Confession: Good for the Soul, Bad For Just About Everything Else

OBLIGATORY PREFACE: These are just some idle reflections on possible structural weaknesses in our current system of administration and on ways we can improve. This post is not meant to reflect on any particular person, living or dead, myself included. Except Bosworth. Part I of II.

Suppose you are a Bishop. A man (let’s say he’s an Elder) comes to see you and confesses to you that lately he has had a problem with watching pornography. What tools, then, are at your disposal?

Here’s the list:

1. Counseling. Have a discussion and try to provide some perspective on the seriousness of the sin, why it is considered a sin and think about ways how he can deal with it. If helpful, tell him you’d like to meet with him every now and then to check in.
2. 12-Step. You can ask that he attend the Church’s approved 12-Step program as part of his repentance process.
3. Sacrament. You think he should abstain from taking the sacrament for a little while.
4. Temple. You think he should not attend the temple until he has completely repented.
5. Confession. You think that the person most likely injured by this is his wife, and he should be honest with her and seek her forgiveness and guidance.
6. Release. You think he should be released from his callings while he figures this out.
7. Prayers. You think that he should not offer prayers or administer in priesthood ordinances while this is unresolved.
8. Formal discipline. You think this is more than can be resolved by informal means, so you convene some formal discipline: because he is a Melchizedek Priesthood holder, this means a Stake disciplinary council for serious transgressions that could result in excommunication, or alternatively a ward disciplinary council. The council can result in no discipline, disfellowship the man, excommunicate him (extremely unlikely), or some hybrid form of restricted Church privilege. See http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Disciplinary_Procedures.

That’s about everything you can do.

Let’s say this man is contrite, but has not told his wife. You believe that his contrition is sincere and you believe he understands enough about himself that this problem will probably not repeat itself, but still, you’d like to help him repent. So, you tell him to do #1 and #3. These are fairly lightweight methods of giving him spiritual counsel while making sure that he complies with the scriptural injunction against taking the sacrament unworthily. With tears in his eyes, he thanks you for your kind understanding and leaves your office, feeling like he has taken a solid step towards getting right with God.

Congratulations, you just destroyed this man’s life.

His wife, herself a stalwart Saint, notices that her husband has lots of mysterious meetings with you. She also notices that he refuses to take the sacrament (though most of the time he makes up some excuse to be absent while it is being passed). Not much time passes before she corners him, asks what is going on. He tells her of his struggles with pornography and of the informal disciplinary measures you have imposed. They plunge into arguments over deceit and betrayal, and you have a new customer: the spouse comes to you for guidance in her crumbling marriage. Soon, she moves in with her parents in Utah County, leaving him alone (where incidentally he is far more likely to fall again into temptation and depression). By this point of course the rest of the ward knows full well what transpired — or thinks they know. And this is with about the lightest form of counseling and shepherding you could have imagined for this poor fellow (who, by the way, was doing pretty great otherwise).[1]

Here is where I am going with this: as a Church we have no ability for Saints to seek guidance and counsel and confession from Bishops without serious, far-reaching social consequences. The toolbag that Bishops possess is remarkably short of tools. In other words: confession can result in the destruction of your family and your social group forever. This seems contrary to our stated goals of confession, i.e., to seek healing and forgiveness. It is to the point that (I imagine) most people almost never go to their bishop to confess their sins. This is a perverse result.

Actually, Church confession today is a lot easier than it used to be. See this excellent BYU Studies article for the historical perspective. Public confessions were de rigueur, but (at least in intent) were to function in a supportive fashion akin to our 12-Steps. But we have not had public confession for quite some time; instead we have lapsed into a passive-aggressive system where the poor 16-year-old Priest who told his Bishop of his masturbation now quite publicly must tell his quorum advisor that no, he cannot bless the sacrament today. I speak of males here, but really this affects women just as much as men. [2] Confession brings a level of unspoken public shame that is in some respects worse than public confession must have been — at least public confessors get to tell their side of the story, whereas our current model offers no such quarter to those whose sins are obvious because of the slight shake of the head as the sacrament tray is offered.

It gets worse, because of the weakness inherent in the lay priesthood. The good-hearted Bishop may tell his trusted counselors or perhaps the EQ President some salient details in order to rally the troops to aid the poor sinner. Thus the circle of those who know your sins is widened, and widens further as they tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on, and so on… this leakage is of course prohibited by policy, but don’t tell me it doesn’t occur in practice. We’re too human for that.

I do not believe I am pointing anything out that is not already painfully obvious to anyone who has ever confessed something of any seriousness. I have a few intentions in this post: first, to point out these structural weaknesses. Second, I’d like to discuss D&C 58:42-43 a little. Lastly, I’d like to draw a contrast against something different. My overall intent is not to criticize the restored gospel but to see whether these institutions we have set up can be improved.

D&C 58:42-43:

Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.

Here is what I’d like to advance: that scripture does not create any private right of action. That is lawyerspeak for saying that while ecclesiastical leaders may privately use this as a measure, it is entirely inappropriate for one member of the Church to demand evidence of confession out of another member. You don’t get to ask somebody about their sins, sorry. Nor should you have the right to demand that someone show contrition for a sin which did not affect you personally. If Neighbor Bob cheated on his wife, I’m terribly sorry but Neighbor Bob owes you no tears.

Regarding something different, again I recognize that this post is largely powerless to effect any real change but consider this model of confession in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Quoth Wikipedia:

Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christians choose an individual to trust as his or her spiritual guide. In most cases this is the parish priest, but may be a starets (Elder, a monastic who is well known for his or her advancement in the spiritual life) or any individual, male or female, who has received permission from a bishop to hear confession. This person is often referred to as one’s “spiritual father” or “spiritual mother”. Once chosen, the individual turns to his spiritual guide for advice on his or her spiritual development, confessing sins, and asking advice. Orthodox Christians tend to confess only to this individual and the closeness created by this bond makes the spiritual guide the most qualified in dealing with the person, so much so that no one can override what a spiritual guide tells his or her charges. What is confessed to one’s spiritual guide is protected by the same seal as would be any priest hearing a confession. While one does not have to be a priest to hear confession, only an ordained priest may pronounce the absolution.

Doesn’t that sound nice?

Next up: gatekeepers and the Ecclesiastical Endorsement.

——————————————
[1] Some may view this hypothetical as outlandish. I wish it were.
[2] In fact, in some ways our model of confession affects women more than men, given the structure of a woman who must confess her sins to a man, be counseled by a man, receive judgment from a council of men and then reap social consequences no less harsh than a man would suffer.

Comments

  1. Don’t want to distract from the overall post, but it should be noted that the handbook is very explicit that a disciplinary council is not needed for cases of pornography addiction.

  2. Yeah, I know. But there could be complicating factors that would bring one into view.

  3. melodynew says:

    Church member: Bishop, I need to confess ________ to you. Thank you for being willing to help me bear this burden.

    Bishop: I’m sorry you’re suffering. I care about you and your life. I’d like to help. What can I do for you at this point that would feel supportive?

    Jesus: Go thy way and sin no more.
    End of story.*

    *with exception of those crimes which must legally be reported to law enforcement or family services. And, by the way, throw out that ridiculous priest-penitent privilege crap ASAP with regard to said crimes. Major failure on the part of LDS and other churches.

