In recent months, our country has been having a critical and long overdue national conversation on sexual harassment and abuse. From Hollywood power brokers to celebrity chefs to members of the news media, we are seeing a new era of transparency and accountability as victims step forward and speak out.
But as a lifelong Mormon and father of six girls, it was the case of former top Trump White House official Rob Porter that struck closest to home. In speaking out about years of alleged abuse by Porter, his two ex-wives began to shed a long overdue light on the unique, deeply personal, and some would say, disturbing, role that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can sometimes play in the lives of its members. In Porter’s case, we learned that two young women had turned to their church leaders for guidance in the face of abuse and instead were encouraged by church bishops to stay in an allegedly abusive marriage. In short, to stay quiet and place the professional career of their husband ahead of their own well-being.
For those Americans not members of the LDS Church, they may not be aware that Mormon bishops are different from priests or rabbis in that this is a part-time position occupied by older male congregants and who often have little formal training in counseling or pastoral work. Yet, they hold tremendous influence in the lives of their fellow church members, particularly women and children.
Many Americans would be startled to learn that the stories of these two young women and Mormon bishops are not only not unique, but there are many that are much worse.
The Porter case, the #MeToo movement and the broader national conversation our country is having today on abuse and harassment has laid bare the reality that practices that may have been accepted years ago should no longer tolerated today.
Today, the LDS Church stands alone among the major religions as not just allowing, but in fact encouraging, private one-on-one interactions between children and older male church members, without the presence of their parents.
Imagine being a 12-year-old girl, and being called into a small room with an older man, whom you trust because he is a leader in your church. He says he’s going to ask you some questions that will determine how “worthy” you are in the eyes of God. The intrusive questions often are of a sexual nature. Your parents are not allowed to be present.
If you are uncomfortable reading those last few sentences, think about what it would be like to live through that experience. Every year, thousands of Mormon children and youth are put in in this cringe-inducing situation. Questions of a prurient nature are asked to many Mormon children. This practice, known as a “worthiness interview,” is both sanctioned and encouraged by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints.
After I found out this happened to my daughter, I knew I had to speak up to change this practice. As soon as I did, thousands of stories have come pouring in from all over the United States from Mormons who were subjected to this practice as children and have lived with the humiliation and harm that came as a result. Explicit questions about masturbation, sexual thoughts and desires, and sexual activity have been asked to children as young as 8 years old by adult men with no qualifications or training. Some adults have even reported that as children they were sexually assaulted by their bishops, who were never prosecuted because of the intense secrecy around these interviews.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the Rob Porter case that makes this issue timely. A few weeks ago, the country watched former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar be sentenced to 125 years in prison for systematically abusing the young female athletes in his care.
If we learned anything from that case, it’s that we cannot allow people in positions of power, in whom children so innocently put their trust, to potentially use their authority to harm the most vulnerable among us. No child should be subjected to sexual conversations with an untrained adult man, much less at the behest of their church.
This practice has to stop immediately, and it should be explicitly banned by the Mormon church. Taking a child behind closed doors to ask them questions about their sexuality, without their parents present, is not only completely inappropriate, it is contrary to the principled, safe, compassionate, environment so many Mormons are trying to create in their church. In just the last few weeks, over 52,000 signatures from all over the country have been gathered asking that the Mormon church end this practice.
On March 30, many of us will gather in Salt Lake City for a rally and march to the LDS Church headquarters where this position will be formally delivered to the church. Please click here to learn more.
As a lifelong Mormon and a former bishop, I know that there are millions of Mormons who abhor the thought that our children may be unsafe in our church. We should be empowering our young people, not saddling them with a lifetime of self-hatred. As Mormons and non-Mormons alike raise their voices to bring this issue into the light, the church has a unique opportunity to stop and condemn this practice that has no place in our mission or our community.
ProtectLDSChildren is a rapidly growing grassroots organization founded by Sam Young who is an active member of the LDS Church, a Houston business owner, and the father of six daughters. ProtectLDSChildren believes that the damaging consequences have made a severely negative-irreparable impact on Mormon youth and its goal is to bring a halt to these dangerous and damaging interviews.