Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
The Salt Lake Temple during the 188th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 1, 2018.

When I was a teenager, I felt the need to counsel with my LDS bishop about behaviors I wanted to stop. I remember the day vividly. I was nervous to talk to him, even though my bishop at the time was a longtime, trusted family friend. Still, I was a young girl and the topic was embarrassing.

Fortunately for me, my bishop was everything a bishop should be. He was kind and caring. When I felt like I should include a few more details, he stopped me and said that was not necessary, and really, not appropriate either. The fact that I was there, willing to change, was all he needed to hear.

I left feeling loved by both my God and by this man who I believe acted as his servant on earth. I believe most leaders within the LDS Church are like him.

Still, the idea of one-on-one interviews with church leaders has become a hot-button topic. In March, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced policy changes for these interviews, specifying that children, youth and women can invite another adult to join them.

And in June, the church again updated guidelines for these interviews, which include a list of questions to be shared with parents and youths before the first interview.

Nothing previously prohibited a youth of any age from asking for a parent to be in the room during a bishop's interview. But the new policy clarifies: "When a member of a bishopric or stake presidency or another assigned leader meets with a child, youth, or woman, he or she should ask a parent or another adult to be in an adjoining room, foyer, or hall. If the person being interviewed desires, another adult may be invited to be present during the interview. Leaders should avoid all circumstances that could be misunderstood."

I hope with this policy change, all youth will be educated on the option of having a third person in the room before they begin discussing private matters. This could be a parent, a youth leader or an adult friend.

Not everyone will choose this option. In some cases, having that third person present may impede confessionals or inhibit a youth or woman from sharing necessary details about circumstances at home or in a marriage.

Children should always have a choice if they don't want to be alone with an adult, discussing things of a private or sexual nature.

Acknowledging that does not mean I think any less of bishops, who in my experience are good, hardworking men giving their time and energy to help the people in their ward. I’d imagine most of these men would much rather not hear about all the trials and transgressions of the people in the ward. They do it as a service out of love.

But having the option of a third person in the room just makes sense. What a great message we could send to our children if every time they had a meeting with a bishop, he asks if they’d like to have someone else in the room.

This protects the child in that moment, as well as into the future. My husband is an elementary school principal, and in the 15-plus years he’s been a teacher and a school administrator, he hasn’t allowed a child to be alone with him in his office or his classroom with the door closed. He also ensures a third person is in the room (usually a woman) if he has to discuss anything sensitive or private.

Of course, a religious setting is different from a school in many ways, but the underlying idea is the same: Adults in positions of authority need to be aware of and mitigate situations that could make children uncomfortable.

My husband’s personal policies also protect him. They keep him from being in uncomfortable situations, as well as from false accusations. Giving youths the option of having a third party in the room helps the bishops, rather than hurting them.

Most importantly, it sends the message to our children that they are in control of how and when and with whom they discuss private matters.

22 comments on this story

My daughter will soon have her first interview with our bishop during her 12-year-old worthiness interview to attend certain temple services. Our current bishop is just as loving and wise as my bishop as a child, but when the time comes, I want her to be in control. If she wants me in the room, I’ll be there. Or if she wants someone else she trusts, that’s fine, too.

Youth need to know they can set the rules that make them the most comfortable in an undeniably uncomfortable situation. No one is forcing them to be anywhere or say anything; coercion has never been a part of the LDS Church.

This action sends the message that in a world where consent is key, church officials care about the agency and long-term care of the children, youths and women they lead.