Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hey preacher, leave those kids alone!

(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?


Michael Carpenter said...

Very nice. I especially like:

"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."


"The bishop asks questions to determine whether you are a good Mormon, not whether you are a good person."

How very true! Nicely put.

Christine said...

I will never forget my baptismal interview! My Dad was in the office with me. The bishop asked me who Joseph Smith was. I had no clue. Wasn't church for socializing anyway? :) My Dad had to answer for me. My little brother, my fellow black sheep family member, was asked the same question. His answer was priceless! He said, "That's a really good question." Hilarious. I wonder if my parents clued in at that point that he and I would be the eclectic religious ones of the family! Good times!

ElGuapo said...

Two of my kids have been baptized now, both after I left the church. I never really spoke with the bishop about my discomfort with interviews, and I probably should have just so he'd understand where I'm coming from. At least so he knows it's not personal. But I do sit in on them all. I never asked permission, it's my kid. I just said, "I'm going to stay." So far so good.

But yeah, ridiculous that my nine-year-old has had three bishop's interviews this past year plus tithing settlement. He's nine ferchrissakes.

Hypatia said...

I really enjoyed this entry. I remember being a teenage girl, and HATING bishops interviews because of a lot of the reasons stated here. I was never abused or anything, but I did feel extremely uncomfortable that this man was asking me these really private questions. I then remember I would feel guilty for feeling this way, because I thought I felt uncomfortable because the Holy Ghost was telling me I was doing something wrong in my life.

Man, those interviews can be such a mind job when you're just a kid. :(

Na'me said...

My mother experienced sexual abuse as a child (albeit not thru a religious organization).

As a consequence, she was extremely sensitive to any risky situations. On the other hand, she was a very devout mother.

In the end she settled for standing IMMEDIATELY outside of the door (she would tell us girls this before the interview), and if anything was to make us feel uncomfortable we were supposed to call for her and she would come in.

This was reassuring as a kid. It also had the unintended, but practical consequence of letting us know that bishops are just people, and not all people are good.

Saganist said...

Thanks, everyone. Na'me, your mom's idea is interesting. I wonder how uncomfortable a kid would have to be before he or she yells out for the parent. Probably very uncomfortable, even beyond the threshold of what I might consider inappropriate. Did you or any of your siblings ever call for your mom?

Anonymous said...

I recently had an interview with my bishop. He asked me to stop coming to church (a single's ward) because I was a danger to all the single ladies there (being a non-believer and all).

Then he told me if I continued down this path, I would end up like his worthless brother - a divorced, drug abusing alcoholic with nothing to live for.

Then he told me he does not know the church is true, but believes it is and choose it because he's "kinda a fan of Christianity" and "this one seems to make the most sense."

Then he kept talking about the Mountain Meadows Massacre for some reason and described the process by which he eliminates questionable or inconsistent teachings of the church from his mind and ignores them.

Then he said logic is dangerous and critical thinking puts the church in an un-winnable position.

I didn't rebut anything he said, just sat and listened.

I was recently called in for another interview. I assume it is to get my permission to send my records out of his ward (he seems far more concerned with home teaching numbers than my spiritual well being), but if I end up going I'll probably just walk in and say "now I know what this is for, you don't have to say anything - I accept your apology."