  4. melodynew says:

    Also, the model I used above was based on a personal experience. It had to do with tithing and an ethical dilemma I had at the time. The bishop essentially said, “You have a good heart. The fact that you’re even sitting here tells me you’re doing what you need to do. I trust you to work through this and I’m here if you need me.”

    When a bishop or other ecclesiastical leader becomes a “judge” it is easy to deprive the penitent of the relationship that comes when we are trusted to use our own conscience and to seek the Savior as our judge in a private, personal setting. I realize some sins require discipline. I think for many people formal disciplinary action is needed to bring about true change in sinful or destructive behavior, but for many, many other people, what is needed is a brother (or, please, get a sister in there) in authority to support and comfort and cheer us on while we do the hard work of working out our own salvation before the Lord.

  5. Of course, bishops are meant to be judges in Israel, and I think that stripping them of that function would be a mistake. More on that in part II.

  6. whizzbang says:

    Exactly why I never confess my sins to any Bishop, unless it effects my standing in the Church i.e. some disciplinary action. When I was 16 something bad happened to me involving a missionary and I told the Bishop and he told the Mission President. The elder was sent home but not before he told people what had happened and one of the stake pres. son’s found out and blabbed it out in front of a crowded room while we were at youth conference. I bolted from the room and if it weren’t for a few close friends running after me I wouldn’t be here today.

  7. I love the idea of a Spiritual Guide, although it seems at odds with our more transient modern life.

  8. Although I agree with the concerns raised by this post, I don’t agree that telling the man to refrain from taking the sacrament is either necessary or wise in a case a such as this and I don’t believe that the Bishop’s options are as limited as suggested. The real problem is not confession, but that Bishops too often believe that certain sins disqualify us from taking the Sacrament. We are all unworthy in the sense that we all commit a variety of sins every day of our lives. That is not what it means to be unworthy to partake of the sacrament and the scriptural injunction, when read in context, has nothing to do with this.

    The sacramental prayers are pretty clear about what we are doing when we partake of the sacrament. When I was a Bishop I generally advised people that if they could sincerely make the statements that are made in the Sacrament prayers, then they should partake. I never told anybody they should not partake of the sacrament because they were struggling with pornography but I did tell many that partaking of the sacrament with deep sincerity and reflection was now more important than ever..

  9. whizzbang says:

    One more thing with confession is it all depends on who you tell, you might get some hardliner and it could devastate you and you turn away for good. One Bishop might not care one whit and the next one could be totally different-It’s too subjective.

  10. I’m grateful for the exception in the post header. A friend who was a bishop several decades ago told me of a couple who were recently married (temple). They came to him and confessed that while driving to the temple, they pulled over to rest, became carried away and had sex in the back seat. His word to them: shut up about it and in effect, “go thy way . . . ” Now, one can argue, every case is different, and perhaps upon reflection he might have asked them if this was really the first time or some such. But he knew them, and felt this was right. This brings up the latitude that exists in judgements and the question of how those judgements may depend on the personalities involved. I wish I could say that the identical couple in another ward would receive the same experience. But I know they won’t.

  11. whizzbang: Jinx!

  12. I don’t see anything within Mormonism that requires the church to require confession to priesthood authority–particularly things that would have no bearing on one’s membership. So is our current mode of confession just a practice that has developed out of a series of ad hoc decisions or is there some underlying doctrinal reason for the practice? In my mind the bishop can’t possibly be acting as mediator as that role belongs to Christ, I think, exclusively. So what is the role of a bishop–facilitator? Administrator?

  13. Jack Hughes says:

    I have mentioned this in other threads, but one problem I have with the current repentance/confession model is that it creates a miserable situation for the person confessing; one who is truly contrite and repentant, and follows the procedures will suffer shame and ostracism, as explained in the OP, but someone who keeps his/her sins buried will avoid that completely. People who commit serious sins but don’t confess will escape the embarrassment of early releases, denied recommends, denied mission calls, etc. and continue on with their lives. Whatever their indiscretion, they might even get over it privately, put it behind them, and suffer no long-term consequences, temporal or spiritual.

    Which makes me wonder why we have these confession procedures in the first place, especially if we claim to believe in an infinite atonement. Do we really even understand the mechanics of eternal forgiveness if we insist on using imperfect intermediaries? As long as there are no legal consequences, why can’t the repentance process stay between the sinner and the Lord? Do our worthiness standards make “sinners” out of otherwise good, righteous people?

    BTW, talking about confession, guilt and worthiness always makes me think of that classic scene from The Goonies where Chunk tearfully confesses a litany of childhood indiscretions to his bewildered captors.

  14. According to Handbook 1, disciplinary councils are not to be held with respect to members struggling with porn or masturbation. Therefore, Option No. 8 is out.

  15. Yes, that’s been pointed out.

  16. See Handbook 1, Section 6.7.1

  17. Sorry – brushed through the comments too quickly.

  18. whizzbang says:

    Something I have seen a few times as well is that some people do something wrong and they think they are done for, they know what will happen if they confess and they just couldn’t be bothered to confess and move on. They just stop coming all together. I have a friend who went all the way and that was it for her, she knew what would happen if she told the Bishop and she didn’t want it. Same thing with my friend who drinks, why go to all the trouble of repentance just to teach on ocasional EQ Lesson or pray when asked.

  19. Yes, that’s correct whizzy. Why bother remaining in that hole of guilt? Easier to leave the community entirely. Again, this is a perverse result on many levels: the sinner does not receive the succor they need, they have this tremendous burden of unnecessary shame, and we as a body of Saints lose yet another member. What a waste. Now, I think that some people will always opt to leave the community rather than confess their sins, however secret and safe the confessional process.

  20. With regards to the possibilities of other people learning, one way or another, of some possible sin, the proposed solution doesn’t seem any better. Yes, you get to choose your spiritual guide, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to get out through that or other sources involved. The wife of the porn addict would still wonder why he’s spending so much time with his “spiritual guide”. The one who can absolve sins would still need to be told the details.
    Does anyone really think the Bishop is keeping a special eye out for everyone who shouldn’t take the sacrament? That he asks the Deacons to report to be sure? That the Deacons spend their time going “guess who didn’t take the Saceament this time!”
    In the case given, the wife should have been involved from the start, despite the desires of the man involved. It’s a marriage, so part of the process should absolutely be talking to his wife about it. It’s the hiding that contributes to the marriage breaking, not the sin.
    Anyway, this seems to be like advocating that petty theives should just be allowed to go their way, because taking them to court (and thus evidently telling the world), would ruin their lives. The sin is what is already hurting their lives, and resolving and confessing those sins is part of the process to stop the hurt. it will only be completely healed through Christ, yes, but simply because an open wound will be healed like it never happened does not mean we shouldn’t seek help to get surgery (even simple stitches) from those appointed to do so.

  21. That the Deacons spend their time going “guess who didn’t take the Saceament this time!”

    Yes, Frank, the deacons do actually exactly this, as does almost everyone else.

    As for honesty between spouses, etc., I’m all in favor but I think you are describing an ideal, not a practical reality for most marriages.

