Monday, November 14, 2011

Sex and Bishop's Youth Interviews

[NOTE: In this post, I'm not talking about "confessions" to a bishop; I'm talking about discussions in an interview format about the details of the Law of Chasity.

I believe a Bishop should NEVER ask something specific about sexual practices of a minor unless he has permission from the parent(s) or guardian(s) to do so. It is fine to ask the question EXACTLY as it is worded in the Temple Recommend interview. "Do you obey the Law of Chastity?" essentially covers it perfectly.

Just for the record, I am most concerned about the way the conversation should occur. I believe fully it should occur in some cases - and, if parental requests are required to make sure certain questions are not asked, then those parental requests can be made in friendly, non-threatening, supportive and sustaining ways. Personally, I would say something like:

"Bishop, I just want you to know that my wife and I want to be the ones who talk with our children about all sexual matters - about details of the Law of Chastity. I support you in your calling, but PLEASE only ask my child if they are obeying the Law of Chastity. PLEASE don't ask ANY specific questions. That's my responsibility as a parent, and I honor and respect that responsibility highly. I promise you, we will talk with our children about it, so you don't need to do so."

If he objected or insisted, I would ask to be allowed to sit in on the interview and, at the appropriate time, talk with my child about any issues the Bishop felt needed to be asked while the Bishop stepped out of the room. I would ask him to tell me what those issues were prior to the beginning of the interview. I then would reiterate my request to ask only the general question once he returned to the room. How much I said to my child while the Bishop was gone would depend totally on the child - and, with my oldest, it probably would have been something like":

"R_______, Bishop ___________ wants us to talk about some specifics of sex - like ____ and ____________. We've talked about these before, and you can talk with me again at any point, so we've talked about it now. Is there anything you want to discuss? If not, let's talk about other stuff for a few minutes, let him back in and have you answer his question when he asks it. OK?" 

I believe totally that some parents do a lousy job of talking about sex with their kids, but that responsibility should not be the Bishop's.  I understand that many youth don't have parents who will talk with them about sex (or, if they did, it would be in a totally inappropriate way), but I would MUCH rather that discussion be had in a group setting conducted by the Bishop than behind closed doors with just the Bishop and a young man - and especially with just the Bishop and a young woman.  I also would prefer the conversation to be between a youth and a called youth leader of the same sex, if a more private conversation would be better. 


ji said...

You make a good point, PapaD.

Clean Cut said...

Awesome post.

"I believe a Bishop should NEVER ask something specific about sexual practices of a minor unless he has permission from the parent(s) or guardian(s) to do so."

This would have saved a lot of bad feelings with a new member family in our stake and their young daughter. If only the bishop's counselor had read this post first...

Thank you for saying that needs to be said, and for sharing some important suggestions.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post! The problem is that sometimes the parents don't get involved, so the Bishop feels obliged to do so. In reality, this is an excellent opportunity to teach and train parents on what their responsibilities are.

Thanks for the insight!


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how I feel about this or if I'm reading this post correctly.

My take on this as a parent is to teach them correct principles and to let them govern themselves.For us,that means teaching them on an ongoing basis that their bodies and procreative powers are sacred,and that we are each here in part to learn to control them.We teach them that this is a process-and then we don't intrude,other than to reinforce our teaching as and when appropriate ie we do not ask them if they have been masturbating or keeping the law of chastity,but teach them of the ongoing law of repentance as applicable in all situations and at all times.I hope we teach them that we are happy to clear up any misunderstandings,and to act as a resource and comfort.

I think our youth need privacy and space to find out what they believe in for themselves and not have the Bishop used as an enforcer of our parental authority.Likewise I don't think that it's the Bishop's place to replace parents when perfectly adequate ones are around.Like you Ray we also get how important it is for the wise Bishop to cover the ground where necessary.Who'd be a Bishop huh?

Papa D said...

CC, I'm saddened every time I hear of an instance like the one you describe.

Joe, I agree that Bishops often get involved when parents won't - but that doesn't mean they should. It's just "easier" and expected now in too many cases - but I think it's an incorrect tradition of our fathers.

Anonymous, I think you agree with what I'm saying, based on how I read your comment.

Jeff said...

I definitely think it's a good initial approach for a bishop to be upfront with the parents in his ward and let them know that he will expect them to teach their children the specifics.

I don't know if I agree a bishop should "NEVER" broach the topic with finer detail. Besides the impracticality involved in this, it leaves no room for the bishop, a common judge in Israel, to follow promptings that may expose important information or provide an important learning experience.

I would also be interested in hearing more detail on why you have this policy individually.

Papa D said...

"I don't know if I agree a bishop should "NEVER" broach the topic with finer detail. Besides the impracticality involved in this, it leaves no room for the bishop, a common judge in Israel, to follow promptings that may expose important information or provide an important learning experience."

I don't see any impracticality, since I really didn't get into the other options that are available for a Bishop. I mentioned the conversation occurring between the youth and a trusted adult of the same sex (or opposite sex, in the case of homosexual members, if that would be easier for them - as I know it would have been in at least one case of which I'm aware). However, there are other approaches that don't involve the explanation of specific sexual details.

To answer your question about why I feel this way, I won't get into specifics of any kind, but I just am totally uneasy about a male authority figure in a church calling getting into specifics about sexual practices - for a number of reasons:

1) The "acceptability line" varies among individual leaders.

Some Bishops take a different view about what constitutes violating the Law of Chastity and what does not - and I don't want those who draw the lines more liberally (who see some things as "sin" that others don't) asking about specifics. I don't want Bishops asking, "Do you do _______? What about _______? How about ________?" I don't want them to say, "Explain to me exactly what you do and how you do it."

