Last November Michael Stone, of the Progressive Secular Humanist wrote that ‘the aggressive interrogation of children about masturbation and sex by Mormon church officials constitutes child abuse’.
The Mormon church has a dirty little secret most outsiders know nothing about: children as young as eight years old are often aggressively interrogated by local church officials about masturbation and sex. These interviews are almost always conducted by an older man, alone, with a vulnerable and frightened child.
The interrogation and shaming of children and teenagers by the Mormon church is a routine ritual conducted in semi-annual ‘worthiness interviews’. In these interviews children are pressed to discuss their sexuality while alone with an untrained church elder, who is almost always an older man.
The issue received further attention this week when, according to the BBC, current and former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called for an end to the practice.
Londoner David Sheppard, 27, told the Victoria Derbyshire programme:
I suffered with a lot of guilt, because I did things we weren’t supposed to do. They teach us masturbation is just below murder, and I felt like I was some sort of sexual deviant or pervert for doing it.
From the age of 12 he was interviewed alone in a room by a bishop for what is known as a “worthiness interview”.
The worthiness interviews, the church says, are designed to prepare children and teenagers spiritually and ensure they are obeying the commandments.
They often start around a child’s eighth birthday, when Mormon children are baptised, and then again at the age of 12.
They are meant to be carried out at least annually thereafter into adulthood.
The most controversial element of the interviews relates to something known as “the law of chastity”, though some bishops choose not to ask questions about sex.
The church – which many regard as a cult (read this Christopher Hitchens article) – insists that sex outside of marriage, pornography and masturbation are strictly verboten.
Sheppard says between the ages of 16 and 19 he had “a few girlfriends” with whom he had intimate relationships, without having sex.
I decided to confess to what I had been doing and it resulted in six hours of interrogation. They asked questions like, ‘Did you touch her?’ and ‘Did you make her orgasm?’.
They even tried to get me to give up the names of the girls so that she could be dealt with.
At one point during the interview I felt sick from anxiety and asked to leave and go to the toilet but they wouldn’t let me do that. I felt as though I had a total loss of control.
The Victoria Derbyshire programme has also heard first-hand accounts of a woman who says that as a teenage girl she was told not to use contraception, and a man who says a bishop spoke to him about “praying away the gay”.
The Mormon Church said Llocal church leaders are provided with instructions regarding youth interviews and are expected to review and follow them.
A caring, responsible spiritual leader plays a significant role in the development of a young person by reinforcing the teaching of parents and offering spiritual guidance.
Stephen Blomfield, from Bedford, was on the church’s Stake High Council until 2011 and is still a member of the Mormon Church. He did not conduct interviews but acted as an advisor to people who did. But he also now believes the interviews must be scrapped.
At my first youth programme aged 12 or 13 we were told kissing was bad, liking girls was bad and touching was bad. So I adopted huge feelings of guilt, because I had already kissed girls.
Masturbation and pornography, he adds, were described as “satanic”.
Blomfield – whose father was a bishop – says, in his experience in the 1980s and 90s, how intrusive the questions were during interviews depended on the bishop.
Some leaders asked really explicit questions… whereas others never asked unless you confessed first. The interviews could be really embarrassing, exposing and stressful.
Blomfield now has children of his own, but says he has informed his local church they will not be interviewing them.
If they want to, they need to discuss it with me first or make sure I’m present. I’m of the opinion the interviews should be scrapped. They’ve been around since the religion began, but they should have never been set up.
They’re intrusive and ask private questions, and I think they’re the reason some Mormons can suffer shame – because they can’t live up to the standards set.
A petition calling for an end to the practice –so far signed by more than 20,000 people – lists the “actual consequences” of these interrogations:
2. Attempted suicide.
3. Suicidal ideation.
4. Inappropriate shame and guilt.
5. Childhood filled with self loathing.
6. Adulthood filled with self loathing.
7. Normalizing children to sexual questions by adult men. (Grooming)
8. Sexual abuse. (Pedophilia)
9. Impaired sexual relations after marriage.
10. Years of recovery from childhood shaming. Often lasting decades.