Rituals such as the sacrament, baptism, and going to the temple are very important in the life of a Mormon. But before any of these things can happen, one needs to pass a what is often referred to as a worthiness interview. These interviews are conducted by the bishop and he asks you a series of questions to gauge your worthiness to perform these things. The interview typically takes place in the office of the bishop in the church where one attends every week. These interviews start early and happen more frequently for the youth of the Church. If I recall correctly, the one for baptism at age eight is the first one, but it’s simply the bishop verifying the eight year old can recite the reasons to get baptized. The next one happens at age 12, and then yearly after that until you’re 18. In adult life, they typically happen every other year to obtain a temple recommend. This is a card, signed by the bishop that signifies you have passed the interview and are worthy to enter the temple. You cannot enter the temple without it. The bishop will also occasionally call for an interview to extend certain assignments as well.
Usually, the interview is just yourself and the bishop, even when you’re younger. Many parents have recognized the potential problem of letting their 12 year old child into a room with a middle aged man alone. It can be intimidating and dangerous. These fairly progressive parents insist on accompanying their child in the interview. When I was growing up, this would have been viewed as a taboo and defiant — it likely still is depending on the geographical region — and my parents never attended an interview with me. I never had an especially negative experience, other than arguing with the bishop in my late teenage years — we’ll get into that in a later chapter — but I also have the privilege of being male and having the confidence society typically helps instill in men. Society is not as kind to females, especially Mormon society.
Many young women I knew growing up typically did not enjoy meeting with the bishop. At the time I didn’t understand, but in hindsight, it’s obvious. He was an intimidating, older man and was asking intimate details about their life that were private. Unfortunately, bishops often cross many lines, especially when talking about a teenager’s romantic life. Some bishops will ask specifics about the physical aspects of romantic relationships. They feel entitled to do so because Mormons teach very strict abstinence before marriage and even the slightest sexual activity is enough to deem you unworthy to enter the temple or even take the sacrament on Sundays. If you want some examples of horror stories, just head over to the ex-Mormon subreddit — specific examples found here, here, and here.
To give you an idea of the questions asked in these interviews, here are the official questions asked when an adult is interviewing for their temple recommend.1 The bishop is advised to ask any follow up questions to clarify the person’s position if needed. I provide commentary and context between each question.
Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost?
This is a simple question to make sure you believe in the Godhead as Mormon doctrine defines it and is typically answered with a quick “yes”.
Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Christ and of His role as Savior and Redeemer?
Mormons, like Christians, believe very strongly that Jesus is the only way to get to heaven. This is also normally answered quickly with a “yes”.
Do you have a testimony of the Restoration of the gospel in these, the latter days?
Mormons believe Joseph Smith restored the church of Christ as he had supposedly implemented it in the Bible. This is important to them and this belief sets them apart from all other Christian religions. If you cannot answer yes to the this question, there would be some serious concerns from many bishops.
Do you sustain the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet, seer, and revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church?
This one contains a lot of Mormon buzz words, but basically asking if you believe God can talk to the current president of the Church as a prophet and if you support him in that role.
Do you live the law of chastity?
This obviously applies to the sexual life of the interviewee and is often where lines are crossed. One would typically bring up concerns here if they weren’t married but sexually active, were married but having an affair, were gay, were masturbating, watching porn or doing anything else the Church deems sexually inappropriate. As a youth, had I made out with a girl, I likely would have felt guilty and brought it up here. The first time I was asked this question, I actually didn’t know what the bishop was referring to. I was likely 13 or 14 at the time and he clarified by just asking me if I was looking at pornography on the Internet.
Is there anything in your conduct relating to members of your family that is not in harmony with the teachings of the Church?
Here they want to make sure everything is alright at home and that everyone is happy, healthy, and safe.
Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?2
This question is fairly controversial, even among members of the Church. They want to make sure the interviewee isn’t associating with anti-Mormons, cults, or promoting something against Church doctrine. Many people in the late 2000s were excommunicated for not complying with this question simply for supporting their gay sibling or child and publicly supporting gay rights. It would not surprise me if some, with a more fundamentalist mindset, would say they could not associate with me because of my feelings towards the Church. I once had somebody tell me that if you wore a shirt with a beer logo on it, you could not answer this questions confidently.
Do you strive to keep the covenants you have made, to attend your sacrament and priesthood meetings, and to keep your life in harmony with the laws and commandments of the gospel?
They want to make sure you are going to Church.
Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen?
Another typical, not surprising question.
Are you a full-tithe payer?
Mormons are asked to tithe 10% of their income to the Church. This is the Church’s main source of revenue and if you’re not paying, you can’t enter the temple. This tends to be a conflict of interest for lower income families as they feel the need to enter the temple and participate in the rituals when seeking spiritual guidance in hard times, but they have an extremely hard time paying tithing, for obvious reasons. Tithing, to me personally, is a hot button issue.
Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?
The Word of Wisdom refers to a commandment recorded by Joseph Smith dictating things Mormons can and cannot consume. This is the law that states Mormons can’t drink coffee, tea, or alcohol. This is also a very controversial topic and probably the one left the most open for interpretation within the Church. This topic will be addressed in depth in a later chapter.
Have there been any sins or misdeeds in your life that should have been resolved with priesthood authorities but have not been?
This is the time where you confess something you have done that may not have been covered in the other questions.
Do you consider yourself worthy to enter the Lord’s house and participate in temple ordinances?
This one is pretty self explanatory. Although, I have heard of people answering no to this question even after answering appropriately to all the others.
Now, how strictly these rules and questions are enforced will vary greatly from bishop to bishop. In the ex-Mormon community we call it leadership roulette because when you get a new bishop, he may do things completely differently than the old one. It especially feels like roulette when you move into a new ward and have no idea how the bishop is going to be. To help conquer this, I once had an idea with my friends to launch a Rate My Professor style website called Rate My Bishop where members of a ward could leave reviews of their bishop for potential new residents. The idea never got off the ground.