  22. Part of the scariness of confession is that the consequences are really unpredictable. Most people haven’t read the handbook, and there’s a lot of bishop discretion anyway. So one girl may confess to something (ex: occasional masturbation or past porn use) and the bishop will read her a scripture about repentance and forgiveness and that’s it. Another girl admitting the same thing to another bishop might be told that she has to delay her mission or her scheduled temple marriage. A third girl may not even see her behavior as something that needs to be confessed to the bishop. A fourth girl may be so embarrassed to discuss her sex life with the bishop, or so terrified of public exposure, that she is overwhelmed by guilt and leaves the church.

    I wonder, would it be so terrible if bishop’s responses to various sins were more standardized and predictable, so that people knew what to expect? Maybe this borders on a “beat us with a few stripes” mentality, since the uncertainty and shame around confession is probably a deterrent to some bad behavior. But I think it would be better if a bishop really were more of an optional counselor than a mandatory judge in most situations. If there is somebody in the congregation who is blatantly sinning or hurting the community, the bishop should be able to confront them and ask them to stop or leave. If somebody willingly confesses to behavior that is causing harm to somebody else, the bishop might be able to impose restrictions that help them find the motivation to stop or repair the wrong. But in most cases, people should be able to come to the bishop for counsel or comfort concerning spiritual struggles, not judgment. I think that’s how it works in most churches, but in the LDS community everything’s so focused around temple worthiness that the bishop is a judge more often than a spiritual counselor.

    I also feel terrible for the poor bishops! An upright, untrained guy dealing with everyone else’s worst secrets? It has got to be a depressing and isolating experience.

  23. I did not know that was the confession practice in Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches.
    That is quite similar to the 12 steps that simply suggest that the recovering addict: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” The other human being is another person of our choice with whom we feel safe and can trust.

    The LDS revision is: “Admit to yourself, to your Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ, to proper priesthood authority, and to another person the exact nature of your wrongs.”

    As Ed Kimball’s article, which you cite, points out, the Hebrew Bible, New Testament and Restoration scripture do not call for confession to “proper priesthood authority”, but that has developed over time through tradition and inspired practice.

    For many years I have been involved in the church’s addiction recovery program as a facilitator, or missionary, or leader, or coordinator, among other things as well as community recovery programs. I have been a sponsor for a number of different LDS and nonLDS people. When LDS have asked about confession to spouse or priesthood leader, my response has been that the individual should seek God’s guidance on when, whether and how.

    In terms of recovering from an addiction, breaking secrecy with another human being is vital, because many or most addictions thrive in secrecy in particular when a person feels isolated. From a practical standpoint, in recovery, I don’t think it matters whether or not the person with whom secrecy is broken is an ecclesiastical leader, only that the person can be trusted, is a good listener, and is safe. Not all ecclesiastical leaders (or spouses) are necessarily safe for breaking secrecy. It depends on the situation. And timing can be extremely important.

    Confession to leaders is an inspired practice for the governance of the Church. It can be very helpful in many cases for the healing process. But whether, when and how in particular cases can be difficult questions.

    I never advise against confession to ecclesiastical leaders or other particular people–but, when asked, I do advise people to seek God’s guidance through the spirit and careful thought and to follow it.

  24. A very thoughtful comment, David. Thanks.

  25. Peter Yates says:

    Thanks Steve for shedding a little light on what seems to be almost completely an arbitrary process. Thanks also to melodynew who seems spot on to me.

    Why place the tender life of anyone into the hands of “almost all men” who “immediately” MAY be listening to God “as they
    suppose”? Go straight to your
    Heavenly Father and bypass the middle man, however well meaning they may be. Just my opinion after years of sitting in different meetings where people who needed our help were not afforded the protection from stones.

  26. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Snufferite here. I believe that some sins need Priesthood intervention (though don’t ask me what those sins are). I also agree with David’s comment above.

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the important post, Steve. The practical take-away of this situation for long-time members who know the ropes and how things work is simply to never, ever confess anything to the bishop. Because it’s not truly confidential, it will get out, you will be publicly shamed, and possibly harmed in other ways as well (such as church employment). On my mission we had a saying, to the effect that rather than confessing something it was better to “sear your conscience as with a hot iron.” And yes, that’s a shame, but the system as it now exists is structurally flawed.

  28. The Other Clark says:

    This is why common law developed, right? To get some sort of consistency of consequences?

    I think part of the problem is having the counselor/spiritual guide role wrapped up IN THE SAME PERSON as the judge/jury/executioner. I wish there were some way to separate these, so that the person struggling with weakness wouldn’t be be so vulnerable. Imagine a court situation where the person’s legal counsel was the judge.

    Finally, I know of at least one bishop who chafes at the “no disciplinary council for porn” rule, using D&C 42:24-26 as their basis (Thou shalt not commit adultery; and he that committeth adultery, and repenteth not, shall be cast out….But if he doeth it again, he shall not be forgiven, but shall be cast out.) If current policy were changed to reflect this other line of thinking, half the men in every ward would be out!

  29. John Mansfield says:

    Would a joke that would irritate some be welcome at this time?

  30. I see two mistakes in this scenario, but they aren’t the ones suggested. 1st, the bishop should suggest the wife be told, probably in his office with him so he can help mediate. It is a sin involving her. In order to make restitution, it is necessary she be involved in the repentance process. 2nd, because it affects her, she needs help in dealing with this sin. She should also be signed up for counseling so she can deal with it more rationally and with greater forgiveness and patience.

    As far as “serious social consequences” go, I’m not terribly concerned with them. Perhaps if more people worried less about what others think, and more about what God thinks and restitution to those who have been wronged, fewer people would be so panicky about sin and make wild changes in their lives like leaving the church or their spouse.

    The only way to head off gossip, by the way, is to be open and upfront with people about what is going on. Allowing others to witness our process of repentance may be embarrassing or humiliating, but it also 1) lights their way a little to work their own repentance and 2) opens up an opportunity for them to support you in your process, deepening your relationship with them and bringing those with the capacity for a Zion community closer together.

  31. John, is it a good joke?

  32. Former Bishop here. First, melodynew is spot on. That comment should be read from the pulpit in every congregation, no joke. Bishops should not be taking confession anyway, nobody in the church should be confessing anything to them, and Bishops shouldn’t be encouraging or asking for confessions of anything unless it’s a wrong that affects the congregation and needs the Bishop or Church’s help in rectifying.

    “Common Judge in Israel” is largely an undefined term that we throw around culturally that doesn’t actually mean anything (see also “Eternal Principle,” “Translate,” and “Revelation”).

    Steve Evans, I really appreciate this article, as it raises and addresses some very important issues. But it seems to be based on the shaky foundational assumptions that a) our theology actually provides that members are supposed to confess things to the Bishop; b) Bishops are supposed to *do* something about things people confess that are not criminal actions or do not affect the congregation (e.g. molestation, adultery – since it affects another member of the congregation); and c) that there is any reason to employ any of the “tools” you list.

