Share this Episode

Comments 16

  1. John, obviously, as Sam states, children are certainly the #1 priority. However, you have brought up the issue of adult interviews with their bishops regarding sexuality. I’d be curious to hear more about what you and others think of those.

  2. Please keep this discussion going!!! This was excellent!! I hated those question (from 12 on up–I was 12 in 1976 and didn’t even know what masturbation meant when asked) I’m out now and don’t have to face those questions anymore nor my children–so others shouldn’t either!!

  3. Amen, and Amen. Such an important episode. I’m so glad that you won’t be letting up on this issue. The end to this abusive practice will come, eventually, if enough parents stand up to the status quo within their wards.

    John mentioned the many abused members who were told, “Don’t tell anyone. Keep it quiet.” I know of instances where this has happened and I’ve personally experienced it. It occurs in relation to not only sexual abuse but also various forms of spousal abuse. I’ve seen bishops who were all about protecting the husband’s reputation, who didn’t care whether the wife had any support at all to get through her trauma. I’ve seen bishops blame the female victim. And yes, expecting words of hope and healing from a priesthood leader and receiving nothing but “Keep it a big secret to protect the one who hurt you” is another huge layer of abuse, salt in the wound.

  4. Such a good panel! I thought everyone brought very relevant and thought-provoking insight.

    It’s hard for me to imagine things changing very soon. I think the biggest obstacle is the mindset that we are the one and only people of God; that we are an exception. So we can look at situations that outsiders view as obviously fraught, and we don’t see that because we are the chosen people. In other words, this may be bad practice for everyone else, but not for us. That was the main message I took from the insane DNews editorial. (Of course, we view ourselves as the exception except in cases where things do go south. Then, when referencing those issues, we are sure to make sure that we mention that other churches have the same problems. Frustrating.)

  5. John,

    I am a long term listener – +5 years. As a former bishop in the U.K. (served on 2 separate occasions) this topic is the most
    important Mormon Stories has ever covered. I am a trained medical doctor and felt completely out of my depth discussing sexual matters with youth, YSAs, and adults. Through my medical training, I adopted a very ‘professional’ approach and put specific boundaries in place. But my attempts to share these practices fell on deaf ears. I doubt my suggestions will extend beyond MS listeners, but I’m throwing this out like a message in a bottle….hoping it finds its way into the hands of an influential decision-maker. Here it goes:

    1. Bishops and SP should not discuss sexual matters at all with youth. The questions about do you live the law of chasitiy should be ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If ‘yes’ move on. If ‘no’ the bishop should encourage the youth to speak with a parent or a trained counselor.

    2. Building on point 1, the bishop should not ask the youth about their understanding of the law of chastity. This opens the floodgates to mention all the topics that lead to confusion.

    3. Safeguards must be put in place. No 1:1 interviews with youth unless informed consent with a documented list of the questions and topics is provided to the guardians, parents, and youth members in advance of the interview. All bishops offices should have a window with no locks. All of the chapels in the U.K. have this requirement. This is to protect the interviewers and the interviewed members.

    4. Training and guidelines for leaders, parents and the youth must be mandatory before interviewers and interviewees can be mobilized. Training is transparent with clear boundaries.

    5. Training needs to emphasize to leaders the dangers of ‘going rogue under the guise of the Spirit Revelation’. I have personally seen courts of law make decisions that went against what a ‘spiritually’ guided bishop advised on a sexual matter. This is hugely damaging . Bishops lean to much on the ‘mantle’ to address issues that no power of revelation should usurp. But bishops don’t have have the discernment of boundaries laid out for them to aviod giving out damaging advice, that can lead members out of the church more often than keeping members in the church, and in some cased cause mental health issues, including symptoms of PTSD and suicidal ideation.

    5. Training needs to occur for parents and youth to redefine normal sexual health and love – moving our culture away from shaming behaviours and fallacious anecdotes like equating masturbation and pornography to that of murder. His should include a discussion of the scientific basis of homosexuality. Ridiculous.

    6. The above ideas should apply to adults and YSAs for all interviews, including missionary interviews and convert baptism interviews. As a missionary in Germany, I was forced as a zone leader to ask all potential new members above the age or 12 about whether they practiced ‘masturbation’ or ‘Selbstbefriedebung’. All those who said yes had to meet with the mission pres. During my 2 times as a bishop, I can’t tell you how often single and married men and women came to me to confess – unsolicited about masturbation. I told them I didn’t want to know about it. As a medical professional I said it was normal – if the member felt it was abnormal and affecting their mental health or sexual relations, they should discuss with their partners and or a therapist…..not an lds leader who will spin the response in 25 different directions, none of which is backed by the handbook or scripture.

    7. The handbook needs to call out to bishops and SP to immediately seek support for mental health and sexual health matters. I have been appalled to watch bishops and SP refuse the. Sacrament, take away temple recommends and openly punish members with severe mental heath issues who are formal diagnosed and those who need to be diagnosed with conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. These well intentioned leaders are provided with no guerdrails to deal with such members. not only does this harm the member with the mental health issue, it can breed even more fanatical behaviors if these members go untreated. Think of Elizabeth Smart’s captor.

