Local church leaders conduct worthiness interviews with their members, even the children. Every child in a Mormon congregation will have at least one interview with the presiding member of their congregation (Bishop or branch president) at age 7-8, and several more from the age of 11 to 18 prior to temple attendance or full-time missionary work, or for other reasons. These interviews continue into adulthood as “temple recommend interviews” and, for students at Church Universities and Colleges, their are additional “ecclesiastical endorsement” interviews. The practice consists of having unsupervised 1-on-1 meetings with a local man believed to be chosen by and called of God to have stewardship over them, meaning he, because of his priesthood calling, can have the Lord’s will concerning them revealed to him, called revelation, and encourage or command them to act on it or obey direction.
Considering the predatory and sex-obsessed characters that founded and have led the religion, I wouldn’t be surprised if, from the beginning, abusive and predatory men have used these worthiness interviews as cover, justification, and opportunity for shaming, controlling, grooming, and abusing children and other members. When you grow up believing a church leader can and will ask you anything and that you should answer truthfully under threat of eternal torment, you don’t think much of it when it’s happening to your or another’s children. I don’t know for certain, but I believe that more Mormon children are born than are converted, most often to Mormon-born parents. There’s a generations-old practice of blindly sending children alone behind closed doors with men in church leadership positions. This is the perfect storm for children to be abused, for damaging ideas about self, masturbation, sexuality, sin, and guilt to be taught as gospel and propagated, and for criminals to remain hidden.
I have suffered shame, and feelings of guilt, worthlessness, weakness, and dread. I thought I had poor moral character, lacked any fortitude, and had resigned myself to a life plagued with hidden shame and an eternity of anguish and regret, all as a teenage boy, over my natural sex drive (the Book of Mormon states that “the natural man is an enemy to God”), for masturbating, and for being too ashamed of myself to confess — lying in interviews about whether I had “sinned.”
Reading the stories of others makes me realize I may have dodged actual abuse because I felt too ashamed to confess to sexual thoughts and “self-abuse.” Would that I had been taught as a child to respect my body and self as my own, and to appreciate my nature as normal, natural, important, even as something to be honored, instead of hated, feared, controlled, and overcome.
Even as a young adult, both as a full-time missionary and a student at a church college, I, was brainwashed to believe that I was accountable to another adult, a leader, for my personal actions and private thoughts. Because it had always been this way, I didn’t understand the abusive dynamic of the leader-member relationship until after I left the church. And only recently, because of this movement, have I even considered the dangers of the practice of unsupervised worthiness interviews with regard to children and teenagers. I should never have been asked by an adult, especially as a minor, if I had masturbated or had sexual thoughts. Nevertheless, I was, and it is common among Mormons.
Mormon leaders have a history of sexual abuse and impropriety, a history of polygamy and child marriages. Mormons trust their leaders and make a practice of sustaining them, meaning “that [members] stand behind them, pray for them, accept assignments and callings from them, hearken to their counsel, and refrain from criticizing them.” Any and all writings critical of the Church, it’s leaders, or it’s practices are considered “Anti-Mormon literature,” a danger to be feared and avoided, not read. These stories, stories of members and former members, are “anti-Mormon” literature.
There is a good chance most Mormons won’t read these “anti-Mormon” stories. Mormon children are at risk of abuse. The combination of reverence for leaders, the practice of conducting unsupervised worthiness interviews, and the reported overtly sexual and probing nature of these interviews conducted alone with children should be cause for great concern. I join with others in calling for the complete cessation of unsupervised meetings with children and church leaders. A parent should be present if their child is interviewed, and church leaders should never be first to ask questions or even mention anything sexual in nature when speaking with a child.