Sam Young is waiting to find out whether he will be excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for advocating an end to youth worthiness interviews, typically one-on-one discussions between an adult male church leader and children that include questions of sexual activity.
After a 90-minute disciplinary council in Houston on Sunday, Young said he was left without a final decision on his membership status but that he remains convinced that he will soon be removed from the church.
“I’m pretty sure I’m getting exed,” Young told The Salt Lake Tribune. “All the communications up to this point have just sounded like the decision had already been made.”
Young, a former Latter-day Saint bishop, said he considers himself an active, believing Mormon. He said he asked that he be allowed to remain a member of the Utah-based church but was accused by his regional leaders of opposing, and encouraging other members to oppose, the faith’s governance.
The hearing, which lasted from 6 p.m. to roughly 7:30 p.m. Central Daylight Time, included 15 minutes of accusations against him, Young said, followed by a 10-minute response by Young’s wife, a 30-minute response by Young, and 30 minutes of questions from members of the stake high council — a group of lay leaders over a regional cluster of Latter-day Saint congregations.
Those questions included whether Young believes the church to be the true and restored gospel of Jesus Christ, why Young desires to remain a member and Young’s evaluation of “For the Strength of Youth,” a church-produced handbook on appropriate dress, behavior and sexual activity for Mormon teens.
Eric Hawkins, a church spokesman, declined to comment for this article. Instead, the spokesman reissued a statement provided to The Tribune in advance of Young’s disciplinary council.
“Because of the personal nature of church disciplinary matters and to respect the privacy of those involved, the church does not provide information about the proceedings,” Hawkins said. “Church discipline is administered by local leaders who are familiar with the individual and his or her circumstances.”
Young shared his prepared remarks for the closed-door disciplinary council with The Tribune. In those remarks, he emphasizes that Mormonism is unique in its practice of youth worthiness interviews, which are not described or mandated in any of the church’s canon of scriptural texts.
“Every one of you in this room has been groomed to accept this as a normal thing. It is not normal,” Young wrote. “No other institutional church or youth-serving entity in the country does this. Everyone outside of the church recognizes that this is way beyond improper. It’s dangerous, irresponsible and now borders on being illegal.”
Young’s remarks also included 29 questions asked of church members by their bishops, according to personal testimonials collected by Young. The questions are explicit, with lay leaders having allegedly pressed youths for details of their wardrobe, physical responses and enjoyment levels during sexual activity.
“Let’s be men of God. Let’s claim our rank among intelligent beings,” Young wrote. “Condemn every question on this list. Excommunication will send the message that you condone the hideously immoral practice of probing children with pornography like this.”
As part of his campaign, Young organized a march in Salt Lake City and recently conducted a 23-day hunger strike near church headquarters. He formed Protect LDS Children and gathered tens of thousands of online signatures in support of his cause. He has also advocated for changes on his personal blog — which Young said was the primary source of evidence against him during the hearing, along with coverage of his efforts by the church-owned Deseret News — and in LDS-themed podcasts and publications.
The church responded in March by updating its policies on youth worthiness interviews, adding the option of an interviewee to have another adult present.
Church leaders have also stated that bishops are taught to ask only if a member is obeying the “law of chastity” — a morality code that prohibits premarital sexual activity — and to avoid graphic detail during worthiness interviews.
Hawkins stated previously that leaders are instructed “to be sensitive to the character, circumstances and understanding of the young man or young woman.”
These lay clergymen “are counseled to not be unnecessarily probing or invasive in their questions, but should allow a young person to share their experiences, struggles and feelings,” he said, and “to adapt the discussion to the understanding of the individual and to exercise care not to encourage curiosity or experimentation.”
On Sunday, supporters of Young gathered outside the Houston meetinghouse where his hearing was held — and in Salt Lake City and other locations in the intermountain West — according to firsthand accounts posted on social media and the Exmormon subreddit Web page.
Young said he was not given a timeline for when a decision will be made regarding his membership status. He said the meetinghouse appeared to be empty roughly 10 minutes after he left the room, suggesting either brief deliberations by the council or ongoing deliberations at a later time.
The experience of the disciplinary council, he said, does not change his outlook on the nature or need for his advocacy.
“I wouldn’t have done anything different,” Young said. “I’m out to bring our church into the 21st century, where everybody else is, and protect our kids.”
While he said he expects excommunication — the most severe punishment within the church — he added that he hopes to be able to remain a practicing member of the faith.
“Excommunicating me does not do the church any favors. It doesn’t shut me up,” he said. “I think they want to send a message — ‘Do not questions us.'"
Young said he has no plans at this time for future events or demonstrations. After a significant time in Salt Lake City, Young said, he plans to focus on his family and business in the short term.