From the Bishop’s Perspective
I had been serving as a Bishop for a few years when a 17 year old girl came to my office for a meeting that she had requested. I sat at my desk and she sat in a chair across from me, the door to my office closed and locked as always. She was upset and I asked her how I could help. From that point she told me that she had been performing oral sex on her new boyfriend and she felt very guilty about it. It was not my practice to ask for the details of the activity itself, but I asked her a few questions about how long she’d been dating this boy and if her parents knew him, those kinds of things. She had only been dating him for a few weeks and the boy had had other girlfriends before her. I don’t remember the details about this part, but I do remember thinking that she was quite naive and in over her head with a guy who was pushing her for a sexual relationship, which made me worry for her safety.
The next part went like this:
Have you talked to your parents? No.
Will you? No.
What if we talk to them together? No way.
Have you been to a school nurse or doctor? Why?
Do you know what an STD is, and are you aware of the risks of sexual activity? No, but it doesn’t matter because he loves me and has never been with any other girl like this.
Sister XXX (ward member and YW leader) is the high school nurse – will you talk to her? Not a chance.
So there we are. I’m 32 and she is 17. She has just explained to me that she is giving her boyfriend blowjobs, doesn’t see any risk (other than guilt) and refuses to talk to her parents or the school nurse. I remember feeling like I had a responsibility to at least explain that she was engaged in risky behavior since I was sure that this guy had plenty of experience, even if she was too smitten to believe it. But, what the hell do I say? I’ve never had any training about sexual health risks, I’m going on what I remember from my own high school sex education. I am a businessman, not a doctor, nurse or a therapist. Come to think of it, I’ve never had 10 minutes of training on the “repentance process” either. But I have a 17 year old kid in my office that refuses to talk to her parents. She is scared, vulnerable and looking to me for some kind of counsel and I feel pressure to protect her.
The next part haunts me. Feeling like I really need to help educate and protect her, I tried to explain to her that while the Lord is quick to forgive when we repent, that doesn’t mean we can’t still get pregnant or an STD. I bumbled my way through my explanation when she asked how any of those risks would effect her since she was only giving him blowjobs. This confirmed my suspicion about her naiveté. Again, I stumbled my way through an explanation about how a blowjob could transfer a disease. The whole time I was talking, I had a battle in my head: You are talking to a girl about blowjobs in the church – this is totally inappropriate – but she is at risk and won’t talk to anyone else. If I don’t help her, who will?
She left the office and I went home, too. To my knowledge she continued to date the boy and never did talk to her parents. I continued to feel like I had been put in a terrible situation with no way out. I worried about my lame attempt to teach and protect her, and worried that I embarrassed her and made it worse.
Many years later I still worry about that meeting. What does she remember from that meeting? Did I cause her more pain and shame? I certainly didn’t mean to, but what was I supposed to do? You are expected to give inspired counsel when you are the Bishop, right? And then I thought about how this could have gone really wrong. What if she had talked to a Bishop that was cruel? What if she talked to a Bishop that took advantage of her? She was totally vulnerable. In a way, she was lucky that she only got my incompetence and not someone who was a predator. In her situation, where she was afraid to talk to her parents, she was a perfect candidate for abuse. Also, what about me? What if she took my bumbling explanation to be a come-on? What if she felt threatened by my stupid explanation? If she alleged that I was making inappropriate moves towards her I could be accused of sexually harassing a minor, as a married man and clergy, no less. I could lose everything.
I think about training received by Bishops. I served in a Stake with a very strict Stake President who trained us constantly. I knew the handbook and could cite every meeting, report and procedure in a ward. When it came to welfare, I was thoroughly trained on what services and assistance were available and how to work with a family on their budget, job training and all of the resources of the “Lords Storehouse”. But I never received any training on how to handle transgression, abuse, family relationships or any human struggle other than money. None. One time in a PPI, I even asked my Stake President how he handled conversations about sin and repentance and he seemed bothered that I would dare ask, as though I should know that kind of thing. I never asked for help again. You’re supposed to go by the Spirit, don’t you know.
The whole system is dangerous. It is dangerous for youth who are at the mercy of an untrained bishop who has the authority and opportunity to say whatever he wants. And since he has no training, those private conversations could go literally anywhere. It is also dangerous for the bishops. These men, the vast majority who are good guys, are put in a terrible situation where they are encouraged to discuss sexual activity with minor children behind a locked door and without their parents. It is a recipe for all kinds of trouble, for the kids, the bishops, their families and the church itself. It needs to stop now.