Reddit’s r/exmormon is running rampant with stories of inappropriate ecclesiastical interviews of pre-adult teens and preteens within the Mormon church. The experiences shared range from disgusting to heartbreaking to horrifying. u/invisibles_cubit has led a seemingly tireless charge to influence church leaders to discontinue these inappropriate one-on-one-behind-closed-door interviews. I admire this redditor’s capacity to digest so much sleaze and so many damaged lives. I don’t doubt that Law and Order: SVU’s writer’s would cringe to read just a few of the hundreds of collected stories. Predators prevail where priests once pretended to preside.
But why? Why is this so prevalent amongst men “called by God” to lead a flock in His “one true church?” It’s sickening and disheartening. I’m relieved I’ll never be in a position to ask a twelve year old girl or boy if they masturbate, what they think about as they do it, and how it makes them feel. These are not questions specifically outlined as needing to be asked but leaders are encouraged to ask specific, probing (bad word choice) questions of youth and adult alike. A leaked document I first viewed on reddit:
Notice the DO NOT COPY OR DISTRIBUTE heading at the top. Why are they afraid of people reading this if there is nothing wrong with it?
Which brings me to another point. Shortly after a petition to end interviews with youth started to gain steam and people began sharing their sordid stories of abuse at the hands of church leaders and with the leaking of audio recordings of meetings with leaders, legislation was suddenly proposed in the Utah State Legislature to make Utah a two-party consent state for audio recording. The politically neutral LDS church put its support behind this bill just after it was proposed. You know, like a guilty party trying to suppress evidence might do. Lawmakers dropped the bill due to widespread public outcry–thanks democracy, or should I say decency?
This leads to my main point. The church has a problem admitting it is wrong. On occasion it will admit mistakes having been made in the past, but they treat such admissions like a man apologizing for forgetting to hold the door for someone. It wasn’t a lie or abuse of power, it was a lapse in courtesy–that’s all. I remember being taught on many occasions in my time as a believing member that we shouldn’t talk about our sins or mistakes with anyone aside from a bishop and then only to repent. And if we did repent then it was as if we’d never sinned to begin with. The top leadership in the church has demonstrated this tactic quite well for almost two centuries. Admission of guilt is not part of the one true church’s program.
Members start to live their lives on a cross they must keep invisible from all others. Put a smile on their face. Pretend all is well and all will be well. So, bishops who feel they are chosen by the god to lead a congregation can’t admit they may struggle with a problem. After all, they may be a high school Spanish teacher, but God just sent revelation to their Stake President to select them as one worthy and able to fulfill the role of ecclesiastical leader, financial advisor, sexual and relationship therapist, and any other needed role that usually requires years of education to perform without harming those who come to them seeking help. Then, tell them in passive, indirect, but certain terms that their primary job is to protect the church. If a woman comes to you to tell you her husband has been abusive, FIRST call the church’s hotline to their law firm. Then, if you feel guided by the spirit, you might call law enforcement unless the church’s legal advisors tell you not to do so.
What if the bishop is the pedophile? I’m convinced the culture of sexual repression in the church promotes pedophilia in a significant way though I am not aware of science on my side to back it up. So, this poor bishop, knows he has a problem, lives in a culture that doesn’t admit wrongdoing or let on to weakness, and is being asked to have closed door interviews with children. Children coming to him for advice because their parents believe he is their local link to the divine. Children who are conditioned to trust this sometimes stranger explicitly. Tell him everything he asks. Do anything he tells you. You finish the story.
I’m lucky. Lucky, I got out of the church when I did. Now that I can admit my weaknesses to myself and others and no longer pretend that some sky dad is going to magically make me pure, I can avoid compromising situations. Had I not gotten out, I might have been one of these bishops that should be in prison. If they had asked, I would have accepted the position, but I’ve been pretty good at putting off the charade and owning my propensities to problems of late. I’d like to think I’d have done well and helped people, but interviews always made me uncomfortable. I mean, they stress two-deep leadership in boy scouts to protect the scouts and the leaders. But interviews….
Oh, and consider this if you really don’t think that interviews, one-on-one with a bishop or one of his counselors is just a problem of isolated perverts. While the bishop can receive tithe payments at his home or, if unable, he can retain payments on his own until he has a partner to accompany him to deposit them at the bank. He can harbor but cannot handle money on his own. Otherwise, no one is allowed to handle donations alone. Even as a believing Mormon in the bishopric, I thought this was odd. Money was protected while children were not. We received abridged youth protection training once-a-year at most but only IF we were in scouting. But full financial protection training happened each ward conference every year. We were audited yearly at least. Why aren’t leaders that interview audited regularly with the attention to detail that money receives.
Priorities trickle down from the top. Unfortunately, kids often pay a high price.