Approximately mid March 2018 I was approached by an investigative reporter Ben Schneiders from The Age who said he was potentially working on a piece about Mormonism and the one-on-one worthiness interviews that involve sexually explicit questions as part of a larger project about sexuality and religion (also involving other religions, such as Catholicism).
He asked if I was interested in being interviewed for this project. I consented. We had an hour long interview or so. Thereafter, I liaised with him several times as the piece took shape to offer clarifications and additional information.
On the 5th of May, at 7:35PM, The Age (and SMH) published an article entitled Mormons asked children invasive questions about sex – which is the culmination of their work with me, interviews with several other people (including some other ex-Mormons, both anonymous and not anonymous).
Now that this is published, I wanted to offer a response from my side, in case anyone has any further questions or wants any clarification.
I will take some quotes from the article and respond to them below.
Why am I writing a response?
Firstly, from a legal perspective, I know that the LDS church has very strong muscles. They have lots of money for lawyers and don’t hesitate to use it. Therefore, I think it’s important to be very specific and precise with any words used – in case they decide to try… who knows what.
Secondly, from a personal perspective, I know a lot of Mormons. They tend to be highly apologetic for their religion. As a result, any failure to vigilantly and precisely articulate one’s point can be met with an onslaught of criticism focused on nit-picking and irrelevant “side-points” (missing the mountain, obsessing about the mole-hill).
Finally, I can’t control what was actually said in the article, though I did contribute to it somewhat, ultimately, The Age chose the final wording.
Summary of my response
Some of the wording used by the article is a bit stronger than I would have used, OR, is a bit imprecise. Notwithstanding, as a whole, I think it’s valid, and contains no outright falsehoods. I stand by it. If anyone wants more detail, read my responses below.
- Photo quote
Shawn was brought up in the Mormon religion and was required to talk explicitly about his sexual thoughts.
I don’t think I would have used the word “required”. I think a better word would have been “the environment and expectations were such that I would be compelled to”… To be fair to The Age, it’s difficult to tease those concepts apart when you’re a young child. My sentence is also a lot longer, and there’s not much space there.
Are young Mormon children “required” to go to the temple? Technically not. If they “break the law of chastity”, are they required to admit it? Technically not. Therefore, are young Mormon children “required” to speak explicitly about their sexual thoughts to leaders? Technically not.
But, that’s like saying “are potential football players on the football team “required” to go to practice every week?” — technically not, they can forgo practice if they want, but they won’t get onto the team then!
When your parents raise you to be on the football team, and indoctrinate you that your eternal well-being depends on being on the team, then yes, “require” is a fair word.
There is also room for Mormons to nitpick this further. Technically, in interviews, you are only asked “do you live the law of chastity?” — you can lie and say no if you want to (that is, if you think you don’t “live it”). But, instead of lying, if I had (what Mormons consider to be a “problem”) with the law of chastity, I would say “yes”. After that then YES, I was “required” to “be explicit”.
‘I drank the Kool-Aid’
Shawn was raised a Mormon and travelled overseas as a missionary.
“I drank the Kool-Aid when I was a Mormon, everything the Mormon Church said about sexuality and sexual values I followed 1000 per cent,” he said.
No comments. True.
He moved to Australia at 21 as an “extremely devout” Mormon before an “epiphany” several years later led to him to question his faith.
This entire blog is dedicated to that journey. I won’t add any more details about it.
From a young age, Shawn was asked by Mormon leaders if he kept the “law of chastity” and if he was being sexually pure.
This was in “worthiness interviews” in order to go to the temple. Refer to my comments above about expectations surrounding that (“to be on the team”).
At 18, when he was about to go to the UK as a missionary, he was asked “point blank” by a church leader whether he had a “masturbation problem”. The leader had a day job as an engineer, and no training in psychology.
This was one of my local church leaders at the time. I won’t mention his name. As it turns out, Mormonism aside, I really like this guy and he’s one of my favourite people. I hold no grudge against him personally. He treated me with significant kindness in my young life in other ways.
I want to bring that up, as I think it’s very important to separate ideas from the people who subscribe to those ideas. The ideas of Mormonism – I openly condemn. The people – only inasmuch as they blindly advocate for those ideas and cause suffering as a result, and even then, it is behavior not the person themselves that I dislike.
Aside from that, this is a 100% true story, and as far as I understand, this question about masturbation is in the LDS leader’s handbook for missionary worthiness interviews. He didn’t ask this question out of his own initiative. He asked it because the handbook instructed him to do so.
Shawn was consumed by “immense” shame and guilt and would confess to a senior church figure every time he masturbated. He was asked to check in weekly.
Only going to add details here. This was my mission president later on (so this sentence and the one just before it are separated by several months of time and are different leaders – one before becoming a missionary, one after). At one point, he required me to call him once a week to “check in” to see how the “masturbation problem” was going, and also to call me if “something every happened”.
“I had no idea about sex at all,” he said.
Shawn says he believed that sex was “evil” and when he started dating a fellow Mormon he was asked explicit questions.
I want to respond to this one a little bit.
In my teenage journals, I write about how I think sex is evil.
This impression was “picked up” from Mormonism. I am aware of many other people who came to believe the same thing as youth who I have encountered since leaving Mormonism. This is due to the rhetoric around sexuality given to us repeatedly.
However, to be fair to Mormonism, I don’t think I could pinpoint a specific Sunday School class where someone said “sex is evil” — or a manual that says “teach the kids that sex is evil”.
It’s an impression picked up from the “don’t have sex” “don’t have sex” “don’t have sex” repeated rhetoric. Take that “purity” rhetoric (and some others in the same article give better quotes about that, “gum” analogy and stuff) and that’s what I think is a natural conclusion.
I want to be fair though, not all Mormons have unhealthy views about sexuality, and not all Mormon teachings about sexuality could fairly be called “unhealthy”. I have met some people with what I’d consider healthier outlooks than others. So it’s a mixed bag. There are also some books within Mormonism that contain healthier views, but those don’t originate from the top.
When a senior church leader found out he had intimately touched his girlfriend, he took that to a higher religious figure in the church.
This is also correct. This was my mission president. I confessed to him some prior “activities” (as I was required to), and he had to contact the area president to consult about whether I could remain on a mission. That means that the random, generally “light” sexual activities of a 18 year old were reported to the Mormon leader over the whole of Europe. Their verdict was that I could stay on my mission.
Final comment about victimhood
This comment is slightly more light-hearted and profound in its own way.
Look at this picture.
Haha, I laugh when I look at this picture.
They took hundreds of pictures for this article, but I think picked this one due to the expression on my face.
I look like a “big victim”. I think that’s how newspapers like it.
So this is my final comment.
In 2015 I took responsibility for my worldview and my own destiny in life. After a significant amount of research, I realised the religion I was raised in is false. I could wallow in self pity about how “wronged” I was to be raised Mormon, but have no desire to do so. Everyone inherits non-ideal circumstances, this is life!
I woke up. I realised it was false. I took the red pill. I journeyed out of it. It was hard. It was painful. But I learned and overcame. Now I am very happy, and even don’t think much about Mormonism anymore. Yes, I will take the odd opportunity to apply some public pressure to the LDS church through a random interview. But aside from that, I have significantly moved on from my life. I am not a “victim”, and I am not even a “survive”, because both of those terms still imply some kind of “orbit” around the abuse.