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LDS Church responds to man engaged in hunger strike to protest bishop's interviews

The LDS Church Office Building in Salt Lake City.
FILE - The LDS Church Office Building in Salt Lake City.
Deseret News Archives

SALT LAKE CITY — Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responded Sunday afternoon to a man who has launched a hunger strike to protest church policies regarding interviews with children and youth.

Sam Young, a former LDS bishop from Houston, stopped eating Friday at 7 p.m. On Sunday morning at 9, he announced his hunger strike. He said his goal was for the church to stop one-on-one bishop's interviews with children and youth and to end the use of what he described as sexually explicit questions during those interviews.

The church specified in March that its policy is that children and youth can bring an adult of their choosing to a bishop's interview. That directive is codified in Handbook 1, the general handbook of instructions for local leaders.

In June, the church released a standardized set of questions for bishops to use in interviews with youth seeking to attend the temple. None are sexually explicit.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released this statement on Sunday afternoon:

"Children and youth are precious. We share a desire to protect them, to help them grow and develop faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ and to live good and moral lives. This includes building good relationships with ecclesiastical and youth leaders who can provide support in many settings including personal interviews.

"In recent months, the church has taken important steps to improve these interactions and to strengthen the relationships between young people and their parents and leaders, and will continue to do so.

"Church leaders at every level — from Sam’s local bishop and stake president to a recent conversation with a general authority — have met with him to express love, to listen and to counsel with him. They have received and reviewed his materials and understand clearly his viewpoint. Further meetings with him are not necessary to clarify his position on this matter.

"The church will continue to look for ways to guide, inspire and nurture young people by strengthening homes, providing positive role models and offering activities and learning opportunities that build character and deepen faith in Jesus Christ."

Young announced his hunger strike at 9 a.m. on Sunday standing on South Temple Street in downtown Salt Lake City across the street from Temple Square. Wearing a dark suit and tie and a white shirt and white cap with the words "Protect LDS Children," Young said he doesn't have a plan for the strike's duration beyond the next two weeks. He has planned 15 consecutive nightly events on South Temple. The first on Sunday night drew 50 people.

During his Facebook Live broadcast, he directly called on people to encourage others not to join the church.

"If you have people you know who are considering joining the church, please brief them of the danger to their children in the (LDS) church," he said. "This is probably not the optimal time for families with kids to join."

Young led a march on LDS Church headquarters in March. Several hundred people joined the march, after which Young delivered books of statements he said contained the stories of those who have been uncomfortable or mistreated in interviews with bishops. Some shared their stories of abuse.

"We share a common concern for the safety and well-being of youth," a church spokeswoman said after meeting the group at the church office building.

Young called his hunger strike an action, a reference to strategic direct action, a form of protest designed to attract publicity, create tension and bypass established procedures.