Authority, Apostasy and Excommunication

Steve, over at BCC had up a rather interesting post on authority and excommunication the other day. I actually agree for the most part with what Steve says. This line in particular sticks out:

This is the cardinal sin within Mormonism, for activists: failing to recognize the authority of leaders. You can say whatever you want, act as you please. But when your leaders call you to heel, you best step in line. This is because our church depends on this authority from top to bottom.

Now I don’t think Steve really intended this in a positive sense. More just acknowledging the way things are. This discomfort shows by criticizing authority as “some Abrahamic test.” Down in the comments you see more evidence that a lot of people aren’t exactly enamored by this status quo. However imagine what the alternatives actually are.

I suspect many at BCC (not necessarily Steve) would love their namesake to have more influence on Church governance. That is they wish it were more democratic (common consent) so they’d get more of a say. However how would that work out? I think it safe to say that those of a more theological and organizational liberal streak are a pretty small minority in the Church. If anything going more democratic would likely enforce the status quo much more and lead to far less patience with agitators for change.

The alternative to a centralized control, even if more democratic, would be a decentralized model such as we tend to see in Protestantism – especially Evangelicalism. That is the Church would descend into breakoffs like we see with Protestantism. Don’t like what your tradition is doing? Just make a new Church. The benefit of Protestantism is the ability of everyone, at least in populous areas, to find a Church that matches their liking. The downside is of course the same thing. As Yeats says (in the aptly named “The Second Coming”)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

While I think some might cringe calling such theological and organizational freedom “mere anarchy” it’s hard to escape seeing it as anarchy. Once authority is in the individual then individual taste and comfort takes the lead. All those with differences with the brethren would be apt to form their own congregations.

Would that be a good thing? It’s hard to see how. If they think they are theologically correct they lose influence on the bulk of members. They get what they enjoy and feel comfortable with, but one might always question whether religion ought be about what we’re most comfortable with. Or whether it ought be more about pushing us out of our comfort zone. Further theology gets reduced to preference. While Mormons view our leaders as fallible, that doesn’t mean individual preference would lead us closer to the truth. Indeed if we take the D&C seriously, it’s hard not to see a descent to this model as taking us farther away.

If liberal Mormons want change, it’s really hard to see how anti-authoritarianism brings it to them. Their best bet isn’t to agitate for change, but to persuade. My sense, perhaps incorrect, is that many more theologically liberally oriented members recognize this. So, if anything, they might look even more askance at agitators since such agitation might well undermine the very persuasion they are attempting.

Of course this doesn’t just apply to those more theologically liberal. It applies to those more theologically conservative as well. If we’ve seen in my lifetime a fairly substantial shift away from the type of “literalism” that characterized McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine it has come because the Brethren have become convinced it wasn’t helpful. While I’ll be the first to admit my bias against many of the positions of liberal Mormonism it does seem the issue ultimately is about persuading the Brethren. Agitation past a certain point really is no longer about persuasion but is more about hurting the Church. As Steve pointed out, once you agitation starts being questioning or undermining authority, there’s typically just one direction things can go. I just think this a good thing.

44 comments for “Authority, Apostasy and Excommunication

  1. If only there existed a way for me to persuade those who have power in the Church. But I’m not married to anyone important, so I am essentially voiceless. Even in my own ward, I cannot persuade the leaders of anything. They just want me to serve in the Primary and not rock the boat — not even gently. Persuasion is a lovely thought, but it doesn’t really work very well in the Church right now.

  2. “I suspect many at BCC (not necessarily Steve) would love their namesake to have more influence on Church governance. That is they wish it were more democratic (common consent) so they’d get more of a say.”

    I don’t get that sense at all.

  3. I read D&C 121 placing the onus on leadership to persuade us, lovingly, of their faith, morality, honesty, integrity, and devotion. Then, we might decide they are called of God to lead. Otherwise, they are no different than any one else who has an opinion. And if we are convinced by there sincerely without guile to lead, then we may still question their judgment on certain issues. But generally, individual members have no means to persuade leaders especially higher up on matters of policy and doctrine. Sometimes programs can be influenced by members in a sort of trickle up process. But rarely on policy and doctrine. So therein lies the rub.