That kind of explicit questioning creates a kind of "intimacy" that too often leads to other issues - both for the one sharing the detail and the one hearing it.

2) We (too strictly, in my opinion) limit the interaction our adult leaders have with other adult members of the opposite sex - and the only justification is the existence of past troubles and the potential for troubles. If that is true, to any degree, regarding adult-adult interactions, it is multiplies exponentially in cases of adult-youth interaction where an element of authority is present - especially in a culture that encourages respect for authority.

I believe it literally is asking for trouble to ask untrained Bishops, inspiration notwithstanding, to delve into matters of sexual intimacy with relatively immature teenagers - and I believe history backs up my concern.

Bottom line, there are enough other, legitimate options that can be used to reach a proper solution that we shouldn't maintain a traditional scenario simply because it's how it has been done in the past.

Anonymous said...

Amen to your last comment Ray,it's just common sense.I think we often don't exercise enough of that in our church dealings,thinking that the Lord will protect us from out own human frailties.'Know thyself 'is counsel that could often come in handy in these things,and I think it's important that we encourage our kids to be comfortable setting their own boundaries and understanding that we are all human,whatever our position or calling.

Clean Cut said...

Well said, Papa D.

Jeff said...

So I don't think that we should be a bit softer about this because "it's what we've always done", I think we should be softer about it because, as I said, it doesn't give the bishop room to function completely in his calling.

I completely sympathize with the issues you've raised and personally I think most bishops would be relieved to know that they aren't going to need to go into details with some children. I think that's a fine mantle to take on yourself as a parent. I think this approach also reduces the bishop's personal vulnerability should something be misunderstood or taken out of context.

I don't, however, think it's good to place a hard and fast rule on it, "inspiration notwithstanding". I think there are some reasonable measures you can take that still respect the bishop's authority; for instance, informing your bishop that you want to handle the explanations is good. The exception I take, I guess, comes in when you want to sit in on your child's worthiness interview if your bishop refuses to agree to this without exception.

Do you not believe a bishop can receive inspiration about private matters like sexuality? Do you not believe that instruction from a bishop could be more valuable than other instruction, and that the Lord can utilize your bishop to sufficiently instruct your children in a way that you can't just due to teenager-parent dynamics? Do you not believe that your current bishop is the person qualified to instruct your child as to the sinfulness of activity x or y, even if another bishop might give another assessment (although, I sincerely doubt this would happen; what bishop encourages or approves teenagers doing anything that comes close to the line of chastity violation)?

I just don't see a strict interpretation of your comments being aligned with a belief in the authority of your Priesthood leaders.

Clean Cut said...

Jeff, I don't even trust Joseph Smith's inspiration on sexuality. I'm surly not going to invite any bishop--the most charitable or authoritarian--into my bedroom and especially not that of my kids.

It's one thing if matters were brought to him, and in that case I would expect discretion and caution, but men (even those called as bishops) can over step their bounds by prying into someone's private life/bedroom uninvited.

Jeff said...

OK, but what does that mean? The bishop is the Lord's appointed judge. The Lord has marked your bishop as His representative to you. Are we really so insecure and distrusting that general questions about sexual behaviors from a man with this mantle should be explicitly disallowed? That's a regression in my book -- the bishop should be free to ask whatever he feels is necessary to successfully ascertain a judgment upon the interviewee. The interviewee is free to decline answers to any questions, though I don't know if it's really appropriate to teach your children to ignore your bishop's questions in the first place.

The fact of the matter is that sexual purity is part of the Church's worthiness standards and that sexual purity comes up in some frequency in interviews. The further fact is that teenagers often need clarification and correction in some issues, and that in some cases a bishop may know this ahead of time considering the usual lack of discretion exhibited by teenagers. Why should we preclude the Lord's anointed from broaching this issue with our children? Are we really that insecure? Are we really that concerned that he will plant an incorrect idea there, and that that idea will be difficult to correct?

I just don't get it, I guess, (and yes, I have children). Perhaps I just think that when my children hit that age, they will be prepared not only to face the bishop's concept of sexuality, but also the sexual concepts of Babylon with which they will be bombarded incessantly. Is the bishop's questioning about masturbation or petting so much scarier than the stuff that the children will be catching from the schoolyard and the television? Are you going to instruct your child's teachers to pull the child out of the class any time one of his peers makes a sexual joke or comment? Will you insist that you be present and be afforded the opportunity to pull your child aside during school-sponsored sex-ed discussions? It doesn't seem realistic to me, and honestly, the threat posed by the bishop's instruction in sexual behavior is likely to be far, far less than any instruction your child may glean from anywhere else.

Also, I will just say that the Lord requires a complete willingness to sacrifice from His disciples and that one may do well to consider somewhat less bravado about an intent to mandate the exclusion of certain lines of questioning. The hypothetical involving Joseph certainly hits some tender spots in relation to this discussion.

Papa D said...

Jeff, I want to try to answer your very good questions in detail, so this might take more than one response. Pelase be patient as I try to do so:

"I think we should be softer about it because, as I said, it doesn't give the bishop room to function completely in his calling."

What I'm saying does allow the Bishop to "function completely in his calling". All I'm saying is that getting into specific detail about sexual practices isn't part of that calling - at least not in cases involving minors, and especially not in cases where parents are willing and able to have those conversations with their own children. There is NO need for a Bishop to get into the kind of details I mentioned in my last comment in order to fulfill his duties and responsibilities.

