Sam Young — a Texas businessman who has been campaigning to get The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to end all one-on-one interviews between Mormon clergy and youths and the sometimes sexually explicit questions that are asked — has been excommunicated.
The former bishop flew to Salt Lake City to open and read the letter notifying him of his membership status across from the faith’s iconic downtown temple Sunday. The letter from his Houston stake president, a regional lay leader, said his membership was “carefully and prayerfully” considered but ultimately revoked “for conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church.”
“The issue is not that you have concerns, or even that you disagree with the church’s guidelines,” Young read aloud from the letter to a crowd of hundreds of, often rowdy, assembled listeners. “Rather, it is your persistent, aggressive effort to persuade others to your point of view by repeatedly and deliberately attacking and publicly opposing the church and its leaders.”
Young, who interspersed his own commentary as he read the letter, said he will continue to be aggressive and outspoken about a policy he believes is harming children and putting their lives “at stake.” As he read, onlookers repeatedly shouted words of encouragement such as, “We love you, Sam!” At one point, they chanted, “Thank you, Sam; shame on the church!”
The Utah-based faith declined to answer specific questions about Young’s excommunication and sent The Salt Lake Tribune a written statement.
"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,” read the prepared statement. “Church discipline is administered by local leaders who are familiar with the individual and his or her circumstances.”
Young’s ousting means he is no longer a Latter-day Saint. He can’t serve in church positions or enter the faith’s temples, pay tithing or speak or offer a public prayer in church meetings. He can attend services and become a member again if he demonstrates he has “stopped actions to undermine the church and its leaders,” according to the letter.
He also can appeal the decision to the faith’s governing First Presidency within 30 days, according to the letter. Young said he hadn’t given much thought about whether to do so but likely will appeal.
Young is at least the third high-profile Latter-day Saint who has protested church policy and been excommunicated in the past few years.
Kate Kelly, a Latter-day Saint who pushed for female ordination to the faith’s all-male priesthood, was booted out in 2014, and John Dehlin, a popular podcaster who broadcast his doubts and criticisms about church teachings and practices, was ousted in 2015.
On Sept. 9, Young appeared before his lay leaders in Houston for a “disciplinary council.” He stood accused of crossing a line by opposing church leaders and urging other members to do the same.
To further his cause, Young previously formed a group, Protect LDS Children, launched an online petition and led a march to church headquarters to deliver tens of thousands of supportive signatures. He also staged a three-week hunger strike.
Before reading the decision, Young said that while excommunication is usually viewed “with shame and dishonor,” he would wear whatever decision was rendered “with a badge of honor.” But, after finishing, he became emotional, calling the church’s decision a “supreme disappointment.”
“They have shown their true colors,” he said of Latter-day Saint leaders. “The verdict is all about them and their power structure. They sent down the edict to protect themselves rather than to protect our precious children. They continue to mandate one-on-one interviews where sexually explicit questions are approved and facilitated.”
In March, the 16 million-member faith updated its policies, adding the option of an interviewee to have another adult present. Young insists that approach doesn’t go far enough and said he would like to see a requirement that another adult always be in the room.
Church leaders have also stated that bishops are taught to avoid graphic details during interviews and to “not be unnecessarily probing or invasive in their questions.” Young points to cases in which such grillings still take place.
Liz Healy, who attended Young’s news conference Sunday, said she came because she has personal experiences with the issue. When she was 12 years old, Healy said, she had an interview with her bishop for a recommend to enter Latter-day Saint temples to do proxy baptisms for the dead, which are tied to Mormon teachings that families can spend eternity together.
“And I just recall vividly my bishop asking completely inappropriate questions and not just about whether I had been involved sexually with anyone but then asking really probing questions about details about where I was touched, how I was touched,” said Healy, 45. “They wanted details about what happened. And I just still remember that being so upsetting and not understanding why.”
That was more than 30 years ago. Healy said she left the church soon afterward, partly because of her experience as a child. Now, she hopes the shame that has kept people from stepping forward about these experiences will dissipate as more people tell their stories.
“Things just have to change,” she said, noting that she’s happy Young was excommunicated because it will bring more awareness to the inappropriate nature of these interviews.
Young said he expected to be excommunicated but had told The Tribune previously that he hoped to retain his membership and work for reform from within the church.
Still, he told the hundreds of protesters Sunday that while the church can excommunicate him from his religion, it can’t excommunicate him from his cause.
“For our children’s sake," he said, “this whistleblower is not going to stop roaring.”
The crowd erupted in cheers.