Worthiness Interviews in the Mormon Church Lead to Trouble

by Sharon Lindbloom
3 September 2018

In August the Mormon Mental Health Association (not officially affiliated with the Mormon Church) released a position statement regarding LDS worthiness interviews. In a nutshell, the MMHA’s professional opinion is that worthiness interviews are not a good idea.

In the LDS Church, members are called to meet with their ecclesiastical leaders to determine if each member is worthy to participate in certain aspects of the Mormon faith. These worthiness interviews are conducted: With children to determine whether they are worthy to be baptized; with youth to determine if they are worthy to perform vicarious baptisms for the dead in LDS temples; with prospective missionaries to determine if the person is worthy to serve a mission; and with adults to determine if the person is worthy to engage in saving temple ordinances for themselves and deceased people. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism says,

Worthiness is required of those who are to serve in Church callings, represent the Church as missionaries, and attend the temple (see Temple Recommend). An interview is used in each of these situations to determine the member’s willingness to serve and worthiness to participate. For example, when a person prepares for baptism or an engaged couple seek permission to be married by priesthood authority in the temple, they first answer questions of a Church leader (usually a bishop or stake president) in a confidential worthiness interview regarding their honesty, integrity, moral cleanliness, and overall obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Interviews”)

The Mormon Mental Health Association sees problems with this requirement of “worthiness.” As it addresses “‘worthiness interviews’ as a whole and a general practice within LDS congregations,” it says,

Having to prove “worthiness” status to be able to fully participate in one’s faith tradition and community is concerning for both adults and minors from the following perspectives:

1. It can create or influence distorted thinking about self-worth and self-esteem (i.e. internalized shame);

2. It can create an atmosphere of unhealthy or inappropriate boundaries by asking questions that members are expected to answer regardless of their comfort levels or needs for privacy;

3. It can create an atmosphere of rejection, exclusion and public embarrassment when disciplinary measures are taken that can have implications for mental health, social situations, employment opportunities and family relationships;

4. It creates an atmosphere in ward, stake and family settings where there is a high risk of breaches in confidentiality;

5. It can create a culture of perfectionism; and,

6. It can interfere with spiritual development and a member’s potential relationship with how they perceive the divine.

In short, the culture surrounding LDS worthiness interviews may lead to unhealthy ideas and relationships. It most certainly leads to mistaken ideas about God, grace, and salvation.

Mormonism teaches that in order to “enter the kingdom of heaven to join with others who have gone before, and live eternally with God, our Father…” a person must “live worthy of a good or satisfactory recommendation from our Church authorities so that we can progress in the various offices and functions of the priesthood, and eventually gain admission to the kingdom of heaven” (See N. Eldon Tanner, General Conference, April 1978). Some, who keep the commandments sufficiently, are deemed “worthy” to progress in the Church toward eternal life with God. They are allowed, based on their worthiness, to receive what the LDS Church calls “saving ordinances,” leading to God’s acceptance of these people. Others, who admit to their Church leaders that they struggle with sin, are considered not worthy to progress in the Church and receive these saving ordinances. They are not allowed “to fully participate in [their] faith tradition and community” until such a time as they can convince their ecclesiastical leaders that they have succeeded in making themselves worthy enough.

To be deemed worthy via a worthiness interview, a Mormon must affirm things such as being a full tithe-payer, obeying the Word of Wisdom, living a chaste life that is in complete harmony with the teachings of the Church, being totally honest in all things, etc. Interviewed Mormons must also affirm that they believe themselves to be obedient enough to stand worthily before God.

Jesus addressed the idea of personal worthiness in His parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:10-14). As Jesus explained, both men went to the temple to pray. In his prayer to God, the Pharisee ran through a laundry list of the things he did and didn’t do that he believed made him righteous before God; he gave thanks for that self-earned worthiness. But the tax collector, recognizing his sinfulness, did not even dare lift his eyes to heaven as he pleaded for God’s mercy. Jesus praised the sinful tax collector, saying that he went home justified (forgiven and declared righteous) while the law-keeping, obedient Pharisee did not.

When I say that the LDS culture of worthiness interviews leads to mistaken ideas about God, grace, and salvation, this is what I mean. Mormons are persuaded that their earned, personal worthiness grants them favor with God. But in Jesus’ parable, the Pharisee, who set himself apart as one who was pure and worthy, who relied on his own impressive merits to please a perfectly Holy God, though righteous by the world’s standards, did not please God and went home still guilty in sin. Mormons are taught that their obedience proves they are worthy and their efforts to obey Mormonism’s laws and ordinances will require God to grant them grace leading to salvation. The Pharisee in the parable was mistaken, and Mormons who put faith in their ability to claim “worthiness” at their worthiness interviews are equally mistaken.

The Bible tells us that “none is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10), and that “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). Discussing the fear and trembling the biblical prophet Isaiah experienced when he saw the glory of God (Isaiah 6:5), Tabletalk magazine explained,

Isaiah’s statement is quite remarkable given the office of prophet. These men and women who were ordained by God to be his mouthpieces are uniformly recognized as the most righteous servants of the Lord in their day. The average citizen of Israel or Judah may have been a flagrant covenant-breaker, but the prophets were not. Isaiah was doubtless one of the holiest Israelites during his lifetime.

However, in comparison to the Almighty, Isaiah realized his holiness was nothing. He understood his righteousness before other men, and he also understood it was nothing before the absolute perfection of God Himself (Lev. 11:44). Even our best deeds, he later writes, are more like polluted garments (Isa. 64:6). (“The Trauma of Holiness”)

The idea of so-called personal worthiness before God is nothing more than self-righteousness; and self-righteousness will not get anyone into heaven.

Yet there is a sense in which Christians are called to worthiness. In examining such passages as Colossians 1:10 (“Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord”), Christian theologian John Piper explained,

So, how shall we understand the worthiness of unworthy Christians? For we have all sinned. And we continue to sin. And anyone who says he is without sin “deceives himself, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 1:8). In this age we will never perform works of righteousness good enough to earn acceptance with God. “By works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

…When Jesus says we are not worthy of him if we treasure our parents or children or life more than him, he means that he has infinite worth…and the only suitable, commensurate, (worthy!) response from us is to see that infinite worth, and savor it, and prefer him, above all things, as our supreme treasure.

Which means that our passionate preference for his worth is our worth. To be worthy of the infinite worth of Jesus is to see and savor and prefer him as infinitely worthy. This is not earning or meriting or deserving him.

In fact, one aspect of his beauty that we cherish supremely is his free and sovereign grace toward sinners like us. Being “worthy” of a gracious Savior includes a sense of unworthiness similar to the confessions of the Centurion (Luke 7:6) and John the Baptist (John 1:27).

You become “worthy” of grace (a suitable beneficiary of grace) when you see your need for grace, and when you embrace the infinite value of the Gracious One.

…our worthiness is not our deserving or meriting or earning, but rather our seeing and savoring something of infinite worth, and our preferring that worth above all things. (John Piper, “Are You Worthy of Jesus?” Emphasis in the original.)

LDS worthiness interviews lead to mistaken ideas about God, grace, and salvation. They are supremely self-focused rather than gloriously Christ-focused. They bring out the Pharisee in the best of us, when what we really need to understand is how closely we resemble the desperate state of the tax collector. As Dr. Piper said, “Our worthiness is seeing and savoring the One of infinite worth.” Are you truly worthy? Are you worthy of Jesus?