By: the Pseudonymous George Rasmussen
A Houston businessman named Sam Young is currently staging a hunger strike on the sidewalks of Salt Lake City. Young describes himself as an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I will leave it to you, gentle reader, to determine for yourself what the evidence shows.
Young is hoping to exert sufficient pressure on the Church to force the adoption of his demands. Please note that the Church put out a statement on Sunday that says Church leaders have met with Sam and that the Church will not be caving.
What are his demands? It is difficult to be sure because they have changed so much over the years, but we have some indication from a petition from October 2017:
“We call on the LDS Church to immediately cease the practice of subjecting children to questions about masturbation, orgasm, ejaculation, sexual positions or anything else of a sexual nature. This applies to all children up to and including age 17. There should be no one-on-one interviews with children. A parent or other trusted adult of the child’s choosing is to be present. We call on the LDS Church to publicly disavow this practice. We call on the LDS Church to ensure that all congregational leaders, as well the general membership, are informed that this practice is prohibited.”
(Readers, please note that Church policy clearly states that bishopric members may ask about chastity during temple recommend interviews. Children from the ages of 12 to 17 are asked if they follow the law of chastity, just as adults are asked. Claims that bishoprics are asking detailed sexual questions of members are wildly exaggerated, but all bishoprics have been informed of this issue. Bishopric members always have another adult nearby when doing temple recommends. It is clear that Sam Young has grabbed on to a cause that will bring him attention, but as this post will show, we have reason to doubt his sincerity on this and other issues because of his constant complaints about many Church practices.)
This petition is the first exposure most people had to Sam Young, but it wasn’t the start of his activism against LDS doctrines, teachings and practices. Young describes on his website how he lost his testimony in 2014. “Over the past couple of years, unexpected philosophical developments have shaken my life. They have been quite disconcerting.” He tells a tail of being set adrift and of being lonely and scared. He recollects that his family and friends couldn’t understand what he was going through.
In October 2015, Young began participating in the Mormon Stories Podcast Community on Facebook to work through his issues with the Church. That infamous page was started by Young supporter and friend, (prominent excommunicated podcaster) John Dehlin. The group is primarily populated by thousands of disaffected former or soon to be former members of the Church. Over the course of 2015, he says that he became more and more disillusioned with the Church. But, in February 2016 he made the choice to “follow Christ.” He did this in spite of the fact that he acknowledges that he doesn’t know if Christ really exists.
In order to understand Sam Young, one must recognize the perspective he set forth on May 19, 2016. In this post, he complained that he wasn’t be afforded his full rights as a citizen of the Church. “Jesus wants me to be an active part of the governance of His church…. In my church, I am a citizen not a subject!” On May 26, 2016, he expanded this by stating that, “Jesus values me and my opinion as an equity partner in his earthly organization.” I have seen him complain on countless occasions that based on his historic service in callings and his contributions of tithing that he should be afforded meaningful input and influence on Church teachings and practices.
Often, Young can be seen complaining that he was ready to “quit the Mormon Church!!!” over its teachings on gay marriage, but a gay friend told him to stay and perhaps effect change. So he did. This is where his public advocacy really started. Starting in the summer of 2016, Young has been voting opposed to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve at every conference of the Church he could attend. This started as a protest against Church doctrines regarding homosexual behavior and homosexual marriage, but soon blossomed to dozens of complaints against the Church. His reaction to the Handbook changes leaked by Aaron Brown in November 2015 was so violent that Young’s wife threatened to divorce him. This was his core cause.
At his most recent stake conference, Young exulted in the opportunity to sit front and center to vote opposed to the 12 with Elder Christofferson in attendance, and then complained that members of his stake didn’t seem enthused at his action. He complained bitterly online about how the congregation didn’t pat him on the back for his bravery.
In late 2016, I was surprised to learn that Sam had a temple recommend and was using it (occasionally). I had been watching his posts in the Mormon Stories groups for more than a year at that time and was shocked. He had shared his disbelief in all of the Church’s truth claims, and was candid that he was only in the Church due to family concerns. He clearly didn’t sustain the brethren and prophets, seers and revelators, and described Christ and the atonement as a fairy tale. He loudly cheered when his wife would do things that signaled baby steps away from the Church. He spoke about removing his garment, he spoke of breaking the word of wisdom; he applauded those leaving the Church.
