I have a good friend of many years. He and his family have not been to church in a long time. Our friendship began a few months after his disaffection, maybe a decade ago.
One time we talked about why he was not active. “I have some concerns with my bishop.” He didn’t elaborate. I didn’t pry.
I hadn’t talked with him in maybe a year. Out of the blue, he called a few days ago to chat. How timely. Later that day I was planning to release my Walrus post. So, I was feeling really chatty. A meeting was arranged. I shared my faith journey. His eyes were wide with riveted attention. My experience was totally unexpected and shocking. But, I believe it was a pleasant shock.
He said, “Sam, I think you can now understand me. I’m going to tell you why I quit going to church.”
Here’s his story. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
As you know, I didn’t grow up in the church. I’m an adult convert. After my baptism, my wife and I weren’t terribly active. At some point, we decided that church would be good for the children. We searched out the local ward. Made our first visit. Met the bishop. Right off the bat, Jeni (his wife) and I were called into the nursery. I was not excited about taking care of other people’s kids. Our youngest had just entered the young men’s program. Never-the-less, we accepted.
One day Jeff (his youngest) told me that he had an interview scheduled with the bishop. He was extremely nervous. I reassured him that I’d be right outside the bishop’s office. If he became uncomfortable at all, he could just come get me. Of course, I wasn’t worried in the least. After all, he was going to have a talk with the spiritual leader of the congregation.
My Jeffie entered. The door was closed. I waited. Within a few minutes the bishop’s door opened. My flustered son rushed to my side. “Dad, he asked if I have ever had sex with another boy. Then he asked if I masturbated.”
I was livid. No one has a right to interrogate my child in this way. I confronted the bishop. Leaned over his desk and shouted, “If you ever ask those questions to my kids again, I’ll beat you to a pulp.” I walked out the chapel door and never returned.
A Dangerous Culture
Until the past couple of years, I was not aware that this practice had become common—for bishops to ask 12 to 18 year old children about masturbation. Just envision it. An untrained older man taking a 12 year old girl, behind closed doors, without the parents’ knowledge or permission and asking, “Do you touch yourself down there?” Maybe that sounds perfectly natural and acceptable to you. If it does…good luck with that.
For those of you who are NOT ok with turning children over to an adult male, with no training, to be taken into a private, closed room to be quizzed about sexual matters…starting at 12…please continue reading.
In my growing up years, never once was I asked these types of probing & inappropriate questions by any church leader. My wife was never asked either. I served as bishop for over 5 years. Thankfully, I never asked one single kid about touching his or her privates. It never entered my mind. Hopefully, I would have recoiled at the idea if I’d been directed to do so by the higher ups.
Why would it be dangerous for your child to be quizzed about masturbation by an older man, in a private closed room without your authorization? And remember, he has no training. Do I really have to elaborate? Society in general recognizes this as risky, unsafe, and unhealthy. We should recognize it as…unholy. Heaven forbid that we have a sexual predator in priesthood leadership. It’s rare. But, it has happened many times in the church. Why risk it?….Don’t!!
There’s another big danger. This practice grooms children for the sexual predators lurking in the real world. Our child is trained that it’s OK for a trusted older man, in a white shirt and tie, to talk to her in private about her private parts. This is an unnecessary, gross, and hazardous practice.
What To Do
- Don’t let your child be interviewed without your permission.
- Be present, in the closed door room, during the interview.
- Inform your bishop of your conditions for youth interviews. You are to be present. No discussion about masturbation or other sexual matters. That is to be between you and your child ONLY.
- Inform your child that they are to let you know whenever any church leader requests a meeting with them.
- If inappropriate questions are asked, stop the interview immediately.
To My Children
I know that this may sound uncomfortable. Your children, my grandchildren, are more precious than a little discomfort with church leaders who may not understand.
Stand up for your kids. They will be in your life for the rest of your life. The leaders won’t. Eventually, the bullet points above will be adopted by our church culture, just as they have been adopted by society in general. Until then, don’t take what appears to be innocent risks. They are dangerous risks.
My good friend gave me permission to share this story. He read the entire post and approved it. For various reasons, his name is not being shared. However, he extended this invitation. “If anyone would like to ask me any questions, send them my way. I’ll chat with them on the porch over a cold drink.”
I consider this man a real hero of a dad. Standing up for his child. Consider this comment I received today:
“Reading that story about your friend made me so angry at the church, but it also made me so happy that the young man in the story had the confidence to walk out to his dad as soon as the interview went in that direction. What a great example of good parenting. The father told his son to come out if he felt uncomfortable, and the young man did just that, even though he was in the presence of an “authoritative” figure. He was clearly raised well. I hope that I can raise my daughter to be confident and wise like that.”