Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more information.
SALT LAKE CITY — For the second time in three months, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has updated its guidelines for church leaders who interview youth in the church.
The LDS Church announced Wednesday that a letter was sent to all general authorities, area seventies, general auxiliary presidencies, stake presidents, mission presidents, district presidents, bishops, branch presidents and Young Men and Young Women presidencies at the stake and ward levels.
In the letter, the LDS Church's First Presidency announced that additional changes were made to the guidelines in the church's Handbook for how members of leadership are to handle interviews with young members of the church.
"Bishops have a sacred responsibility to lead, teach, and inspire youth. Effective personal interviews are one important way they do this. These interviews provide opportunities to help youth become disciples of the Savior, repent of transgressions, and live the gospel of Jesus Christ," the church's First Presidency wrote in the letter.
The letter states that bishops must share the church's new guidelines with the youth and their parents before their first interview, "to help ensure that youth and parents are aware of the topics and questions covered in these interviews."
The new guidelines were attached in the letter to church leadership members and will be updated online and in the LDS Church's Gospel Library.
The changes come in the wake of concern and some criticism by members on the intimacy of questions asked by some local leaders and how that affects minor children.
Recently, concerns emerged from members and top church leaders over the accusations that Joseph L. Bishop, former mission president of the Provo Missionary Training Center, raped McKenna Denson after she was called out of class for an interview with the president while she was a sister missionary.
In the March 30 edition of the U.S. News and World Report, a story ran titled “Mormon Youth Interviews with Bishops under scrutiny.” The article refers readers to a story about Sam Young, an LDS father from Houston, Texas, who organized a group calling for a change in the interview policy. Rather than children being asked sexual questions; they should be asked if they are obeying the faith’s law of chastity, he said.
Young planned to deliver 55,000 signatures to support the cause at the most recent LDS Church General Conference in April.
The website Protect LDS Children includes information about the consequences for inappropriate interviews that have left children and teens traumatized. The website says interviews can leave individuals with issues of self-loathing, sexual grooming, sex abuse, suicide ideation and suicide itself.
In the new guidelines released by the church, some questions have been modified, such as question seven in the limited temple recommend interview. The question asks; “Do you support any group or person whose teachings oppose those accepted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?”
Parents are encouraged to go over these questions with their children prior to the bishop’s interview.
Children younger than 11 are not interviewed except in preparation for a baptism or to be sealed to their parents in the temple, according to the statement.
These children interviews are different in nature from youth interviews, and parents are typically present, the church statement adds.
Youth are typically interviewed twice a year, around their birthday and at the six-month mark from their birthdays. The interviews, given by either the LDS bishop or his counselors, are part of the Young Women and Young Men programs and are required for sacred matters like temple recommends, priesthood ordinations and mission calls.
Teenagers preparing for interviews are able to have a parent or other adult present in the room during those interviews, according to church instruction.
Key matters for discussion include preparing youth for sacred ordinances and teaching them to pray often. When discussing obedience to the commandments, the bishop and his counselors make appropriate use of the limited-use temple recommend interview questions and the standards and explanations in For the Strength of Youth.
According to Handbook 1, leaders adapt the discussion to the understanding and questions of the youth. They ensure that discussions about moral cleanliness do not encourage curiosity or experimentation.
“They discuss preparing spiritually by being worthy, studying the gospel, and building a testimony. They also discuss preparing physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially,” the Handbook states.
In Handbook 1, 7.4, “Protecting against Misunderstandings” it says, “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."