A Bishop is a "judge" - NOT a private investigator or a lawyer. There is a HUGE difference between those jobs, and our culture conflates them in a way that isn't necessary, imo. If details needs to be asked, then details need to be asked - but not by a Bishop behind closed doors with a minor.

"The exception I take, I guess, comes in when you want to sit in on your child's worthiness interview if your bishop refuses to agree to this without exception."

Why? The only other option, if a parent feels strongly about something, is to cancel all interviews. I don't want to do that; I just want my righteous wishes as a parent to be honored - and I believe this is a righteous wish.

Papa D said...

I'm going to ALLCAP a few things in this comment, just to emphasize and highlight them - not to "shout" in any way. I just want to make that clear upfront.

"Do you not believe a bishop can receive inspiration about private matters like sexuality?"

"Can receive" and "should inquire about and try to receive" are VERY different things. Yes, I beleive Bishops can receive inspiration about lots of things, including private things. However, I don't believe Bishops should be praying for inspiration regarding the DETAILS of the sexual practices of others in order to talk about the DETAILS of those practices behind closed doors with a minor.

Bishops are not trained counselors, in most cases. They are not infallible, in all cases. They are subject to temptation and sin, in all cases. They vary RADICALLY in their understanding of sexuality. I'm saying the default position for Bishops should NOT be to explore DETAILS of sexuality with teenagers and NEVER should be to discuss DETAILS of sexual practice with them behind closed doors - and the Brethren in the CHI agrees with me.

I have read the relevant section from Handbook 1, and it says that Bishops should not ask ANYTHING about the Law of Chastity that "might arouse curiosity" within the young man or woman. If that is the standard, and if we know that many people are aroused simply by talking or hearing about sexual actions, I have a really hard time accepting a Bishop asking a youth to talk IN DETAIL about sexual practices and being within the limitations outlined in the CHI.

"Do you not believe that instruction from a bishop could be more valuable than other instruction, and that the Lord can utilize your bishop to sufficiently instruct your children in a way that you can't just due to teenager-parent dynamics?"

Of course I believe that. However, my belief in that doesn't change my view of this specific topic.

"Do you not believe that your current bishop is the person qualified to instruct your child as to the sinfulness of activity x or y, even if another bishop might give another assessment (although, I sincerely doubt this would happen; what bishop encourages or approves teenagers doing anything that comes close to the line of chastity violation)?"

Sure, I can accept that - although I don't see the Bishop as "the person". I see the Bishops as "a person" - along with parents, and youth leaders, and apostles and prophets, etc. One of the central issues, however, is that Bishops actually do vary with regard to what they consider to be violations of the Law of Chastity. Some go so far as to take stances regarding the sexual practices of married members, even though the LDS Church itself takes NO official stance regarding those things.

Again, it's not the overall topic of chastity and the Law of Chastity that concerns me at all. It's going beyond the uncovering of an issue and digging into the details to which I object. While my kids still are minors, that conversation is my responsibility - even as I support the Bishop in teaching the standards and upholding the "law".

Papa D said...

"I just don't see a strict interpretation of your comments being aligned with a belief in the authority of your Priesthood leaders."

If you knew me at all, you'd understand how incorrect that statement is, Jeff.

Just so you know, I've served in lots of leadership callings in my life (I'm in my mid-40's and have six children), so this is not theoretical for me. (My current calling is Institute Teacher, and I was released from the High Council in order to so that. I believe STRONGLY and DEEPLY in the authority of my Priesthood leaders. I'm not talking about "authority" in this post at all; I'm talking about practical matters and policy.

I've sat in situations where I could have tried to delve into specifics, and I just believe it's possible to do EVERYTHING required by my calling, within my authority, without dleving into those specifics.

Papa D said...

"Are we really so insecure and distrusting that general questions about sexual behaviors from a man with this mantle should be explicitly disallowed?"

Nobody here has said that. NOBODY. Please back up a bit and realize that you now are arguing against a position I've never taken and will never take.

"the bishop should be free to ask whatever he feels is necessary to successfully ascertain a judgment upon the interviewee."

Absolutely not - and the global leadership of the LDS Church agrees with me 100% on this point. Again, taking this to the logical extreme, would you accept and approve of a Bishops asking your 12-year-old daugher if she masturbates - and, if she didn't understand that word, would you accept and approve of him giving her a clinical explanation of masturbation and then asking again if she does that? What if the question was about sexual positions or the use of sex tools? ALL of that could be twisted by someone to fit your last quote - and I believe it would be wrong in EVERY case for a Bishop to go there in an interview.

If you think that would be appropriate, it is the end of this conversation - since that's a line I simply can't cross.

"The interviewee is free to decline answers to any questions"

With adults, I can't argue with this - but we're not talking about adults. We're talking about youth - in a culture that stresses (correctly, imo) respect for authority. Do you realize how difficult it is for a youth to tell a Bishop, especially when they are alone in a room, that they aren't going to answer a question? Ideally, I agree with you - but in practice, that is an almost impossible standard for MANY youth.

Papa D said...

"Are you going to instruct your child's teachers to pull the child out of the class any time one of his peers makes a sexual joke or comment? Will you insist that you be present and be afforded the opportunity to pull your child aside during school-sponsored sex-ed discussions?"

Take a deep breath, Jeff. Again, if you knew me better (and limited your comments to ONLY the post I actually wrote), you would know how hyperbolic those questions are.

I like sexual jokes - IF they are funny and not vulgar (and they can be funny and not vulgar). My kids all have been in sex-ed classes, and I've never pulled them out of them. My only response to those questions is:

Of course not - but that's different than the issue about which I wrote in this post.

Seriously, I think you are WAY over-estimating what I'm saying here.

Anonymous said...

