44. Beth says:

    Keep in mind that a bishop has no obligation to keep anything said to him confidential. Even when specifically asked and agreed to, they vent somewhere and gossip gets around.

    • MP says:

      Maybe confidentiality is not a legal obligation, but certainly a moral one, especially if it is explicitly asked for and promised. That said, I’ve been close to some bishops and I know what a stressful job it is. I think one solution might be to have more explicit instructions for members about when they should see a bishop and how much information or detail to share. This would help protect people from sharing unnecessary private information that could be breached, and it would empower members to set boundaries with nosy or voyeuristic bishops. It would also protect bishops from the emotional strain of fielding so many unpleasant and deeply personal secrets, and perhaps cut down on the volume of interviews in general. The current rule of thumb seems to be that if you aren’t sure if you need to tell a bishop, you should.

  45. EBK says:

    A few years ago I taught the 10 year old class in primary (it was toward the end of the year so most people in the class were 11. We had a lesson on God’s commandments and one of the sections in the lesson was on chastity. When I brought it up, it was clear that not a single child in that class knew what the law of chastity was. They had heard it and knew it was a commandment, but they didn’t understand the details. I’d worked closely with those kids for almost a year and I knew them pretty well. They were so young, it was not my place to explain the law of chastity. I told them that it was wearing clothing appropriate for the occasion and being nice to girls (the class that day was 10 boys and no girls). After the lesson was over all I could think was that in a few months (the oldest would turn 12 in 2 months) they would be subject to a worthiness interview and be questioned about their sexuality. They didn’t even know what that was!
    My husband says that in his first worthiness interview he was asked if he masturbated and he thought it was a fishing term. He wasn’t sure if he should feel guilty about fishing or not. He went home and had to look up masturbation in the dictionary. Is that really the goal of these interviews? To get kids to learn about sex way before they need to?

  46. Mary Margaret says:

    Maybe that’s a Utah thing because I never got asked those types of questions and if I had I would have walked out and told my bishop to go screw himself. When I was growing up sex was something that was very open to talk about. We knew we could ask my parents about anything, weather it was about sex or drugs or dropping out of school or whatever. Parents in the LDS church need to start taking the sexual education of their kids into their own hands!! I will not let my one and only child go into ANY interview with ANYONE by himself until he is 18 and can legally tell me not to. I understand having “blind faith” but I don’t understand parents who think it would be okay to let their kids be put into any kind of situation where they could be hurt in any way.

  47. Wolfe says:

    Age of consent in Utah is actually not anyone under 18. Ages 14 to 16 may consent to acts with others in that age range. Ages 16 to 18 may consent to acts with anyone over 16 and not more than 10 years their senior. And ages 18 and up may consent to any acts with persons 16 and up provided the previous law for ages 16 to 18 is upheld . Very good article and quite on the nose. I definitely never felt comfortable talking with an old man about jerking off.

  48. Father of a Drama Queen says:

    I don’t often come here but this post is being widely discussed elsewhere and I hope our Priesthood leadership will listen to my slightly different experience as a father.

    About 15 years ago we faced this problem. My wife and I intuitively felt the private bishop’s interviews of our then 11 year old daughter were inappropriate. She agreed. We discussed our feelings with the bishop a few months before her 12th birthday and since it wasn’t a burning issue at that point it didn’t seem to register.

    One Sunday we had a show-down. A large group of beehives had to be interviewed for a temple trip that week. Our daughter said no private interview, my wife backed her up and the bishop called me at work and I said no. He told me the consequence, that she would miss the temple trip with all of her friends. I said we will do what we believe is right and let the consequences follow. We can live with it.

    I will admit that my daughter has always had an unusual amount of spunkiness and that most 12 year olds would not do this. But she got all of her friends to refuse to be interviewed; resulting in a beehive revolt, spawning enormous drama with them and the other parents. The bishop caved and interviewed our daughter with my wife present, and with a similar arrangement for the other girls.