  4. I think the issue is more communication than democratization. Those who desire change have no avenue for communicating with the leadership outside of public agitation. Even then, there will likely be no indication whether their concerns are taken seriously. The quote from BCC does not ask for votes. It points out that revelation comes from the top, not the rank and file. As Autumn notes, persuasion does not work well unless you are in a position of authority already.

  5. Sometimes persuasion doesn’t work because people just disagree. The underlying assumption is that this minority is right and everyone else is wrong. The assumption that if someone doesn’t change they just didn’t hear you seems misplaced. There’s things I’d definitely change were I in charge. But I’m not and I’m sure many and perhaps most would disagree with me on what I’d change. I just don’t get particularly troubled by this fact.

  6. We know persuasion doesn’t work because, as Autumn, Brent, and AM point out, there is no channel open to even attempt to persuade. So we have no idea, really, if anyone at the top agrees with or is even sympathetic with any cause of liberal Mormons or anyone else. For all we know, Elder Bednar might be a huge fan of, say, rewriting the Book of Mormon in modern English. But the point is that nobody even gets to *ask*.

  7. And what are the odds that they do? I’d guess oh, about zero. They’re super busy. They don’t have time to read blogs where a few hundred (or even thousand) people hang out and chat about the Church.

    Really, though, even if they did, there’s still no formal way of passing a question or concern or comment up the chain to the GAs. It is bizarre to me that an organization this large can work that way.

  8. Is there any reason they could not have a progressive ward in each stake? Keep them as part of the church.

  9. The truth is that the leadership do read posts, blogs, etc. We had a member of the seventy come and speak to our stake and he detailed that his assignment from the prophet was to read blogs, forums, do research, etc, on the internet and report his work directly to the Brethren. He said more or less that there really isn’t anything that escapes them. They really are aware of even this very blog. The Brethren thus are very connected with what’s happening, what’s being said. However, the Lord’s work isn’t one of reaction but rather “action” and the rest of the world reacts. The liberal LDS movement wants the Lord to react to the social changes and feel their voice is important to create change. The Lord doesn’t work that way. The problem is that liberals honestly feel the Brethren are clueless. The reality is they know more than us! No Joke!

  10. I should preface my comment by saying that I am an atheist ex-Mormon, so I do not defend the LDS church and its doctrines and positions, but I strive to be respectful.

    “That is the Church would descend into breakoffs like we see with Protestantism”

    Technically, Mormonism is a macroreligion with various offshoots and denominations. It is a rather odd set of circumstances that has enabled one branch of the church that Joseph Smith founded to have become predominant and far outnumber the second most populous Mormon denomination by a long shot.

    I generally agree that the LDS church has the right to excommunicate those who are trying to rock the boat too much and that it should do so in order to protect its own unity. But we must consider the reasons behind excommunication. For there are completely reasonable reasons to openly protest and completely unreasonable ones. Sam Young’s excommunication (which Steve Evans was talking about in his post) was a bad move. First, I don’t really believe that this move to excommunicate him was simply local leadership deciding to do so. I have every reason to believe that Sam Young was exed because of decision-making much higher up. Second, his basic position was to put an end to one-on-one bishopric interviews with youths and stop asking sexual questions. While the LDS church made changes to its policies in what appeared to be a likely response to Sam Young’s campaign by allowing the youth to ask a parent to accompany them to the interview, it wasn’t really much of a change, for it simply placed the burden on minors for their own protection against inappropriate probing and sexual shaming, which happen on a regular basis, as Sam Young has documented. No interview with minors should be done one-on-one and none should ask any sexual questions. I don’t understand why a church that mandates primary classes to have at least two adults for that tithing money be counted with at least two adults not also mandate that youth interviews be conducted with both a bishop and a counselor in the room and that sexual questions not go into detail. Maybe “do you keep the law of chastity” could be deemed appropriate (for minors over the age of 15), but going into any detail beyond this should be completely inappropriate. Why even ask the youth point blank if they have any so-called “chastity” issues? Why not just tell them not to have sex before marriage and then trust them not to do that. As for masturbation, this idea that they are going to keep minors from masturbating is absurd. They’re going to do it, it is human nature. Causing them to feel excessive shame over this seems more harmful than just not saying anything. Tell them not to look at porn, fine. Tell their parents to monitor their computer activity. But why the need to probe? What is this obsession with the “worthiness” of youths? It is worthwhile to read the position of the Mormon Mental Health Association on worthiness interviews: Here is an excerpt:

    “We believe child & adolescent development and health psychology research support that asking questions of a sexual nature within the context of religious/spiritual “worth” is an inappropriate and harmful practice for developing minors”

    I also have to commend Steve Evans for being one of the few LDS believing bloggers to mention Sam Young, whose campaign and excommunication has attracted nation-wide press. I am disappointed in the bloggernacle for being unwilling to take on the issues that Sam Young has brought up. I almost get the sense that many believers deep down inside know that Sam Young is right but are afraid of backlash by the believing community if they voice any opinion.

  11. I would like to also extend an invitation for Clark Goble or other regular bloggers on Times and Seasons to open a discussion on Sam Young and the issue of youth interviews. Clark, you clearly like to discuss controversial and hot-topic issues. Why not this issue? This OP references a post that talks about Sam Young, but then does not actually talk about Sam Young or youth interviews. I would really like to know your direct opinion on the matter, and in more detail than just a comment. I can’t think of a more relevant topic to discuss in light of Sam Young’s recent excommunication.

  12. K. Wilson,
    Sam Young is not a friend to the church. Over several years his testimony has wsivered and his belief in church authority has gone from questioning to outright contempt. Let’s make it be known his excommunication was not because of his questioning but rather his hate and contempt for God’s holy prophets and his many public outcrys to persuade others in that same contempt and hatred directed towards church leadership.
    Bishop worthiness interviews with youth are voluntary between the bishopric and the youth. They are asked questions relating to their covenant’s which include living the law of chastity. The sadness is that the majority of youth in today’s world are overwhelmed with immoral temptations which enslave them in shame and sin. The bishop is the acting mediator between them and Christ to bring about repentance and healing. The shame is not from the bishop but rather the youth who fall into the trap of immoral thoughts and actions. The bishop just brings that shame they themselves have brought upon themselves into proper view so that they can recover and again set a righteousness course.

  13. Ziff, while they probably don’t read articles here, the arguments get back. And it’s the arguments that ultimately are persuasive.

  14. Where in scripture do we learn that Christ was “persuaded” by an individual or group to soften his positions on spiritual or temporal matters? His mortal mission didn’t end the way that his progressive followers may have hoped. His church today may also not arrive at the place its progressive followers hope. That’s not necessarily bad. We can clearly see how successful progressive churches and doctrines are in today’s world: they become overwhelmed by the world they try to appease.

  15. @ Clark

    “The underlying assumption is that this minority is right and everyone else is wrong.”

    But your (and their) underlying assumption is that the brethren are always right. That’s the heart of the problem. When, ipso facto, leadership is always right, why establish channels for communication with the underlings? Hence the rule that all issues should be taken up with the basically powerless local leaders.

    Part of the frustration arises when people see evidence that the brethren are simply and obviously wrong, but there still remains no reliable way, short of activism, to hold a dialogue with them. Indeed, when they refuse to listen and threaten discipline in response to the effort.

  16. Robert Folkman, there are actually several examples in the scriptures. Mark 7:25-29 comes to mind. “Yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs,” etc. Persuasion seems to be both permissible and effective.

    As to the suggestion that there are no avenues for feedback to church leaders, I don’t think this is correct. Visiting authorities in my neck of the middle of nowhere have hosted Q&A sessions. Questions to the bishop receive answers from the appropriate level, including people who have needed a response from an apostle.

    As for myself, I do wish activists would mind their own business and not seek to interfere with the ministering relationship between my children and the bishop. When my children are talking to the bishop, I don’t want anyone else in the room, least of all myself. As a parent, I think those interviews are critically important for my children. Please stop trying to meddle with them.

  17. Jonathan, read the hundreds and hundreds of stories of abuse: If we can’t have enough trust in bishops to handle tithing money alone, why should we trust them enough to do one-on-one interviews with youths alone asking sexually probing questions? You’re completely unaware of the issue at hand.

    Also, read the article I referenced above. The opinion of the Mormon Mental Health Association doesn’t count for anything?