Hope Jeff comes back-this has been a very informative discussion.I would like Jeff to know that a very well intended Bishop's intervention has damaged my daughter for the past ten years.We have yet to discover the full extent of the damage in her life.

Our youth are so vulnerable,particularly those who most want to comply with what they have been given to understand as the Lord's counsel to them through his representatives. He is a good man,who's attitude towards sexuality is not healthy.

Whatever we taught her-or didn't-his counsel has had a negative impact.We knew it was inappropriate to our daughter,but he made it clear that we would not be considered temple worthy should we not bring her to his office on a regular basis.We did refuse,and lost our recommends.

I regret that we did not think for one minute that we should not allow that to happen.We had complete confidence that we could trust his dealings with her as inspired by the Lord.Never again.

We have been working with her ever since to enable her to understand God's love for her,and acceptance of her choices,and his desire to draw her back close to him and enable her to heal.This was not the message she received from her Bishop.

Bishop's sometimes have more power than parents on impressionable and unstable young people-they move on but parents have to live with the consequences.

Jeff said...

PapaD, your post states unequivocally that you will not allow your bishop to address sexual topics with your children in a closed-door setting. I still think this is extreme, although I guess it extrapolates beyond bishops (i.e., you don't want other authority figures addressing sexual topics with your children behind closed doors either). I understand now that it's not discussion of sex in general, which I guess is good.

"'Are we really so insecure and distrusting that general questions about sexual behaviors from a man with this mantle should be explicitly disallowed?'

"Nobody here has said that. NOBODY. Please back up a bit and realize that you now are arguing against a position I've never taken and will never take."

This is the position you've taken. Can you clarify how it is different? You said that the only sexual question or discussion you want your bishop to engage is "Do you live the law of chastity?", as phrased in the temple recommend interview. This certainly sounds like you're precluding "general questions about sexual behaviors", like "Do you masturbate?" , "Do you make out with your girlfriend?", and "Do you make contact with the sacred parts of your significant other's body?". These are all legitimate worthiness issues and they are all, in my mind, legitimate issues for a bishop to broach with a youth, particularly if he has knowledge that the issue needs to be broached before the interview occurs.

You asked if I would be comfortable with the bishop asking a twelve-year-old about masturbation and then explaining it if the twelve-year-old did not know. Yes, I would be comfortable with that. Your twelve-year-old child should know about masturbation long before he/she turns twelve. Abstaining from masturbation is part of the sexual standard of the Church, and if a child has not been taught how to live that standard or even what that standard entails by his/her parents by the time the bishop would be making inquiries as to that activity, the parents have abrogated their duties and the bishop must step in to teach the doctrine of the Church where the parent has failed to do so. Do you dispute this? Should the bishop merely allow the child to continue in ignorance?

I have spoken with persons who have had sexual discussions with their bishop that have been immensely helpful. Arguably it would have been better if the parents of these individuals had not put the bishop in a position where he needed to have these discussions since afaik they have not involved unworthiness, but the bishop did not allow the parental negligence or teenage ignorance to propagate, and his explanation was remembered with gratitude. Your post, where the bishop is bound only to the question, "Do you keep the Law of Chastity", would not have allowed these important experiences to occur.

I think it is reasonable to expect a twelve-year-old to know about masturbation. And I think that if we failed to teach this to our children, we should be grateful that a force as benevolent as our bishop is the first person that has the opportunity to teach the child. Would you rather they learn about this practice from a classmate, teacher, television program, or online discussion?

Questions about "positions" or the use of "sex tools" I think are out of line. I won't condemn it absolutely, but I do think it's out of line in almost every imaginable circumstance.

Jeff said...

I believe and accept that bishops can abuse their position just as anyone else can. If a bishop is prying into lurid or graphic detail, the questions should be refused and the interviewee should walk out if the bishop insists on an answer. I also believe a bishop is capable of abusing his congregants and that this should not be tolerated at all. I think that delving into the wrong details can be abusive, and I also think that intentionally crafting an interview to be sexually exciting for either party is abusive. If any of this occurs, the interview should end and the interviewee should present to stake authorities ASAP. If any touching occurred, the interviewee should report to civil authorities also (regardless of the stance of higher ecclesiastical authority).

I do not intend to give the bishop free reign here -- I just think the limitation you cited where the only acceptable sexual discussion is "Do you live the Law of Chastity?" is extreme.

Anonymous, as to your comment, I just don't know what to say. I have a hard time conceptualizing what a well-intentioned man could say that could impact your daughter so immensely for such a long time period. One would think if the bishop was errant in the idea he expressed the correction could have happened somewhat quickly -- if your daughter ignored your advice because her "Priesthood leaders" told her something contrary (and your daughter refused to recognize your place as the pre-eminent Priesthood leader in her life until she gets married), it should have been a simple matter to get a correction out of the stake president.

If the negative consequences linger for so long, I would take a look at whether you should start approaching the matter as an abusive and/or traumatic episode. Frankly the bishop's behavior should have been reported to stake authorities immediately if there was a serious problem with it (and it sounds like there was if you're dealing with repercussions ten years on).

As to the temple recommends, your stake president should not have allowed this kind of thing if the situation really was a problem with the bishop. I often wonder why people shy away from contact with stake authorities -- your bishop is not the end-all authority, and if you have a contention or a concern about him you should take it higher before it becomes a disaster. If the concern is legitimate, it is likely others in the ward will be impacted by it too. You should not let a serious problem in the bishopric go unaddressed.

Papa D said...

Jeff, I respect your view on this, but I just have too much experience with really bad cases to agree fully.

