The Value of Pastoral Care and Personal Interviews

Background

A recent article published in The Age newspaper (and syndicated elsewhere) entitled “Mormons asked children invasive questions about sex,” unfortunately only provided one side of the issue of pastoral care for youth.

The article only reports on concerns raised by a handful of individuals. No mention is made of the many positive experiences of young people who have greatly benefited from having a personal relationship with their local minister.

There are many Australians, religious and irreligious, who believe in moral responsibility, in respecting one's own body and others' bodies. There are many Australians who believe in sexual restraint. In being chaste before marriage and faithful to one's wife or husband after marriage. These are not old-fashioned values for many Australians.

    

Whilst preparing their article, the journalists reached out to the Church with a number of questions, seeking a response. The response below was provided.

“Personal interviews are an important part of ministering to those in a congregation. They offer an opportunity for a leader to know an individual better and to help them live the gospel of Jesus Christ. Leaders are provided instructions on how to prepare spiritually so they can be guided by the Holy Spirit during these interviews.

Interviews are held for a number of reasons, including for recommends to enter a LDS temple, youth class advancement, callings to serve in the Church or when a member requests to meet with a church leader for personal guidance or to help them with any challenges they are facing in their life, or to repent* from serious sin.

*Note: Latter-day Saints consider repentance to be a change of heart and behaviour to better align with the teachings and example of Jesus Christ.

For youth, a bishop meets with a young person at least annually to teach, express confidence and support, and listen carefully. They speak together about their faith journey, their religious habits (such as prayer, church attendance and personal study of the scriptures) and their obedience to God's commandments. They may review together these teachings in the scriptures or other Church resources, such as For the Strength of Youth. (see www.lds.org/youth/for-the-strength-of-youth?lang=eng&_r=1)

In these interviews, Church leaders are instructed to be sensitive to the character, circumstances and understanding of the young man or young woman. They are counselled to not be unnecessarily probing or invasive in their questions, but should allow a young person to share their experiences, struggles and feelings.

There are times when a discussion of moral cleanliness is appropriate—particularly if a young man or young woman feels a need to repent. In these instances leaders are counselled to adapt the discussion to the understanding of the individual and to exercise care not to encourage curiosity or experimentation.

Church leaders have a solemn responsibility to keep confidential all information they receive in confessions and interviews. When a young person is faced with serious sin or temptation, a bishop will likely encourage them to share (as appropriate) their struggles with their parents so they can pray for, teach and encourage the young man or young woman.

When a Church leader meets with a child, youth or woman, they are encouraged to ask a parent or another adult to be in an adjoining room, foyer or hall, and to avoid circumstances that may be misunderstood. If the youth prefers, the parent is invited into the room with them during the interview.

If, during an interview, a leader becomes aware of incidents of abuse, they call the Church's 24-hour help-line to seek guidance from professional counsellors and legal professionals in how to identify, report and respond to abuse. The leader may also refer them to professional counselling services, as needed.

When counselling with parents, leaders encourage them to remain close to their children, to regularly teach and counsel with them, asking questions about their growth, progress and worthiness. This allows leaders to act in a supporting role to the family and individual.

Our belief is that interviews should be meaningful and sacred opportunities for an individual to counsel with priesthood leaders, who represent the Saviour in their ministry.

We share a common concern for the safety and wellbeing of youth. We condemn any inappropriate behaviour or abuse regardless of where or when it occurs. Local church leaders are provided with instructions regarding youth interviews and are expected to review and follow them.

A caring, responsible spiritual leader plays a significant role in the development of a young person by reinforcing the teaching of parents and offering spiritual guidance. We express gratitude for the thousands of volunteer church leaders—men and women—who selflessly serve and mentor youth, individuals and families throughout the world. As with any practice in the Church, we continually look for ways to improve and adjust by following Jesus Christ in meeting the needs of our members.

In addition:

  • Children under the age of 12 are interviewed just once, prior to baptism, and that is most often done with a parent in the room. No questions of a sexual nature are ever asked in that interview.
  • The purpose of youth interviews is to encourage them in their spiritual development and the goals they and their parents have for them, as well as to strengthen them in their understanding of gospel standards and in their resolve to follow those standards. By doing that, the priesthood leader can help that young person avoid suffering and challenges that immoral behavior can lead to down the road.
  • There may be occasions when a leader may ask, “Are you living the standards of the Church?…Are you living the law of chastity?” If the person says, “I’m struggling with X,” the bishop may ask the young person to tell him more about that in a desire to understand the situation and offer help with overcoming challenges or completing necessary steps for repentance.
  • All adults in Australia are required to have a current and valid Working With Children Card (WWCC) in their respective state before receiving a responsibility to serve in any capacity involving youth or children (whether under a formal calling or on a special assignment, no matter how temporary).

For any additional questions about our faith, I would refer you to www.mormon.org

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