ST. GEORGE — A Mormon man who has spent the last year fighting to change the way The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints conducts youth worthiness interviews has had his church membership revoked.
At a news conference Sunday afternoon, 65-year-old Sam Young, a lifelong church member, read aloud the verdict of a church disciplinary council notifying him of his excommunication for conduct “contrary to the laws and order of the Church.”
“It’s likely that this is the first time in Mormon history that a disciplinary council decision has been opened in public by the accused,” Young said before a gathered crowd of supporters and media across from Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
Young said the church rewarded him with excommunication for standing up for children who have been “so badly harmed” behind closed doors, adding that he would wear his ouster as a “badge of honor.”
In 2017, Young launched the “Protect LDS Children” campaign starting with a petition that has so far garnered over 22,000 signatures imploring church leaders to stop the faith’s practice of closed-door, one-on-one interviews between adult men and adolescents that often include questions of a sexual nature, such as asking about masturbation or pornography.
As he read the verdict of his disciplinary council, Young became emotional and offered fiery rebuttals to the accusations levied against him.
In the letter signed by the stake president of Young’s Houston-area congregation, he is formally accused of apostasy from the church. The letter states the action of excommunication wasn’t taken for his “opinion or position on protecting children.”
“No, they’re wrong about that,” Young said in response. “It was taken only because of my outright public position.”
The letter states:
The issue is not that you have concerns–or even that you disagree with the Church’s guidelines, rather it is your persistent, aggressive effort to persuade others to your point of view by repeatedly and deliberately attacking and publicly opposing the Church and its leaders. You are entitled to your opinion or position, but you cannot remain a member in good standing while attacking the Church and its leaders and trying to get others to follow you.
“I don’t oppose the church or its leaders. I oppose a policy that is harming our children,” Young said. “You better believe I am going to be aggressive and outspoken when children’s lives are at stake.”
The letter concludes by inviting Young to “repent and return” by demonstrating that he has stopped actions that undermine the church and its leaders.
“I’m not going to repent,” Young said. “For me, it is impossible. My integrity would forbid me from repenting of following Jesus Christ and protecting our children.
“I invite my church leaders to return to the covenant path and mourn with those that mourn. Comfort those that stand in need of comfort. Stand as a witness of Jesus Christ at all times and places. That was my baptismal covenant.”
After reading the excommunication letter, Young read from a prepared statement explaining his position and advising the church to stop what he calls “abusive” worthiness interviews.
“This has been orchestrated by the very people who felt their authority was threatened by me – the leadership at the very top,” he said, referring to the church’s highest governing body, the three-person First Presidency. “They have shown their true colors.”
“They continue to mandate one-on-one interviews where sexually explicit questions are approved and facilitated,” Young said, explaining that he confronted church leaders with a list of questions asked during the interviews, including questions about masturbation, sexual activity and pornography.
“They responded with silence.”
Young is asking the church to require at least two adults to be present during all youth interviews and exclude any questions of a sexual nature, which he says are abusive and have the potential to shame children into depression, anxiety and even suicide.
“I also presented the apostles with several thousand horror stories of how their policy has wrought dreadful damage,” Young said. “They ignored these accounts. … No compassion was uttered for the victims.
“Our practice has put many kids in a shame cycle that causes their self-worth to spiral lower and lower.”
The church recently made policy changes and clarifications to its policy governing the youth interview process, including allowing children to ask a parent or adult to be present with them. Church leaders are also counseled not to ask unnecessarily probing or invasive questions but questions of “moral cleanliness” are sometimes appropriate.
However, Young said those changes don’t go far enough and warned church leaders at the local level to cease the practice or face the possibility of investigations into child abuse and forever-tarnished reputations.
“Bishops, be warned. People are now watching,” said Young, who himself served four years as a bishop in the 1990s.
“The church will not be able to prevent teenagers from recording masturbation interviews,” he said, noting that he is aware of at least three instances in which church youth have used their cellphones to record interviews wherein inappropriate questions were allegedly asked by adult male lay leaders.
Young said bishops face the possibility of parents reporting them to law enforcement for conducting interviews in which any sexually explicit questions are asked, which could be leveraged by audio evidence.
In a previous statement, the church said any leaders who become aware of incidents of abuse are directed to seek guidance from professional counselors and legal professionals in how to identify, report and respond to abuse while referring the alleged victims to professional counseling when necessary.
Young concluded by offering thanks to people who he said suffered shame or abuse in their childhood and are now coming forward to prevent a similar fate for the next generation of church members.
Young said he wasn’t hoping for excommunication and wanted to be exonerated but he will take his dismissal as a means of creating further awareness for his cause.
“I have been excommunicated from the church,” Young said, “but they have no power from preventing me from the cause of protecting children.”
Young said he will likely appeal the disciplinary council’s decision to excommunicate. Any such appeal would ultimately be decided by the First Presidency.
The church has declined to comment on Young’s disciplinary proceedings, citing respect of privacy for those involved.
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