Again, I go with the CHI on this one - which is the LDS Church's official position with regard to youth interviews. It says interviewers are NOT to ask ANYTHING that might arouse curiosity - and that's an incredibly broad standard. That's my standard - and all I'm saying is that going beyond the basic question and delving into specifics with a minor, without approaching that minor's parents first, should not happen.

If we disagree about that, fine - but I think you might not have had enough experiences with Stake Presidents who back Bishops almost reflexively and overestimate how easy it is for many members to "question" or "challenge" a Bishop in cases like have been mentioned here. In our culture, that can be brutally hard - so I believe we ought to be open to approached that can work well and decrease the problems our current, cultural practices cause.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou PapaD,your comment reflected our experience.when we raised this issue with our stake leadership they did indeed relexively support their Bishop,who did indeed cause damage to many in our ward.We have been picking up the pieces ever since.

It has been very difficult for our daughter to unpick what had been communicated to her about her unworthiness and indeed sinful nature,from the gospel of Jesus Christ.This was a matter of attitude,which pulled rank over us,since he was at the time representing the church's position on these matters.She has been left with an attitude towards her sexuality that has filled her with a shame that has inhibited her relationships and her capacity to share her difficulties with us as her parents.That has made it a very difficult and protracted task to correct.Now,as she seriously considers marriage,this has come to a head,and may have to delay her marriage since she feels that these issues need to be resolved before she commits herself.

This well intentioned man disrupted her relationship with us and undermined it,and has seriously delayed her moving on with her life.Had this man limited his interventions to those suggested by PapaD,and given us a heads up as parents rather than insisting on continuing his interventions at the price of our recommends,things may have turned out differently.

Hope this experience can help others to understand that a Bishop's intervention needs to respect the stewardship of parents,and encourage other parents to intervene rather than allowing a Bishop to dictate the agenda when he feels that parents are essentially too liberal.

Jeff said...

>"Again, I go with the CHI on this one - which is the LDS Church's official position with regard to youth interviews. It says interviewers are NOT to ask ANYTHING that might arouse curiosity - and that's an incredibly broad standard."

I suppose we do disagree, but I find this to be a false equivocation. Your post says that the only sexual discussion in which a bishop engages should be "Do you obey the Law of Chastity?". If that was the standard intended by the Church handbook, that's what it would say; it's certainly sufficiently clear that most bishops would understand it.

Instead, the Church gives advice specifically to guide bishops in sexual discussion, which can be paraphrased thus: "Do not engage in discussion that would arouse a reasonable person", i.e., do not pry into lurid details, do not say things that would make a teenager want to experiment with incorrect behavior, etc. This is decidely not the same as "do not ask any sexual questions of minors".

I find the idea that some stake presidents reflexively and completely support bishops even when the bishop is wrong off-putting. I haven't had close enough interactions with enough stake presidents and bishoprics to know if it is actually a pervasive thing or not, but I am disturbed at the possibility. What's the point in having a SP if he is just going to rubber-stamp everything a bishop does?

The flip side of that is that perhaps the bishop is usually right in the first place and the plaintiffs are usually just bitter and/or seeking retribution. Ideas on likelihood here?

I don't think I will understand the situation Anonymous is describing without additional detail. It really makes no sense to me how an interview can go that badly and have negative repercussions for that long and not cross some very serious lines. How can a girl be so committed to a single comment by her bishop that ten years of parental, ecclesiastical, and (assumedly) evedentiary contradiction doesn't take hold? That whole situation sounds fishy to me.

I don't mean to sound insensitive or skeptical, I just do not understand. I am completely open to understanding further if anyone wants to expound for me.

Papa D said...

Jeff, thanks for your clarification - and your tone. I appreciate both. My response will take two comments.

1) I've gone back over the post, reading carefully as if I hadn't written it, and I can see where your main concern is a reasonable reading. I skipped something that was intuitive to me, but it wasn't clear in the OP. I apologize for that.

Let me say it a bit differently:

I believe the question, "Do you obey the Law of Chastity?" should be asked by the Bishop. If the answer is, "No" - I have no problem with the Bishop asking, "In what way are you not obeying the Law of Chastity?" That allows a youth who is aware of the details (or believes s/he is aware of them, which can be a very different thing, in some situations) to confess and for the Bishop to exercise his authority as a judge in Israel to facilitate repentance.

If, however, the answer is, "I'm not sure" - that changes the interview in very clear ways. At that point, since the interviewee is a youth (and especially in our current social atmosphere), I believe the Bishop's response should be one of three things:

1) Move on in the interview and go to the parents afterward (or a youth leader of the same sex, if the parents are not a viable option), explaining the response of the child and asking them to talk with the child about the Law of Chastity and what it entails. Iow, ask that the youth be taught prior to asking the foundational question again.

2) Give the youth a copy of "For the Strength of Youth" and ask him or her to read the appropriate section - then ask the basic question again.

3) If there are multiple youth who seem to not understand the basic standards, schedule a group fireside and go over the Law of Chastity - again, focused on "For the Strength of Youth".

None of these approaches invalidates a Bishop's authority or right to receive inspiration in his calling, but none of them carry the potential for abuse and damage that "digging into the details" allows. They also circumvent completely the issue of Bishops trying to enforce their own extrapolations as doctrine - and, at the most "benign" level, I know of cases where Bishops have told youth that they had sinned greatly by kissing someone else and for dating a specific person exclusively while still in high school. I know it was done in a sincere attempt to keep that youth from "going all the way" - but those sort of "hedge about the law", personal standards simply ought not be enforced with youth. It's hard enough in our current world without adding all kinds of unnecessary miscellaneous guilt and self-loathing.

