Hey preacher, leave those kids alone!

I have a 6-year old daughter, and one issue that will start coming up soon is baptism. It’s not the actual baptism that bothers me; I basically see it as a rite of passage. I think eight years old is far too young to decide to join a religion, but if my daughter wants to do it, that’s great. What makes me most uncomfortable is the prospect of interviews with the bishop.

Interviews make me uncomfortable for several reasons. First, I’m not thrilled about a relative stranger probing for private, personal details of my children’s lives, especially without her parents in the room. I’m not okay with the church acting in loco parentis when the parentis is already loco. Second, the church ostensibly teaches a concept of Jesus Christ as a mediator between us and God. However, in my experience, the institution itself likes to usurp that place, and interviews are a powerful way to do that. Third, most of the shortcomings one is asked to confess are not really shortcomings. The bishop asks questions to determine whether you are a good Mormon, not whether you are a good person. And finally, the horror stories. Oh, the horror stories.

Our bishop seems like a good guy, but I’ve heard the stories many times, from people I know. The perverted bishop who pried for details about a young girl’s level of intimacy with her boyfriend. The girl who had no idea what oral sex was until the bishop described it in detail. God forbid, the actual sexual abuse that occasionally shows up on the evening news. I’m sure that most interviews are not like this, probably not even close. But you never know when it will happen. In a private room with a closed door, with a young girl who believes the bishop speaks with the authority of God, inappropriate things will sometimes happen. And as the parent of a daughter, it worries me.

Strangely, I’m not as worried about my younger sons, at least not as far as the inappropriate questions and behavior. Maybe that’s because they’re not old enough to be interviewed yet. Or maybe it’s because almost every horror story I’ve heard happened to a girl.

I see value in the act of confession, whether it be to another person or simply in your own private reflections or prayers. It can help us become better people by identifying our shortcomings, but only if we define a plan of action for overcoming those faults and improving our lives. I think it’s interesting that in the Catholic church, you are given the choice to speak with the priest face-to-face, or to keep your confession (theoretically) anonymous. I can see how anonymity could help you feel that you are confessing to God, not just to the guy across the desk. I can’t ever see the LDS church moving toward anonymous confessions, because the point of the interview is to identify a connection between your identity and your status vis–vis the church. I think the interview is meant to strengthen one’s loyalty to the institution, not one’s penitence before God.

On a related note, has anyone noticed that the LDS church has gone a little interview crazy lately? Tithing settlement, temple recommends, PPIs, and you had to get a special recommend to attend the recent temple dedications in the Salt Lake Valley, for crying out loud. This screams of control tactics to me. I don’t remember Jesus grilling his apostles about masturbation. He usually just said, “Come, follow me.”

Anyway, I’m not sure of the best course of action. I think all the potential problems may be alleviated by insisting that my children not be interviewed unless one of their parents is present in the room. It still doesn’t thrill me, but at least I may retain a modicum of control over the situation. If my child feels less inclined to divulge personal secrets that way, so much the better. It’s none of their business anyway.

Do you have any interview stories of your own? Do any of you have kids that have been through interviews? How did you feel about it? How did you handle it?

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6 Responses

  1. If you count as a horror story that boys are expected to confess innocuous sexual behavior or their sexual orientation, then there are lots of stories to go around.

    My daughters haven’t reached the age where they will be expected to have confidential discussions with church leadership, but if we come to that bridge, I plan to reinforce to them that they can refuse to answer any question that makes them uncomfortable.

    I can’t imagine a bishop asking an eight-year-old girl about her sexuality, but if he does, then I want them to have enough respect for their own personal boundaries that they can say, “That’s a personal question and I choose not to answer it.” Or tell him where to shove it, whichever they feel more appropriate.

  2. Justin says:

    My youngest sister arrived home from an interview with our bishop, crying and completely incoherent. On the way home, she told my mom that the bishop asked her if she had paid her tithing. He said that paying tithing was one way to avoid burning in the afterlife. He jokingly called it “fire insurance”, which must be a familiar quip. I have heard used a number of times since. She could not have been more than 10 years old, and must have thought she hadn’t handed over enough of her income. The experience scared her tremendously and I had no respect for that man or his position of authority ever again.

  3. Mytha says:

    I was in the room for my daughter’s baptism interview. And should we ever go back to church and my children have interviews in the future, I will be there for them too. Thinking back on my own interviews as a teenager, there were things that were completely inappropriate to be discussed between a teenage girl and a man in his 50’s.

  4. Eric says:

    My daughter turns 8 next summer. She is already looking forward to being baptized by her grandpa (my father), and if course so is he. It feels a little bittersweet to know that I won’t be able to participate but I know what a beautiful experience this will be for her and the rest of the family. It helps to see it more like a “quinceera” rite of passage than a religious ordinance.

    I hadn’t given much thought to bishop’s interviews but am glad you raised this point. I will definitely be present in this and subsequent interviews. As someone who was scarred by confessional interviews with my own bishops as a youth (racking myself with guilt over masturbation) — there is no way in hell I’ll let that happen to my kids.

    Very thoughtful post, thanks.

  5. Hellmut says:

    My thoughts exactly, Saganist. Thanks!

  6. Saganist says:

    You’re right, Jonathan, I do consider questioning boys about masturbation to be a horror story. I might be concerned about girls mostly because it’s my daughter coming up, but there’s every reason to be just as concerned about boys.

    I have no idea when baptism interviews generally start for kids turning eight (after their birthday? before?) but I plan to make my position clear, both to the bishop and to my daughter, at least several months beforehand.

    Justin, your story pisses me off. That’s exactly why I think putting little kids in a room with someone they think represents God is such a horrible idea. Ugh!

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