Years ago, out of the blue, I got a clear impression that the present practice of clerical interviews on sexual matters, especially of young people, is wrong. I had always had comfortable interviews with my leaders; no boundaries were violated, but I knew of countless others who had experienced great harm from interviews. Some of these people are close to me, and the consequences they have experienced have been life altering in negative ways. As a response, I wrote the following letter to my local male and female leaders. I interviewed with many bishops and one stake president on this matter. They were respectful, but their responses were often, “Even if you have a point, there’s nothing I can do about it.” I’m glad to see someone doing something about it.
In this letter I emphasize the impact male administration has on the young girls and women of the Church. I recognize that young and older men have their own set of consequences to these practices, but I felt and still feel that the error in men interviewing females is more clear and less easily dismissed. By emphasizing this one side, I hope to make the arguments more compelling.
To my leaders,
A few years ago I witnessed the ordination of my fifth son, sixth of seven children, to the office of an elder. What an overwhelmingly beautiful experience! Men acting in righteousness and unity on the behalf of others is a wonder to behold! I can attest to the blessing of administrative priesthood as it manifests in this restored gospel. I affirm its validity and recognize the soul growth that comes from such service.
Concurrent with the feelings expressed above, I observe that there are certain practices and attitudes relative to present administration within the Church that are problematic.
Currently only men have stewardship over girls and women that requires them to certify their chastity to male leaders to enter the temple and, in the event of a sexual transgression, work through the repentance process with those leaders. And yet the Church affirms that gender differences are necessary and to be protected. Is the difference between men’s and women’s sexuality an example of the kinds of boundaries that the Church is seeking to protect? If so, then I question the practice of male stewardship in the conducting of interviews of girls and women where questions of their sexual purity are addressed.
According to present Church practices, during the critical teen years of a young woman’s life, the bishop is in the preeminent position within the Church structure to ask questions and give counsel on very sensitive issues of sexuality. The same is true to some extent of the bishop’s stewardship over adult women. And yet we want our young and mature women to retain their feminine sensitivities so they can temper and bring balance to male sexuality. I believe that they must compromise some of that sensitivity to submit to questions from their leaders on sexual matters. Is this serving the goals the Church has for female Church members? I know that inappropriate sexual behavior brings much heartache, and the repentance process necessarily includes discomfort, but there is an added measure of discomfort, if the young girls or women have retained their healthy sensitivity, that is experienced in these interviews and disciplinary councils that is not necessary for the repentance process. Moreover, young girls who have not transgressed sexual boundaries must submit to uncomfortable questions in regular interviews.
Implicit in my question is that bishops are less than qualified to serve in this capacity to women because of their gender. I realize that the Church teaches that bishops have the mantle of authority and under inspiration will handle the situation sensitively. A recent response by the Church to an online petition to end the practice of interviews of young people states, “[Leaders] represent the Savior in their ministry.” I have no doubt that most bishops make every effort to conduct themselves carefully in these interviews. Nevertheless, could it be that no man is exempt from the biases that his gender imposes on him regardless of all efforts to “represent the Savior”? Women, likewise, have biases through which their inspiration must be filtered.
I have heard of negative experiences women and girls have had where the bishop exhibited voyeuristic pleasure from the subject matter or have unknowingly crossed important boundaries of propriety that have caused harm to those interviewed. This greatly disturbs me, and I mourn for those women and girls who have suffered. I also acknowledge the damage that can be done to young men and grown men in these interviews through shaming the participation in very normal sexual behavior. This open letter, however, challenges the very notion of male stewardship in the conducting of interviews of women and girls. As one of my bishops candidly admitted, “I don’t understand female sexuality. These interviews make me uncomfortable.”
Could it be that the problem is a result of lack of clear delineation between feminine and masculine stewardships within the Church? Could women stand beside the men in true administrative partnership in these sensitive matters? I note that women minister to women in sensitive places in the temple ceremony. Why don’t women minister to women in the sensitive area of interviews and the counseling of sexual behavior?
It is evident that women, as keepers of the hearth and home, and who spend much of their lives absorbed in matters relating to conception, gestation, birth and raising of children, have a special stewardship relating to sexuality in general. This stewardship of women could be brought more fully into Church administration.
I do not seek for women to usurp the proper role and place of male administration. My only desire is to discover and magnify the proper stewardships that God has given to the women of the Church in order to love, bless, and serve others.
As a woman and as a mother, I ask for your sincere consideration of this very important matter.