  18. Robert Osborn,

    “Bishop worthiness interviews with youth are voluntary between the bishopric and the youth”

    Please. It is beyond reasonable expectation that any youth whose parents are conditioning them to be LDS to have the mental and emotional maturity to be able to freely opt out of these interviews, especially at the young ages of 12-15. To treat the interviews as voluntary is disingenuous.

    “They are asked questions relating to their covenant’s which include living the law of chastity”

    The chastity covenant occurs only in the temple. Youths are of course told to obey the law of chastity, but they are not under covenant to do so. You are completely wrong in this regard.

    “The bishop is the acting mediator between them and Christ to bring about repentance and healing”

    You’re making the focal point the “sinning” youths, which is beyond the question. The question is bishops being in a position to ask inappropriate questions related to sex and sexuality. Is there no point at which these sorts of questions become inappropriate? Read the hundreds and hundreds of stories:

  19. K Wilson
    The MMHA is an anti-LDS group. Why would their opinions be of relevance? Protectldschildren is another anti-LDS group.

  20. Rob, the MMHA is not an anti-LDS group. There are of course non-Mormons in it and people with views that almost certainly differ from yours, but calling them anti-Mormon seems silly.

    K Wilson, whether we have a covenant to obey the law of chastity gets into nuance of whether we make a covenant at baptism. Most assume we do and that it includes keeping the commandments. Of course people can respectfully disagree over whether this is or isn’t a covenant. At minimum though many see D&C 20:37 as covenant and entails the law of chastity even if not mentioned explicitly as in the temple. This is a very old view and was frequently focused on in the early Utah period. I think most assume that the covenants in the temple are more serious and thus entail more responsibility. But the basic commands are part of baptismal covenants. This is so regularly taught in Church I’m surprised you’d make this claim.

    Ted, I’m not assuming the brethren are always right. Indeed I think my comments assumed the opposite. My point is that as a practical matter this doesn’t matter. Further even if we think we’re right I think a little intellectual humility requires we recognize we may very well be wrong. It’s that humility that I frequently think is missing from critiques of the brethren. Further cases where they are “obviously wrong” seem far and few between. Maybe with a few examples tied to science but even there typically it’s examples of individual GAs rather than a broad formal position. Rather what I think is more common is people have very strong political views and haven’t formally examined the grounds for their beliefs. I have strong political views but I’d be the first to admit that epistemologically they aren’t as firm as my confidence might suggest. Maybe I’m cynical, but I see few people acknowledging that.

  21. Clark, you respond to the side issue of chastity being covenanted to in baptism (which it isn’t, show me the text of the baptismal covenant where it has 7-8 yo kids covenant to not have sex (most 7-8yos don’t even know what that is) before marriage), but still haven’t given me a response about one-on-one bishop interviews with minors. What is your opinion of them in light of the Protect LDS Children stories? Where is Sam Young wrong in his position? Most every other major religious organization I know of has a policy of adults not doing one-on-one interviews with minors asking probing sexual questions. Why should the LDS church continue such a policy that only exposes minors to risks associated with inappropriate and awkward questions and even sexual abusers at worst?

    Rob Osborn, you’re just making excuses not to actually think about the issues that are raised about the appropriateness of one-on-one bishop interviews with minors by dismissing everyone as anti-LDS. Instead of addressing the issue at hand, you just resort to ad hominems and attack people who voice opinions you don’t like as anti-LDS. You bury your head in the sand.

  22. K Wilson, of course I’m better informed than you or anyone else about my own children, their spiritual needs, and our bishop. How could it be otherwise? Please butt out. You can consult with your bishop about your own children, but please leave my children out of your activism.

    This seems comparable to the situation where each year, some surgeons botch a certain number of appendectomies. And you think the best solution would be to prohibit appendectomies altogether, rather than to reduce the rate of botched operations. As long as you think that appendectomies represent a bigger problem than appendicitis, there probably isn’t a reasonable basis for discussion.

  23. K Wilson – I will play along! In response to your request:

    Mosiah 18:10 – “…being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments…” – what commandments are those? Well, at least those found in Exodus 20:14, right?