    To your list of “tools,” would add this: Thank the man for talking with you, discuss with him the repentance process and how it works – and that, although Mormon culture has built a weird confessional and punishment process that often includes not taking the sacrament for some period of time and stuff like that, none of that is actually part of the repentance process as taught by the Savior. Ask him if there’s anything he’d like you to do to help him, but don’t suggest anything, since that’s not part of your role as Bishop. Suggest that, if he feels guilty enough about something to talk to the Bishop, that’s an indication that he should change his conduct. All that’s just a long way of saying “go and sin no more.” That’s really all there is to it.

    The Bishop is not an advisor – spiritual or otherwise. He’s not a therapist or a repentance coach or referee. So a Bishop thinks someone should maybe abstain from the sacrament for a while? He should keep that opinion to himself. We’re not TV-show Catholics. We don’t take confession and assign penitence measures. It’s outrageous and, frankly, wickedness that we have built this church culture around confession and flagellation. It’s not part of our doctrine or policy, and it needs to go away.

    Here’s the advice I give anyone who asks, and that I will give my children in a year or two: Never, ever confess anything at all to any LDS Church leader – ever. Do not discuss any personal matter of a sexual nature with anyone in a Church leadership position, regardless of whether they are at that time acting in an official capacity. You have a problem and need advice and help? DO NOT GO TO THE BISHOP FOR ADVICE AND HELP. The Bishop is not there to give you advice and help. If a Bishop asks you about your sex life, including pornography, masturbation, or anything else sexual, the answer to the question is that it’s totally inappropriate for them to ask such questions and none of their business. My kids should tell the Bishop that their dad instructed them never to answer any such questions and that the Bishop should talk to me about it if he wants to ask my children about their sex lives.

    Our church culture punishes people for being forthcoming about personal matters and rewards those who either lie or just say nothing. There should be no punishment of any kind for viewing of pornography, masturbation, or even pre-marital sex. None. Zero. The only reason the Church should act at all with regard to adultery is that the spouse of the adulterer is a member of the Ward and, therefore, the adultery represents a conflict between Ward members.

  33. John Mansfield says:

    Steve, it’s a Mafalda comic strip, which for some recommends it highly. But I wouldn’t want to disrupt if this is one of BCC’s serious moments.

  34. Let’s see your strip.

  35. Anon for this says:

    Having served as a bishop, you have hit on the things I always agonized about. I can suggest a couple of things here.

    First, if you are imposing restrictions on someone through formal or informal discipline, it is not all that hard for a bishop to call the YM president, for example, and say “Jimmy shouldn’t be assigned to help with the sacrament for a couple of weeks,” or call the gospel doctrine teacher and tell him not to call on Bro. X for comments in class, and the EQ president to do the same. That relieves some of the issue with the confessor. However, to the best of my recollection, this is not in the handbook, so I can assume that some won’t think to do that.

    Second, I am a firm believer for the more serious sins (adultery or acts that normally carry a felony penalty) are best handled through a formal disciplinary process, including if necessary, a high council disciplinary council. Without betraying confidences, I can attest that I have seen men and women who truly have benefited from such actions. And almost always there have been one or two individuals assigned as guides or mentors to help, fellowship, and otherwise assist the penitent through the process of repentance.

    I will agree though that the current system with its built in flexibility, is anything but uniform. I know of instances, primarily secondhand, where a young couple have gotten in over their heads during courtship, and go to their respective bishops. One bishop might indeed treat it as a minor indiscretion, and the other do an excommunication.

    There is no easy answer for bishops, and you really do have to work hard to get inspiration in these cases. I also learned to lean heavily on my stake president and spoke with him before I took any action beyond just counseling and the initial confession.

  36. Very well said, Anon.

  37. John Mansfield says:
  38. Anon for this one says:

    SGNM, while I agree with some of what you said, the approach you advocate leaves open the possibility of someone dealing with serious issues a sense that it really wasn’t all that bad, so what’s the problem?

    Let me be clear. I never asked anyone any questions not directly on the temple recommend list, nor did I routinely grill the youth on masturbation issues. I addressed issues that the members themselves brought up, and leaned heavily on the idea that repentance was primarily a personal process, and that it required them to look at what they were doing that got them into these situations, and change that behavior.

    Bishops are not professional counselors, except for the odd one or two that actually WERE professional counselors in their real life. There are other options out there for folks who need professional counseling, either through LDS social services, or through the private sector, and I maintained a list of those to offer to people who felt they needed marriage counseling.

    After serving as bishop, I have also served on a number of HC disciplinary counsels, and would report that even with excommunication or being disfellowshipped, the ultimate results were that people did go through the process and return to full membership and activity. The ones that weren’t going to do that, didn’t show up in the first place, so at least I never saw them.

  39. I’m just not sure what serious issues require an approach more severe than that of the Savior himself. The vast majority of things we culturally seem to think need to be confessed or discussed with a Bishop really are not that bad, including those that we often characterize as “serious.” Other than sins that affect the congregation itself or its members (e.g. adultery and actions requiring reporting to legal authorities), what sins are there that really are genuinely so severe that administrative intervention is called for? The more I live and learn, the more I’m convinced that the vast majority of the things we in the LDS Church characterize as sinful or wrong are perfectly fine and should not be stigmatized at all – and that there’s not even any allegation that God ever revealed to us that we shouldn’t do those things.

    I agree that there’s a dilemma here in that, sometimes, people really do need someone to whom they can reach for help in the repentance process and who can help them acknowledge the seriousness of one sin or another while also recognizing that the Atonement is infinite and repentance really is simple, with the exception of the “sin no more” part. But a Bishop’s role as an administrator of the Ward and the gatekeeper to Church discipline should disqualify him from also taking on that counseling role. Maybe we need a new calling for someone to serve as the spiritual adviser and counselor to the Ward, separate from the “Common Judge in Israel.” (And I and most Church members have never even been to Israel, so there are some pretty serious personal jurisdiction problems,to boot.)

  40. Thanks for a great post, Steve. Another data point that might be relevant is that in John Dehlin’s survey about people leaving the church, almost nobody talked to their bishop about matters of faith crisis. This is another reason why the “spiritual guide” idea might be a good one. We have too few formal venues for talking through things that really challenge us, and for all the reasons discussed above (disciplinary power, mainly), bishops don’t really fit the bill.

  41. Ummm yeah, don’t take this the wrong way guys, but I don’t want people to use this as a place to share details. I think it’s important to talk to someone and to have some sort of confessional, but this is not the place.

  42. RobotCrow says:

    Good post, Steve.

    The “two friends” point is good, but i think that it misses two of the real culprits:
    1) Spouse–confiding in your spouse is generally given a pass. It’s understood, expected, etc…
    2) Ward Council. Srsly, Ward Council can be THE WORST, and it doesn’t even have to involve sharing of details on the bishop’s part–it can be totally benign. For example, I have seen the following played out many, many times during various WC meetings:

    Bishop: “Okay, let’s talk about the Relief Society next. RS President, what is happening with your organization this month?”

    RS President: “Thanks Bishop, we have an instructor who is moving out of the ward, so we need a new one. I met with my counselors, and we would like to call Sister XYZ, since she doesn’t currently have a calling, and seems really qualified. Does that work?”

