Hunger strike puts more scrutiny on Mormon youth interviews

FILE - In this March 30, 2018, photo, Sam Young speaks to a group of people demanding an end to one-on-one interviews between Mormon youth and lay leaders during a march to church headquarters, in Salt Lake City. Young, a Mormon man has launched a hunger strike that started Friday, July 27, 2018, to bring attention to a campaign calling on church leaders to bring an end to closed door, one-on-one interviews between youth and lay leaders where sexual questions sometimes arise. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Mormon man has launched a hunger strike to bring attention to a campaign calling on church leaders to bring an end to closed door, one-on-one interviews where youth are asked by adult lay leaders if they are following the religion’s strict rules on sexual activity.

Sam Young of Houston said he started his hunger strike on Friday and is in Salt Lake City holding nightly chats with supporters across the street from the Mormon temple. It marks the latest protest taken by Young and his group over questions asked during the interviews about whether young Mormons are following the religion’s law of chastity.

He said he’s prepared go without food for three weeks to spotlight what he and his supporters think are interviews that include inappropriate questions that can lead to shaming of youth. About 1,000 people marched to the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in March demanding change.

The church changed its policy earlier this year to allow children to bring a parent or adult with them. Parents were only allowed in a hallway or adjacent room under old rules. Youth can still go in alone if they choose.

The church also for the first time last month posted a list of questions lay leaders are supposed to ask during the interviews, which usually happen twice a year starting at age 12. One of the questions asks directly: “Do you live the law of chastity?”

Mormons are taught under that code not to have sex before marriage, engage in passionate kissing, touch another person’s private parts or arouse “emotions in your own body” that are supposed to be reserved for marriage.

Church officials say the interviews allow bishops to get to know youth better and determine their religious habits and obedience to God. The bishops are instructed how to handle the meetings and swear to keep the conversations confidential.

The church noted in a statement Monday about the hunger strike that it had taken steps to improve relationships between young people, their parents and leaders. The religion said it shares a desire to protect children and that it’s familiar with Young’s position and noted leaders have met with him.

Young said the changes made so far don’t go nearly far enough to protect children from being asked inappropriate sexual questions. Despite the rule change allowing parents in the interviews, most youth are still choosing to go in alone, he said.

The changes they’ve made are minimal and meaningless in most wards (congregations) around the world,” said Young, a 65-year-old father who said his daughters were asked inappropriate questions when they were young. “What kid is going to say they want somebody in the room? It’s accomplished nothing.”

The movement to end the interviews comes as others push the religion be more accepting of LGBT members. The Mormon church has shifted its tone to be more welcoming and compassionate toward gays and lesbians but hasn’t changed its doctrinal opposition of same-sex marriage and belief that homosexual relations are a sin.

Dan Reynolds, singer of the rock band Imagine Dragons, recently held a concert in Utah to raise funds to support LGBT youth in the Mormon church.

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