    And more recently, in Doctrine & Covenants 42:18, 23 – “(v18) And now, behold I speak unto my church…. (v23) And he that looketh upon a woman to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit; and if he repents not he shall be cast out.”

    The implication being that even lust is a sin, and requires repentance (at the very least, no allowance for pornography either).

    The law of sexual purity is part of the baptismal covenant. Bishops have been commissioned to ask questions about conduct related to this covenants.

    I believe Sam Young is lobbying to remove “law of chastity questions” entirely, which is why he is wrong. That being said, the Church is right to allow parents in on the interviews, if they want to be there, so that youth do not HAVE to be in a one-on-one situation.

  24. Clark, the MMHA list of official positions directly are in opposition to the LDS doctrines and policies. In fact, all of their points of their official statements directly oppose the positions and rulings of the church. They are in fact a group who opposes LDS doctrines and policies.

  25. Rob Osborn,

    You might be surprised to learn that the new Saints volume draws from sources previously labeled ‘anti-Mormon’ by the church to corroborate dates and circumstances of some events in church history. Just because you don’t like what they’re saying doesn’t make it incorrect.

  26. K Wilson,
    My head isnt in the sand. Worthiness interviews conducted by bishops and his counselors provide the means necessary to work towards perfection. Sam Young and company are in direct opposition with the Lord’s will concerning interviews. The prophet has spoken. Sam Young is in opposition to him. Its that simple- Sam Young is an apostate who is working to disrupt the Lords work.

  27. Whoops, sorry Rob. I thought you were saying Mormon History Association. I somehow missed the extra M this morning. My apologies. I’ll confess I know almost nothing about the Mormon Mental Health Association so I’ll bow out of that conversation. I had decided not to go into K’s tangent, which was why I missed what should have been obvious. My apologies again. My defense is a baby who just had hip surgery and has been contributing to very bad sleep deprivation. (Thus the decrease in my posts)

    K Wilson, the original post was about church governance, not the particularities of Sam Young’s views. Again noting my ignorance of MMHA, I’ll just say that I think chastity is an important principle especially in these days when society at large has rejected chastity and actively opposes it. To your main point, I already referred to D&C 20:37 which I think is more than enough for most members to see it both as a covenant entailing respecting the law of chastity. You can of course disagree but that’s a different issue most have a different view from you on.

    As to the issue you oddly seem so desperate for me to chime in on, I think Bishop interviews with people 12 or older is quite important. I think vaguely addressing the issues in baptismal interviews is also helpful although one has to do it for their level of understanding. Not all Bishops do a good job, but I’m not at all convinced that means the practice should stop. Quite the contrary. I think it entirely appropriate to allow parents to be present if they choose up to maybe the mid teen ages although there are definitely tradeoffs there for detecting parental abuse.

    My experience having examined this in the past is that the activists tend to not see this in terms of tradeoffs at all, but only look at the bad a bad Bishop can do. That entails them calculating odds poorly and not really considering the issue in terms of pros and cons. However I certainly would agree with mandatory background checks on Bishops & counselors, better training, and mandatory training videos like the Boy Scouts have for sexual abuse awareness and why it’s important to have two adults present in lessons and the like.

    Although again all of that seems orthogonal to the point I was making in the original post which is simply about the place of authority.

  28. Asking before you advance in priesthood or participate in an ordinance if you’re sexually active is hardly an inquisition. That some portray it that way is why I suspect the masses of members just roll their eyes at criticisms of interviews thereby perhaps missing valid reforms that would help – such as the ones the Church has already implemented. I think background checks would be very useful too.

  29. Jonathan Green, I ask a couple of questions about what you think about Sam Young and his positions and ask you to read stories of abuse (which you didn’t) and you get all offended and bent out of shape? Surgeons learn from past mistakes and adjust and do what they can do avoid those mistakes again. The LDS church should do likewise. Why is such a big issue to tell bishoprics that worthiness interviews should be done with a counselor present and hold back on shaming kids over minutiae? And Sam Young and I are negatively affecting your kids because we ask the LDS church to change its policy (what planet do you live on?)? What about my kids being raised in the LDS church by my active believing spouse? I think you got offended because your think that the LDS leaders should be treated as near infallibles and that it is wrong to question them even if there is reason to do so. I challenge you to listen to Sam Young’s interview with John Dehlin and tell me where he is wrong in his position about interviews. Or you can just keep plugging your ears and shouting “la, la, la.” It isn’t going to make the issue go away.