Papa D said...

As to the point of when a negative situation is taken to someone "above" a Bishop:

I have interacted with many Bishops and Stake Presidents in my life. Almost without fail, they have been kind, caring, wonderful, humble men who would not do anything intentionally to harm a child or youth of any age. I mean that sincerely.

I need to be very clear upfront. I do NOT believe, at all, that most Stake Presidents side reflexively with Bishops against youth and parents in most situations where there is a concern - assuming there doesn't exist already an adversarial relationship with those parents. (I know parents who are in the "boy who cried wolf" situation [who complain about almost everything imaginable], and those parents aren't going to be trusted right away in any situation.) I believe in the vast majority of cases, if a parent approaches a Stake President calmly and humbly about an issue that has occurred, the Stake President will respond accordingly and give the matter serious consideration. The issue, however, is two-fold:

1) It's really, really, really hard for parents to remain calm and not appear to be "attacking a Bishop" when they believe their child has been harmed. I think it's unrealistic to expect that to happen in many cases, so I believe it is important to make allowances for those who go about trying to rectify the situation in a manner that is not ideal. Those protective emotions can cause a leader's defenses to rise, which means the initial reaction can be to "protect the Bishop". That initial reaction then can aggravate and already explosive situation, and both "sides" can end up digging in the trenches and continuing the counter-productive verbiage. People who naturally would work things out peacefully and respectfully can slide quickly into battle mode - and that only exacerbates an already touchy, emotional situation.

2) Otoh, Stake Presidents often are the ones who originally made the suggestions as to who should be called as Bishops. They do this only when they are confident that the Bishop is a very good man (as 99.9% are), and those they recommend sometimes are long-time friends whom they respect and admire. Conversely, the parents who are concerned often are members the Stake President knows FAR less well than the Bishop. This simple dichotomy can have a great impact on the initial reaction of the Stake President - and, especially if the Bishop doesn't feel that he did anything wrong or inappropriate, it is very difficult sometimes for a Stake President to take seriously a concern over what they might see as a simple misunderstanding.

At the risk of using an example that isn't the same situation, think of the Penn State debacle. It appears that one of the biggest reasons Joe Paterno didn't press hard for Jerry Sandusky to be fired when he heard about the incident in the shower with the 10-year-old boy was that Coach Sandusky was one of his best, long-time friends. It is easy to believe that Coach Paterno went to Coach Sandusky and said something like, "Is what I heard true? Were you really molesting a young boy in the shower?" Coach Sandusky's response easily could have been, "No way! I probably shouldn't have been horsing around with him there, but I wouldn't molest anyone. You know me; I'm not a pedophile!!" (That, essentially, is the gist of Coach Sandusky's television interview - that he isn't a pedophile and that he just was "horsing around" with boys when they showered together.)

Again, I'm NOT equating the two situations in any way other than to say I can understand JoPa's hesitance or denial IF that type of conversation is what happened - and it's easy to understand why Stake Presidents might discount the concerns of a youth and/or parent in light of how they know and respect their Bishops.

Papa D said...

For all of the reasons we've discussed in this thread, I believe it is better to approach sex and youth interviews in a different manner than we have historically.

Anonymous said...

We're not adversarial people.We loved our Bishop,and our stake president.

I think both were tired,and made a mistake,which they tacitly conceded.

My daughter was and is a very sensitive girl-I don't think that is unusual amongst young people,neither do either of those facts make the situation 'fishy'. Insult upon injury,but I guess I invited that.

Our Bishop was a letter- of- the-law kind of guy.

I say again,it is very difficult to unpick what is said when there are no witnesses.As parents we do not know what misinformation was planted in our daughters mind,and what she has chosen to mispercieve.I accept that she has her own agency.

It happens,and it can cause damage.

I'd like to avoid it happening to someone else.

Papa Ds suggestions would have made those events a lot less likely.

We forgive both he and our stake president.

It was hard,and it continues to be.

Jeff said...

Thanks for the increased explanation PapaD, that does help clarify your position a bit. But doesn't your list of options overlook one of the cardinal rules of confession to an ecclesiastical leader: absolute confidence in an interview or confession? This rules is so cardinal, in fact, that many secular legal systems recognize and protect it, granting immunity to preachers who fail to report crimes, etc.

If the options available to a bishop presented with an unsure youth are merely to tell a parent or youth leader about the potential violation and have them handle the situation, doesn't that run blatantly afoul of Church rules that individual interviews with the bishop are absolutely confidential (with perhaps extremely rare exceptions)?

Should the next question be, "Can I tell your parents and/or quorum advisor that you may have violated the Law of Chastity and and have them explain the law more completely to you?" If the child refuses to allow disclosure, what's the process? Would you then allow a bishop to address the problem? Should the bishop refer the case to the stake president or ask the SP to refer to an AA or GA? Should two high councilors be brought in to answer the question cooperatively? I'm sure you're not naive enough to imagine that anywhere near a majority of the kids would consent to the revelation of the (potential) sin to their parents, and the mere suggestion is enough to seriously disturb or provoke some children and damage their trust in the sanctity of communication with Priesthood authority.

A total buckshot anonymized general response clarifying the rules over the pulpit in sacrament meeting or in the young man's Priesthood quorum would probably not violate confidentiality, but this approach is very limiting and doesn't necessarily even answer the specific question (since the bishop was not allowed to ask for any additional detail).

Papa D said...

"I don't know" isn't a confession - and there is no inviolable rule of any kind for interviews outside of confessions.

Again, we too often conflate things that shouldn't be conflated, and there is a HUGE difference between a confession and things that come up in the flow of an interview that aren't confessions, in and of themselves.

