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SALT LAKE CITY — A former Texas bishop for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who publicly opposed the way the church conducted interviews between leaders and children was excommunicated Sunday for repeated "public opposition to the church," according to a letter given to him by church leaders.
Sam Young’s membership was removed from the records of the church following a disciplinary council in Houston Sept. 9 after church leaders received reports that Young had consistently acted in “clear, open and deliberate public opposition to the church and its leaders,” according to the notice Young was given by his church leaders, which he later posted to his blog.
Young was emotional as he opened the envelope containing the letter Sunday just across the street from Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake.
"What a supreme disappointment," Young said after reading the letter.
A modest crowd gathered Sunday booed as Young read the letter and cheered in support of the former bishop.
Young told the crowd that the formal notice said he had, among other things, "encouraged others to vote opposed to church leaders and organized more than one public 'action' that expressed opposition to the church or its leaders.
"The decision of the council that you be excommunicated for conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church," Young read from the letter Sunday. "This means that you are no longer a member of the church."
The decision was “absolutely not” what Young had hoped for, he told the crowd, and he was hoping to be exonerated, he said.
Young will likely appeal the excommunication decision, he added.
“This is my church,” he said.
Young said his Houston church leaders warned him in January that actions he had taken might endanger his standing in the church. They then warned him again, just a week before Young began what he says was a 23-day hunger strike meant to oppose youth interviews with church leaders.
Young is the founder and director of Protect LDS Children, an organization that has asked the church to change its policy on interviewing children and youth to "no one-on-one interviews, no sexually explicit questions ever."
Young has also led several marches and protests in Salt Lake to oppose the interviews and draw the attention of high-ranking church leaders — one of whom spoke with him about his protest.
During the strike, Young called the church’s position “insane” and labeled it “the most extreme, unsafe church in America.” He also said he would not join the church today and encouraged others not to join. Young also said, however, that he was not opposed to the church or its leaders but was opposed to a policy — though he can see how some could interpret what he’s doing as “opposition to the apostles,” according to the Deseret News.
Leaders in the church, often bishops, will conduct interviews with youth to offer counsel and guidance and to assess worthiness for activities like baptism, entering the church’s temples or serving a mission.
The church specified its interview policy in March by saying that children and youth can bring an adult of their choosing to a bishop's interview. In June, the church released a standardized set of questions for bishops to use in interviews with youth. The church said the interviews are meant to provide personal and spiritual growth for the youth. These questions can include worthiness questions but should not “encourage curiosity or experimentation.”
One of the questions is, “Do you keep the law of chastity?”, which Young initially said he believed was appropriate but has since said should not be included. He also opposes 23 other “sexually explicit” questions that fall outside the church’s official questions. The questions were submitted to him from other members, according to a post on his blog.
Young said he first became unhappy with the church’s policy on youth interviews when he learned that four of his six daughters had been asked detailed, “sexually explicit” questions, including one when she was 12 years old.
He said he posted on Facebook, asking if anyone else had experienced something similar, and received more than 3,000 stories.
Young collected those stories and copied them into 15 bound books that he and other protesters delivered to a church spokeswoman in March. He asked her to deliver the books to each of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency — the highest governing body of leaders in the church.
The church released a statement in July that, in part, said, “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.
“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.”
The church does not comment on disciplinary councils like Young's.
In response to KSL's request for comment regarding Young's excommunication, church spokesman Eric Hawkins provided via email the following statement, which the church previously released when Young announced the discipline:
"Because of the personal nature of Church disciplinary matters and to respect the privacy of those involved, the Church does not provide information about the proceedings," Hawkins said. "Church discipline is administered by local leaders who are familiar with the individual and his or her circumstances."
Contributing: Jacob Klopfenstein