    8. Think of the policies in terms of the global church not the Utah church. I loved the MS panel discussion today, but many of the suggestions could never be resourced in the global church. I struggled to get LDS counsellors In the UK outside of the greater London area. Also think about some of the traditional but wrong cultural interpretations of sexuality outside of the developed world. With the church growing in Africa, I continue to hear cultural myths being layered on top of Mormon theology around worthiness interviews. I also saw this in Immigrant populations coming to the U.K. Who were put in leadership roles…..scary….

    9. Building on point 9, let’s also learn from the global church and other churches around how they handle the teaching of sexual morals and sexual health. Has anyone bothered to recently compare teen pregnancy data in places like Utah and Idaho with Denmark?
    10. Provide legal guidance to the leaders by national jurisdiction. I suspect that what protects a bishop in Utah from asking in an interview could land a bishop in court in Sweden or the U.K. We need this sort of specificity in the handbook….now. Or some of our bishops could but intentionally and unintentionally face a Harvey Weinstein situation without any protection for those who were simply following the spirit and making it up as they go….,

    As a former bishop I walked a tightrope, being asked by senior stake leaders to probe members in ways I never wanted to or felt comfortable doing. I regret being led to probe as my medical training taught me the boundaries I should respect. It’s time for the church to bring in the professionals and do some correlating for the benefit of us all. The days of shaming for all members youth and adults must be over….

  6. The Didache (Did-uh-kay) is an early Christian document dating to the late first century. 5:14 “Confess your unlawful acts in church, and do not come to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life.” This appears to suggest that confessions should be made to the entire congregation, as a whole. Whether we like it or not (I don’t), confession of sin seems to have been an integral part of the church in the early decades after the crucifixion of Jesus.

    1. This is done each week in the Lutheran Church. No specifics. Everyone confesses that they have sinned and that they are sinners and thus ask for forgiveness from God. Done. Game over. See you next week.

  7. Thank you for the panel discussion and the opportunity to comment. Former Catholic here, currently identifying as “None”. I would love to hear feedback on the ideas below.

    The Catholic church has a similar view of masturbation — big sin. Leads to hell if not erased. Must be confessed in one-on-one confession with a (male, of course) priest, otherwise the sin cannot be forgiven (hell ensues) and the sacrament cannot be received. Repeat the process weekly or so for teen boys. Or lie and fake (also sins). Nice choice. Remaining seated while others go towards the altar to receive the sacrament at church service is a form of public shaming, but nowhere near the level of what I’ve heard about for LDS such as expulsion from BYU, sent home from mission or pulling a temple recommend. I believe that this kind of shaming/humiliation, especially of children/minors, is itself abusive (dare I say sinful?). Catholic confessionals are usually a closed booth where the priest sits, with separate attached booths having a screened window for the confessor to speak through. The priest pronounces required “penance” (usually multiple repetitions of stock prayers) and sometimes gives advice to avoid future sin. So you can see some problematic similarities there, though the individuals are in separate “rooms.” And let’s not forget the distortions created by mandated celibacy (no masturbation either, supposedly) for priests.

    Developmentally normal = not a sin. I heard the first part but not the second in the discussions here. It seems to me that this is a fundamental problem for many churches. The theology/holy book/prophet says masturbation is sinful, therefore various punishments and shaming follow, just as for, say, stealing. The teaching is seen as received law and therefore cannot be changed. If this were not the case, does not this part of the interview (confession) go away and become a non-issue? Same could be applied to “fornication”, etc., but then I guess we’re on a slippery slope then, so I’ll stick with masturbation.

    Last point: I believe that surveys show that boys/men have essentially all engaged in masturbation at some point by their mid-to-late teens. Girls seem to lag a bit, percentage-wise but still the majority, if I have that right. This is biological (e.g., nocturnal emissions), and persists in spite of strong cultural pressures to the contrary. Mormons may be better (worse?) than average, due to these pressures. So, given these biological facts, HOW IS IT NOT child abuse to tell children/minors/teens that they must not do this, that they will go to hell for this, and shame them for this? But then we’re back to the “sin” problem. Is there a way out? It strikes me that opening up the interviews, bringing in family members or others, prohibiting certain questions, etc. does not address the root problem.

    1. Fantastic episode John! I enjoyed the input of all the guests, but esp. Sam Young, who’s direct speech was like an arrow to the heart of the matter.
      I thank all these people for putting right thinking ahead of a crazed institution.

  8. Thank you all for an excellent podcast! And special thanks to Sam for taking the lead on this important issue. Children are powerless; they must be protected from the powerful.

  9. Without these ‘private’ interviews the Church will not be able to maintain its control over its members, that’s why Deseret News ( a corporate institution ) is involved, ie you can’t get private information by which you can manipulate people with. Your panel does not seem to identify the overall reason for this policy and the reason for its defense by the Church. Citing ‘best practice’ from other organisations is not on point as those organisations are not trying to control their members. Good luck, but you are challenging a fundamental practice of control here.

