Mormon fighting to end youth interviews summoned to hearing

A Mormon man who has led a campaign criticizing the church's practice of allowing closed-door, one-on-one interviews of youth by lay leaders where sexual questions sometimes arise said Thursday he has been summoned to a disciplinary council.

A letter posted online by Sam Young of Houston said he could be facing excommunication because he encouraged others to vote against leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has organized more than one public action that expressed opposition.

Young, 65, recently finished a 23-day hunger strike in Salt Lake City near church headquarters to bring attention to his cause.

In March, he organized a protest march of about 1,000 people who walked to church headquarters to call attention to the interviews they think include inappropriate questions that can lead to shaming of youth.

"I feel angry, betrayed and disappointed that this is the church's response to somebody trying to protect the children," Young said about the meeting with local church leaders set for Sept. 9

Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement that the faith doesn't comment about disciplinary matters in respect for the privacy of those involved.

"Church discipline is administered by local leaders who are familiar with the individual and his or her circumstances," Hawkins said.

The youth interviews usually happen twice a year starting at 12. One of the questions asked by men who are called bishops deals with sexual activity: "Do you live the law of chastity?"

Young and the Mormons and non-Mormons who back his campaign say the question is unnecessary and inappropriate.

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.

In June, the faith, for the first time, posted the list of questions lay leaders are supposed to ask during the interviews.

Mormon leaders say the interviews are an important way for bishops to get to know youth better and determine their religious habits and obedience to God.

While not a lifelong ban, excommunication is a rare move that amounts to the harshest punishment available for a church member.

Young, a Mormon for his entire life, could become the third high-profile Mormon who has led public protects of church policy to be kicked out in recent years.

Kate Kelly, founder of a group pushing for women to be allowed in the religion's lay clergy, was excommunicated in 2014. John Dehlin, who ran a website that offered doubting Mormons a forum to chat, was kicked out in 2015.

Mormons usually have tight-knit connections with other people in their congregations, bonds forged by spending worship and social time together. Excommunicated Mormons and those not in good standing can't go inside temples where members are married and other ordinances such as baptisms for dead relatives are performed.

The two men who delivered the letter informing Young of the disciplinary council were long-time friends from his congregation, Young said. He said he knows most of the 15 men well who will be at the hearing.

"I don't want it to happen. I'm not looking forward to it," Young said. "But, I'm not going to stop speaking out for protection of the children. They are more important than my membership."