Great Suggestions to Protect Our Children

lion-w-cub.jpgIntroducing Timothy Birt, a mental health therapist who has run centers for sexually abused children for 14 years.  He has fundamental concerns about bishop interviews from a moral, legal, and ethical perspective.  His professional credentials:  MS, LPC, LMFT.

Tim has worked hard to come up with thorough and well thought out suggestions.   I present them for your serious consideration.

Tim’s Recommendations

To those of us who have signed the petition or submitted a story, I ask you to join Sam Young by considering what you can do to help protect LDS children in your own ward or stake.

A)  Consider asking for a meeting with your Bishopric and Stake Presidency.  Inform them of the issues and concerns about current church practices of interviewing children about sexual issues.  Let them know you have signed the petition.  Give them links to the stories of harm to our children.

B)  Consider sharing your own story with your church leaders, face to face, of how you felt having those interviews.  Or share difficult feelings you may have had about the church focus on masturbation / chastity.  Or the teaching that it would be better to die than to “lose your virtue” if you were raped or sexually abused.  Or what it was like sending your own children into private interviews.  Or how teachings about purity have affected your intimate relationship in adulthood.  Or your own story of sexual abuse or assault or sexual harassment and how church teachings did not prepare you to heal or have boundaries.  Consider sharing with them inappropriate questions asked by your church leaders.  Or whatever YOUR experiences were and concerns are now.  Then ask them if they can or will acknowledge how the practices of the church did YOU harm or impacted you personally or your children personally.

C)  Consider telling your local church leaders that you don’t support the practice of one-on-one youth interviews that discuss sexuality or worthiness. Consider telling your local church leaders that you are uncomfortable allowing your under-aged children to be interviewed alone or asked inappropriate questions.  Consider informing them that you will not consent to allow church leaders to request one on one interviews with your children.

D)  Consider suggesting to your local church leaders viable alternatives used in other wards, stakes and churches to support spiritual development of our youth that don’t require one-on-one adult youth interviews.  Namely the following options:

1)  Don’t do interviews at all.   Allow youth who want to go to the temple or have a calling or advance in the priesthood to do so if they desire to do so.

2)  If Church leaders feel they are required by the Church to ask children questions, consider asking to have those questions submitted to the parent in writing in advance.  Allow the parent to pass on questions they feel are appropriate for their children and let children respond in writing.  The child’s response could even be in a signed envelope. Any followup questions can be handled in the same way.

3)  Inform bishops and Stake leaders that they can communicate with youth in groups with parents and adults of the youth’s choosing in the room and state the expectations of the church for participation in temple work or callings and invite all those who feel they can follow those guidelines to participate and if they participate they do so with that understanding.

4)  Discuss other ways church leaders could teach and support youth that follow standard safe sanctuary / child protection guidelines that require background checks, two deep leadership, no one-on-one contact between adults and youth, and are careful and respectful in discussing sexuality with youth.

E)  If the Bishop / Church leader insists on interviews, ask that a parent or adult of the child’s choosing be present for the entire interview and advise the child they don’t have to participate in any interview they don’t want to have.  Allow the adult to object to any inappropriate questions.  In the rare instance where a child requests a private interview with a church leader, have two church leaders of the child’s choosing in the room so there is no one-on-one interaction which violates basic child protection principles.  Note that church leaders can be essential outlets for a child to make an outcry of child abuse and must be trained to know how to report and handle these cases correctly.  Consider informing the Bishop that he personally and the church collectively are subject to criminal and civil consequences if they mishandle reporting child abuse allegations and civil lawsuits if they violate confidentiality of certain things they hear as a church leader. Consider asking your Church leaders if they have been adequately trained about mandated reporting and confidentiality and if they are willing to follow the law? Consider letting them know you will hold them and the Church criminally and civilly accountable for their duties to follow the law in reporting child abuse.

F)  Consider asking your church leader if they will commit to following basic child protection policies in their ward/Stake by NEVER being one-on-one with a child who is not their own in any capacity at church or in church service and having two deep adult leadership present when adults and youth are together.

