In a week that’s been a continuous wave of #ChurchToo revelations –- including a massive investigation of Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church and yesterday’s news about Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page –- I wanted to draw your attention to a related debate and quasi-scandal occurring in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Long-time Salt Lake Tribune religion reporter Peggy Stack, along with education reporter Benjamin Wood, came out with a story Monday about a church decision to allow a second adult in the room while bishops question teenagers about their sexual sins.
Say what? This is a fascinating look at Latter-day Saints’ lives that one wouldn’t know unless you were in a culture where your bishop can ask you pointed questions about whether you’ve been chaste.
It's not easy writing about sexual matters in a PG-rated fashion fit for a daily newspaper, but these reporters did a pretty good job at it. The key: The reporters have provide enough background to help outsiders, but not overstate the obvious for regular readers in Mormon country.
For more, read here:
Amid a grass-roots outcry about sexually explicit interviews with children and sexual assault allegations leveled at a former Mormon mission leader, the LDS Church’s governing First Presidency unveiled revised guidelines Monday for one-on-one meetings between members and local lay leaders while emphasizing that most abuse allegations are “true and should be taken seriously.”
In a document titled “Preventing and Responding to Abuse,” congregational leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to invite a parent or other adult to sit in an adjoining room when meeting with women and children.
The Deseret News also had a piece on the document here.
Those of you who’ve been following the various accusations leveled at evangelical Protestant ministers in recent weeks may have missed a bombshell that broke last week in Utah.
A former Missionary Training Center president (that’s the guy who oversees all the thousands of young missionaries who are sent around the world) admitted to asking one girl to bare her breasts to him in the 1980s. This president is now 85. The Deseret News' piece on the accusation cast some doubt on the woman's veracity and suggested she's a serial accuser.
For those of you who are getting whiplash from so many church leader-related accusations hitting the fan in recent months, I suggest getting a neck brace. This isn’t going to end any time soon.
If you're already confused about what's going on, Religion News Service has a helpful overview here. To understand the latest Tribune article, it’s important to read Stack’s Dec. 11 piece explaining what these bishop interviews are all about.
An older Mormon man routinely sits alone in a closed-door conversation with a younger woman, or even a teenage girl, talking about, of all things, sex -- and it doesn’t take a Matt Lauer-under-the-desk lock to keep them both there
No, the parties are willing participants in an LDS religious ritual: the bishop’s interview.
This generally happens in two ways. First is when the Mormon lay leader of a congregation (usually the bishop and always a male) calls in the boys and girls in his flock from age 12 on up for an annual interview to ask about their testimonies, church attendance, faithfulness to the LDS health code (called the Word of Wisdom) and adherence to the law of chastity.
The rest of the article is quite enlightening as to how explicit some of these questions are.
The best part of the piece was an interview with a bishop who had to conduct these talks and how amazed he was at how adolescents were willing to spill the beans about their sexual practices or fears. And then there are explanatory passages such as this:
Some bishops pose pointed questions about moral cleanliness in these conversations, perhaps quizzing about masturbation, heavy petting or fornication, while others keep their queries more general.
The other type of interview is when penitent members go to their bishops to confess actions the church deems to be “serious sins.” This exchange may also delve into details of intimate sexual behavior.
One could go on, but I’ll stop there.
But do read it. There's a lot of pent-up anger among some Mormons -- and ex-Mormons -- about this practice as this web site attests. As one commenter noted, Catholic priests listen to confessions, too, but the speaker is often anonymous and kneeling in a separate space unseen by the cleric. But many priests now hear confessions in face-to-face sessions, often in a private office. There has been debate about all of this, for obvious reasons.
Call up any of these Mormon stories and you’ll see links to related articles, such as 11,000 people signing a petition to stop the bishop’s interviews. There's a ton of conversation going on about this in Mormon circles. One of the cleverest responses is the YouTube video atop this article that suggests what Jesus would sound like if he had buttonholed sinners like some Mormon bishops do.
All these #ChurchToo articles are bringing up memories of a similar era 30 years ago when the religious world was ripped open and many private sins were made public. I was writing for the Houston Chronicle in the spring of 1988; the Jim Bakker/PTL scandal was a year old and Jimmy Swaggart had just announced his moral failures to the world a few weeks before. And Finis Crutchfield, a local Methodist bishop, had just died of AIDS.
Gay bishops weren’t out of the closet back in those days, so that was a huge story for us. I have a feeling 2017-2018 may be another one of those eras. As you scan the internet for more news of wayward evangelical Protestants, keep one ear cocked toward the Tribune. There may be more of the same from Salt Lake City.
Also, please bear some sympathy for the reporters covering this stuff. They're not seeking this stuff out but when the news breaks, they have to cover it. Reporters have walked away from their faith after covering scandal after scandal. Some people can turn their eyes away from these stories but reporters aren't allowed that option.