    But the bishop wouldn’t let it rest. Several times he requested of us that she be interviewed again alone. We refused. Finally, I told the bishop that if he thought the interview was inappropriately done, he should notify the temple president who lived in our ward and have the temple work done again. I would be happy to tell the temple president for him.

    This issue smoldered for over 3 years until my daughter decided to play a prank on the bishop. On her own she went into an interview alone with the bishop. She fake- confessed to some contrived but pretty serious sexual/criminal acts and then began to act like the bishop was trying to molest her. She digitally recorded the entire escapade and was transmitting it to her friends outside the door who were giggling then laughing themselves silly. Then she just left the room and ran away.

    This recording she shared with friends at an almost completely non-LDS school until a counselor ran across a copy of it and called the police. She confessed but not very remorsefully and we vouched for the bishop’s good character and did not press charges. The matter was resolved without further criminal investigation or prosecution. Our good bishop was convinced and never conducted another interview with any youth alone again.

    This then 12 year old daughter grew up to become one of the toughest young prosecuting attorneys in the area. Playing pranks on LDS bishops was child’s play compared to what she does now to some of the ugliest and meanest people in the world if they dare step on a witness stand.

    See Bishops, you might be worthy of our complete trust. (You rarely might not as is generously described above). But you are not immune to the antics of our less-than -perfect children which could land your righteous behind in jail. Protect yourself and your own family first.

    • Alisa says:

      It protects the Church and bishops as well as the kids to do away with these interviews. Your daughter definitely has a lot of spunk and heartiness.

  49. EM says:

    I made this comment elsewhere, and it’s worth repeating. I work as a child psychotherapist, and have worked with some cases of abuse–some suspected and some confirmed. If any LDS local leaders are reading, please report ALL allegations of abuse to your government’s child protective agency, or to police, or both. The police and CPS are professional investigators, trained to balance the interests of everyone involved. Your job is to show love and support to the people who are suffering. If someone makes a false allegation of abuse on purpose, then they’re probably in pain. Be there with them. If they make a true allegation of abuse, then they’re probably in pain. Be there with them.

    Remember, you’re a judge in Israel. You’re not the chastity police. You can certainly (I hope you do) remind people that there are healthy boundaries that can make sexual activity safer and more fulfilling. You can set up safe spaces with other trusted adults so that young people feel comfortable discussing situations that lead to shame or guilt. You can’t claim that God encouraged you to ask probing, leading questions about children’s sexual activity. To my therapist mind, that would almost sound like pedophilia with a hint of delusional thinking.

    Bishops and stake presidents, I recognize you have tough jobs. I honor you and support you in your efforts to recognize God’s will and serve His children. Just recognize that some policies and traditions that we follow can be harmful to the people you’re assigned to serve.

    • EM says:

      The suggestions in this article could be very effective ways of setting up those safe spaces. There could be other ways, but this post presents practices that are ,unchanged more effective than what we’ve been doing.

  50. EM says:

    Not unchanged… “Much.” Thank you autocorrect.

