Columns Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

“When I was a young girl, my Mormon bishop asked me about my panties during a temple recommend interview”

Front page of the Protect LDS Children website.

In the past few weeks, attention has continued to focus on the policy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about youth interviews with the bishop. See here for a discussion of several small ways the Church has recently modernized its policy–but also why the changes don’t go far enough to protect young people.

Today’s guest post recounts a personal story of one woman’s experience of a humiliating youth interview with the bishop — one that continues to shape her life and choices as an adult. — JKR

A guest post by Donna Mayne*

When I was a young girl, my Mormon bishop asked me about my panties during a temple recommend interview.

I was a Beehive, only thirteen years old.

Born and raised in the Mormon church, I was very active in the faith, a good girl who had been cruising through my bishop’s temple recommend interview questions up until that point. I lived in a small, majority Mormon town in the Utah corridor and we had a temple nearby, so I’d interviewed with this same man the year before. I was thinking that our interview was almost over.

But this year, his questioning took a freaky turn. He asked me about my panties.

I froze, so he repeated himself and clarified: “Your underwear. Do you wear immodest underwear?”

“No,” I quickly responded.

I was a good girl. I dressed modestly. Besides, how could underwear be immodest?

But he kept at it. “Do you wear bikini underwear?”

Gotcha. Now I understood.

The bishop’s daughter and I had been friends for years. I had spent many sleepovers at their house. We rough-housed in our pajamas, and sometimes I wore a nightgown. His daughter wore “granny panties” and I wore what in the eighties were called bikini underwear, or high-cut underwear with a low-cut waist. This bishop either heard about my underwear choice from his daughter when she saw me changing in her room, or maybe he had seen a flash of my underwear himself (or maybe his wife had?) while his daughter and I danced around their house playing dress-up or rough-housing, as we had done so many times.

And, apparently, this bishop didn’t approve of my bikini underwear.

With my face burning and my head lowered in shame, I nodded. Yes. Yes, I am guilty of immodest panties, my nods acquiesced. My bishop sat back in his chair, satisfied at the confession, then launched into a lecture about the importance of modest underwear.

Three decades later, I can’t recall a single word of his panty sermon, but I remember every second of throbbing shame as I sat there, forced to listen to it. Instead of believing in his counsel about panties, I was panicking inside, wondering if I was about to become the only Beehive in my class without a temple recommend. Would I be forced to skip our upcoming combined young men-young women temple trip to do baptisms because the bishop disapproved of my panties?

As the bishop wrapped up his sermon on the dangers of bikini underwear, I looked up at him. Fear squeezed my stomach. This was it, the end of the sermon. This was when he would pronounce my fate. The big moment when he would either declare me unworthy to enter the temple—and by extension the kingdom of heaven—or grant me a pardon for the sin of . . . what commandment had I broken, exactly? More than three decades later, I still don’t know.

The bishop then issued a stern reprimand. Next, he warned me not to repeat the offense again, and counseled me to wear the “granny” style underwear that he preferred LDS girls to put on before going to the temple.

Then…he pardoned me!

I left the bishop’s office on cloud nine and went out to the foyer feeling free and jubilant. I could join my peers! I wouldn’t be the odd one left out of our temple trip!

After that, I asked my mom to buy me some “granny panties” because I never wanted to feel as dirty, ashamed, or unworthy as I had in that temple interview, ever again. I felt that putting on panties in accordance with our bishop’s preferences would help me keep this spiritual high and put me in God’s favor. I also steered very clear of sleepovers at the bishop’s house after that day, and even decades later I still retain a faint paranoia of high-ranked LDS priesthood holders’ homes and their families, for fear of inadvertently doing something uncouth in front of them.

Instead, I only interact with them at church, where I’ve spent decades trying to earn praise and approval from bishops and other high-ranking leaders so that I can always earn the pardon and self-worth available in all future temple recommend interviews that I discovered when I was thirteen. It felt SO good to get that recommend after dangling on the precipice of unworthiness that day!

I married in the LDS temple, have a large family, and we have always been active Mormons; we still are. We pay full, honest tithes, and almost all my friends and family are in this church. I’ve never known anything different. Deep down, I still base my worth on that piece of paper from a judge in Israel (the bishop) that indicates I’m worthy to enter the house of God, and my self-esteem tends to fluctuate based on signs of validation that I receive from bishops or other high-ranked priesthood leaders.

I only recently began noticing how much I my mental health has suffered over the years because of this unhealthy addiction to their approval. I have sought bishops’ favor in church callings, weekly meetings, and temple recommend interviews the way kidnapping victims with Stockholm Syndrome adoringly cling to their captors. Even now I can’t break free. Like a stray dog in search of a handout, I crave validation from church leaders more than I crave affection from my own husband, because this traumatizing event defined and shaped some of my most formative years and who I am as a person. The lingering effects of that day definitely wreak havoc on the emotional (and sometimes physical) intimacy in my marriage.

Sam Young’s ministry at ProtectLDSChildren.org is a gift to the youth of the church. I applaud former Bishop Young’s efforts to protect LDS children from being taken, alone, into rooms with adult men to talk about their clothes, bodies, desires, and intimate thoughts. Protecting youth is the right thing to do, I can attest from personal experience. The cost of turning our young ones’ self-esteem over to untrained men with no credentials is too great—it takes a toll on family relationships and mental health; it isn’t worth it.

I’d be a much healthier, grounded, and self-confident disciple of Christ if Sam Young’s policies for protecting LDS children and youth had been in place back when I was a girl.

 

* This post was written by a Mormon mother who prefers that her real name, and the name of her former bishop, be omitted.

 

 


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This story is available for republication.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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