Former Mormon bishop asks church leaders to stop interviewing kids about sex behind closed doors

Sam Young, left, and an unidentified volunteer hold signs during a petition drive in Salt Lake City, Utah, Dec. 1, 2017 | Photo courtesy of Sam Young, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A petition to stop the practice of one-on-one interviews between Mormon leaders and children has garnered over 5,000 signatures.

The petition states closed-door meetings between adult men and children that include questions pertaining to sexual matters are inappropriate and may serve to shame children.

Sam Young holds a sign during a petition drive near Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, Dec. 2, 2017 | Photo courtesy of Sam Young, St. George News

Sam Young, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and previously served as a bishop for the church, led a drive for the petition near the church-owned Temple Square in Salt Lake City Friday and Saturday.

In his five years as bishop from 1991 to 1996, Young told St. George News, he only ever asked child interviewees if they followed the church’s “Law of Chastity,” and his questions were never explicit. He said he was surprised when he later learned that many church members in their youth had been asked explicit questions about masturbation or sexual relationships.

But he said the biggest shock came when he asked his now adult daughter if she had ever been asked by a church bishop if she masturbates.

“She said, ‘Yeah,’” Young said. “She was 12 years old, she didn’t know what it was, she went to the internet – you can find all kinds of stuff on the internet that I didn’t want my 12-year-old exposed to.”

The interview questions inadvertently led his daughter to finding pornography after she looked up the meaning of masturbation, Young said, adding that similar interview questions persisted through her youth from age 12 to 17.

“I was incensed at that,” Young said, “I felt a betrayal of my parental responsibilities – they’d been abdicated and confiscated.”

Young maintains a blog on which he shares numerous anonymous testimonials of individuals who said they were asked about sexual matters in similar interviews during their youth.

The practice of asking such questions during the interviews doesn’t necessarily occur in every congregation, he said, but it is prevalent, based on the many responses he has received.

Sam Young, right, holds a sign during a petition drive near Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, Dec. 2, 2017 | Photo courtesy of Sam Young, St. George News

During the petition drive in Salt Lake City, Young said some people he talked to were unaware or even denied that such questions were asked during the interviews, while others shared their own experience confirming that they were asked in their youth about sex and masturbation by church leaders.

Church leaders typically have no formal training on conducting youth interviews, the petition states.

“We received lots of training sessions, but I don’t remember a single one on youth interviews,” Young said of his time as a bishop, noting that he was never told to ask questions about sexual matters.

Even if it isn’t a church policy to ask specific questions about sexuality, Young is calling for an end to the practice of closed-door interviews that a child’s parent may not even be aware of.

Talking to a child about sexual matters should be done by a trained professional, if at all, he said.

“I’ve had many parents say their kids are not going to have one-on-one interviews,” Young said, “they didn’t know it was an option not to.”

“There are kids who may not be impacted by this,” Young said. “Many kids are going to lie about it. But there are some who are devastated by this.”

Many of the people Young has spoken to who were questioned about sexual matters in their youth have said they have struggled with shame and feelings of inadequacy well into adulthood, he said, including some who were driven to thoughts or attempts of suicide.

“It might not be a lot who consider suicide,” Young said, “but why are we doing this if even one kid is going to commit suicide?

During the petition drive in Salt Lake City, Young and several volunteers, including his 87-year-old mother, helped garner over 1,000 additional signatures, bringing the petition’s total backers to over 5,400 at the time of this report.

“I’m not an activist. I’ve never done this kind of thing before,” he said, explaining that he took up the issue in order to help future generations of children.

The church’s Public Affairs Department declined to comment on the petition when asked by St. George News Monday.

While he doesn’t know whether the church will acknowledge the petition, Young said it has already accomplished a major goal of bringing awareness to the subject and promoting healing to those who have shared their childhood experiences.

“Those things alone make whatever happens with the petition very meaningful.”

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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20 Comments

  • and December 4, 2017 at 8:16 pm

    Are LDS Bishops just regular people that take turns at being a Bishop or are they theologically educated (and trained in counseling) professionals? Seems like a control / power move to manipulate the younger members. Why would they want to know the sexual secrets of someone?

  • Craig December 4, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    If this is accurate, an adult interviewing young children with whatever questions they choose is worrisome.

    Worse is doing this without parental consent. I would be very upset if our Pastor did this.

  • DRT December 4, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    If I was LDS, (I’m not, obviously,) and this kind of crap had gone on with my kids, this alone would be enough to make me leave the sect. And very possibly look to criminal investigations and law suits.
    There has been to much information about clergy of any faith, being child molesters.

