Monday, June 26, 2006

Mormon Worthiness

A regular part of a Mormon's life is worthiness interviews with the bishop. The first one happens at age 8 in preparation for baptism. They become regular once a member turns twelve and young men get ordained to the priesthood and all the youth start to go to the temple to do baptisms for the dead. In fact, our stake began requiring interviews from the bishop before youth were allowed to attend stake dances to ensure that the youth were aware of church standards and were worthy to participate. As adults, members are supposed to "take out their endowments" after which they are expected to constantly wear the temple garments they receive and after which they are supposed to regularly attend the temple to do work for the dead. A worthiness interview is required at least every two years (used to be every year) from the bishop and stake president in order to receive a temple recommend that allows entrance into the temple. The questions can be found here.

So, what does it take to be worthy and what are these interviews like? Yesterday I was recalling how my abusive father was considered worthy to attend the temple and be in the bishopric despite physical and emotional abuse of his family throughout his life. As far as I know, he never confessed his sins and never repented of them. It suppose it is possible that he never knew that what he was doing was wrong.

One of the temple worthiness questions is whether the member is obeying the law of chastity. I know from personal experience that bishops sometimes ask probing, detailed questions regarding this question since it causes so many people problems. For example, the bishop may ask about masturbation or petting or necking. In a way, I guess this might be considered educational; that is making sure that the person is aware of the church's standards and what it considers acceptable bounds on sexual behavior. Fine.

A number of years ago the church added a question to the temple recommend interview regarding any conduct inside the home. It asks,
Is there anything in your conduct relating to members of your family that is not in harmony with the teachings of the Church?
It is generally understood that it was added to combat incest in the church or at least make it appear that the church is doing something about incest. At least that is what bishops have told me when I responded that I didn't always feel comfortable with the way that I treated and disciplined my children. This is a pretty broad question, much more so than the law of chastity. But, do bishops ask such probing questions regarding abuse in the home? Either they don't or else my father lied in the interviews or else the bishop didn't consider punching, choking, and kicking down doors abuse. If he believed that the question only pertained to incest, then he could truthfully answer no. But, I dare say that if a video camera captured his behavior few people would have found it in harmony with the teachings of Christ or even the Mormon church.

Given some comments I've received, I don't think I was the only Mormon kid who suffered abuse in the home from "temple worthy" parents. If this is truly a big problem in the church, and I think it is, then why aren't the questions more probing? Why don't they extend beyond incest? Why doesn't the church it control over temple access to control and restrain parenting to Christ-like behavior?

I don't have the answer. I wish I did. To me it is a further indictment of the lack of inspiration and leadership of TSCC that it doesn't work to combat abuse in the home in all of its forms. It make me tremble with rage to think that church leaders sign off on the worthiness of people who abuse their family members and show no remorse and make no attempts to reform their behavior.


La said...

Grrr.... I hate thinking about this because it always gets me angry!!!

Don't ask, don't tell runs rampant.

Bull said...

But they have no problem with asking in other areas. So they're either not asking or else they don't know a problem exists or perhaps they really only want to pretend to care.

Anonymous said...

Mr "Bull"...Check out the book "The Ten Commitments" by Dr. Simon, you can go to to see a review/excerpt. Interesting way to think about the original ten commandments. Thought you might like to look at it since you like to read/explore religion.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Yes... I also wondered how certain people were able to get through those worthiness interviews. :-)

lma said...

I was wondering, when did this "interview mania" start in the church? When I joined in 1973 as a teenager, after the little interview with the missionaries before I was baptized, I never did have any kind of interviews. When I was going to go to the temple to do dunkin' for the dead I had to show my face in the Bishop's office, but he didn't ask me anything, except maybe if it was the first time I'd ever done baptisms for the dead. Then, I had to get him to sign off on my application to BYU, but again, there was no "worthiness interview" involved. I think he might have asked me what I was planning on majoring in, but that was the extent of it.

I was fairly active in the church up until the mid 1980s, and I cannot ever remember having a formal interview, even when having calling extended to me. Has the interview thing become more common since then, or was I just living in an alternate universe?


Bull said...

I was born in 1964 and I had at least one every other year from age 12 on for priesthood advancement, then mission call, then for marriage, and then annually to renew my temple recommend. So, it's nothing new. But it seems to be picking up steam. I guess the church thinks that the problems it has with youth retention is unworthiness and that the obvious solution is to have more regular interviews.

I also think it depends on the zealousness of the bishop. But I think bishops are supposed to have interviews with each youth at least once a year.

Anonymous said...

well, the obvious answer is that the church is full of shit. But the inconsistency regarding temple worthiness can also be seen in word of wisdom issues. Someone who confesses to drinking coffee or tea could be kept out of the temple, but what about morbidly obese members? Maybe it all comes down to keeping as many recommend holders as they can in order to ensure that those tithing checks keep rolling in. They only deny temple recommends to those whose sins are too blatant to ignore. But do I believe the church really cares about genuine christ-like thoughts or behavior? Hell no. It's all a big lie.

lma said...

Bull...thanks for your answer to my question. I suppose much of it could have been that I was in Southern California until age 21, and in the 1970s, it was a lot more relaxed there than in the corridor and some other places.

Anonymous said...

Not mormon, but I have friends who are. So I'm wondering,

what does it mean to "affiliate with" people who teach stuff that's contrary to the church?

considering said...

I think the questions are supposed to prompt the well honed guilt each of you religious types seem to harbor--the truely sad thing is you have to feel bad about what you are doing to feel guilt.

Bull said...

No you don't. There's the rub. People feel ok about the act, but feel guilty because they aren't supposed to feel ok about it. Does that make sense? Religion makes people feel guilty about harmless things and sometimes makes them comfortable with bad things.