A Letter to My Child’s Bishop and Stake President about Worthiness Interviews

My family (spouse, children) are still active in the Mormon church while I am preparing for ordained ministry in the Lutheran church. It’s not always easy, but we leave space for one another’s faith journeys and affirm the good in each other’s traditions. On the question of worthiness interviews, both my husband and I are in agreement: they are harmful, and we decided long ago that our children would not participate in them. With the excommunication of Sam Young earlier this afternoon, I felt it was important to notify our kids’ local Mormon leaders about this decision–and to urge them to reconsider the practice altogether. I have offered to talk with them more about best practices in pastoral care and/or to put them in touch with professionals who might be open to providing training for them. I hope they take me up on it.

Dear XXXX and YYYY,

Earlier today, it was announced that my friend Sam Young, who has been speaking publicly about the need for the church to reform its practice of “worthiness interviews,” has been excommunicated. This is a practice about which I have likewise shared repeated public critiques and calls for reform. It is a deeply harmful practice from both a spiritual and psychological standpoint. I wanted to share a couple of resources about the harm this practice causes.

First is a post I wrote several months ago critiquing it from a theological and pastoral perspective: http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/2018/02/a-theological-and-pastoral-critique-of-worthiness-interviews/

Second is a post by my friend Lisa Butterworth, who is a trained therapist, critiquing the practice from a mental health standpoint: http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/2018/03/a-mental-health-therapists-critique-of-worthiness-interviews/

Third is a collection of first-hand accounts of the trauma this practice has inflicted on countless Mormon youth: http://protectldschildren.org/read-the-stories-2/

While the church appears to be unwilling to reform its policies institutionally, as faith leaders you have the ability and responsibility to care for your flock. As a minister in training myself, I am well acquainted with the weight of that responsibility—one that I’m sure you both take very seriously. I urge you to educate yourselves about best pastoral care practices and minister in accordance with those, regardless of official policies. A great first step would be to no longer conduct “worthiness interviews” of any kind with minors. (Frankly, these interviews are harmful for adults as well—but at least adults are in a position to consent to the interaction and the power dynamics are different.)

I bring this up because the unfortunate excommunication of Sam indicates that policy reform is unlikely (at least in the near-term), and my daughter AAAA, who is in the QQQQ ward, will turn 12 in a couple of months. I want to set this standard now: she is not permitted to participate in a worthiness or personal interview of any kind whatsoever. While I hope that you will stop conducting these interviews altogether for reasons I have shared above, be advised that any breach of this boundary will result in a report to local child protection authorities. Please understand that this is not personal—I don’t have any particular concern that leadership in the ward or stake would do anything untoward intentionally; rather, the practice itself is inherently inappropriate and abusive regardless of how well-intentioned the men are who administer it.

As a person with pastoral training, I would be happy to talk with you more about how you can live into your callings in a way that brings life to those with whom you minister and does minimal harm. Or, conversely, I’d be happy to put you in touch with excellent pastoral care professionals who I’m certain would be open to providing some training to you. All the pastors I know are genuinely shocked when I tell them about this practice; this could be a wonderful opportunity for you to deepen your skills in pastoral ministry.

To serve God’s precious children is a gift and a responsibility. I wish you the best in your service and urge you to do what you can to make the world—and the ward and stake in particular—safer and healthier for our kids.

Peace to you,

Katie Langston

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