Upon my son’s cancer diagnosis at age 15 he said he did not want to live. He said he was a bad person. He then recounted the many times his bishop and seminary teacher had talked to him about “touching himself” over the previous 3 1/2 years. I was devastated and heart broken to know that my son had lost hope and self esteem. Losing his will to live while enduring cancer treatment was limiting his chances for recovery. It took the rest of his short life to try and rebuild his self esteem. After one year away from the church my son chose to return to activity. He came home from Sunday School to tell me the teacher asked the class of 16 year olds who believed they would go to heaven. My son, having had a year of receiving positive messages of hope said he instantly raised his hand only to turn around and see his was the only hand that was raised. This alone tells what the youth of the church are learning including unworthiness and shame. It was disheartening to learn from a General Authority that they believe it is correct principle to ask children in private about masturbation and sex.
One day I was an active, temple worthy Mormon. The next day I had withdrawn from all association with the LDS church in order to protect my children from this type of abuse. The psychological torment that came with leaving the church and believing that I would lose my salvation was horrible. It took many years to realize that telling members they will not be together in eternity if they fail to abide by all the doctrines of the church is psychological abuse. My son endured interrogations in the private chambers of a bishop known to exploit his office by asking inappropriate questions meant to humiliate and demean members for his own sexual gratification under the guise of caring for their eternal salvation. He was ill equipped to counsel members being the owner of a waste disposal business. Lacking a degree in mental health or counseling he was given free reign to interrogate the members of his ward where he caused severe mental anguish and psychological harm.
I failed to connect the experiences of my own life to what might and did happen to my son. I knew my younger brother had been asked about sex before our parents could teach him the “facts of life”. When he was 11 my brother told me about his interview prior to our family going to the temple to be sealed. He said the bishop kept pointing to his privates and asking if he used “it”. My brother said he used it every day to go to the bathroom. A bishop had no right to tell my brother about sex. I was too young to be asked by my brother how far he would need to insert his penis. My sisters had also been asked about masturbation before puberty. My younger sister said she didn’t know what that word meant so she laughed thinking that was the right response. The impact was different for each of us. My son’s reaction was severe and damaged his self esteem and his will to fight for his life through his cancer treatments.
I have spent the past 26 years trying to forgive a church for the harm they did to my son’s self esteem and taking away his will to live. I hope changes can be made in the church so other children and families can be spared the heart ache that my family has endured due to the damaging practice of interviewing children alone behind closed doors.