  51. TAB says:

    I am LDS and as a licensed mental health therapist who is trained to treat child victims of abuse and a former director of agencies that investigated and treated child abuse, I have opinions on this subject and advocate the following:
    1) Trained professional support is needed for lay LDS leaders who are approached by members of their congregation who are in crisis, have experienced abuse, or have questions or concerns about sexuality. Lay leaders do not have the skills to handle issues of children/youth in crisis, child abuse, or sexuality.
    2) The Church is not following a “two-deep leadership” or “no one on one” policy for adult interaction with youth and is certainly not “the Gold Standard” in preventing or addressing child abuse. The Church should consider actually adopting and implementing a no “one on one” policy and “two deep leadership” as a component of a baseline prevention policy. A more complete prevention policy would also include background checks for youth serving volunteers, bystander training for all adult members, training for leaders, elimination of compulsory interviews with youth, professional support for leaders, victim participation in policy creation, publication of authentic voices sharing incidents of abuse or inappropriate behavior by leaders, mandated reporter training for church leaders annually, victim support systems outside local leadership, revision of youth publications and leadership policies deemphasizing “chastity” and sexual sin, normalizing masturbation as not sinful, and age appropriate sex education and abuse prevention resources for parents and families.
    3) Compulsory child/youth worthiness interviews with nonprofessional lay leaders (Bishoprics and Stake Presidencies) are very problematic and often can result in harm to the child psychological, emotional, developmental, sexual, and spiritual wellbeing. Questions about chastity, even with a yes or no response, and questions about sexuality can be very inappropriate when asked by an adult to a youth or child. Ample examples of children and youth who have been harmed by the inappropriate nature of such questions abound and simple alternative practices can be easily substituted for compulsory youth interviews. A simple alternative would be for youth and parents to be part of a brief meeting where a set of church leaders explained the special sacred nature of the temple and, if needed, asked youth to privately indorse a statement that they respected its sacred nature and were endeavoring to live the gospel teachings. No specific mention of chastity or sexuality is warranted. Children and youth should not be asked to discuss sexual activities, masturbation or if they understand sexual terms. Children / youth should be directed to their parents if they have questions about living gospel teachings or issues regarding sexuality. Adding a second adult person to compulsorily worthiness interviews may reduce the likelihood of youth being sexually assaulted during interviews, but does not address the problems related to the inappropriateness of adults asking youth about chastity or sexuality. I advocate for the discontinuation of all child / youth – adult leader compulsorily interviews regardless of who conducts the interview or how many leaders are present.
    4) Youth/children should on a voluntary basis have access to speak in private to two or more adult leaders of their choosing and elect to have their parent(s) / guardian present if they wish, to discuss questions, concerns, or to seek counsel that they might desire. Such meetings should be in private with two adult leaders who have been trained on pastoral care of children/youth and in understating when to seek professional help in responding to issues of crisis, abuse, or sexual questions. These voluntary meetings at children’s/youth request are needed not to ascertain worthiness but to support the child/youth. Often children/youth will trust an adult leader with concerns they may have about depression, suicidal thoughts, guilt, sexual abuse, physical abuse, spiritual crisis, family conflict, and other issues. Lay leaders can be a gateway to helping children and youth safely find help and support for these important concerns if backed up with trained professionals skilled in providing needed support. Ideally the child could choose two leaders of either or both genders to be their support system. These leaders listen but do not pry into areas beyond their training and responsibilities. Such support should be offered at the youth’s request and on their terms rather than as a worthiness or progress interview.
    5) The Church should consider deemphasizing sexuality as sin and embrace teachings and encouragement that value human connectedness and responsibility to others. For too long “virtue” has been equated with virginity and lack of sexual experience of any kind. This is very problematic as most children are involved in some sort of developmentally normative non-abusive sexual behaviors before age 13. In addition the majority of youth masturbate and masturbation is a normative developmentally appropriate and often beneficial activity that leads to better understanding of one’s body and sexuality. Recent Church trends to not portray masturbation as sinful nor prohibited should be continued and expanded so that all adults understand that it is not considered sinful nor a violation of the relational values underlying fidelity, responsibility and chastity unless it becomes a barrier in committed relationships and then relationship therapy may be helpful in addressing issues.
    6)LDS singles and couples often have difficulties with sexuality and intimacy stemming directly from internalized messages they have adopted about sexuality, gender roles, guilt, and intimacy from LDS culture and trauma related to guilt in deviating from their view of LDS teachings. Significant anxiety, guilt, shame, distress, loss of hope and spirituality impacts vast numbers of members of the LDS Church over sexuality, sexual abuse, and hurtful messages they have experienced in LDS culture and from leaders. There are affirming appropriate respectful ways to encourage children, youth and adults to value and find respect and joy in intimacy and sexuality and to avoid intimate or sexual behavior that demeans, exploits, disrespects, or uses others. The LDS Church is far from promoting policies and practices that protect children from abuse by church leaders or from others. Its current policies and practices with regard to sexuality have harmful aspects interwoven into practice an belief and the consequences are seen in important but largely silent ways in the lives of many if not most long-term members.