Papa D said...

To be clearer, I said the Bishop can ask about violations. It's the "I don't know" where I said they shouldn't dig for details. The question can be asked again once the standard has been taught or re-taught.

Jeff said...

I also have some questions about the consistency of the accounts you're following. Do you really believe that bishops taught it was a "great sin" to kiss someone or to date steadily before high school? As bishops are morally bound not to comment on such accounts, and teenagers are prone to false extrapolation or exaggeration of details to displace fault, you have no suspicion that the severity of the sin was perhaps misinterpreted or misrepresented by the youth in question?

Even if we assume the account is not embellished, isn't it precisely the bishop's role to determine when a sin has been committed and the degree of its grievousness? Isn't that what it means to be a judge in Israel? It seems some of us don't want our judges to engage in any adjudication.

At this point we should also note that Church members are counselled to refrain from steady relationships until they are ready to marry and they are also counselled not to denigrate themselves by treating kisses or other physical intimacy lightly. Do you suggest that the bishop should not have offered these corrections? Do you fully believe that the bishop presented the instance as a "great sin" or do you allow for some teenage melodrama?

Are these the topics that you don't want your bishop to discuss with your children? Because frankly I wouldn't even consider these to fall under the sexual purview we've been discussing anyway.

Jeff said...

>"'I don't know' isn't a confession - and there is no inviolable rule of any kind for interviews outside of confessions."

You posit, then, that "I don't know if I violated the Law of Chastity" does not fall under the Church's standard of confidentiality? I have always considered the bishop's office sacrosanct; I know there have been times I have gone to a bishop for counsel and I still fully expect him to consider that conversation confidential, even though it was not a confession.

Papa D said...

Jeff, this is the second time in your comments you've questioned the accuracy of concerns expressed. In each case, the person expressing the concern has stated that they are aware of improper instances. Let me make it as clear as I can:

I KNOW of more than once instance like what I described. There is NO ambiguity in that knowledge. What was said was verified to me personally by the Bishops in question, and I was in a position to ask about them.

I understand that you are having a hard time accepting that possibility, but, please, stop questioning it now. It has happened, and it happens more than many people realize.

Again, I love and respect Bishops highly (and Stake Presidents), but there are serious cases of harm that occur because of our traditional approach to youth interviews - and there are ways around those things that don't lessen the Bishops authority or right to receive inspiration and revelation. I'm trying to strike a reasonable, acceptable balance - which I understand is not easy, but it's important, imo.

Jeff said...

OK, if you say the bishop has personally verified that he taught that it was a "great sin" to date steady or kiss, I obviously have no ground on which to challenge that. I did ask some other questions that are important. Do you not believe that the bishop is entitled to make such a proclamation as a common judge in Israel? Is your entire approach that only confessions are confidential, and "I don't know" is technically not a confession of anything, so there is no issue presented by going up to the parent of a teenager, entirely without consent, and saying, "Your son says he doesn't know if he violated the Law of Chastity. Can you address this for me?"

Papa D said...

Yes, I do believe that "I don't know" is not a "confession" in any way and doesn't need to be treated like one. It is an opportunity (and need) for instruction, but that instruction doesn't have to come from the Bishop.

That is VERY different than other meetings with the Bishop where confidential information is shared. "I don't know" (in the case I've outlined) is not confidential information, imo. In other cases, of course, it would be; not in this case.

I'm heading to church. I'll check in later tonight.

Jeff said...

I suppose we simply disagree, then, but I for one would feel vastly betrayed if a bishop with whom I interviewed as a teenager (not to mention an adult ;) ) felt that there was no need for confidentiality when I confessed that I didn't know if I had broken the Law of Chastity, and he went and told my parents and/or quorum leaders without my consent. The bishop should man up and answer the question. It is his right and obligation to do so -- he has authority from the Lord to determine whether x thing is sinful.

This whole thread is supposedly about the intimacy and extremely personal nature of sexuality, and you don't think that the duty of a bishop is betrayed by going up to a teenager's parent and telling them that their son or daughter confessed that he/she "may have" violated the Law of Chastity? This would be a much, much larger disaster than being told that I had sinned by retaining a steady girlfriend imo. Can you not conceptualize the potential danger this kind of disclosure would importune for some kids? Seriously. While we're talking about "behind closed doors", I'm familiar with the accounts of multiple parents that were outwardly respected and straight-laced but would fly inexplicably entirely off the handle at home. What do you think one of these people would do after they assured the bishop that they would discuss their child's "potential violation", and do you think that action would instill a trust in the office of the bishopric or the priesthood generally?

And all of this trouble to save the feelings of a teenager that is bitter that he was informed of the entirely true doctrine that he should not date steady until he is ready to marry? I am at a complete loss here.

If I knew of a case where a bishop had brought the issue to a separate authority figure in the youth's life without consent from the interviewee, I would appeal that bishop as far as I could until I was assured he had been at least severely censured if not entirely removed or until the appeals process was absolutely exhausted. That is willy-nilly disregard for the place and authority of the bishopric and the feelings and trust of congregants, and it is extremely dangerous.

Attempting to correct ward members, including youth, such that they do not sin is the main job of the bishop. Ratting out teenagers to their parents is absolutely, completely unacceptable.

What if you could not reach an agreement on this matter with your bishop? What if your SP backed your bishop? What level of authority in the Church is required before you stop saying, "I have known many such well-intentioned men, but they sometimes err...", and start saying, "I will obey the servants of the Lord."?

Jeff said...