G)  Consider asking bishops and church leaders to not provide sex education or to delve into sexual activities in interviews with youth but to refer such issues to the parents.  Ask your church leaders if they will commit to this agreement.

H)  If a bishop or church leader insists on asking questions about masturbation or considers masturbation to be sinful and teaches that it needs to be confessed , consider asking the bishop / church leader to find in the General Handbook of instructions any policy that directly addresses masturbation and to read to you the exact words from the handbook. (Note: There is nothing in the handbook about masturbation specifically.) Then consider asking your bishop / church leader to commit to not asking about masturbation.  Further, you can consider requesting that they and every teacher in the ward not mention or teach anything about masturbation and to refrain implying that it’s sinful.  Ask if a youth attempts to confess masturbation as a moral problem or impacting worthiness in any way, that you request that the church leader inform the youth that masturbation is not addressed in the handbook of instructions and is a personal matter.

I)  Consider Informing your bishop and stake leaders that you want to discuss the damage that has been done to members and youth by uninformed and hurtful teachings about sexuality and forgiveness.  Inform them that 1 in 4 girls are victims of child sexual abuse and nearly all girls and women experience some sort of sexual harassment or assault during their lifetimes.  The church teachings about sexuality and chastity do not address the reality of sexual abuse and harassment in its past teachings about “chastity.” Many lessons taught are profoundly inconsiderate and damaging.  Boys and men are also abused and harassed and assaulted. Many unskillful teachings about sexuality (licked cupcake, chewed gum, hole in the board, a person’s clothing being responsible for causing someone else to act sexually inappropriately, males judged not able to control their sexual urges, etc.) are ubiquitous in our church culture and that such teaching are damaging.

Ask your church leaders to work with you to eliminate these antiquated and harmful perspectives and have trauma and consent informed teachings about sexuality as part of our church teachings and culture. Ask church leaders to evaluate church teachings and to discuss consent, respect, and responsibility and acknowledge sexual abuse and harassment.

Consider asking bishop / church leaders to have mental health professionals available to take referrals for those affected and to not attempt counseling or spiritual advising for victims of abuse or assault. Consider advising them that they are out of their depth and will cause harm if they attempt to counsel abuse victims.

Consider requesting changes to youth standards nights and lessons to be informed that there are victims of child abuse and rape and assault in the room when they are discussing “chastity” and to consider inviting mental health professionals to discuss in large groups how to address victimization.

J)  Consider asking bishop / church leaders to hear accounts of how the church and its leaders in their ward’s have hurt members by worthiness interviews and harmful teachings on morality and chastity (licked cupcake) and ask them if they feel it would be appropriate to make a formal apology to those hurt by such actions and to work to address the issues raised by those who are hurt by such actions and teachings.

K)  Consider suggesting that women leaders be involved when women need to discuss sexuality or abuse and not men.

L)  Consider requesting that bishop’s doors have a window not just a peep hole and all rooms in the church where children may be behind a closed door with adults, have a window installed.

M)  Consider requesting that all members called or allowed to work with youth have a criminal background check and youth protection training before they start their calling or responsibility.  Consider informing your church leader that you may choose to not sustain any adult called to a position with youth who has not had a background check and youth protections training.  Consider not sustaining anyone who has not had a background check when the calling is voted on in church.

N)  Consider speaking up in your ward so that every ward and stake in the church has multiple people asking our leaders to protect children in these ways. Understand that when every church unit has multiple members and non members requesting these protections for our children, change will be more likely.  This change can be bottom up and not wait on Salt Lake to make church wide changes.

If your local leaders don’t listen to your concerns or don’t implement requested changes to protect our children and redress harms, consider not voting to sustain such leaders in your local unit conferences.  Publicly tell why you’re not sustaining them.  The law of common consent is gospel doctrine and we need to use it.  The Church would have difficulty bringing church discipline on all members who have concerns. When we act in unity our voices can be collectively heard.  There are hundreds of thousands of us who will be willing to voice our concerns.  We can begin doing so at the local level where we can make a difference.