    Bishop: “Hmm. Actually, maybe hold off on that call, or maybe think about another possible candidate?”
    /scene

    The eyebrows in the room rise a bit, and a bit more as Sister XYZ persists without a calling, and before we know it, the RS Presidency is hesitant to suggest her again, and they warn her VTs that she may need extra attention, or may be difficult to schedule a visit with, and HOLY CRAP.

    And this is the social environment in which we expect people to willingly confess their sins? Har.

  43. The Unconfessed says:

    (Stupid Phone)

    But I still can’t seem to bring myself to get my temple recommend renewed. I still have the niggling that I need to confess my sins to my Bishop in order to VALIDATE my forgiveness from God. And then the Church court will be convened and the excommunication will commence. All the punishment for a sin my wife and I took care of years ago. So I wait. Oscillating between a feeling of burying my sin on the one hand and denying the Atonement on the other. Which is it? Is my fear of man preventing true repentance? Or is my trust in the arm of flesh holding me back from giving myself truly to the Lord.

    Long ago I repented of masturbation. It was a difficult struggle. My Bishops (rightly?) had me not bless the Sacrament. For years, as I worked towards “zero tolerance” I was eyed and questioned and mocked. It was agony. I just wanted to quit it all.

    I feel forgiven. I feel Gods love. I’ve felt peace and revelation. And yet I feel damned. My mind often turns these days to a story heard in my youth. Of an elderly Sister who confesses a youthful sin. And is absolved. And I long for grey hair.

  44. In addition to 58, Section 64 I think is pretty good to read on confession, and really try read into the whole intent and purpose of “confession”.

    “I believe that some sins need Priesthood intervention”

    I agree. The brethren have taught rather consistently over the decades, but perhaps not with extreme frequency considering more important teachings, that sins which would bring church membership (or temple recommend) into question ought to be confessed to a priesthood authority. I think that’s a fair guide, that still doesn’t spell exactly everything out, but the idea would not be to provide an exhaustive list.

  45. Temple recommend, DQ? So if you’re dishonest? If you don’t pay tithing? I doubt that’s what you mean.

  46. “Without betraying confidences, I can attest that I have seen men and women who truly have benefited from such actions.”
    Can you see how some men and women have been harmed by such actions? I’m truly curious. if things don’t get better for the person in church, we assume it is because he or she isn’t repenting properly, rather than a more complicated scenario, like the confession and discipline process being harmful.

  47. Where there is formal church discipline, membership records are updated. That introduces another person or multiple persons into the circle of people in the know about the confessional-the membership clerk.

    Real story. My wife was ex’d. Her records were to changed to show no baptismal date and no sealing date. My records were not. We stayed married . The clerk who made the changes moves on and a new clerk is called. Tithing settlement rolls around and there are no records for my wife but she comes to church every Sunday and we are married. I am active and serving as the YMP. The well intentioned clerk pulls me aside scratching his head as to why my wife’s membership records are all “screwed up” (no pun intended, I am sure.) I demur. One year later my wife is rebaptized. The records have to be updated again. I suppose in an act of generosity/kindness her baptismal date is backdated to her original date at 8 yrs of age, not the actual date of rebaptism. But, our “eternal marriage” is still a nullity. Thus, my records show an endowment date and temple marriage date but my wife’s show neither and a baptism date which stretches back decades. Additionally, mine indicates children BIC. Enter a third membership clerk who notices the apparent anomaly and asks me about it. Now I am in the Bishopric and punt on the question again. Fast forward another year and her temple blessings are restored and our marriage is, once again, “eternal.” A fourth clerk amends her membership records yet again and backdates the sealing date to our original sealing date.

    The SP who does the restoration of blessings for my wife proudly tells her the records are all backdated and just like Saviour and Heavenly Father remember the sin no more, the church records do the same. My wife takes great comfort in that reassurance. I don’t have the courage to tell her while her local records cover up her excommunication SLC maintains a second set of books and her excommunication is not forgotten. (if for no other good reason, it probably immunizes me from ever being called as a Bishop or worse.) I see no reason to disabuse her of the false confidence she has in the Church’s putative administrative washing away of her sins.

    Once a person confesses a whole chain of events is set in motion which can extend over a large period of time and will include a host of people not originally intended to be swept up. We lived in a large ward so the awkwardness was limited to Sundays and with a few people we only casually knew. I feel for people in smaller units or units where half the membership stem from one or two overlapping clans/families. There’s no way any confidences can be maintained wiithin our current Church administrative regime.

  48. One other data point I just recalled. In order for the restoration of blessings to occur, my wife and I had to write separate letters requesting the ordinance. Presumably the letters went to the FP, but they were first routed through our Bishop, Stake Executive Secretary and Stake President (presidency, perhaps? One of the SP counsellors mentioned my letter to me in a casual conversation which started out on another topic) and then on to the FP. The circle of people who learned about my wife’s situation-details included- kept growing and growing. Admittedly, an excommunication is a dramatic event but people should not kid themselves such an event will be kept with the disciplinary council. Church bureaucracy won’t allow it, at least as currently set up.

  49. The ONLY sins that require confession to a church officer are those sins which, if known, would put one’s membership status in jeopardy. Pornography and masturbation are not covered by that definition. We tend to confess too much. If a member goes to a bishop with those sins, he goes for counseling, not for confession (because confession is not required). Nor should confession be coerced, especially from a minor.

  50. Anon for this one says:

    Anon, I sympathize with you and your wife’s situation. It’s a conflict between the spiritual basis of repentance, and a church that is committed to exhaustive and detailed records. It is unfortunate that you and your wife have been put through such stress. I don’t know an answer for that one.

    MMiles, as to “Without betraying confidences, I can attest that I have seen men and women who truly have benefited from such actions.” Have I ever seen it work the other way? I can’t comment on specifics, and my experience as a member of HC actions is limited. I am sure that there are some who enter into the process in good faith, and then don’t have the outcome that was expected, with negative results. But I have not seen that first hand, happily.

    I will say that with every action that I have been a party to, they have all come only after a rather long and exhaustive process involving the bishop and the stake president, usually over months, or in one case, the lead up to the council took 18 months. I will write that up to a series of very conscientious and careful stake presidents, who have all taken the approach that if a member is not ready to go through the repentance process, then a disciplinary hearing is not that productive. To me, the ones that I have witnessed have all had or are in the process of having, a happy ending, including some really difficult and ugly cases. They are exhausting and difficult to sit through, knowing that you will be called on to contribute to the process, but these are also the moments where I have seen the Atonement at work, up close and personal, and it is a wonder.

  51. Are we all members of the same church? When I see someone decline the sacrament, my opinion of that person goes way up.

    No one else feels the same way?

  52. Let’s teach correct doctrine. Members are encouraged to confess serious transgressions to their bishops. Serious transgressions means a deliberate and major offense against morality. The handbook lists examples. What we’re discussing here is not reached, and need not be confessed. That’s correct doctrine. Can a person confess? Sure, if he or she wants to.

  53. Wait, the handbook is doctrine now? Thanks for clearing that up.

  54. PS you don’t have to play the weak sauce doctrinal card to make your point, which I don’t think anyone is really disputing.

  55. Geoff - A says:

    I would add that the younger the bishop or SP you are talking to the worse. I was on Bishoprics in my 30s and allowed things I would now find offensive.

