What if you learned that your young son or daughter had been grilled about sex or masturbation without your permission? As a parent, I would panic. And then I would start asking questions; Who is doing this, why are they doing it, and is my child okay after enduring such a bizarre and intrusive questioning?
Sam Young knows the answers all too well. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints routinely asks such questions of children. (The ‘why’ is a bit more complicated.) And children, he says, are, without question, often harmed as a result.
Thanks to Young, who is a practicing Mormon, those of us outside the LDS Church have learned about these “masturbation interviews,” as he calls them, which can take place without parents’ knowledge or consent. For months now, Young has been raising awareness of these interviews and telling people how inappropriate they are, if not harmful.
An unnecessary and potentially abusive practice
The interviews are conducted by church leaders, usually bishops, in which children as young as 8 are pressed about sexual thoughts, masturbation, homosexual activity, and other so-called “sins” of the LDS Church. The interviewers often are older men with no training in counseling or sex education. Typically, they sit alone with the child behind a closed door, sometimes without the knowledge or consent of the parents.
The LDS Church contends that such “personal interviews are an important part of ministering.” The church states, “There are times when a discussion of moral cleanliness is appropriate—particularly if a young man or young woman feels a need to repent,” adding, “when a young person is faced with serious sin or temptation, a bishop will likely encourage them to share (as appropriate) their struggles with their parents so they can pray for, teach and encourage the young man or young woman.”
But to those of us who have been studying such practices, it’s simply another example of a religious organization intruding into family decision-making and causing children to feel guilty about natural impulses and their sexual identities. Young says children who have undergone these interviews have suffered shame, guilt, and self-loathing; some have attempted suicide and been victims of sexual abuse.
Press Conference on Feb. 6
To force the church to end the practice, Young has appealed to the public, particularly Mormons. He started a blog and talked to church leaders. In October of 2017, he started a petition that, so far, has gained more than 14,000 signatures.
And on Tuesday, Feb. 6 at 10:00 am, Young will hold a press conference in Houston. He asks anyone in the Houston area to join him at the Southwest Multi-Service Center. For those who can’t make it, the event will be live-streamed on Youtube.
The Child-Friendly Faith Project wholeheartedly supports Sam Young’s effort to rid the LDS Church of this unnecessary and potentially harmful practice. We believe that religious organizations should support families and that they should trust parents to make healthy decisions for their children and seek the help of religious leaders if they feel they can be helpful.