(Cross-posted at Main Street Plaza.)
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-à-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?