If any of these recommendations are a fit for you, consider taking action.  If they don’t, consider what you can do in your local church unit or community to make a difference.  Please don’t wait for the church to change from the top, start the discussion to protect LDS children in your own local unit now.

Be a True Texan–Gallop to the Rescue

SLC News Conf

Dear President______,

Here’s a report from church today:

“My bishop just said next Sunday there will be a meeting for parents about worthiness interviews for the parents knowledge about them. He is obviously holding this meeting because of the recent outrage at the church for these interviews.”

Change is coming.  The only question is when.  We, you and me, have the opportunity to protect the good name of the church.  Lead the charge to protect our children.

We…are…Texans!  We are independent.  We don’t lag behind.  When we see a need, we gallop to the rescue.  Let’s jump on our horses and gallop to protect our children.

I’m paying all the expenses for the news conference on Tuesday, Feb 6.  All you need to do is show up.  You will be highly respected by every single person in our fair city….including the 100,000 Mormons who live in the viewing area.

As President Monson said, “May we ever choose the harder right, instead of the easier wrong.”

How sweet would it be if after the news conference, you and I were the ones making the rounds on the morning TV shows and then the afternoon radio shows.  I’d pay your way to fly with me to New York and Los Angeles for all the national media that is up ahead.  Make no mistake…IT IS COMING!

Of course, we both may be excommunicated.  But, that’s OK.  Is there a more noble cause than speaking up for the protection of our children?  You and I will go down as followers of Jesus Christ no matter the consequences.

Your brother in Christ,

-Sam

(I sent this letter to my Stake President today.)

Links

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France Dreams of Protecting our Children

Eiffel TowerThis message came in tonight.  Gooooooooosebumps!!!

I read it to my wife.  She responded, “I love how the Holy Ghost works.  He inspires men around the world to engage in good causes.”

When this man’s turn comes to be bishop, the French children will NOT be all alone behind closed doors.

Dear Brother YOUNG,

I am an active LDS member in France.

I would like to share with you an experience I had almost 2 years ago.

Our bishop was about to be released. And I was having a lot of experiences regarding our ward, its members, its auxiliaries.  I interpreted them to be teachings, and preparatory experiences.

One of them was special, as it was a dream or a vision.  I couldn’t really tell.

In this “vision” I saw 2 parents in an office, a bishop’s office.  And there was a young woman with them.  I assumed she was their daughter.

They were there for an interview.

I didn’t see the bishop, because I interpreted that I was the bishop and that I was being taught through a vision.

The teaching was that parents were to be there during interviews with our youth.

At the time, I didn’t know about the fight you bravely carry on.  But I felt that I had to share that experience with you. 

You will obtain what you’re fighting for. The Church will change it’s policy about interviews.

I love our Church.  It literally breaks my heart  to see the mistakes, the bad choices, and the sufferings caused by the agency of leaders…But this all we got…MEN.

And it will be this way till our Savior comes back and reigns.

Fraternally, 

Your friend from France

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President…Take the LEAD! Members are Joining the Cause.

Change-AheadDear President ______,

I just received this eloquent and powerful message from an active and committed member of our church.

Dear Sam,

Thank you for your bravery in this very disturbing issue. What you are doing cannot be easy for you, your wife, or your family.

Both the children, and the church’s good name need to be protected by what you are doing.

I love the church and the gospel very much and I also care very deeply for the well being of our youth.

If policy is not changed as you suggest, I fear both our children and our church’s good name will be in jeopardy.

There are so many people who need to hear the gospel and may not be open and willing to allow their families to learn if these practices stay in place.

One of the main principles of the church is that families can live together forever. We are all working towards being together as a family with our Heavenly Father because we love Him and them so much. He has given us these perfect beings that are truly His children first. They are just on loan to us, but we love them dearly, and we are charged by Him to make sure they return home to Him, to keep them safe BOTH spiritually and physically.