  • Sedona December 4, 2017 at 9:00 pm

    Doing anything criminal or disgusting under “The Banner of Heaven” is completely repulsive.

  • Real Life December 4, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    The more I learn about you Mormons, the weirder you get.

  • Ladyk December 5, 2017 at 1:15 am

    I want to say thank you to this family who obviously care so much about the youth of the Church to take their time to bring attention to a serious matter.

    First of all to those who don’t understand the language in the article I will try to explain a little. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that the Church of Christ was A layman’s church. Meaning that those who became apostles were just your average men who were called by Christ to help teach his word. So when the Church was restored so were the principals of “laymen church”. You can learn more of why this principal is imperative at LDS.org

    A “bishop” is what most would think of as a pastor. However the Church at the local levels are run by average members who have been called by upper leaders to donate their time for usually 3-5 years. These people have families and are your normal everyday people who have local jobs and live in the community. Everyone who serves in any capacity in the ward would be the same. It doesn’t matter if they teach Sunday School or pass the sacrament. Every job is done by members of that individual ward.

    As for the one on one interviews. Members of the Church are asked to a follow certain teachings. Tithing, Word of Wisdom (no smoking or drinking), and the Law of Chastity. Which is a guideline to members of now we should all behave in keeping sexual relations within the marriage of a man and woman. No pre-marital sex, no masturbating ECT. Kids early on have a one on one meeting with their Bishop and are asked if they follow these teachings. I was never asked any detailed questions, nor did I ever feel that what my Bishop was asking me was inappropriate. I don’t think the Church guidelines seen that every Bishop has to ask every member if they Masturbate, this would include children/youth. The point in asking young children if they follow the guidelines is to also teach the youth that if they stray from these guidelines that there is always someone in the Bishops office who cares about them and is there to help them repent and move forward. It is NEVER meant to be shameful or abusive or disrespectful. It is not easy for these men to have to sit there and ask these questions or listen to the very most private and difficult situations that come up from the members who the Bishop serve. I can’t imagine having to deal with all of the problems they see. They do it because they were called to serve.

    There are reasons for these procedures that are very important to members and I for one am grateful to many of the Bishops I have had in my life who cared enough about me to ask hard questions. I couldn’t go to my parents with some things and I appreciate that my bishop cared.

    I do think there should be some very specific guidelines and I think the parents should know and approve of what is going to be asked during these interviews. A 10 year old should not be asked the same questions as a 20 year old. But from what I have seen, most do a wonderful job of making sure the youth know they are cared about and loved.

    If you have any further questions see LDS.org for better answers.

    • DRT December 5, 2017 at 8:45 am

      And I want to thank you for taking the time to make a very informative post! I have, over the years, worked with three individuals who were called to be bishops. Two of these gentlemen were, in my mind, folks who were already way to busy! Between having very demanding jobs, and very large families, it was hard to imagine how they could have time to be in the very demanding position of bishop. And yet they answered the call, and I have no doubt they are, or were very good, conscientious church leaders. One thing I noticed was that they never mentioned there religion at work. At least to those of us who were not LDS.
      The other one, however, was a different story. He was a customer representative, (read that salesman,) who was known for saying what someone wanted to here. He also didn’t know how to keep his mouth shut! I really did not want to hear about his late night calls for counseling and assistance. He also used his “bishop status” to take time off work, any time he felt like it. I couldn’t imagine anyone taking or wanting his advice or counsel.
      I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I found out several other folks that I know either are, or have been bishops. They just didn’t use it as a crutch to take advantage of it.
      I guess my point is that the LDS religion doesn’t screen their bishops very well.

    • Cheryl December 5, 2017 at 9:22 am

      Exactely ladyk.Please,learn from members of the LDS faith and not by heresay.I would do the same for your religion.The interviews I have been,to have a lways been positive and kind with the Bishop getting to know more about me and my interests and letting me know he is there for me if I need anything. None of this has ever happened to me in my 50 years in this church. We go to theBishop as others do in other religions to ask for forgiveness when and if we want to.It is never forced and we are NEVER put to shame.I would be interested to know if this man is still a member of the church or has left it and is trying to shame our religion.Please realize this is one persons experience told to him and was not there. And please, be respectful of our religion as I am of yours.No,need to call God loving people weird. Most of the what many think is true about our church is utter nonsense.Find out for yourself at mormon.org and please…..show some respect.

      • Zack December 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm

        Cheryl,

        “No,need to call God loving people weird.”
        I couldn’t agree more. It’s a cheap rhetorical ploy to resort to name calling.

