Where to start? So many instances though 4 stick out in my mind the most. I think my experiences were more of the run-of-the-mill variety – though it’s sad to have to say that at all.
TL;DR: As a child I ruined an important relationship with my mentor/leader due to what I confessed during an interview. As a young adult, in order to avoid excommunication, I was coerced to serve a mission as penance for my sexual intimacy with a very special long-term girlfriend. As a missionary I – along with others – was constantly interrogated regarding sexual purity; so much so that I invented smaller sins to avoid having to share my own business. As a man preparing for marriage with another girl I was strongly advised against divulging my past intimacy to her – a secretive and divisive act which has caused serious sexual intimacy issues between us and is causing immense emotional pain as the years go on. So while we must protect our children from sexual predation that can originate in these interviews, we must also protect them from leaders who may be incredibly unwise and unrighteous in their advice.
1. Around Age 12
I didn’t have a relationship with my father growing up since my parents divorced when I was very young. Growing up, my bishops were always kind to me and my mother. Around the age of 11 one of the bishops paid special attention to me (not inappropriate at all – just caring, mentoring) and would invite me to his house to play with his children that were roughly my same age. He would often teach me about his interesting hobbies. I really grew to admire him and trust him.
When I got to that awkward age where masturbation becomes a phenomena of interest for boys, I responded affirmatively when asked during a worthiness interview if I engaged in it. I felt that I had a relationship of trust with this bishop and, though embarrassed and somewhat ashamed, I could tell him. Sadly – and it hurt me greatly at that time and still pains me when I think on it so many years afterwards – he shut himself and his family off from me completely after that day. He would cut me off when I would talk with his kids in the hall at church or when I started to ask when he and I could hang out together again. He seemed a colder, different person to me.
I internalized that shame and thought what I had done must have been absolutely horrible and made me unworthy of being loved. I felt like a worthless kid – both my father and my bishop found something reprehensible about me. I thought frequently about suicide though I never attempted it. For many years afterwards I viewed my male leaders with suspicion and cynicism, never trusting in them fully – especially with personal struggles. I strongly believe if my leaders were not permitted to ask those questions I would have been able to maintain healthy relationships with them. The church’s expectations in worthiness interviews set us both up for disappointment.
I had been active off and on as a young man. When I was 19 I stopped attending altogether and started a long-term relationship with a special girl I met at church. As our relationship progressed we became physically intimate. I felt some shame at the time, but felt that she and I were headed in the direction of marriage since we had talked about it frequently. We definitely shared a genuine love.
As my friends started returning home from their missions they encouraged me to go as well. Though I attended church off and on at this point, I hadn’t really considered a mission seriously and had started making plans in another life direction. I was asked by a trusted leader who had been my leader throughout my teenage years if I was intimate with this girl. I said I was. He advised me to be careful and to repent. I politely shrugged it off and went my own way again.
A few weeks later I received a letter in the mail saying that I was summoned to a disciplinary “court of love” by the Stake Presidency and High Council. I was shocked. Wasn’t I just 21? I was still a priest and mostly inactive so how was I held to such a high standard as a Melchizedek priesthood holder? I put off responding to the letter and mentioned it to my girlfriend. She had avoided receiving one by confessing to the stake president of her intimate relationship with me when asked; and as part of her repentance process she was not allowed to see me again for the foreseeable future. I was heartbroken in the extreme though I respected her request. I now knew the letter had come from inappropriate questioning leaders. I ignored the letter, hoping they would go away.
I received another letter a week or so later saying that my excommunication would happen on a certain day unless I responded in the affirmative to meet with the stake president in the hopes of avoiding a trial. I begrudgingly met with him as I was afraid to be excommunicated (though I was inactive, I still believed “the church was true” and that I was generally in the wrong). So I met with him and his stipulation for me not getting excommunicated for “unrepentant sexual misconduct” was that I serve a mission. Seriously. So to prove my penitence and to avoid excommunication I reluctantly agreed, waited a year, and served. I never really had a testimony like the other elders did, but I went because it was what I had to do to avoid being excommunicated. Belonging was important to me since I felt I belonged to no one but my mother.
3. On the Mission
This will be short. We were constantly asked about masturbation as missionaries. In the MTC and in the mission field. My mission president was a severe authoritarian that had to hear some kind of confession whenever we met. We often came up with lesser sins to avoid talking with him about anything private or serious.
4. Post-Mission, Pre-Marriage
I did the mission thing, learned a lot about myself and others, and I came home. When I met up again with my girlfriend (almost fiancé as it were) she was in the depths of depression, still attempting to overcome her sense of shame. After a few feeble attempts, we never could patch up our relationship though we had something simple, but beautiful, before. It was dead. The trauma of the earlier threats hung over us both. We reluctantly went our separate ways.
When I later met another girl I was serious about we talked of marriage, though at times it was a painful reminiscence of what I had before. I went to another head leader I trusted with my concern about how best I should tell my fiancé about my past relationship with this girl so we could be on a level of complete trust with each other. Surprisingly, I was told quite emphatically that I was never to divulge or even hint at that occurrence as 1) it had been forgiven and forgotten by God, and 2) that it would unnecessarily ruin my promising relationship with my fiancé. I felt wrong about this advice at the time – I acutely remember that. I felt my past relationship with this girl was the real deal and what we physically experienced together, though unwise and heated in the initial approach, had become, at times, a sincere expression of our love for each other. To forget all that was hard enough; to be told to never divulge the intimacy alone was a cross much heavier than I thought God would call me to bear.
So I didn’t tell her and we married. Still haven’t. Not sure how I even could after so many years – even after leaving the church and largely shaking off those cruelly authoritative binds. Unexpectedly, in the first few months and years my sexual relationship with my wife was deeply flawed. I could never explain to her how – though I very much loved her and was attracted to her – I struggled separating the two phases of my life and how much I struggled with the baggage of my sin that felt like no sin. Intimacy became almost impossible. Time passed and with God’s grace it has improved greatly – though I still remember and I still hurt; a deep depression lingers at times. It feels unbearable to know I have a big secret that shouldn’t have ever been one if I had followed my instincts in the beginning; also to know that to say something now would likely do way more damage than just dying with the secret in old age.
I deeply resent my leaders who – well-meaning or not – waded through issues of sexuality and intimacy when they were neither spiritually nor professionally equipped to do so. I resent and lament their prying involvement in my every affair where I hadn’t the heart to confess something I felt I was my own business and my own to confess should I have thought it necessary. Thought I am happy with my wife and my family, I almost daily still think of the first girl and wonder how she is now and whether she has come to some of the same conclusions I have come to. Whether she feels as I do about it all. Whether she forgives me for not throwing them all to the wind and doubling down on my dedication to the growing love we shared. Who can say?
So while we must protect our children from sexual predation that can originate in these interviews, we must also protect them from leaders who may be incredibly unwise and unrighteous in their advice. Children trust most adults and especially their leaders. I did and as a fatherless child I was especially vulnerable.