  56. whizzbang says:

    Anon-Don’t count yourself out for callings with an excommunication for your wife or otherwise. Right now in my stake is a guy who’s wife was exed and he is in a Bishopric. I know 2 other guys who were exed themselves and they served in Bishoprics, heck my Stake Pres. has been divorced!

  57. I have a lot of issues with the current structure of “confessional” and “counseling” by church leaders — especially in churches like the LDS Church, where there is little, if any, psychiatric training for bishops and other local-level leaders concerning mental/emotional/spiritual health.

    Your point on the particular awkwardness/vulnerability such an exchange can be for women, who often don’t have a female leader to speak to, is also excellent.

    I love the idea of our sins just being between us and God. It’s really no one else’s business but ours what the state of our soul is. Even the best-intended confessionals can become a hell for a person and create a downward spiral of misery.

  58. I’ve also had the opportunity to serve on several disc. councils and, IMO, they are cruel and humiliating affairs. I don’t doubt some people come out the other end in a better place, but I think most would end up at the same place w/o the emotional gauntlet one must endure in a disc. council. It’s true for men and women, in my experience. There has to be a better, more Christian way to treat people humble enough to bare their souls, but that is a thread jack to an interesting OP.

    Being ex’d was the stressor for my wife. The administrative details were handled by me b/c the clerks always approached me instead of her with their sincere questions about her odd membership entries. I never told her about the conversations. I was busy enough with other things that my irritation quickly faded as my attention moved to another topic. Not that big a deal, but I was surprised at how many people got looped into her and our situation b/c of record keeping protocols.

    We’ve moved and a couple of yrs ago while serving as the HPGL our bishop was called to be the SP and one of his first jobs was to replace himself as bishop. One Sunday shortly after he became the SP he pulled me aside after ward council and asked me 3 questions: were my finances under control (debt free); any major church discipline (not for me, lol); and everything okay at home (yes). According to the SP I had laughably made the short list for the next bishop and it was down to two people. I didn’t make the final cut. I don’t know if the SP chose the other finalist and did not send my name to SLC for final approval (probably 100 reasons why that was the better choice if that’s what happened) or SLC vetoed his recommendation of me b/c of my wife’s excommunication. Whatever the reason, it was the right outcome for our ward and me.

    Back to the OP, I could not agree more with the ex-Bishop who advised against confessing. Our Bishops are largely very, very good and sincere men but they also largely lack the training, wisdom and courage to simply follow the Saviour’s example and say go and sin no more. Just my .02.

  59. Just for the record, I’ve never entered an interview with a Bishop (or my Mission President when I was on my mission) thinking of him as a “man.” He was always “the Bishop.” Anything I said to him was said in light of his role, not his gender. My experience with anything like a confession was that before I got married, I had a few things I wanted to get off my chest, and my Bishop basically said, “I think your actions since I’ve known you show that you have put that behind you and are on the right track,” and that was the end of that. It never occurred to me to want a woman to “confess” to. I have never had a serious sin to discuss, so maybe I would feel differently in that case, but it seems to me that speaking of your shortcomings to anyone in authority over you would be equally difficult whether it’s a man or a woman. As a member of a YW presidency, I had a few girls tell me about things going on in their lives, some of which had potentially serious consequences. For whatever it’s worth, my counsel to them has been along the lines of “figure out what you want in life and stop doing things that prevent you from getting that” rather than “go see the Bishop.” Perhaps they have told me things because they know that I don’t have any authority to “do” anything to them. I really don’t know and never thought of it until now. I certainly would never have told my YW leaders about any sinful thing I might have done as a teenager, but maybe that’s a function of my lack of trust of my YW leaders.

    About people leaving the Church without speaking to a Bishop first, I did have a sort of crisis of faith as a young adult, and I went to talk with my Bishop about it. It never occurred to me that he might think less of me or engage in some kind of action against me for having doubts. I thought that as the Bishop, it was his job to help me through this and that perhaps being set apart for the calling or what have you would give him the insight that I couldn’t hear for whatever reason. To make a long story short, that is what happened, and the counsel he gave me changed the course of my life for the better. I think that he was inspired, and perhaps I was inspired as well when I decided to go to speak with him rather than just stop coming to church. Maybe there are many people in my situation who don’t trust or like their Bishops or don’t want to be talked out of a decision they have already made. I don’t know and can’t judge that, but I don’t think I am the only person who has been struggling and received good counsel. I suppose I could just as easily have received bad counsel, but I have been fortunate in that all my Bishops seem to be striving to do what the Lord wants them to do, at least in their dealings with me.

  60. I’m pretty sure we should leave the decision of whether or not to counsel with (as opposed to confessing to) one’s bishop up to the person and the Spirit. I find it unfortunate that so many make a blanket suggestion that people not go to their bishop when they can’t possibly know all possible circumstances.

    I would hope that no one takes that advice as anything more than what it is: random people offering opinions on the internet, claims to past callings notwithstanding.

  61. Especially from commenters!

  62. jlouielucero says:

    I think this is a very good post and many great comments. Thanks for everyone’s input. I do think that this particularly something that needs to be addressed with each of our children. While we cannot fully stem the tide the culture propagates that we must confess everything to the bishop we can teach our children like the one former bishop mentioned. I actually would like to point out with much experience that I do believe a confession to someone (friend, parent, etc) is always a blessing. Especially someone who will be compassionate and encourage to connect with the savior. I believe that our sins are not the issue but rather the enmity we create with god afterward or the humility in coming to Christ. I truly believe that confession should be used as means to get closer to Christ not separation. So in that sense the current model of separation is not working. But confession I believe is very helpful to prevent that separation. So I encourage everyone I know to not only understand this but to teach as many as they can the need to not separate after sin but to connect even more.

  63. I agree with the general notion behind this post and most of the comments. But I must confess (sorry) that the fear of public shame flowing from church discipline was, in my teenage and young adult years, sometimes the only thing keeping me from committing sins that I know I would have later regretted. I am probably an unusual specimen in that respect — how many teenagers or young adults will ever actually be deterred by the possibility of church discipline, as compared to the number for whom church discipline will make things worse? Probably more in the latter category than the former. So from a utilitarian perspective, shaping the policy around people like me is probably unwise. But it may be a perspective worth considering.

  64. Totally, Jake. But I suspect that can only carry you so far. Then if you sin, what can you do?

  65. Chris Kimball says:

    Confession comes in at least three shapes. It’s useful to distinguish. There’s the courtroom confession: “I did it — so what’s my punishment?” The counseling confession: “I’ve got a problem — so talk with me about what I might do.” The repentance confession: “I did it [full stop].” For better or worse, we put Mormon bishops in a judgement role for which only the courtroom confession type makes sense. (I think it’s for the worse. I’m inclined toward the Jewish law view, which “prevents a confession from being used as evidence in a criminal proceeding. A commonly cited basis for this rule is the Biblical verse prescribing that a person is to be convicted of a crime upon the testimony of two witnesses, thereby excluding other types of evidence.”) I have a great respect for Mormon bishops generally, and almost all that I know individually, and almost every one would be helpful in the counseling confession if-and-only-if they can step out of the judge role. (Some can and some can’t, in my experience.) But for the repentance confession, I’m frankly at a loss. For the “good for the soul” repentance confession, I need a listener. I don’t want judgment, I don’t want a penance prescription, I don’t want absolution, I don’t want advice. I just want to be heard, in confidence, in a goes-no-further no response no advice no reply, sense of listening. It’s the beginning of, an important even critical part of repentance. And I don’t know where to find it. A Roman Catholic priest and a competent psychiatrist are the two options that come to mind in my small world, but both have problems and limitations and I’m not sure I’d go there or recommend it to others.