        However, I take issue with other parts of your comment. The fact that none of this happened to you does not mean it hasn’t happened to others. You state, “we are NEVER put to shame.” You use the first-person plural “we” as if to speak for all LDS folks interviewed by bishops, but how would you know what others have been dealt when yours is but one person’s experience?

        You recommend that people learn about the Church from members of the Church and from Mormon.org. I agree that this would definitely be a good idea if a person wants to thoroughly learn about the Church. However, I think to stop there would be a mistake. You claim that “Most of the what many think is true about our church is utter nonsense.” If you can back that up with any kind of numbers, please do. In the mean time, I suggest perusing something like mormonthink.com. You seem to be a person confident enough in their faith to deal with the problems claimed there. If you can find inaccuracies there, please 1) let them know so they can correct it and 2) compare the number of inaccuracies you find there to the number of accurate claims and facts. I think you’ll find there are sources of information outside of the LDS church that are quite accurate about the Church.

        Please consider it this way–if you had a friend looking into Scientology, Catholicism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam, etc.; would you really recommend that they not consider any information about each religion except information directly from the Churches or members themselves? Wouldn’t that be kind of like buying a car without checking Kelley Blue Book, Edmund’s, or Consumer Reports?

        Do you really think it’s okay for a grown man to be alone in a room with a minor who is not his child asking said minor about sexual matters? (And yes, “the law of chastity” is about sexual matters.) What if the kid asks, “What’s the law of chastity?” or what if the kid says they don’t live according to the law of chastity? How would you suggest the bishop avoid asking for more detail about sexual thoughts, feelings, and behaviors? You really think this is okay considering the parent could attend the interview? You really think this is okay considering the bishop could instead simply ask, “Do you consider yourself worthy to enter the temple [or do this or that]?” and, in the event the kid didn’t think they were “worthy,” follow up with general advice without talking about sex to help the kid? I mean, if discernment is a real spiritual gift, the bishop doesn’t need the info to make sure the kid doesn’t partake of something “unworthily.” If such discernment is real, couldn’t he just direct the child to speak with their parent who everybody recognizes as authorized to talk alone with their own child about sex? There are so many workarounds for this, why risk having an untrained person be alone in a room with a minor who is not his child asking questions about sexuality?

        Thanks for your thoughts,
        Zack

      • jrn145 December 5, 2017 at 5:49 pm

        Cheryl,

        I grew up in the LDS church. As a youth (not even 18) I was asked explicit questions about masturbation, what I did in order to masturbate, details on the kind of pornography I watched and how I felt about it, specific details regarding ejaculation and bodily fluids, etc. The experience left me hurt and scarred for years and to this day my sexuality is still affected by it.

        I am not suggesting that all or even the majority of bishops ask such probing and inappropriate questions. But it is definitely more than “one man’s experience” or someone attempting to shame the church. It is a reality and it’s more widespread than you might think.

        Please don’t dismiss this topic as heresy and nonsense. It is very real and to ignore it means it’ll simply keep on happening.

  • Cabin-time December 5, 2017 at 7:33 am

    Yea I remember my first interview. I was scrutinized by the interviewer and when I was done. I WAS DONE with the church and never looked back. Disgraceful practice.

  • thejoshw December 5, 2017 at 7:38 am

    There definitely needs to be a change in this practice.

  • Bigdaddy December 5, 2017 at 9:26 am

    This article is one of the worst I have ever read. Way too many broad generalizations and accusations. Not to mention all the anonymous sources. And many partial or completely inaccurate facts. And if there are legitimate issues as this article point ut then I believe there would be a more productive way to address them than trying to publicly shame the church as a whole. The same type of shaming this article blames for making some thing about or attempt suicide. I think those reading this article should take it or what it is, a poorly shrouded sensationalized attack on an amazing organization and church.

    LadyK thanks for the well written clarification.

    I am not naive to think that this hasn’t actually happened to some, but to present it as the norm is misleading and purposefully deceptive. We are all human here on this earth, we all make mistakes, Mormons are no exception. But to judge all Mormons by the actions of a few is irresponsible. That would be like me judging all Democrats by the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Wassserman-Shulz, Reid, Feinstien,,,,,ok bad analogy but I think you get my point.

    Just remember to not believe everything you read on the internet (or in the media).

    • Zack December 5, 2017 at 12:46 pm

      BigDaddy,

      Would you please cite the broad generalizations and accusations and the many partial or completely inaccurate facts?

      I may have missed something, but the only inaccuracy I found was this:
      “Young said . . . that he was never told to ask questions about sexual matters.”
      I think I know what he meant to say by that, but the truth is that he was instructed to ask about the law of chastity, and the law of chastity is by definition about sexual matters.