  30. Clark, I have read your past posts and interactions. You love to entertain tangents. How come you appeal to “well, the main issue is…” when I ask a question about Sam Young, who was referenced in the post that you linked to?

    Also, Sam Young did not advocate to do away with the interviews, but to the change them so that they are not one-on-one and do not asking sexually probing questions. You haven’t read the stories of abuse. You haven’t listened to Sam Young’s arguments. You have your head in the sand and criticize people for asking the LDS leaders to change policy that would protect children from getting abused because, well, they are the LDS leaders and how dare we question their authority. You’re no better than Rob “blind obedience” Osborn. You’re so anxious to lecture that you don’t even bother carefully reading comments and links. How am I to have a productive discussion when someone doesn’t even listen to what I am saying?

    I swear, I try my best to have a respectful conversation and discussion about serious issues, but when I ask a few questions about sexual abuse, all I get is a steady stream of LDS victimhood complex, denial, and refusal to even consider the matter at hand. Now I see why Sam Young had to go on hunger strike.

  31. K. Wilson – interviews now – at least since June – aren’t necessarily one on one but that’s an option for parents. I think that Bishops should be careful with probing questions although that’s age dependent. What’s appropriate for a 17 year old is quite different from a 12 year old. So I confess I don’t quite understand your critique of me. I suspect you think me more opposed to such ideas than I am. While I’d definitely oppose ending worthiness interviews or sexual questions especially with older teens, I’m also very much in favor of better training videos on how to conduct such interviews. I also, as I mentioned, favor background checks for Bishoprics and required training videos for people working in primary.

    I’ll fully admit to not listening to all the details of his various interviews. Honestly before this summer I’d never even heard of the guy that I can recall. I’m just not up on the details of his particular case so I can’t say much there. That’s not me avoiding the topic so much as just admitting ignorance. However in the context of my original post, I was addressing authority and what little I know about Young he’s over the line there regardless of which of his views I agree or disagree with.

  32. I get tired of the whole “bishop shaming the youth” mantra. A person “brings shame on themselves” when they sin regardless if someone else notices or brings it up or questions them. The bishops job is to help people overcome their self inflicted shame, right the course, and feel good about themselves again. It’s about healing and starting again with a clear conscious. Bishops are not there to shame and judge and pass sentence on someone. A sinner brings God’s judgement on themselves. That judgement creates a sense of shame and guilt along with the losslof the Spirit in some degree which is the drive hopefully to change. The bishop helps facilitate that change and bring peace and order to a person’s life.

  33. Nice discussion of a contentious topic, Clark. No one has mentioned the LDS “generation gap” between youth and senior leadership, now up to about three generations. It no surprise at all that youth, Millennials and post-Millennials (do they have a name yet?), feel that most concerns and initiatives of the leadership are either irrelevant or thoroughly misguided. The problem isn’t that the senior leadership is not interested in constructive feedback from LDS liberals. It’s that they are not interested in constructive feedback from anyone.

    Excommunication (the topic of your post) is an awfully blunt tool, and the few explanations that leadership give for why excommunication occurs in particular public advocacy situations are so transparently disingenuous that the explanations undermine whatever credibility the actions possess. Does anyone actually believe that Sam Young wasn’t exed for his strident advocacy for changing the LDS youth interview regime? Anyone? If he were he publicly advocating for vegetarianism as the true import of the Word of Wisdom or for a two-hour block rather than for an enhanced LDS child protection program, he would have been tolerated if not simply ignored.

    Honestly, I’m not a fan of the sort of public theater that LDS dissenters resort to in order to be heard. But the ugly truth is that, by forcefully raising the issue, Sam Young has done more to protect LDS youth than any LDS leader has.

  34. I think Rob’s last comment touches on an important point, and on a source of some of our current disagreements and misunderstandings. The secular world today differs from the Mormon/Christian world in a couple of respects that figure here (and I’m generalizing, obviously): 1) there is a commitment to psychological health but little grasp of how sin, remorse, and repentance are part of this, and 2) any sort of sexual activity is typically viewed as healthy so long as it is consensual (and safe). So any interactions/teachings that might cause people, especially including youth, to feel sinful or ashamed will naturally seem destructive and inexcusable.