    • Abby says:

      Absolutely agree! Except the church doesn’t care if kids or adults are damaged. They care about maintaining control over the members through fear and guilt.

    • Amelia says:

      Amen. I would love to see the church make such changes. But it kinda just makes me sad thinking about it because it feels so impossible.

  52. TAB says:

    To continue my last post I would like to add one item:
    7) Mandated reporting of child abuse is require by many states of religious leaders and applies to LDS Bishoprics and Stake Presidencies. Reporting requirements for clergy are complex as child abuse the learn of from the child or another often must be reported, yet confessions of abuse by the abuser is often privileged communication. Investigations, criminal prosecutions, child safety can be compromised when a member of the clergy fails to follow the law in reporting. Civil liability to the person and the Church can result from breaking confidentiality. So it is complex and LDS leaders need local training and professional support. Laws have to be followed and those laws are State or National laws and not included in the handbook. If a child reports abuse LDS leaders should report and may be required by state law to report, they can’t do their own investigation or contact the parent before reporting. This is why the need professional support and training. LDS leaders can be a great help to children by reporting and need to learn their responsibilities.

    • Gen says:

      Wow. This is the best and most comprehensive recommendation I have seen. It should be published and promoted and dispersed throughout the church as policy. You have addressed the issues with intelligence and rational thought. I think it should be sent directly to the Church headquarters and instigated asap. Then the Church’s PR department would have something they could be proud of.

  53. BP says:

    My son’s first encounter with masturbation was in a conversation about his “worthiness” with the Stake President…behind closed doors. Mercifully, when my son was asked if he masturbated, he said “what’s that?” and the SP simply said, “if you don’t know what it is, you must not be doing it.” My son was 12 years old at the time. If I’d had any idea that was going to happen I would have refused to let him be interviewed. I believe mothers have to stand up for their kids within the church even if it means taking heat from the “brethren”.

    • LA says:

      I started masturbating at 3 years old, but had no idea what I was doing was called. At one point in 8th grade, we were discussing a character in Oliver Twist, named Master Bates. All of the boys were snickering, all of the girls were looking at each other wondering what the joke was, and the teacher refused to address it at all other than saying it’s something ONLY the boys would understand. I was 15, yes, 15 years old before I finally learned what masturbation was. I had been doing it for years, completely unaware that it had a name. Then, in a mortifying interview with my bishop, he needed me to explain to him in explicit detail how it is possible for a girl to masturbate. I felt like an alien, a pile of crap, thinking I must have been the only girl in the whole world who had done this kind of thing. I made a point never to speak or look at him again. Mercifully he was only my bishop for 3 months. Our children are being irreparably damaged by these interviews. p.s. I look back on that interview with my bishop and feel such pity for his poor wife.

  54. Mrs. Alex says:

    Thank You SO MUCH for this article. I have not had a negative experience with interviews personally. Since reading this article I have talked with my (just barely) 12 year old and 13 year old about these interviews and have instructed them about the proper procedures and questions and that the interviewee should not deviate from those questions. I have asked both if they would prefer to have a parent present and/or the door to the room open during such interviews and as my husband is the executive secretary he is going to suggest some changes for our ward. (He is often the second person present, other than a parent, when a teen has an interview–although not in the room, just in the building) I have also helped my children understand that if they ever feel uncomfortable, that is a warning for them to leave the situation, weather with a church leader or otherwise. I also asked them to please not ask their leaders about chastity but to ask their dad or me, because those are sensitive topics best handled within the family.
    This is truly such an important topic, sexual health is SO vital! I have known women that have had such a hard time transitioning from the “shame” of sexual feelings to being a sexually active married woman. I would rather my children come to me so I could explain what is healthy and normal in an age appropriate way. And btw I am of the point of view that “sexual sin”(apart from pedophilia and debilitating porn addiction) shouldn’t be discussed with clergy, and especially not for minors. I asked my bishop once which sins needed confession to clergy and he basically said “adultery and murder…other than that, you can discuss the rest with your Heavenly Father in prayer.” So as a result, we don’t run to the bishop for every little thing but work it out with the Lord on our own.
    I am deeply saddened by the abuses that have taken place, thank you all for sharing, your stories have opened my eyes and have helped me empower my children and teach them appropriate boundaries in a way we hadn’t before. We discuss boundaries every year with Boy/Cub scouts but I think it’s imperative to help our children understand that the “Youth Protection” rules are the same for church and school.

