Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Children at the bar

"Let's take a second here to talk about your vagina..."

In the Mormon world you start meeting one-on-one with the bishop at age eight when you have your baptismal interview. The bishop asks you questions to determine whether or not your ready to be baptized or not (SURPRISE! YOU ARE!). This is only the beginning of worthiness interviews, which turn into a twice-a-year event once a child turns twelve.

As a member of full faith I faithfully attended and believed in the importance of these interviews. It was awesome (and logical) that the bishop should be personally involved in every member's life and that he should act as keeper of the gate. I seemed wise to give children the opportunity to meet with the bishop without threat of suspicion. Someone who's embarrassed to make an appointment on his or her own wouldn't have to wait long before being called in for the routine check up. Let's not forget those kids who might be suffering abuses at home and who wouldn't be able to meet the bishop without arousing the aggressor's suspicion. Bishop interviews, in my mind, were a total safety net!

The reality of bishop interviews is a little different, though. Every kid hates them and fears them. They're awkward as fuck. You get a healthy dose of hardy-har-har humor from some old guy who lives in your neighborhood and who just might be your friend's dad only to segue into really obvious questions (e.g. "Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost? Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Christ and of His role as Savior and Redeemer? Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel in these the latter days?" Duh! Who doesn't?), some kind of fuzzy, corrosively guilt-inducing questions (e.g. "Do you strive to keep the covenants you have made, to attend your sacrament and other meetings, and to keep your life in harmony with the laws and commandments of the gospel? Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen? Are you a full-tithe payer? Do your keep the Word of Wisdom? Is there anything in your conduct relating to members of your family that is not in harmony with the teachings of the Church?" Um... How much striving is enough striving? Does stuffing stuff under my bed and saying I cleaned my room make me dishonest? Does picking up a dime and immediately buying an Airhead mean I'm not a full tithe payer? I've neglected drinking mild drinks made from barley, is that bad? Holy shit, do we really have time for me to sit and examine every aspect of everything I've done since my last interview?), and there's that almost entirely irrelevant question ("Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?" Uh? What?)

Answering these questions is never pleasant even for the most believing of youths. They put you on the spot. They seem to doubt you. They subversively get you to doubt yourself.

Bishop interviews are notoriously unpleasant among Mormon kids, who easily see behind all the fluff questions and know the real purpose of these interviews: the bishop needs to know what you're doing with your genitals.

"Do you live the law of chastity?"

This question is almost always expanded into many, many more.

"Do you have or entertain unclean thoughts? Do you tell dirty jokes? Do you look at pornography? Do you masturbate? Do you know what that is? How often? Are you dating anyone? What's your physical relationship like? Are you ever alone in each other's bedroom? What kind of kissing do you do? Do you ever lay on top of each other? Do you touch each other's private areas? Do you engage in necking or petting? Do you know what "Levi loving" is? Do you do it? Have you had sex?"

Mormon kids hate this. Whether you're Molly, Peter, or Jack, you hate these questions. You hate the fact that anyone has the audacity to ask you these questions and yet you believe they must be asked. You hate that you feel obligated to answer the questions.

"I sometimes think about girls in bikinis... I sometimes wonder what sex is like... Sometimes when I get, um, 'excited' I, uh, don't know how to get rid of it..."

Mormon kids hate the fact that they are in a private office with a grown man with the door shut talking about their sexuality. They all hate it. AND SO SHOULD PARENTS.

How in the hell is it acceptable to send your 14-year-old daughter into a closed office with a grown man? How is it acceptable for a man, who likely has ZERO PROFESSIONAL TRAINING in these kinds of sensitive discussions, to interrogate youth and teens about the most intimate details of their lives? Do we honestly think this is God's way or that Jesus gets off on this sort of thing?

I doubt it. I think parents might want to consider limiting what the bishop can talk to their children about. I think parents might even want to be present for some interviews. I think the Church should  make it mandatory for girls to be interviewed by women and not by men. I think the Church should  definitely think about hiring professionals to discuss sex with teens and pre-teens.

Then again, I think kids shouldn't be shamed for masturbating or being curious about sex.

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