The Flip Side of the Coin – Mormon Youth Bishop Interviews & Abuse

Recently critics and dissidents have been clamoring for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to abolish the common practice of having lay bishops hold private interviews with youth in which they ask them questions about sexual morality and the Law of Chastity.

Many of these critics are concerned about the propriety of having a bishop talk about sexual issues with young men and women alone as well as the potential for abuse. And they point to legitimately tragic anecdotes from people who feel that the practice had a negative effect on them as youth. Some even claim that it facilitated abuse by a bishop.

Earlier this year, the church announced that it would update its policies to optionally allow youth to have a parent attend the interview with them. The church provided bishops with standardized questions to be asked. And parents and youth were also to be given information about the kinds of questions and topics that would be included in the interview beforehand.

But the changes do not seem to have appeased the critics, who will not be satisfied until they have pressured the church to abolish the interviews completely and with them any enforcement of the Law of Chastity.

I just wanted to raise a point in support of the interviews that I have not seen made elsewhere, and that I hope the critics will seriously consider:

What about youth who are being sexually abused by their own parent?

A private interview with the bishop in which questions about sexual morality and the Law of Chastity will be raised poses a great risk to a parent who is sexually abusing their own child. It is an opportunity for the youth to reveal the abuse to the bishop without the abuser there to control the conversation. The bishop can be a trusted adult and authority figure that youth may feel can provide them help and safety from their own abusive parent. Sexually abusive parents must feel terrified that they will be exposed every time their son or daughter meets with the bishop alone.

Wouldn’t it be a shame if, in the name of protecting youth from abuse by bishops, we inadvertently undercut an important avenue for youth to potentially escape from abuse at home?

It is important to realize that these kinds of policy changes always include tradeoffs and unintended consequences. We should be circumspect and cautious and consider the potential drawbacks as well as the perceived benefits.

The vast majority of bishops in the church are good, honest, moral men who put in an immense amount of work to serve the people in their congregations without any compensation. They hold authority and priesthood keys that give them stewardship over the members of their wards and the right to oversee their spiritual welfare. They sometimes make mistakes. But they also often receive amazing inspiration and revelation to bless the lives of their ward members.

For every anecdote critics share about an inappropriate bishop’s interview, there are literally hundreds of others where bishops have helped young people repent from sin and find happiness in the gospel. And I suspect that for every story of an abusive bishop, there are others where a bishop has been instrumental in saving youth from an abusive situation at home.

We should take great care that in our zeal to pluck out the tares, that we do not accidentally destroy the wheat too.

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