The traditional practice of “worthiness interviews” between youth and adults leaders has caused a lot of stress, on both sides. I understand why.
[For my non-Mormon readers, a bit of background: Mormons have a strict code of sexual behavior for all ages: no sexual activities outside of marriage. Period. That includes masturbation and anything like unto it… and as every former teenager knows, this is where the spotlight turns to the kids. It is a Mormon tradition to have regularly occurring interviews between the congregation leader (the Bishop), and it’s members. They often ask specific questions about sexual behavior. Failure to comply brings very heavy social and religious consequences. For a Mormon, this stuff is a BIG DEAL.]
Let’s start with the premise that it’s a good idea to mentor kids as they mature sexually. Parents should be the first and foremost resource in mentoring kids, through word, deed, and loving dialogue. Obviously, this is an ideal scenario that doesn’t always happen.
It does take a village to raise a kid. We are tribal animals, and it really is good for kids to have positive mentorship relationships with adults in their community. I most definitely benefited from many adults in my life outside of my good parents. It has been argued that it’s a psychologically healthy thing for Church leaders to talk about sex with kids. Proponents claim that kids who have significant adult mentors who are religiously literate fare better as adults.
In secular society, we’ve become honest about the oft-failure of parents to take care of the basics, and have developed backup plans. Head Start, school breakfast programs, and… God forbid… television – all have become surrogates, safety nets, to fill in the gaps that parents often miss. The above argument for Church leaders stepping in to teach kids about sexual ethics reminds me of the increasing reliance on The State to step up where parents stepped out.
Moms, Dads, We are the first line of defense, the first line of resource, for the kids. Let’s handle the really sensitive stuff in the walls of our own homes so that the bishops, scout leaders, teachers and neighbors don’t need to pick up so much slack, but can perform their role as extra adult role models.
That being said – this interview practice is not sustainable. It’s a ticking time bomb. Mormon Church, you are determined to hold your ground and I understand why. Let’s cut right to the chase:
If you stop asking kids about their sexual behavior, ie, conducting “worthiness interviews”, this will eventually spread to the adults too.
No more interviews about sexual behavior = No more enforceable policies about sexual behavior. This will cause a doctrinal and cultural landslide. It will echo into the walls of the Temple, because a major part of Temple worship includes entering into a covenant to maintain “sexual purity”. Suddenly, a person’s sexual behavior will be between the individual, their partner, and God – and that’s it.
For me, being a Mormon means believing in the essence of what Joseph Smith claimed: that if the individual desires to commune with The Divine, it will be granted, in private. No intermediaries are necessary. We believe in a God that is conscious of, and attendant to, every individual seeker of truth.
Eliminating “worthiness interviews” might just force The Church into a strictly supportive role, rather than an investigative role. It would force the Church to trust each individual to pursue virtue on their own terms…
…just like every prophet of old has done.
In love and freedom –
Brother Paul Duane