Kirby: Mormon leaders’ questions can’t intrude if they’re never asked

By Robert Kirby

Tribune Columnist

Published: January 16, 2014 12:06PM
Updated: March 24, 2014 11:34PM

Over the years, my ecclesiastical leaders have wanted to know a lot of things about me. I’ve been summoned for countless interviews.

As Salt Lake Tribune senior (she’s not really that old) faith reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote Wednesday, these official church inquiries are regular fare for Mormons.

She’s right. When I sit down with my bishop, the interview goes better than I initially thought it might, although perhaps less well than the bishop had hoped. We stay friends though.

The majority of the interviews have been of the temple-recommend sort. Was I behaving myself well enough to attend? Was there anything I needed to clear up with the proper authorities?

These interviews may sound intrusive to some but Mormons don’t give them much thought, probably because we get started early. My first interview occurred when I was 8, just before I was baptized.

Note: It wasn’t a bishop’s interview. We lived in an area where Mormons were too scarce for a ward, so our congregation was just a branch. The same rules applied, though.

The branch president invited me into his office. He asked if I knew who the current prophet was, which angel appeared to Joseph Smith and was I a good boy?

I got the first answer wrong when I blurted, “Eisenhower!” I couldn’t remember the second answer. Finally, I flat out lied about the third.

Later, another branch president dragged me into his office, whacked me in the head and demanded to know if it was me who flushed a dead rat in the women’s restroom? Because this particular branch president happened to be my father, it probably doesn’t count.

The questions became more complicated the older I got. Prior to being called on a mission, the bishop not only wanted to know about my past sexual activity, he also wanted the names of the girls involved.

I dodged this one with a partial truth. I said that I barely remembered anything since graduating (also barely) from high school.

The other questions were no-brainers. Was I still on probation (no). Had I paid all my court fines (yes). Had I ever consumed alcohol (sure).

Then it got serious. Had I ever taken any hard or mind-altering drugs? I said the first thing that came to mind: “Did you forget that it was me sitting over here?”

That answer (and a couple of others) earned me an interview with a general authority. Apparently I passed because a few months later I was in South America.

My next interview was by a mission president. He asked if I was sorry for punching Elder Lekker. I wasn’t. He told me to repent and then transferred me to a really horrible place to work on it. I got ringworm instead.

Over the years, some of the interview questions caught me off guard. Most were asked out of ecclesiastical responsibility but others because of spiritual liability, religious impropriety and just idle curiosity.

Was I current on any child support payments? Was I having sex outside of my marriage? Had I repented for cussing in Elders’ Quorum? Had I killed anybody?

Although these more recent interviews are confidential, I don’t mind telling the answers if you promise to keep them to yourself. In corresponding order: “What child? I’d be dead. Mostly. Not yet.”

Given how intrusive this might seem, there are lots of things that have just never come up.

No bishop has ever asked who I vote for, what my politics are, how much money I make, what I believe about various church-sponsored propositions, how much caffeine I drink, whether I watch R-rated movies or even if I agree with everything church leaders say.

Maybe that stuff comes later, if and when I finally pass the easy questions.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.