It is my belief that this is the highest calling that we can have on earth.
What you are doing supports that work, the gospel, and the integrity of the church.

Thank you.

President, don’t let the Church’s good name be harmed.  Don’t allow further damage to be done to our children.

National media are going to eat this up.  Our non-Mormon neighbors are going to throw up.  Bishops and many good members are already calling for these changes to be made…or making the changes themselves.

You are a good and righteous man!  Join me at the news conference.  Call for the protection of our children.

Love and best wishes,

Sam

President–Join me at the News Conference

Lion Protecting CubsDear President________,

A sitting Bishop and his 2 counselors have just signed the petition!!!

That makes 3 active bishops who have signed.

In mid-January, a ward right here in Houston made the petition changes.  The bishop happens to be a very close relative to one of the apostles.

And…there is one entire stake that has made major changes to protect their children.  I sent you all the details a couple of weeks ago.

Changes are coming, my friend.  I invite you again to take the lead.  Let’s be proactive and make the changes.  There are many members in our stake who have signed the petition.  They and everyone else would be completely supportive of you!!

All my best wishes,

Sam

P.S. Before I could send this, I received word of another sitting bishop who wants the petition to succeed.

 

 

 

Sam: Protect our Children! Mormon Church: Apostate!

Sacred StoriesThursday, January 25, 2018, I met with my Stake President(SP) and Bishop(BP) to discuss my concerns about youth interviews.  The meeting lasted 3 hours.  These are very good men.  I would vouch for them anywhere.  The Stake President is the local representative who speaks on behalf of the Church with regards to me.

At the outset, I asked if they were recording the interview.  I believe that on two occasions, my phone conversations with Church headquarters have been recorded.  The SP assured me that he was not recording.

I told them that on three recent occasions, during meetings with Church representatives, I have been told that the conversations were to remain private.  This, even though the discussions were about church policy.  No longer am I willing to keep private things that are not private.  I told the SP this and then asked if he would like me to record the meeting.  That way, when I wrote or talked about it, I wouldn’t get anything wrong.  He asked me not to record it.  I didn’t.

I then presented the book ‘Sacred Stories of Sacred Children.’  It contains 250 stories of horrendous consequences suffered by our youth.  They quickly flipped through the book, not stopping to read.  Both the BP and SP said that they believe the stories.  That was very good news.  I could only guess that they had read them elsewhere.

I briefly described a few of the stories.  Instances of sexual assault by bishops, suicide and severe trauma.  The SP responded, “Shame on those men.”  Well, I certainly agree with that.  And I take it one step further, “Shame on the system that enabled the actions of these men.”

At that point, I invited them to join with me to protect the children.  That invitation was quickly brushed off the table for any consideration.

Then we launched into a long back and forth about why I thought the current policies are dangerous and damaging.  Followed by their defense as to why they are necessary and good.  Conclusion?  No changes will be made.

During this discussion, they brought up two valid points that I agree need to be addressed.

  1. My writings were hurting people.  I asked, “Who am I hurting?”  The SP said that I’d hurt him.  He then read from my most recent email to him.  It had hurt his feelings to the core.  I could see that.  My letter had been harsh and angry.  I had written it from the backdrop of being ignored for months and then reading another horrific story of a damaged child.  It was legitimate for him to call me out on this.  My anger should be focused on the correct target….the disgusting policy.  I’m committed to do better on this front.  The offensive letter had been posted on my website.  I decided to take it down, which I have.  The SP did not make this request.
  2. How are voluntary confessions to be handled?  I don’t know the answer to that question.  It does need to be addressed.  However, the vast majority of the youth interviews are NOT voluntary confessions.  13,000 of us are calling for the immediate stop of what is happening today.  Then, we can sort out how the few and far between voluntary confessions are handled.  Never-the-less, I still believe that they should not occur behind closed doors, all alone with the child.