  10. Wow!!! I love the response by Dr C Austin… I’m going to print that one out and save it for later. I agree with his points and it is so well articulated. Thanks for sharing.

  11. I will be brief with my 5 points:

    1.) HYPERBOLE: Calling any breach in chastity as “second to murder” is the Church’s way of saying that chastity is important; yet this hyperbole adds intensity to an already intense topic. Such a reference is not helpful.

    2.) BLINDSIDING: Many academic youth take pride in scholastic preparation and are blindsided when they are called to meet with an authority figure to interview, quiz or test them on any topic. Anxiety is intensified when test material is unknown. In K-12 schooling, I recall my own anxiety to test and its impact on my semester grade. My own childhood nightmares include dreams of intense preparation before an academic test, then realizing that I studied the wrong chapters as testing began; and other youth have similar dreams. If bishops’ chastity questions must continue as currently stated, then the youth should be given ALL the questions many days before the interview itself.

    3.) LITERAL-MINDEDNESS: Developmentally, young teens take words literally; and many of the biblical references (as cited by Brynne, Part 1, time 50:15+) are internalized by young teens at face-value, at the literal meaning of every word. Further, twentieth-century terms and figures-of-speech continue from the mouths of Church leaders. For example, terms such as “necking and petting” confuse many youth. Further, when a bishop (following his handbook) asks a youth, “Do you touch yourself?”, some youth feel caught within the words literal meaning. The youth thinks, “Yes, I washed my face this morning, and is that a problem?” Stuttering and stammering ensues. The bishop re-frames the question: “Do you touch your private parts, your genitals?” Another pause. The youth thinks, “Yes, I clean myself when using the toilet. Is that what he wants to know about?” Further stammering. Bishop clarifies, “Aside from toilet use, do you touch your genitals?” The youth thinks, “Yes, I wash my whole self with soap and sponge in the shower every morning. That’s good, right? Does it cross a line that I did not know about? Should I be embarrassed again? ”

    I have made my point: there is much room for misunderstanding when people in different generations speak in a mix of euphemistic and literal terms. Some readers may think that the above interview summary is only a humorous scripting; and that no youth would misunderstand a bishop’s questions in this way. I wish that this were only a humor and not the molding of further confusion for many youth.

    4.) GASLIGHTING: That word is defined as a form of mental abuse in which victims are psychologically manipulated so they think they are going insane. Regardless of their answers, some youth internalize the questions from their bishop’s interview in a way that makes them feel that they are, at worst, a lost and sinful person, or at best, on the scary ledge of pending sin. This may not reflect the view every youth; nevertheless, LDS HQ can do much to redesign the dynamics of that bishop-youth forum.

    5.) PUBERTY: The youth’s physical body is changing; hormones, physical height and weight, body hair, vocal tone, and dynamic changes in the genital areas. Statistically but not specifically, parents and bishops know more about youth than youth know about themselves. The problem is that some bishops (and other adult leaders) incorrectly attribute much of this hormonal dynamic as part and parcel to compliance or breach of chastity; and some youth internalize all of their adult leaders’ assessments as true and accurate.

    A significant problem occurs when a bishop’s messaging does not distinguish between (1) a youth’s biological and logistical need for harmless genital management (2) and touching to arouse. If a youth believes that both (1) and (2) are sinful (evil, taboo) he can be pushed to the edge of insanity. Past LDS HQ advice to “tie hands to bedposts” reflects the extreme leadership position that can push to a believing youth to insanity.

    Female youth may face greater self-loathing, (fear, spiritual- and self-rejection) because of the newness and logistics surrounding menstruation and an inaccurate belief that managing it fully and responsibly equates to sin because it requires her to “touch herself”. Some readers may laugh, believing that no youth would arrive at such a naive conclusion. Please review points 1 though 4, above. If time, watch either or both films, “Truman Show” and “Pleasantville”.

  12. I know sometimes it seems overwhelming the task of making a difference. However, I feel we can do much good within our own wards and stakes.

    I have been having discussion with my bishop about where I stand in regards to the churches double speak about 2 deep leadership and the “bishop exception” with one on one interviews. He agrees and is behind me 100%.

    I also just had a meeting with the Stake President. I presented the churchs article on Child Abuse and pointed out many good things but also some not so great things. I also gave him Tim Birt article on his recommendations. The Stake President now wants to assign me the “calling” to start conducting an audit within our stake of how bishops are doing, primary and youth leaders, if leaders know the policies, what policies are in place etc. I was overwhelmed with his excitement and acknowledgement that the System IS Broken. I told him we may not be able to change the entire church but what we can do is make a difference at our local level. We meet back in 2 weeks with thoughts and ideas and game plan to move forward. He wants to provide me with an official calling so I can have “Full Access” to bishops and members!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *