I had an experience when I was 12 that I set aside for a long time. I was about to become a deacon in the church and I had an interview with my bishop to determine my ‘worthiness’ to have the priesthood. I entered the room there was a chair in the center, he gestured to the seat I was to sit in and I did so. Then it got strange, he pulled up another chair and put it in front of mine and sat down. Our knees were nearly touching. He leaned forward staring me deep in the eyes and put his hand on my knee and said. “Profet* when was the last time you masturbated?” I was aghast, I had never ever done that and I told him so. He stared at me for what seemed like forever eyes darting back and forth as if it might make me confess some deep sin. I had nothing to confess though because I hadn’t done anything like that. I had to be interviewed by this bishop many more times as I progressed into my teenage years, each time the questions got more probing and more upsetting. He asked me about petting and bestiality, both words I didn’t even know what they meant at the time, but no worries, he was more than willing to describe them to me. Looking back from a vantage point of a few decades of life and a new belief system. I have a couple of points that I now ponder.
Did this exposure make me more interested in all the ‘evil’ things such as pornography? I know for a fact it affected my belief in the church and God because one of the things he taught me in these interviews was that only the people that made it to the highest celestial kingdom got to have sex in the next life. I remember vowing back then that I’d be temple married because there was no way in hell (pun intended) that God was gonna take sex away from me for eternity. He declared to me in these private meetings how awesome sex was once you were married, but how here and now if I were to engage or even be tempted there would be eternal consequences.
I wonder about the lasting effects of those interviews because for lots and lots of years porn was this terrible thing to be avoided at all costs, it meant you would be child molester or evil or in the clutch of satan and yet… it was so so enticing. I don’t think I was worse than any other kid when it came to porn in hindsight, I did once find a magazine on the side of the road that I looked at, and once on a school trip (where my mom was a chaperon) I bought a dirty magazine on a bet with the guys, I even had to confess to her as punishment from my teachers, talk about uncomfortable. But addicted? I don’t think so, enticing? Very much so.
Now here I am very much of the point of view porn really isn’t all that bad for the most part, like drinking and coffee and all the other prohibitions of the church, in moderation these things are simply not damaging to the average person. Sure if you are addicted to any of this that can be bad, but I just don’t see them as a commandment to avoid now.
Here’s the thing. It’s not so enticing anymore… Now that it isn’t on the ‘prohibited’ list I find that I am not constantly battling my evil thoughts about how cute that girl might look naked. Personally I think the very act of prohibiting it makes it something we want to have. Once having it isn’t an issue, well then its no biggie. I think that my leader in his efforts to protect me from the world and teach me bluntly about all the awful sins to avoid probably helped make it a bigger deal in my life than it might have been.
The other thing I realize from my new vantage point is that that leader really shouldn’t have been talking to me like that at that age. I know I wasn’t the only one he talked to like that. My brother confirmed similar conversations, so did many of my friends. Looking back I realized now with my own children that if a school teacher had a similar private conversation with my kids I wouldn’t even consider allowing it. And if they did it as their prerogative without asking my consent I’d even consider a lawsuit. That’s why when my daughter was about to be baptized my wife and I insisted that we be there for the baptismal interview. I was still trying to believe at the time, doubting my doubts strongly. However I did know for sure I didn’t want my 7 year old little girl fielding uncomfortable questions that I had. Thankfully her interview went without a hitch as we sat in the room while she was interviewed, I did get chided as a parent for letting my daughter decide for herself in some of the answers to the questions without my prodding her and them not being the rote expectation of the bishop. She was still deemed worthy of baptism and I performed that ceremony a little before I completely lost faith in the religion.
Fast forward to today. A friend on one of the discussion groups I frequent posts a recording of his discussion about what is and what isn’t appropriate for a bishop to ask a kid about to be baptized. Of course I was going to listen. I don’t see how I couldn’t, as you can tell this topic is an emotional one for me. Here is a short summary:
The background, a 7 year old boy turning 8 is getting ready to be baptized. Mother requests that the bishop in the interview does not ask any questions in regards to masturbation. Bishop tells mom she is wrong to question his authority on the matter. She goes home crying. Dad who is upset by this turn of events requests a meeting with the bishop to discuss the matter. Dad records it. Once I heard the singsong sweet voice begin to justify his calling and right to talk to a child like this. It triggered my memories of uncomfortable interviews with church leaders. I recognize today the signs of psychological manipulation, let see if my good readers do as well.
press play and keep reading.
What I realized and what so many have pointed out about religion is the negative things that can occur when a person believes it is their right from God to tell others what to do and how to act. Listen to this bishop justify why it is his duty and right to ask an 8 year old kid about masturbating. Listen to the dad insist that his son is not ready for this type of conversation. Bishop isn’t giving up easy, he “comes back forcefully” at the dad steam rolling his concerns and in essence threatening the dad that his son will be addicted to masturbation or molested or heaven help him the kid might die without baptism and that sin would be on the heads of the parents.
Listen as the bishop thumps the desk to make his point and hear the emotional plea in his voice for the dad to let him talk to his son about ‘touching himself’. Hear the simple statement that if the bishop is not allowed to ask these questions then the boy won’t be baptized. Put yourself in this dad shoes as he repeatedly asks for leniency on this topic while the bishop is unwilling to yield.
Why is this leader not willing to leave it out of the discussions as others have? Well that comes up in the conversation too. He states unequivocally that the other bishops are not doing their job right. According to the training he has received and according to the stake president, his leader, he is in the right on this thing.
When the bishop goes off 9 minutes in and says, “I have a child who’s been masturbating since he was 9 years old…” in that diatribe the voice sounds exactly like other leaders that I have spent time with when they are explaining their duty to do what God called them to do. Now when I hear that voice manipulation, alarm bells go off in my head.
Listen as the dad repeatedly stands by his decision to not allow his son to experience this, he is willing to reconsider the baptism of his son if this is part of the requirement of an interview for an 8 year old kid. Seems to me that the bishop really wants him to simply submit, right up to the end.
The leader talks about that mantle he has to wear. My leader in the example above often talked about his mantle as a judge in Israel. I even saw him in person just a few months ago at a reunion of friends of the town. (It was at his house because his daughter was our age) as adults now my teenage friends joked about his penchant for asking these questions and he in the same type of low strong whispering voice on this recording declared it was his prerogative as a bishop at the time and his mantle to be able to look out across his congregation and know what people were suffering in sexual sin and whom to confront with it. In the same low, emotional, strong, reverent, whisper as this recording he said that he did his job even though he wouldn’t wish it on anyone but it was a great experience as a bishop.
My skin crawled when I heard him that day because of those uncomfortable conversations of my youth. It crawled again when I heard this recording because the voice was so similar, I have heard the same type of voice from my most recent stake president who I am sure feels the same way about his mantle.
Listen to this tape and you can hear subliminal threat after threat things like, … sure you can talk to the stake president, but he might say I’m not being forward enough and that is a risk you take dad. He clearly states that it is policy of the church he is enforcing, not by his choice but it is the church telling him he has to broach this topic.
Ultimately the argument he makes is the world is a bad place full of child molesters, addiction and sin. That is the reason it should be ok for a bishop to talk to 7 and 8 year old kids about touching themselves. The logic is so illogical I simply can’t see why he asserts that…
Part of me though does understand it. When you think it is God’s will you are willing to discount what you know inside just isn’t right and do the awful thing you otherwise wouldn’t do. Is there anything different in this bishops assertion he must query a child about masturbation than a muslim that is willing to drive a plane into a building? Other than a level of damage done to fellow human beings, I don’t think so. In both cases they feel it is their duty, their right, their mantle to carry to the end. That is the danger of religion that is how religion knows no bounds.
* names have been changed to protect the innocent 🙂
Transcript for those that like to read it.
I suggest listing to the voice though, at least 9 minutes in so you can hear the psychological manipulation and recognize it. I honestly don’t think most leaders even recognize it for what it is they just pick up on it as they are trained in meetings as to how influence their congregation.
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I am sure there are literally thousands of these and similar stories through the church as a whole as well as some very positive ones as well that reinforce peoples belief system (to be fair).For what its worth I was not raised in the church and joined and left as an adult(fortunately for me I never had family pressure to deal with for either joining or quitting) and I didn’t raise my children as Lds as I feel you should not make children go to any church(doesnt matter which one etc) until they can reason on their own and make their own decisions based on facts not feeling or peer pressure or pressure from parents etc.I feel parents have a responsibility to teach facts and accepted scientific truth to their children and at the same time allowing them to ask questions and learn for themselves (obviously at a pace that is appropreiate for their increasing age).I have no problem if they want to learn about religion but keep it in perspective and don’t confuse it with science.Under no circumstance should you put your children in a situation where your not comfortable.If a Bishop says he has to interview them alone.Thats the end of the interview imho.
I served in a bishopric and on a high counsel but now I’m excluded from anything south of a congregational church attendance which has thankfully become a rare enough activity that I miss no part of it.
Tomorrow I’m taking my soon to be 12yr old son to his Bishop’s interview so my brother can ordain him a deacon and I’ll be excluded from magic seance circle for my presumed unworthiness!
I will be attending the interview and have already instructed him that his private business is his own and gave him the permission to never answer any question about this.
Profet — I forwarded this post to a group of very wise and experienced women, a group that is composed of Mormons who’s activity at church (on a bell curve) would no doubt be more on the semi to none half, with some still totally active. They were just stunned, and have asked me to find out, if I can, the end result of the father making this recording puplic. Is it possible for you to tell us what the ramifications were? Most of these women decided long ago that they would never let their children (even teenagers) be interviewed for worthiness without being present with the child. They experienced too much of the same when they were interviewed while young.
The mother and father eventually realized the manipulation they were being made to feel by this church leader. They both left the church, they even visited my home on new years, what a great family! 🙂 As far as the bishop is concerned, he is still a bishop in that ward. The Bishop from my experience went on to be a stake president.
I would like to say I don’t think this happens all the time in all wards, some bishops and leaders take a far different approach. There is no institutionalized effort though to prevent it. I do think the patriarchal society that it is tends to leave this type of thing unchecked, and possibly even fosters the behavior.
Here is the rest of the story of what happened after my interview with the bishop. I immediately set up an appointment with the stake president, and told him some of the things the bishop had tried to threaten me with and what he planned on saying to my son. His jaw dropped and he was very sympathetic. He apologized in behalf of the bishop and begged me not to hold this against the church. I dropped my guard believing that he was on my side.
Then he said “Obviously we have to say something about chastity to your son.” At this point I gave up. I didn’t feel like fighting anymore, I just wanted to get the baptism over with, and I was tired of these interviews. My family had already been asking questions as to why he wasn’t baptized yet and I was afraid they would think that it was because of my stubbornness. He told me that he would correct the bishop, and that I could meet with the bishop afterwards and tell him exactly what he would be allowed to say about chastity, but I was still not allowed to be in the room.
When I met with the bishop for the last time. It was very awkward speaking to him after “tattling” on him. He seemed anxious to have the interview over with, and his pride had been damaged. We first showed him the bishop’s handbook where it says that the bishop should remember that the 8 year old doesn’t need worthiness questions. He fired back that now our son was slightly over 8 years old, so that didn’t apply.
Then I asked if he would just ask if he’d say “are you willing to obey the law of chastity” without elaborating. He said no. After an excruciating hour of him, my wife and I arguing about what to say, I brought up the same request again. This time he agreed.
It felt very wrong to agree to this, but like I said, I wanted this over with. I didn’t feel like the bishop was a pedophile or anything, but I was still upset how he insisted on talking about sex, alone, with my young son. I was perfectly capable of doing that as a parent at whatever time I saw best.
The interview went just fine. We listened by the door and heard him ask exactly what we agreed on. The interview lasted about 15 to 20 minutes, which is still way too long for a simple baptismal interview in my opinion. When it was over he asked our son to tell us everything that was talked about to show that he hadn’t said more than was agreed on.
Afterwards the bishop kept his distance from us and we stayed away from him. We kept going to church for the next 4 months even though it was awkward, because we didn’t believe in leaving the church just for being offended by one person.