    • Andrew R. says:

      When you asked your bishop were you married, and asking about yourself. I ask because fornication has always been on the list.

      From Handbook 1 section 6.7.2

      When a Disciplinary Council May Be Necessary

      Serious Transgression

      Formal Church discipline may be necessary for any member who commits a serious transgression. As used here, serious transgression is defined as a deliberate and major offense against morality. It includes (but is not limited to) attempted murder, forcible rape, sexual abuse, spouse abuse, intentional serious physical injury of others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations (especially sexual cohabitation), deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, robbery, burglary, theft, embezzlement, sale of illegal drugs, fraud, perjury, and false swearing.

      I think it is dangerous to tell your children to only speak to you. I agree you, or your husband, should be the first port of call, and hopefully this will always be the case. But if a child felt they could not tell you, you have stopped them telling anyone. And we all need help sometime.

      • Mrs. Alex says:

        I’m sorry, I should have clarified, I was trying to hurry, I was a married woman at the time. Our bishop likely rattled off a longer list, but those two things stuck into my mind. My husband and I both left the church at 15 and returned in our early 20s after we were married and had reconciled our WoW issues. Morality has never been an issue in our life so it’s not one that I easily identify with. Thank you for quoting the handbook. My husband will likely do the same thing later when we discuss this. Unfortunately I am much more reactive about these things than he. :/
        Next, you make an excellent point about the danger of children not having anyone outside the home to talk to, which is precisely why abuse by ANY ecclesiastical leader or trusted adult (scout leader, teacher, parent etc) is so horrific. For the record, we DID discuss that it is completely OKAY to discuss things with church leaders but I helped them understand that they have a voice, and that if at ANY time they felt uncomfortable, they should end the meeting and that it wouldn’t be disrespectful. We talked about obeying promptings, IF they ever felt uncomfortable in the presence of any of their leaders that they should listen. There is a man that serves in scouting in another ward but within our stake that we have medium to little contact with that is a bit creepy, we talked about THAT feeling vs the feeling they have when they are around our current (fairly new) and past bishoprics.
        hope that my children will always be able to come to me. I do understand that there may be times when they may want to discuss things with another trusted adult, like our bishop that can help them, and I DID explain this to them. However, I do find it creepy in any setting, LDS, catholic or otherwise, that a young teen girl or boy should discuss masturbation with ANY male….one on one. Our stake just had a standards night where the youth could ask questions (YW were with their WOMEN leaders and the YM were with their leaders) and receive answers as well as learn what is appropriate behavior while dating etc. In my opinion, this setting is an appropriate setting to discuss these matters, then the youth can ask parents for further explanation as they are ready. I would want to vomit if I knew that my children had been asked specific probing questions beyond “Do you live the law of chastity?”

        I still feel like the option of parent presence or the door open for the youngest teens especially should be an option. I know older, 17+ teens may feel more comfortable in a one on one setting as well as may have questions that they may not feel comfortable asking their parents, however it should still be up to the teen.

      • Marguerite Hart says:

        Maybe it’s because I am 65 and was raised Catholic and have been LDS for 35 years now but this all seems very uncomfortable to me. I remember mandatory confessions in Parochial school growing up and sitting in that box trying to think up something I might have done wrong so I had something to confess. I also remember that back in those days you never discussed sex in any context with anyone period. I may be old fashioned but I would not be comfortable talking about those aspects of my life with anyone but the Lord. I believe in personal dignity and self respect and I can tell you that I at 65 would not be comfortable discussing whether I masturbate or not with my Branch Pres. I really feel it is none of his business. Now maybe that is some residual Catholic ethic that still lives in me somewhere but I feel that I have a right to my own ideas and opinions for my life and so does everyone else on this earth. If I feel that something I had done 20 years ago needs forgiveness then I will kneel in prayer to the Lord and thrash it out the way my grandmother did. Slavishly following a handbook scares me, and if I had been aware of a “book” back 35 years ago I might have taken a different road.