    The Church, grounded in a Gospel perspective, will inevitably look at these things differently. Admittedly, striking the right balance between our emphases on sin, repentance, love, and forgiveness can be difficult, and any of us (including bishops) may sometimes fail to get that balance right in dealing with particular individuals. It’s also surely true that in an organization encompassing millions of members (all of whom happen to be human), some bishops will sometimes handle these things awkwardly. A few will be worse than awkward. Anything that the Church can do to improve our interactions in these respects is welcome, and I doubt that Church leaders disagree. But in the end, there is still going to be a large divide between the way faithful members and secular observers evaluate these things, and I doubt that the Church can overcome that divide (or should try to).

  35. K Wilson, of course I’m offended, because you’re – unintentionally – saying some offensive things.

    You ask, quite reasonably, “What about my kids?” And the great thing is that you and your spouse can discuss how to proceed and then have exactly what you want. Do you want another adult in the room? You can have that. If you absolutely don’t want the bishop to ask your child about following the law of chastity, you can withhold your permission for your child to be interviewed, baptized, or ordained. It’s all up to you.

    In my case, though, I absolutely do want the bishop to interview my children by himself. I want my children to know that what they say to the bishop will be absolutely confidential. Human sexual behavior is absolutely part of sin and repentance, and I don’t want my children to get the idea that it’s not. And I certainly don’t want them to think that sex is about “minutiae,” as you call it. It’s one of the most profound aspects of human life. Also, I’m depending on the bishop to be able to follow the promptings of the spirit as to what he asks in an interview. If he’s prompted to ask my child about pornography, I absolutely want him to be able to ask that question. Kids don’t wait until they turn 15 before developing pornography habits.

    But you want to put rules in place to prevent all those things from happening. To prevent my child from receiving the pastoral care that I think is necessary and appropriate. And that is, yes, offensive.

    As for the MMHA, I did peruse their website. From what I can tell, it seems to an organization of practitioners whose members have no particular commitment to church doctrines or teachings. The “Mormon” part of the name doesn’t appear to have much substance to it. None of the profiles I saw suggested the research background that might lend weight to their pronouncements on controversial issues. I did note that the organization does not hesitate to take official stands against the church on controversial topics, and that it seems more concerned with helping Mormons happily become ex-Mormons than with helping Mormons be happy. So although I’m an outsider and a layman, the heuristics at my disposal tell me not to take the MMHA’s statement seriously.

    As for your other reading assignments, I don’t see what they would bring me. I don’t doubt that some fraction of interviews involve inappropriate questions, just like some fraction of appendectomies are botched. Reading hundreds of reports about botched appendectomies, however, doesn’t change anything about the basic facts: Letting someone die of a burst appendix is not the right approach to appendicitis. Also, for going on a decade now, I’ve never seen anything John Dehlin does that I’d want to be associated with in any way, and I’ve never found him to be a reliable mediator of information. You might as well tell me that Jack Chick was a good source of insight about the Book of Mormon. There are additional reasons, but they deserve a post all their own.

  36. SDS, I think you’re right. The very notion of sin is alien to the secular.

    Jonathan, really well said.

  37. Going back to the points raised in the original post about persuasion versus agitation, I thought it worth mentioning a few times when such persuasion brought results that changed the whole Church.

    Primary started when Aurelia Rogers saw a need for children to have more religious instruction, and was empowered by the leaders she spoke with to create an organization for the children. Two years later Primary was expanded to the whole Church.

    Harold B. Lee is credited with starting the Church’s welfare program when he was a stake president during the Depression, and implemented a program that he was then invited to expand beyond his stake when Church leaders saw what he was doing.

    Relief Society started as an effort to make clothes for the men working on the Nauvoo Temple. Joseph Smith not only approved the idea, but expanded its scope to something much greater.

    When the Boy Scouts of America first started, the Church started a partnership with them that became the de facto program for the young men of the Church for almost a century.

    The young single adult program of the Church finds its earliest roots in the efforts of one of my wife’s grandmothers, Mildred Francom, who organized dances and other social events for the young single adults in the Tremonton area.

