I support the stories shared here, and am now willing to publicly share my own. After just turning 12, I was scheduled for my first “worthiness interview” with my bishop before becoming a deacon and receiving the Aaronic Priesthood. Having already been molested by a close Mormon relative at the age of 10, I was absolutely terrified to find myself sitting in a room with the door closed, and alone with a man who I barely knew. In his office, it immediately became much worse — more than I could have ever possibly anticipated or imagined — when he specifically asked me if I ever skinny-dipped with other boys, if I was keeping the law of chastity and most specifically, if I masturbated. When asked this question, my heart sank and my head was about to as well, but in a snap reaction, I managed to keep my eyes locked with his, and quickly responded back with, “Masturbation … what’s that?” With a look of surprise on his face, he paused for a second, and then proceeded to explain to me what it was. “Well, it’s when…” I was horrified, and before he could finish his sentence that included both the words “penis” and “hard,” I interrupted him and said, “No!” then chuckling. “No, I know what it is. No, I don’t. I was just kidding.” I felt totally paralyzed in this moment, but still managed to smile like a preteen prankster — a look I was going for — as he shot back a stern look in my direction, looking annoyed.
I knew I was done talking; I did not know how to keep on lying. At least with words. So I played up my body language of “you-should-have-seen-the-look-on-your-face-when-you-were-about-to-say-hard-penis” and he ended up buying my response as a prank–a prank successfully executed on him, with my preteen immaturity written all over it.
“Um, well then, I think we’re done,” he said. “Is there anything else you want to ask me?” Me: “No I don’t think so.” I wanted to get the hell out of there as fast as possible! In the hallway, I looked around to make sure no one else was around as my tears started to well up. As I was processing the shock of what had just happened, I wiped away the tears with my sleeve before heading out to the church parking lot where my dad was waiting in the car.
Confused, emotional, and pissed off, I spent the rest of the day trying to process what had just happened in that bishop’s office. And just like being molested around 2 years before this meeting with the bishop, I decided not to share this with my parents. Eventually, I was able to realize I was much less concerned with any shame or sin attached to masturbating, and more concerned with the bishop’s intrusive questioning — especially in an environment that reminded me so much of being previously molested — and that I felt my only option was to lie in order to protect my own mental and physical sovereignty.
As I said, I had hard time buying into the shaming, even the whole “uncleanliness before God,” related to masturbation. As quite an analytical kid from a young age, already possessing a wild imagination, and developing an artist’s brain, self-expression and personal identity were very important to me early on. Related to this, I considered masturbation to be a normal and natural part about myself. And most importantly, I was comfortable with how I felt about it. I certainly felt conflicted and confused after this disturbing encounter with the bishop, but for other reasons. For some strange reason though, I was very much a budding nuanced kind of believer; I told myself early on that if I was going to do Mormonism for life, I was going to do it on my own terms. But after my first worthiness interview with this bishop, this experience confirmed to me what I had already suspected: that in order to do Mormonism, I would also have to lie about other things, including not asking certain questions, which devastated me. I wasn’t good at lying, and I hated the thought of editing my conversations and ideas, not sharing my own curiosity with others, hiding things about myself, and not always being honest with my parents and my religious community.
Eventually, In a very distorted and unhealthy way, I learned to rationalize my lying to the bishop that day, in subsequent worthiness interviews — and in general after that point — as something common within my faith community and part of the culture. To me it made sense: the conformity, the silence on taboo topics and issues, the unrealistic expectations, etc. “No one is perfect, and everyone has secrets” I thought to myself, “…and I have mine, including my secret of being molested. It’s just what you have to do in order to do Mormonism your way,” I would tell myself.
Well, later on in life, this kind of warped way of thinking later showed some unhealthy consequences when the lying became second nature and so familiar to me, spilling over into other parts of my life. Something I have successfully sorted out today, but without question, the dynamics of these intrusive bishop worthiness interviews are wrong and inappropriate on so many levels, and should stop immediately! Again, these bishop interviews are wrong and inappropriate on so many levels! I never wanted to lie, but felt like I had to in order to protect something incredibly personal and a normal and important part of my young, budding sense of self. Furthermore, there is nothing responsible, compassionate, pastoral, or thoughtful in having preteens and teens alone in a room with an ecclesiastical leader — professionally untrained to handle such sensitive and vulnerable conversations with youth — and with no parents present! I wholeheartedly support this initiative and call to action, and I am willing to put my name and public face behind it!