What if you couldn't be convinced of the error in this policy of insisting that you sit in on the interview and/or become fully informed of its contents in violation of the interviewee's right to confidentiality, and the bishop had to advise your child that confidential meetings and interviews with ecclesiastical authority would still be required in order to progress in the Priesthood, receive a mission call, or participate in other important ordinances, despite your parental command to the contrary?

Presented with this impasse, where the bishop believes the confidentiality owed to congregants cannot be assured on the terms you've presented, and the person demanding such terms explicitly forbids his child to partake of the interviews that are pre-requisite to the child's acquisition of saving ordinances, what course do you suggest the bishop in question take? Acquiesce to the terms against his better judgment? Allow this state to be perpetrated and have the child receive the Aaronic Priesthood at age 18, once he is legally outside of your guardianship? Offer or recommend an audience to your child against your wishes (which I suspect violates Church policy)? What if your child asks the bishop directly without his instigation? Should it be denied? I am curious to know your answer to this.

I hope you don't take offense at the direct tone I've taken here. I felt it was the most lucid way to describe my questions and feelings on this matter. I really don't know what to say or do here, except sit completely awestruck.

Papa D said...

Yes, Jeff, we appear simply to disagree - and you continue to extrapolate things into what I've said that I haven't said and don't believe.

I have NEVER said a Bishop should "rat out a teenager" - and I've NEVER suggested breaching confidentiality about what is said. I've presented multiple options to pursue, and inspiration can guide a Bishop's choice of how to act appropriately for each and every youth. In the case of going to a parent, it can be as easy as, "I am concerned that the youth in our ward don't understand the standards of the Law of Chastity fully. Will you please go over 'For the Strength of Youth' with your child(ren) and make sure they understand what the Church teaches about it?"

I'm not going to debate a slippery slope argument that I don't believe applies, so we probably are done with this discussion.

Thanks, sincerely, for your input - and for the opportunity to refine and clarify what I meant in the post itself. Again, we simply disagree - but about less than you appear to believe, fwiw.

ji said...

Perhaps we should apply the standard we use for tithing worthiness here -- the bishop asks the member to declare if he or she is or is not a full-tithe-payer, and the bishop records the answer. Both parties act in good faith. The bishop does not inquire about gross or net or deductions, because he knows that the First Presidency has made it clear that no one in the church is authorized to teach anything different that what the First Presidency has taught.

From, we read "Chastity means not having any sexual relations before marriage. It also means complete fidelity to husband or wife during marriage." That's all. Bishops should not interpret or re-interpret this on their own initiative, although they might carefully and circumspectly answer questions about what it means if asked by a member.

In the same way the official tithing approach leaves matters of gross or net or increase or whatever up to the member, the official chastity answer leaves a lot up to the member. The law of chastity DOES NOT reach to kissing or pornography or masturbation -- these might be impure practices, and maybe even sins, but by themselves they are not violations of the law of chastity that require church discipline. Some will disagree with me here, but I refer back to the official definition of the law of chastity rather than attempts by well-meaning members to build a hedge around the law.

Private matters should be kept private.

The bishop is a judge, not an investigator. If someone confesses to breaking the law of chastity, he can judge the matter. If someone doesn't confess, then the standard is established in D&C 42:80, which requires the testimony of two witnesses.

I think it is perfectly alright for a bishop to ask a youth if he or she is keeping the law of chastity (YES or NO), and if NO, then to very carefully ask how the law has been broken and to limit the answer to just a few facts. There is no need to ask questions about specific acts or practices or thoughts.

ji said...

I'm glad moderation is on, so this thread can be ended. You don't need to post this, or mine from last night.

Jeff wrote, "Attempting to correct ward members, including youth, such that they do not sin is the main job of the bishop. Ratting out teenagers to their parents is absolutely, completely unacceptable."

You responded to his second sentence, starting "Ratting out teenagers..." But his first sentence is also dead wrong. The bishop's main job is not "to correct ward members . . . so that they do not sin". Rather, the bishop's "main job" in regard to this matter is to hear the voluntary confession of the member after the sin has been committed; provided, it is a serious sin such that, if known, would affect the members standing in the Church. The bishop's secondary job is to teach correct principles to all members and to allow them to govern themselves.

I am a father and a holder of the priesthood, and I have the duty to teach my son the meaning of the law of chastity, both the narrow and the broader meaning. My teaching may differ from my neighbor's teaching in some of the particulars, but that is okay.

The bishop is a priest. His work occurs when a member comes to him for some action or ordinance. If a member stays away, and no other members bring forth witness evidence of major sin, then the bishop has nothing to do regarding that member. When a member approaches a bishop for a temple recommend interview or other worthiness interview, the member voluntarily opens the door for some inquiry -- even so, the bishop must respect the member and limit the breadth and depth of his inquiry. But it is a different circumstance when a bishop approaches a member for an interview.

I hope my bishop will always sustain me as the father in my family, and respect me in that important role. I and my wife might build a few hedges around a few laws to protect my son, but we cannot have everyone in the Church building hedges for my son. The hedges that I do rightfully build for my son might be inappropriate for someone else's son, and someone else's hedges might be inappropriate for my son.

Papa D said...

ji, it wasn't a matter of moderation being enabled; it was a technical problem with my comment section. It's fixed now, so I approved your comments to post when I realized they'd been moderated. Sorry for that.

I agree with everything you said, and I really, really like the distinction between when someone goes to a Bishop to confess or seek counsel and when a Bishop approaches someone for a "regularly scheduled" interview. They are two very different situations with very different purposes - and those differing purposes are important in discussions like this.

Clean Cut said...

I'm with you, ji. I too agree with everything you said. Great comments.