Growing up, I believed ANY and ALL questions asked by members of the bishopric helped them decide my level of worthiness and understand the nature of my sins. I never thought to ask my parents to sit in each interview with me; it just wasn’t ever done or encouraged. I saw that my parents trusted, respected, and revered these priesthood leaders for their spiritual guidance, advice, and authority. Why shouldn’t have I?
These are my most poignant memories of meeting one-on-one with either a bishop or one of his counselors:
Tennessee, 4th Grade – After sharing my news of a crush on a boy in my gym class, a member of the bishopric warned me that although befriending this boy was okay, I could not allow myself to lust after his body with my thoughts. I asked what ‘lust’ meant and he said it was thinking of that boy without clothes on. I remember coming away from that conversation with fear that my thoughts would turn into lust on accident and God would be angry at me for being weak.
Georgia, 7th or 8th Grade – I had written some stories with sexual content and the second counselor of the bishopric discovered one of them at a Wednesday evening youth activity. He immediately led me into an empty classroom to discuss this particular story and explore what other ideas I had in mind about the plot. Of course, I didn’t care to elaborate in front of him, but I felt compelled to answer all his questions which led to fantastical sexual scenarios. After thoroughly discussing the ‘would be’ plot, the counselor finally got around to assigning what I had to do to ask God for forgiveness. He handed my story back to me at the end of our impromptu meeting and said if I had any more stories, he could read them and counsel me on how to repent. I went back to my Young Women’s activity after what seemed like an eternity. No one had noticed I was gone.
In the following months, I couldn’t even look at the second counselor during sacrament or youth activities because I thought he would suggest another one-on-one meeting to discuss how my repentance was progressing. I was terrified that he would disclose my sexual deviance to my parents. I dreaded going to church because it was so exhausting to walk on eggshells and act perfectly around that counselor. I made excuses to my parents about being sick and actually hurt myself in order to stay home from church. The second counselor also insisted that I ride in his car when we went to youth baptisms for only God knows why.
Wisconsin, 11th Grade – I must have said some alarming things in my worthiness interview because my bishop had me take the Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) test and discreetly return it to him the next Sunday. All week, I wondered if I was a sex addict and was sick with worry that the bishop would require me to attend SA meetings. I was also concerned about how to get to those SA meetings without my parents knowing. I fervently repented and fasted as I never had before that week. I prayed God would send the Holy Ghost to tell the bishop that I was sorry for my dirty and immoral thoughts. The wait stretched into 2 weeks because the bishop didn’t have time to review my answers. I remember feeling that I was a failure because I always struggled with my sexual ‘sins’, and every time I messed up, the burden of repentance and self-shaming/loathing would come back 100x worse. The bishop came back with an ‘all clear’ verdict on my SA test, but counseled me to be faithful and not fall prey to the ‘sins of the flesh’.
From Interviews to Toxic Church Teachings:
‘Masturbation causes guilt, shame, and direct separation from the Holy Ghost’. I’ve heard that LDS teaching my whole life – at Family Home Evening, Sunday school, firesides, youth retreats/conferences, Young Women’s camp, General Conference, and beyond. I orgasmed around age 12 on accident, not knowing what had happened at the time. When I discovered what exactly had occurred, I was instantly horrified at this grievous sin that I had committed – purposefully stimulating my body for pleasure, a specifically forbidden action by the LDS church.
I was also afraid this meant I was destined to become a homosexual. When I was around 9 years old, my mother was excommunicated from the LDS church because she was homosexual. I had suicidal ideations because I didn’t want to be separated from my family, judged by my friends, and condemned to life of unhappiness. I was already watching my mom struggle with these things and I didn’t want to follow that path.
By the time I was married, I was so against masturbation and my shame was so ingrained in my pysche, that I could not achieve personal physical pleasure with my husband. It saddened me greatly that satisfying intimate relations were so one-sided in our marriage. For the first 12 years of our marriage, I truly believed God was punishing me for my accidental masturbation and overall inability to fully forsake my ‘sins’ of a sexual nature.
Effects of the LDS masturbation teachings from my childhood haunted me until the age of 31, when I decided that if it was acceptable to the LDS church that a husband could find joy in the bedroom, why couldn’t the wife? With the help of a few therapy sessions and a bit of LDS deprogramming, I was able to let go of my mental block and orgasm for the second time in my life. God created our bodies, including the ability to orgasm. There is no shame in this!
Introspection at Age 33:
I believe the reason why I was so distraught over my parents discovering my sexual weaknesses is because, in middle school, I watched my older brother get ostracized by the family and the ward for dabbling in pornography. My brother was kicked out of the house and treated with mistrust and disappointment by my parents, older step-siblings and youth leaders. No one bothered to explain to me why he was being treated this way. I came to my own conclusion that my brother was being punished for his sexual ‘sins’. I didn’t want my family to treat me the same way, so I kept my confusion, guilt, and pain to myself and fervently prayed that my priesthood leaders wouldn’t expose me to my parents each time I confessed. Each confession brought thoughts of suicide because I just couldn’t ‘kick the habit’ and feared God would never forgive me or love me because I was perpetually unworthy of Christ’s atonement.
Once again, I didn’t realize this line of questioning during interviews, the LDS church teaching, and non-disclosure culture were inappropriate and damaging to people of all ages, especially children, until I read the stories on ProtectLDSChildren.org this summer. My memories came flooding back. I am still reluctant to share my experiences because it’s been very painful and I feel helpless, especially when LDS church leaders tell me it’s my fault and that I should just forgive and forget. Victim-shaming and the push to protect the image of the LDS church at all costs is ingrained in every LDS member, of which even the victim himself cannot escape. I never thought myself a victim of the LDS church until people from outside the LDS culture pointed it out.
But I couldn’t hold these memories inside any longer when I heard that an active member in good standing with the LDS Church, was advocating for the protection of the children from these harmful and outdated LDS policies. Sam Young is witnessing and risking his life, family, friendships, and faith to speak for the countless children and adults who have been made to feel less than who God created them to be. “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” ~ John 15:12-13 (KJV)
Thank you for speaking on my behalf, Sam. Thank you for being a genuine follower of Christ, not just in words, but in action. I would be honored if my experiences stood as a witness for you and the Protect LDS Children cause. May God bless you with strength and peace (because love is covered)!