But it was after those 4 months I was doing some research on the internet trying to become a better apologist for the church. I wanted to help spread the gospel online and explain things better so people could see our side of things. But I ended up finding answers that I was not expecting. I had no idea that there was so much proof against what I believed. So I showed my wife what I had found, and we quietly left the church.
Soon, the bishop began visiting our home every Tuesday evening with his counselors. We did not want to speak with him, so we wouldn’t answer the door, or just go out to eat that night so we would miss him. But one Tuesday I had a friend over, who opened the door for the bishop and invited him in without my knowledge. I don’t know this for sure, but it seemed like the bishop was racked with guilt. He was at a loss for words and just wanted to know why I left. I took him to my library and began sharing with them what I had been reading, and how I was heart broken to find out that the church wasn’t true. I then told the bishop that I did not leave because of him and that I forgave him. He seemed very relieved, but not remorseful. He later wrote me a letter warning me about the seriousness of what I was doing, and that I shouldn’t be surprised if my children’s friends stopped playing with them. I wrote him back and told them how wonderful it is that people who believe to be members of Christ’s church would treat my children in such a way. I reminded him that as bishop, it would be his duty to be the example to his ward of how we are treated. I never did hear back.
The bishop wasn’t released until the following year. I was told that his next calling had something to do with disaster preparation. I’m not angry at him anymore, just glad that he no longer has any authority over my family. It’s been a year and we still allow our son to go to Scouts at the ward, and we have seen him from time to time, but he hasn’t spoken with us. One of his counselors has as well as other members who are were very kind. There are a lot of really great people in the church, but sometimes some of them can let a little authority go to their head.
Some people in the ward agreed with us, but in the end they wouldn’t stick up for us and pretended to be on the bishop’s side. I really hope that the church will one day change its policy on allowing priesthood leaders to interview children alone and to be able to talk about sex with them. There is just no good reason for it.
It is really a terrible practice. I wasn’t asked these questions until I was 12 and being interviewed to become a deacon. By that time I was already masturbating and probably would have been considered an addict by the church leaders since I did it like once or twice a week. I wasn’t even 100% sure that it was wrong but I did have my suspicions it might be so that is probably why I didn’t do it even more often. In any case it was confirmed when I was 12 that it was a bad thing that needed to be confessed. I never did confess it till I was 16. I was terrified of not being of the shame of not being able to bless the sacrament. I especially didn’t want my mom to ask me why I couldn’t. Fortunately my bishop didn’t impose any penalties at the time. From what the bishop in the recording said about his son masturbating from when he was 9, it sounds like the church realized that most kids were masturbating before 12, so they have decided to move those type of questions back to the baptismal interview to prevent these kids from falling into this terrible addiction. I am so glad parents are standing up to bishops. I hope this is something that can be changed if enough people refuse to put up with it.
Bishop interviews with children one of the most psychologically and emotionally unhealthy practices in the Mormon Church. I feel I discovered masturbation partially because I was trying to suppress my sexuality. There there were those horrible bishop’s interviews in which I confessed this secret, dirty behavior! I shudder at their memory.
For the sake of other children who may be abused, I really hope that the man who made this recording would be willing to come forward and name the diseased individual who is using his religious authority to get sick jollies from torturing children and usurping parental rights.
Jill, Great blog you have there!
Listening to this recording really reinforces my decision to never allow any of my children to be alone in a room with a church leader for an interview. This is horrifying. I would tell the bishop I appreciated his being so forthright with his opinion. And in the event he ever had such a discussion with my children, I will call the police.
| ~Ultimately the argument he makes is the world is a bad place full of child molesters, addiction and sin. That is the reason it should be ok for a bishop to talk to 7 and 8 year old kids about touching themselves. The logic is so illogical I simply can’t see why he asserts that…~ |
So illogical because it makes him, the Bishop, one of the molesters. I guess as a girl growing up in the 70s I wasn’t asked these questions. Maybe it’s not necessary because girls don’t masturbate? It’s true that at age 8, or even age 12 and 15, I wouldn’t have known what this was.
The parent has the prerogative and the ‘mantle’ of responsibility to talk to their children at the right time. Just one more reason it’s good to be free of the church.