When I was an active member of the church, my testimony led me to believe that one-on-one interviews between bishops and youth were necessary and important.
I was wrong. These interviews are neither safe nor helpful.
Worthiness interviews are not safe
A key aspect of child abuse prevention is teaching kids they are in charge of their body. They get to decide whether they want to hug someone, kiss someone, or even to talk to someone about their body. As they get older and pass through puberty, they have the right to make every decision that pertains to themselves as sexual beings. This includes disclosure.
Children growing up in the LDS church aren’t taught this important truth. Instead, they are led to believe that God’s approval of them hinges on their willingness to disclose information about their sexuality whether or not they are comfortable with their bishop.
This pressure to disclose teaches youth to ignore their own discomfort; it’s a system of forced trust which grooms teens to surrender their right to choose if, when, and with whom they will discuss their sexuality.
Let’s look at the extreme power differential between a youth and a bishop:
- A youth has no voice as to who is called as their bishop.
- A youth cannot choose a different bishop.
- A bishop is always a man. Girls do not have the option of interviewing with a female leader.
- The bishop is the deciding authority whether the child is “worthy” to participate in the sacred ordinances expected of members.
- The bishop is the deciding authority in youth church assignments.
- The bishop, according to church doctrine, literally stands in place of God. Youth are taught to trust and obey the bishop. Youth are never taught to question the bishop.
Bishop interviews are conducted in private behind closed doors, creating an environment where there is an opportunity for sexual abuse.
While most bishops are men of great integrity, this system doesn’t teach youth they have the right to say no to anyone, including a bishop or priesthood leader. This system also doesn’t provide a safe means for youth to disclose abuse should it occur.
The behind closed door system also fails bishops of integrity who simply should not be required to meet alone with minors.
For everyone’s safety, bishops must be trained in safety procedures and policies before they act in the role of bishop. Bishops should not meet with youth alone unless the youth asks to meet in private and bishop’s offices need a door window so the bishop can always be seen. (There are ways to set up a room so the bishop is visible, but the person he is meeting with is not.)
Child abuse is a serious problem for our whole society. Every precaution must be taken to prevent the possibility it might occur. Anything less is #NotOkWithMe.
Worthiness interviews are not helpful
Besides being unsafe for youth, worthiness interviews are harmful to their mental and emotional development.
At the start of puberty, many youths are told that masturbation–a developmentally normal behavior–is not only a sin but one that must be confessed to a bishop.
Some youth lie because of the social pressure to be worthy; others repeatedly confess the same “sin.” Worthiness interviews put many youths in a position where they repeatedly feel shame for even having sexual feelings. This shame can the fuel the compulsive behavior they are trying to avoid!
If the goal is to help young people grow into mentally healthy and sexually responsible adults, these interviews don’t help. If you don’t believe me, ask the youth of the church. I have spoken to enough of them to know too many feel painfully unworthy of God’s love. Is that what these standards are meant to teach?
The most important thing young people need to learn is they are 100% lovable. This doesn’t mean we teach them to condone all behavior. It means we teach them they are so much more than their behavior.
It means we teach them that self-punishment never motivates us to evolve into the best version of ourselves; only self-compassion can do that.
It means we teach them they don’t ever have to prove their worth.
Any kid who shows up with a heart willing to serve should be allowed to serve–even in sacred ordinances.
There’s nothing more sacred than children.
Let’s stop focusing on which youth are worthy. Instead, let’s tell all youth they’re WORTH IT!
Thank you, Sam Young, and Protect LDS Children for courageously working to Protect Every Child.