      • Mrs. Alex says:

        Marguerite, thank you for your comment. I too would have a hard time discussing sexual matters with someone other than my husband, which is why I don’t. I think the “book” helps our lay leaders with certain circumstances that they may not know how to handle. I had a long discussion with my husband last night about this article and my feelings/ response etc. I was comforted to know that there ARE guidelines set forth in the handbook and they clearly state how interviews with youth are to be handled, the frequency is left to the discretion of the bishop but other than that there are very specific guidelines. Our Ward has the questions listed on a paper and the interviewer is not to deviate from those questions, the ONLY question regarding sexuality is “Do you live the law of chastity?” IF the youth has questions, they are referred to the For Strength of Youth book and their parents. IF the youth desires to discuss/confess something, an appointment will be made with the bishop. I fully sustain my local leaders and have known them for many many years. I do believe that abuse is very much the exception, not the rule. I believe that by discussing these things with our children, helping them know that they have a voice and if they ever feel uncomfortable that they can end the meeting or request a parent be present or the door open, whatever helps them feel at ease will help greatly. Our children need not feel scared or that they’ve done anything wrong, knowledge is power.
        The handbook is not the gospel but certainly helps the bishopric and keeps things uniform, so there aren’t abuses, questions beyond the bounds of what is right and appropriate. I love the gospel and know that we belong to a church that includes leaders that are fallible humans, that’s a fact, no one on this earth is perfect but that fact will not keep me from loving and living the gospel.

  55. Sarah says:

    I’m a mother of a young woman. I was asked by the bishop to teach her more about the law of chastity so he could ask her deeper questions about it. It was creepy! What deeper questions about chastity needs to be discussed with an eleven year old girl? My daughter knows plenty about the subject. We have been open with our children and are not afraid to discuss the subject with them. After a few months the bishop apologized to me and said he was following what his leaders have asked him to ask the youth. I told him it would be a good idea to meet with my daughter and my spouse to help my daughter know that he was not a creepy man. She was within ear shot when he asked me to teach her more on chastity so he could ask her deeper questions. I thought he would apologize to her when we met. No apology, no clearing the air, no relief to my daughters anxiety to the deeper questions. He welcomed us to his office and then began interviewing her for a temple recommend. Just when I thought he may not be so creepy because he apologized to me, he displayed another bad trait. In his questioning he said he knew the answer but still had to ask her. Then he asked her if she owed any child support or alimony to any former spouse or children. She did not understand the question. I said to my daughter that she’s never been married or had children so she didn’t owe them any child support or alimony. Why did our 12 year old need to be asked that? The question is completely irrelevant. Too young to enter into a legal contract of marriage. Obviously a question that does not apply to a 12 year old. I can only come to a few conclusions. Either my bishop is completely clueless, or he likes to make people feel little by asking inappropriate questions. I hope he is clueless.
    This was last years dilemma. Since that time my daughter has dreaded church and young women’s. She has suffered anxiety about it all. She feels weird and alone. Each time a new young women receives their Faith in God award when they transition into young women’s from primary it is like pouring salt in a wound. My daughter earned hers but they never gave it to her. My daughter feels special, not in a good way, but specially targeted and left out.
    Her 13th birthday is upon us and I am dreading what interview it will bring.
    I also feel like I have a hard time answering if I support my local leaders in the temple recommend interview. I do not support the actions of my stake leaders telling my bishop to ask deeper questions to my young children. Nor do I support a bishop who asks me and my children inappropriate questions whether sexual in nature or inapplicable by law.

  1. March 27, 2016

    […] From a article in The Exponent: […]

  2. December 31, 2016

    […] Alisa’s Private Ecclesiastical Interviews for Children Are Abusive and Must Stop Most commented […]

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