  66. Steve,

    The handbook is doctrine insofar as doctrine = current official teachings. But my point is that our common culture seems to say confess EVERYTHING to the bishop, but our written handbook says ONLY serious transgressions need to be confessed (and it defines serious transgressions). We need to teach the latter doctrine in order to change the former practice. Indeed, since very few men can read the handbook, I think they have an affirmative duty to teach it to those of us who can’t see it. If a bishop reads in the handbook that members need to confess ONLY serious transgression (as that term is defined in that handbook) and yet teaches other members (including youth) to confess EVERYTHING, well, that bishop isn’t being true to the doctrine.

    I have no problem with anyone going to a bishop because he or she chooses to, for counseling or confession or whatever, for any reason whatsoever. My concern is that for confession of sin, we don’t teach correct doctrine. Teach correct doctrine, and then let members govern themselves.

  67. Except that I don’t think we can say that current teachings equal doctrine because the apostles disagree with each other all the time (an apostle actually said this in a leadership meeting I attended last year). Which is why doctrine is such a fuzzy concept in the church. Who knows if what you’re being taught is actually doctrine or one person’s opinion? I think that’s what makes it hard for members to know what to talk to their bishop about. There are just so many opinions on the subject, even from the highest levels.

    I’ve confessed something to a bishop two or three times before because I felt bad, but in none of the cases did they think I needed to be there. One bishop actually laughed because he found my sin so minor. Their counsel was that I was fine and they were sure I was forgiven. But I was lucky. A brother of mine confessed something, with our mother’s encouragement, at age 17 and was disfellowshipped. He just never went back to church. That was 23 years ago. I think the punishment was far too harsh for his age, and I think many bishops would agree. But it was the luck of the draw.

    Having thought about this more in recent years, I think it’s probably only safe to talk to a bishop about sins, doubts, etc., if you really have a good relationship with him and trust him a lot. Otherwise, it’s a huge risk that may not be worth it. That is a sad problem, but I don’t know of any other solution.

  68. ji,

    You are making an important point. Why is this not more widely known? I believe that the false idea that we cannot be forgiven of sins unless we confess to the bishop, as some sort of mediator, undermines our understanding of the atonement.

    Recently, when I was a Young Women’s leader, we had a Q & A session in Young Women’s with the bishop about the law of chastity. One of the questions that came up was what needed to be confessed to the bishop. Unfortunately, our excellent bishop (and I’m not being sarcastic) was very vague, and the general impression I got was that they should confess just about everything, from masturbation to watching scary movies. This is very close to what I learned when I was a teenager. With great embarrassment, I used to confess all kinds of minor things that I had already repented of.

    This must be one of those bits of folklore passed on by oral tradition. But unlike the false traditions of requiring the a priesthood holder say the opening prayer in sacrament meeting or that passers of the sacrament must wear white shirts, this one cannot be easily refuted by the members, because it’s not in Handbook 2, right?

  69. melodynew says:

    DavidH – Well said. Thank you!

    “Confession to leaders is an inspired practice for the governance of the Church. It can be very helpful in many cases for the healing process. But whether, when and how in particular cases can be difficult questions.”

  70. whizzbang says:

    G-confessing EVERYTHING to a Bishop before you can even hope for forgiveness was my life as a teen, due to our Bishop giving us Pres. Kimball’s Miracle of Forgiveness. That book ruined me and it didn’t help to have a authoritarian Bishop who thought he was next in line to be God and loved these interviews. I got into a pattern of if you did something wrong, thought something wrong God stopped loving you and would make your life miserable until you confessed. When you did then your life got good again until you messed up again and the cycle continues, on again off again love from God. You just become so totally self concious and the mission was no better for that either!

  71. I like the example of the Eastern Orthodox church. Having a confidante is helpful. Formal confession is Russian roulette with 5 bullets in the chamber.

  72. fuddyduddy says:

    If you want to add another twist to the original post, consider this:

    If you’re one of the thousands of people who make their living working for the church (BYU, CES, church headquarters, whatever), then confessing even a minor thing to your bishop can cost you your job.

    I’m required to keep an active temple recommend to keep my job. If it lapses or is revoked, BYU policy is to send a note informing me that I have a certain deadline by which to have an active one.

    I don’t have any major sins to confess, but it bugs me that I have no ecclesiastical recourse if I want to discuss an indiscretion or crisis of faith.

  73. Fuddy, don’t spoil part II!

  74. Wow! About 26 hours out of the can and now 72 comments.

    For those whose comment seems to simplify the process of repentance regarding in particular this problem, pornography, know this. It’s easily as difficult of a problem as addiction to alcohol or drugs. And for a married member, hiding this addiction from ones spouse is neigh on to impossible. Sooner or later, they figure it out.

    The best and initial teacher to influence me in this problem was the husband of my Sunday School teacher. At age 9 and on a Saturday class excursion to a park, several of us boys found a garbage can loaded with pornographic photographs of nude women and our paying too much attention to that can caught his attention. He came over, saw the photographs and immediately tore them up, then set the pieces to fire. Why he had matches on him was a mystery to me. His lecture to us boys was simple. He took us aside and without disclosing our indiscretion to the girls or to his wife, our teacher, he told us to always show respect for women. We understood him perfectly.

    Who was this good Samaritan whose lesson neither I nor any of the other boys will ever forget? He was an Iranian Muslim living in the US who was married to our teacher, easily the hottest looking Latina I have ever met. But he respected her, even insisting that she attend services without him on Sundays and do her best to teach us good moral character, the sort of moral character common among the numerous other Muslims I have known over my life time. And I am sure he was encouraging her to lower her hem lines!

    Since then, I have met many men with pornography problems. But none have had experiences in their youth with the likes of this good brother and his background, upbringing and respect for women. Perhaps what we Latter-day Saints need more of is talk in Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society meetings about our inherently carnal natures and what we can do to help one another. Then, when someone goes public, they can realistically expect their fellow Saints to help them along those difficult paths.

    But I find all of Brother Steven Evan’s points to be well taken.

  75. I’ve had OCD psychotherapy clients confessing compulsively to LDS bishops, who are then sucked into the cycle of “sin,” confess and seek reassurance (or even seek punishment), “sin” again, around and around. I’ve also had anxiety clients – not necessarily diagnosed with OCD – start that cycle with confessions and/or priesthood blessings. I can say to all you poor bishops and home teachers caught up in this, stop. You’re seriously not helping. That kind of compulsive confession and reassurance cements the behavior and makes it even harder to treat. After a brief period of anxiety relief, the person will “sin” again, or get in a panic again, or whatever, and return for more reassurance.