The SP expressed concern about my change in attitude…the anger in my writings, the image of a roaring lion.  I didn’t respond in the moment.  But, how in the world can 1,000 stories NOT change my attitude?  If a person can read story after dreadful story and not be changed, they are capable of something I am not.  Yeah, you bet I’ve changed.  My heart has been broken a thousand times.  It’s now full of empathy and compassion.  While my belly is full of fire to protect our children.

Finally, my agenda had been aired….over and over again with no meeting of the minds.

Then the Stake President launched into his agenda.

SP:  Sam, do you want to be a member of the Church?

ME:  Yes.

SP:  Sam, are you an apostate?

ME:  No.

SP:  You are an apostate!

ME:  No, I’m not.  I’m speaking out about the need to change a policy.

SP:  You are an apostate!

He then flipped to the definition of apostasy in Handbook 1:

“Apostasy refers to members who repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.”

SP:  Sam, are you an apostate?

ME:  No.  I’m not speaking out against the Church of its leaders.  I’m speaking out against a policy.

SP:  You are an apostate.

He ended up reading the definition of apostasy a few more times.  It quickly became obvious that there was no debating this issue.  I had been officially declared apostate by the official Church representative.

SP:  You can’t continue speaking in public about this.  We will have to protect the good name of the church.

Take-aways

  1. In the face of hundreds of children being harmed…the Church will not change anything to protect this happening to our children in the future.
  2. I have officially been called apostate and told to be silent.
  3. With the repeated warnings of apostasy, the stage for my excommunication has been set.
  4. The SP had wanted my wife to be present.  I am so glad that she was not there to witness the thinly veiled threat made to her husband.

 My Public Response

  1. I agree that we need to protect the good name of the church.  How about that?  The Church’s reputation is being trashed by a dreadful policy that is doing severe harm to our children.  My fellow Mormons…join with 13,000 of us to protect the good name of the Church.  If this policy is not eliminated, those who didn’t speak up for change will be responsible for the bad name the Church is now accruing.
  2. I am not going to be silenced.  Our children’s protection is more precious than my membership.  I have made the temple covenant of sacrifice.  This is not a time to waffle on that promise.  If called to do so, I’ll sacrifice my membership for the benefit of the kids.
  3. Whatever the Church decides to do to me, I forgive them in advance.  My Stake President and Bishop are great men, having to operate within the system that they have been dealt.

P.S.  Dear Church leaders, If I got anything wrong, please let me know.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have a recording to assist in writing this piece.

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Sacred Stories–Graveyard of Our Children’s Innocence

Cross

A few years ago, my wife and I, along with two of our daughters, visited the American Cemetery on the beaches of Normandy.  I was struck with somber reverence.  Row after row of rectangular headstones representing the sacrifice of one life after another.

It was December.  The sky was gray.  The weather cold and blustery.  The tour guide walked us through the gravestones recounting stories of the fallen.  I teared up frequently as I pondered what happened so long ago.  It was an honor to walk among the noble.

These are sacred stories.

Today, there’s another location that’s scattered with sacred stories.  Row after row of white rectangles recounting the lost innocence of one child after another.  Childhoods sacrificed by shame and self-loathing.  Their worth was demolished behind closed and lonely chapel doors.

At first blush, these children’s stories don’t sound noble.  Oh…but they are.  They are so noble.  Their innocence crushed by inappropriate shame.  Now as adults, they’ve had the courage to share their hurt and pain on a white rectangle in a computer pane.

These children’s somber stories will help other victims heal.  Others now know they are not alone.  Others now know as a child they were wronged.  The authors of these stories should also know that they are heroes.  It’s they who will stop these wrongs in the future.

I’ve read every last word of every last story.  I’ve shed many a tear as I’ve pondered what happened so long ago.  It is an honor to walk among these noble.

These are sacred stories.

Gently I now ask, if you have a sacred story of childhood shame inflicted behind the closed doors of the bishops walls, I invite you to share….but only if you are ready.

Share Your Story

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P.S. To the 202 of you who have shared your tender and vulnerable stories, thank you my friends.  I see you.  I hear you.  I love you.