Let teens know what you’re going to ask before you interview them, Mormon church instructs bishops in revised guidelines

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake LDS Temple.

No Mormon teens should be surprised by questions posed during one-on-one “worthiness” interviews with their bishops.

And it’s the bishops’ job to make sure of that by telling the youths and their parents — before the first interview takes place — the prescribed questions that will be asked and the topics that will be covered.

The faith’s governing First Presidency made that clear Wednesday in a letter sent to all general authorities, local lay clergy and youth leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In the past, some Mormon leaders went far afield from the script, perhaps quizzing about masturbation, heavy petting or fornication, while others kept their queries more general.

Given the questions and criticisms surrounding these interviews — including a grass-roots petition to end such graphic grilling — the Utah-based faith is making its revised guidelines for these meetings more transparent and formal by sending them to leaders, parents and young people.

The church is updating the pages of its “Handbook 1,” outlining policies and procedures for local leaders. And, for the first time, it is including the questions posed to youths during interviews for so called limited-use temple recommends, which allow young people to participate, for instance, in vicarious baptisms for the dead.

Among the 13 set questions are:

• “Do you live the law of chastity?”

• “Do you sustain the [LDS Church president] as the prophet, seer and revelator?”

• “Do you keep the Word of Wisdom [which bars the use of tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea and illicit drugs]?”

• “Are you a full-tithe payer?”

These queries are similar to those asked of adults, but the seventh one has been simplified to this: “Do you support any group or person whose teachings oppose those accepted by [the LDS Church]?”

The guidelines spell out the role of parents in these interviews, reaffirming that they “have the primary responsibility to teach and nurture their children.”

But bishops also play a part in helping “youth prepare spiritually,” according to “Handbook 1.” “Interviews are required for sacred matters such as temple recommends, priesthood ordinations and mission calls.”

As was added earlier this year, the guidelines say “if a youth desires, he or she may invite a parent or another adult to be present when meeting with the bishop or one of his counselors.”

During the interviews, these leaders are to focus on the young person’s faith in God, the mission and atonement of Jesus Christ, and the “restored gospel.”

They will discuss “daily righteous living,” encouraging youths “to pray regularly in private and with their family and to study the scriptures … [and] to stay close to their parents.”

When issuing limited-use temple recommends, the leaders can turn to the standards and explanations in the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet, the guidelines state, but should not “encourage curiosity or exploration.”

The church has urged bishops “to be sensitive to the character, circumstances and understanding of the young man or young woman.” They also “are counseled to not be unnecessarily probing or invasive in their questions.”

Parents may encourage their children to meet with the bishop, the church adds, “when they need his help with spiritual guidance or with repentance.”

In March, amid an outcry about sexually explicit interviews with children and sexual assault allegations leveled at a former LDS mission leader, the First Presidency unveiled updated standards for these conversations while emphasizing that most abuse allegations are “true and should be taken seriously.”