Background: I originally posted a comment on /r/latterdaysaints about our family ecclesiastical interview policy. It was met with some resistance, so I wrote out my logic here. The post was shadowbanned by latterdaysaint mods (which means they deleted it without informing me it was deleted). Then, I submitted the post to r/exmormon here. I formulated this logic, which was influenced by lots of stories and stances shared on /r/exmormon, a couple of years before the protectldschildren campaign began.
Our family policy, which I think should be adopted at a church-wide level is:
Unless our children ask to speak with a leader in private (which they know they can do and which we’d fully support), one of us should always be present at their worthiness interviews.
Here’s my rationale:
A1. Discussion of a child’s sexual practices is more sensitive than other kinds of discussions that might occur between a child and an adult.
A1a. Discussion of a child’s sexual practices is at least somewhat intrinsic to questions about the law of chastity.
A1b. Because of the topic, discussion along these lines has a higher potential to cause significant developmental damage to occur in the event of intended or accidental abuse (e.g. improper questioning).
A2. In worthiness interviews, leaders may inadvertently say or imply harmful things given that they:
A2a. typically lack professional training in counseling
A2b. typically lack education or significant training in childhood and teenage sexual development
A2c. may feel that their role requires them to probe the child’s sexual practices.
A3. Both major (molestation) and minor (inappropriate questioning) abuse of children by ecclesiastical leaders is documented in many instances. With no change in current practices, it is not a matter of if, it is only a matter of when.
A4. A child is in an inherently vulnerable position in a one-on-one Bishop interview:
A4a. The Bishop is likely a highly respected figure in the church and community generally, and is the highest local authority by the members of the ward family.
A4b. A child is likely to be unaware of whether a question or topic is inappropriate.
A4c. A child may not feel they can refuse to answer a question, even if they feel it is inappropriate.
A4d. A child may not know where the appropriate line is in confessing any sins.
A5. Having another adult present virtually eliminates the risk for major abuse to occur and significantly mitigates the potential for minor and inadvertant abuse to occur since a Bishop (and the child) is far more likely to keep the discussion at an appropriate level when another adult is present.
B. Comfort and Anxiety
B1. Discussion of a child’s sexuality is likely to be unsettling to a child.
B2. A child may feel more comfortable in such a situation with a parent present.
B3. Causing significant anxiety/discomfort in another individual needlessly is unethical (i.e., would be grounds for dismissing or modifying a psychology study, for instance).
C. Minimal impact on a Bishop’s effectiveness
C1. Having a parent or advocate present as a matter of default (i.e., unless a child declines) would not be expected to significantly interfere with, and may even augment, the ability of a Bishop to ascertain worthiness, shepherd a teen through the repentance process, and/or act as a judge in Israel.
C1a. What, precisely, can a Bishop not ask or say if a parent is present that would be appropriate to ask or say if a parent were not present (related to a worthiness interview)? **
C1b. A parent knows their child the best and may be able to provide needed context for the Bishop. A parent may also be able to properly interpret the words of the Bishop for their child and to provide follow up as needed.
D. Encouraging or allowing parents to be present (unless their presence is declined by the child) seems like a reasonable way to virtually eliminate both major and minor cases of abuse and to decrease unecessary anxiety/discomfort for children/teens.
** Of course, a Bishop is not likely to ask a child about whether their parent is abusing them if a parent is present. However, this line of questioning is not intrinsically related to a worthiness interview. And, a question like that may be asked at any time by any leader and does not require a closed door. In fact, BSA protocol already addresses this by recommending that a discussion like this happen just out of earshot but in plain sight of the group. A closed door, one-on-one interview is not necessary to ascertain this information.