The #MeToo hashtag (and the subsequent exposing of many high-profile figures as sexual predators) has given us as a society a lot to grapple with. From a Latter-day Saint perspective, some are questioning how appropriate it is for bishops to be talking about sexual matters with young people (particularly girls). I recently sat down with hosts Peggy Fletcher Stack and David Noyce, and former LDS bishop Richard Ostler to talk about these critical issues for the Mormon Land Podcast. Here are some highlights from our discussion:
Why does this type of conversation take place in the first place? Why does the Church ask about sexuality at all? Part of our faith regulates sexual behavior, so there needs to be some questioning about that. Typically, bishops ask to what extent an individual is following the last of chastity for two reasons: the first is to grant a temple recommend (which requires a worthiness interview to determine whether the person is living the standards). The second is a general meeting that the bishop has with the youth about once a year to see how he/she is doing. What we may need to re-examine is the nature and the manner that these questions are asked in; how much detail is appropriate? How do we differentiate between issues like pornography usage, masturbation, or other sexual acts? What about cases of sexual abuse? All these nuances are important to consider in this very delicate subject of discussing sexuality with children.
Difference Between Shame and Guilt
Richard shared his experience with questioning members of his congregation about their behavior and said that he took special care to never shame someone if sexual transgression had occurred. Shame makes the person feel unworthy of change or love; it can keep us trapped in negative behavior and thought patterns, and it is inconsistent with the doctrine of Christ. Guilt is uncomfortable, but it is full of hope. Richard also expressed that when someone came to him to confess sexual sin, he was very impressed by their courage to admit something so sensitive and painful in order to reach repentance, and his love and admiration for that person grew. This is consistent with the research and teachings of Dr. Brené Brown, who tells how the main antidote to shame is empathy.
Both Richard and I agreed that it would be helpful for bishops to be better trained to know how to best deal with a variety of situations involving talking to members of their ward (bishops do currently receive some training in this regard). From my perspective as a therapist, I’ve always appreciated when mission presidents and bishops have referred members who need a clinically trained counselor. For example, there are individuals who transgress the law of chastity, and then there are those who act out (perhaps even in a deviant manner) as a result of sexual trauma. Priesthood leaders need to practice discernment as to what situations are within their spiritual stewardship and what kinds of situations require professional help.
To hear more of our thoughts on this topic (including things like the importance of parental involvement, how to ask questions without being too intrusive, and sensitive ways to avoid rehashing prior sin), listen to the full podcast here. Or, read this article from the Salt Lake Tribune.