      Thanks for any clarification you can provide,
      Zack

  • Sapphire December 5, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    Everyone in the LDS church is given “callings” to serve and gain leadership skills whether it be a teacher, bishop, secretary, group leader, or missionary. They are supposed to serve honorably, with kindness, compassion and helpfulness. Just because a few abuse their position doesn’t mean that everyone is bad and worthy of suspicion. Those that do abuse are eventually found out and can repent, be disciplined, or excommunicated. After all, as Dear Abby once put it years ago, “Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” The LDS Church wants people to be loving, moral, and considerate. Still, I know of no way to force people to behave all the time and under all circumstances because many have issues, bad days, mental problems, agendas, unexpected situations, and varying viewpoints. When you deal with people, ANY people, you take your chance.

    • Zack December 5, 2017 at 5:41 pm

      Sapphire,

      You wrote:
      “Just because a few abuse their position doesn’t mean that everyone is bad and worthy of suspicion.”

      I don’t see that the article says “everyone is bad and worthy of suspicion.” Could you point out the language that leads you to think the author or those advocating for this practice to stop are concluding this?

      Thanks,
      Zack

      • Sapphire December 5, 2017 at 6:06 pm

        The entire premise of this article is that it is inappropriate for bishops to meet alone with children. But bishops are supposed to meet alone with members so they have a safe zone to talk about problems and concerns. Most bishops respect that responsibility and do not breach that trust by being inappropriate. Maybe it would be better for parents to teach children what is appropriate to talk to bishops about?

        • Zack December 6, 2017 at 9:36 am

          Sapphire,

          A couple of things. You indicate that “*most* bishops . . . do not breach that trust by being inappropriate.” Does that not admit that some do breach that trust by being inappropriate?

          Also, you didn’t really answer my question, but I probably wasn’t clear enough, so I’ll try again. What, if anything, in the article would indicate that “everyone is bad and worthy of suspicion” as you wrote?

          Thanks again,
          Zack

  • Redbud December 5, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    I was raised LDS and sometimes our ward boundaries changed because of our fast growing area (this was not in Utah by the way). It was interesting to be interviewed by different bishops. Most of the interviews I considered appropriate, but in others, I feel the questions went too deep and were not appropriate at all. This was many years ago, and as I look back, I still feel like some of them were very inappropriate. I think that most LDS leaders who conduct interviews do them appropriately and follow the guidelines. However, from my own personal experience, I can tell you that some of them were NOT appropriate. I still remember how uncomfortable they made me feel. Despite this, I have nothing against the LDS church in general. When I attended church, I never did it to judge other people, find out about their personal lives, or put on a show at church. I attended just because I wanted to feel like I was actually worshipping on Sunday. There are a few bad apples in every bunch, and some people there DO try to delve in too much in other people’s business, they judge other people, and they are there to put on a show. This is with any religion, not just the LDS, but it’s funny how you get to know some people OUTSIDE of church. For example your friends, friends of friends, co-workers, acquaintances, etc. Then they show up to church, and they act like completely different people, complete with that big fake smile they give everyone.

  • Amy December 6, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    The HORRIBLE TRUTH is that there ARE pedophiles in Priesthood power and this needs to be addressed and considered in regard to this petition and these interviews!

    I was molested by my pedophile bishop when I was a child and I am so grateful that Sam Young has created this petition in hopes of seeing these interviews STOPPED!
    You can read my story here:

    https://invisiblescubit.wordpress.com/2017/11/15/pedophiles-in-priesthood-power-amys-story/

    I was raised in the LDS Church. I was admonished to trust my bishop growing up. I was blindsided when he took me into his bishops office as a a young girl and asked me if I touched myself. He molested me and I was so shamed by what he did to me, that I hid it for nearly 4 decades. When I watched the movie, Spotlight, I totally related to the man who told one of the reporters he had never even told his wife he had been molested by a priest. The shame it creates is so horrible!

    When an attorney, on my behalf, spoke with an attorney who represents the LDS Church, and discussed the molest I endured, the LDS attorney offered to pay for counseling, and offered a monetary compensation in exchange for me signing an agreement that I would NEVER speak of the molest publicly again. To me, this feels likes Shades of all that Catholic mess trying to sweep these cases away quietly with hush-money!

    I know of another person, a man now in his 40s, who was also molested by a pedophile Mormon Bishop. I wonder if he would also have been offered a monetary compensation in exchange for his silence if an attorney spoke to the LDS attorneys about what happened to him.

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