    Sunday School started when Robert Ballantyne began teaching the youth from his ward in his own home. His ward then integrated his program with their meetings, and other wards followed their example until Brigham Young put the program under a more centralized organization.

    In each case, people didn’t wait for orders from the prophet before acting. They saw a need that they had the ability to do something about, and they filled that need without a lot of agitation or fanfare. Some of them sought guidance and approval from the leaders they had access to before going ahead, but when such leaders were persuaded of that need, they gave their blessing. Not every program or policy of the Church starts by fiat from the top. There are plenty that the Church adopts after seeing things happening at a local level, such as the examples given above.

  38. For me this has been an interesting discussion. Jonathan’s appendicitis/botched appendectomy analogy is particularly appealing. While my childhood appendectomy (literal, not metaphorical) was not botched, it did entail a very painful recovery. I’m grateful for both the appendectomy and the recovery. And on another matter, I am grateful for a former bishop who could be trusted to keep a confidence. On the other hand I wonder whether there might be additional procedural policy changes that could reduce the incidents of botched one-on-one youth interviews.

    Training requirements might be one area of improvement — both in interview content and style and on confidentiality. I have had bishops who could be trusted to honor confidentiality and others who could not. I have seen first hand (as a bishopric counselor) a bishop make a serious mistake in what he said about sexual behavior in what was then known as a church court. (That bishop made a prompt correction and apology on my pointing it out.) I expect serious mistakes in one-on-one interviews are at least as likely, but could be reduced with better training. [Note: though counselors are generally not involved in one-on-one interviews other than temple recommend interviews that are limited in scope, the training I received otherwise (particularly as to welfare) varied from ineffective to non-existent. I have no reason to think bishops received any better training on their more pastoral duties.]

    Another possibility for improvement that would affect only a minority, might be authorizing or requiring necessary interviews of a bishop’s children (or grandchildren) to be done by the bishop of a neighboring ward. There has been at least one missionary called who should not have been because he could not confess to his bishop without confessing to his father. (In the end, the one I know of worked it out well.) As a teenager, had there been anything in my life that called for pastoral care, I would never have sought it (and would have actively avoided it) from my bishop — my father who seems to have done the best he could, but who had repeatedly demonstrated in the home what seemed to be utter lack of empathy, patience, understanding, willingness to listen, or ability to guide without berating in anger. [Note: some of my siblings and I were regularly astonished at repeated reports of what a wonderful bishop he was.] But even if such authorization existed, unless it was required rather than optional, it could amount to the bishop’s child informing her father-bishop that there was something she refused to discuss with him. Even if required, a parent like mine making the choice to sit in would prevent the possibility of any needed pastoral guidance. Similarly, if under current policy a controlling and emotionally abusive parent chooses to sit in on a bishop’s interview with his child, that child cannot expect to receive any pastoral care from the bishop.

    So, while I applaud Jonathan’s ideal, what I take to be his positive experience with bishops who can be trusted and can hold confidences, and his positive experience with avenues for feedback to church leaders (not the experience of some others), I doubt that any further change to general policy other than better training would do much to reduce the numbers of “botched appendectomies.”

  39. I was recently released from a calling that was invited to attend stake leadership training meetings where members of the 70 or presidency of the YM general presidency presided (stake conferences, multi-stake training meetings, etc.), including training where presidencies of auxiliaries were included (not just priesthood leadership).

    Over the last few years, in every case, there was not a prepared agenda for these meetings – he asked for a list of questions/complaints/issues, had the stake executive secretary write them on a whiteboard, had them written down for him, and then proceeded to give his opinion or teaching or to say, “I just don’t know, but I’ll take back that suggestion.” The stated message was that the Brethren get information on what’s going on in the Church from these sessions.

    (By the way – there are four comments that have came up in *every* dang session I attended since 2015 – dating *is* encouraged as a way to help more boys and girls go on missions, the Brethren don’t not concerned about tightening admission rates at BYU, the Brethren are concerned that priesthood leaders meddle too much in the leadership affairs of the auxiliaries, the Brethren are concerned that too many youth are excluded from activities designed for the majority by well-meaning leaders.)

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