Then, in January, 2017, he turned in his temple recommend. His reasons for doing so were convoluted. He said that he was sacrificing it to build the kingdom of God. It had become a distraction from what he was trying to accomplish in the Church, because members were complaining that he had one, so he gave it up so that he could focus on what he thought was important! At this time, it was that people were leaving the Church because the Church was being mean to them and not giving them a Sunday school class to complain about the things they didn’t like about the Church. I wish I was making this up.
As I mentioned above, through most of 2017, youth interviews were only one of a dozen categories of reasons Young was voting opposed in Church. The first time he ever mentioned it on his blog was on March 19, 2017. It was mentioned a couple of more times as the year progressed, but Young seemed to notice that his audience responded more to these things than they did to his long-winded and convoluted rants about common consent, or to his old, white, straight complaints about homosexual issues. He started focusing on this in October 2017 and put his numerous other complaints on his shelf. He found something with which he could get his 15 minutes, and he started beating that drum; which brings us back to 2018.
As more and more people signed his new petition, and the Church kept not caving, Young decided that he was going to organize a march in Salt Lake City. In a Facebook post that Young later deleted, he updated the demands from his petition to include a call for the entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve to resign their positions. Unfortunately, his supporters convinced him that this would make him sound more crazy than normal, so he reluctantly backed down, while privately saying that this is what he wanted. He had been voting opposed to the apostles for a couple of years at this point, so this is not surprising in the least.
For the march, Young hoped to get 1,000 people to walk with him up State Street on the Friday before the April 2018 General Conference. But, on March 26, 2018, the Church stole his thunder and announced changes that would allow youth to bring someone of their choosing into any interview, negating one of his demands. Concurrently, the Church also clarified the interview questions for youth temple recommends and other interviews that addressed the rest of Young’s demands, but neither was everything he wanted. So, instead of declaring victory and going back to Houston, Young doubled down and complained that the Church hadn’t done everything he had demanded and vowed renewed resolve.
This brings us back to the present. What is he doing now? He started a hunger strike and is posting Facebook live videos at a rapid pace. He has set up a camp chair on the sidewalk of South Temple and is issuing open invitations to apostles to come subject themselves to an ambush, consisting of whatever vile words or violent actions Young’s crowd may subject them to. One of Young’s supporters, Mike Norton, has recently offered to pay a cash reward to anyone who could give him details of Pres. Oaks physical whereabouts during a Mormon Stories podcast so that Mr. Norton could physically assault Pres. Oaks. Again, I wish I was making this up.
Also in the “you can’t make this up” category, Young also posted a video on Monday in which he gave $20 to a panhandler, flashing the bill in front of his phone camera in the process.
Young claims that he will finish his hunger strike when the Church caves to his full demands; or when ten currently sitting bishops publicly cave to his demands; or when his wife tells him to stop. (Apparently, she has already approved three weeks starvation.)
As for the Church, their response was sweet and to the point. The statement released points out that these demands have already been addressed and the Church has made changes in recent months (as I discuss above). It goes on to state that “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.” Clearly they are not going to show up to chat with Sam on some street corner in front of his hostile crowd.
So why is he doing all of this? Having watched him for years, and conversed with him on occasion, I have come to a couple of conclusions. Ultimately, Sam wants the Church to bend to his will, regardless of what that may mean or entail. If you look at this current cause of his in a vacuum (which I don’t) or take him at his word (which would be naive), his crusade is to protect youth from sexual abuse, which in his mind includes any shame a teenager may feel as a result of sexual sin, or any sin for that matter. His demand is that the church do away with all one-on-one interviews, because he claims to think that they are all harmful, and to eliminate any sexual questions of any kind, because they make people feel remorse for breaking the law of chastity, and since breaking the law of chastity is a “natural” thing, kids shouldn’t feel bad about it.
However, historically he has upset that the Church doesn’t take into account his opinion on things. I have seen him complain, over and over again, that he has spent years of his life in the Church and given it thousands of dollars, and he should have a say in how it is run. He seems to think that his opinion should count just as much, or more, than those of the apostles. He has bounced from one cause to another over the years, and never got much traction or acclaim until this. Now that he is getting attention he is going to keep making a bigger and bigger stink until the Church bends to him, at which point he would just start complaining about one of the dozens of other things he complains about, or until his supporters realize how quixotic this is and abandon him. There will always be a core of angry ex-Mormons or soon-to-be ex-Mormons that will love him, only because he is trying to give the Church a black eye. I am hopeful that faithful members will see him for what he is and avoid this “cause” like a plague.
This all reminds me so much of Nehemiah. Young is a modern echo of Sanballat, demanding that the apostles come down from their important work to do his bidding. The apostles are thankfully following the path of Nehemiah, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?”