    I had one OCD client – with sexual “bad thoughts” which he would never in a million years actually act upon – who not only confessed to his bishop, but would call and confess to the police. This caused horrible disruption in his life and the lives of his family until the local 911 people learned who he was. If you see even the beginning of this cycle, please, for your own mental health and the health of your congregation member, refer them to a psychotherapist competent in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

  76. Dale, apparently this man’s lessons on respecting women didn’t sink in too deeply as identifying a women by her hotness isn’t usually a form of respect.

  77. I knew an Elder who had his first wet dream while on his mission. He was convinced he had done something evil and was going to be sent home, to the shame of his large Tongan family. He was deeply depressed for about two weeks, afraid to confess his “sin” but feeling he was completely unworthy. Finally, in anxious desperation he told his district leader. Mercifully, his DL was a good elder with a sense of humor who simply said, “That happens to me every two weeks.” The fact that this poor Elder, who was about as pure as a 7 year old, felt such guilt and fear to speak to his leaders about an issue troubling him speaks volumes to me about the dysfunctional nature of our preferred method for seeking ecclesiastical counsel.
    I’ve begun to envy the Catholic practice (as shown by Hollywood) of seeking “confession” regularly and universally without culturally induced trauma.

  78. Actually, Amanda, I identified her by the roles she had, 1) wife and 2) Sunday School teacher. This couple, relatively newly married, had no children, so she was not playing the role of mother, at least not yet. But it would be impossible to describe her beauty in any one word term other than “hottest.” Even “glamorous” does not fit her description nor approach describing the impact she had on men [and us boys, too]. But even with this hotness, she had our respect, especially after her Muslim husband read us the riot act. So you pick a term you believe does equate to “hottest” and let me know! I’m listening. But to deny that some particular stunning women do have such impact is not telling the truth. Sadly many of those women find employment exploiting that impact. But not this lady!

  79. Sighhhhh Dale you didn’t exactly rescue yourself there. Let’s move on, shall we?

  80. I had an authoritarian bishop growing up and it was known that we pretty much had to confess almost anything remotely close to the line. After confessing something I was guilted and shamed that it was much worse than so-and-so who smoked cigarettes. My bishop taught that any type of sin related to sexuality was near murder in seriousness. Then I was obviously released from Laurel president recently after I’d been called.

    I seriously had issues from these teachings for a looooooooong time. A later bishop wondered why I even came in – and I thought I might be disfellowshipped. We need to know there will be some sort of consistency, because I suspect the opinions of bishops are all over the board, as well. I concur with others’ feelings about ‘russian roulette’ confession.

    p.s. this is the bishop who sent us home and wouldn’t let us attend mutual if our shorts were an inch above our knees and who in the role of a bishop counseled my brother’s best friend to not be friends with my brother any more because he was a bad apple. I affectionately refer to him as my Hitler bishop. Great guy, great family. Control issues.

  81. Thomas Parkin says:

    People are bad. Everybody. But they are not only bad. :)

  82. TP I guess you missed the bit where I explicitly told people not to confess stuff in the comments!

  83. Chris Kimball says:

    Looking forward to part 2. The complication of temple recommend being required for some jobs, has been mentioned . Also interpretive issues — talk of pornography (as in the OP) one time is likely to cause that bishop to interpret the law of chastity for the penitent in a future TR interview rather than leaving interpretation to the individual where it belongs. Also the one bite problem — LDS confession and repentance practice tends to be about change (no “fundamental sinful nature of man” for us!), and there’s an understanding that if change doesn’t happen, if there’s a repetition of the sin, then the sky falls, all prior sins return, punishment escalates.
    Almost 20 years ago, upon release as a bishop, these issues (and more), led me to determine that I would not talk with a Mormon bishop again in an official capacity (I have always been friendly and sociable, some of my best friends . . .). Take away confession, and worthiness interviews, and a presumption of correctness about callings — take away most functional effect of a “judge in Zion” role for the bishop — does that amount to leaving the church?

  84. It’s posts like this that make me wish the LDS Church would stop patting ourselves on the back for not having a paid clergy. Yes, our church is run on the local level by “volunteers” (Have you ever volunteered for a calling? I sure haven’t) but you kow what paid clergy in other denominations usually have? They are usually expected to have some kind of training, some background that makes them *qualified* to give counsel and advice. In our church the bishop is supposed to give counsel and advice only by inspiration, with no secular training; comments in this thread have shown that that idea is a mixed bag at best.

    My current bishop is a faucet salesman. Now, he’s a good bishop who brings warmth and humor and humility to the office he holds. But, to anyone outside of the LDS church, the idea of seeking marital advice or confessing moral transgressions or discussing theological difficulties to a faucet salesman would be seen as absolutely loony.

  85. Another tool to add to the OP, and some have mentioned this already, is a referral to LDSFS or to other professional therapists (which is a little different than Tool #2) . Given that most bishops aren’t trained, when a complicated issue presents itself, a wise bishop/BP will refer the individual(s) out. Bishops are inspired in many instances and in the purview of their calling, but they have limitations. For instance, most are not trained in sexual addiction (most commonly begun by pornography and masturbation which develop into problematic behaviors), which is widely misunderstood. The church has done good work in establishing programs to address sexual addiction and in warning members to avoid it like the plague it is.

    Ideally, confession should ultimately help, sometimes in the very long run, when one puts honest work into the repentance process, and if the bishop safely acts with respect and discretion. But if one has to consider how he/she will be perceived by others, then it becomes a matter of pride and not in true humility before the Lord. That’s why some people will opt to leave rather than confess. I concur with DavidH’s sentiments. I remember once that a visit to my bishop became unnecessary for me when I sought out advice from trusted Church members, who stated that my actions were not serious enough to warrant a visit and that I should work it out with the Lord. However, if one feels he/she cannot share his/her secret with ANYONE, then he/she should absolutely see the bishop because unhealthy secrets ought to be resolved before too long.

  86. I think The Miracle of Forgiveness, is one of the worst titles books ever. Passing it out to teenagers as part of a “repentance” process, no one should be surprised that people are confused about what “real sin” is, or is not. I know I am not the only tape victim given this book, by their bishop, and unfortunately, the practice continues today.

    Bishops are not mental health professionals. When faced with anyone who is struggling, they need to get that person help, (even if they consider something a serious sin) and that is something that only comes from the love of the Savior, and building up positive self esteem.

  87. I’m surprised more has not been said about having a “spiritual guide” as part of the repentance process. Having such a confidant is the only way I was finally able to work through some pretty serious issues. Every time I went to the bishop, I was either told not to worry about it, or I was made to feel like I was the worst person alive. I wasn’t going to the bishop to confess. I was going to seek help. Finally I just took matters into my own hands (which I should have done to begin with), found someone I could trust and talk to, who was willing to be there to help me through my problems. It seems that in many cases bishops just don’t want to have to deal with a confession, and just want the person out of their office. It makes sense–they probably see dozens of people in a week…there just isn’t the time or energy to focus on each individual’s needs. The trusted friend approach was the only way I could finally get through things. They were there all the time, day or night, I could tell them anything–good or bad or indifferent, importantly too, they had been where I was, so they knew what I was feeling and going through.

  88. bcwagne, in AA we call the “spiritual guide” a “sponsor,” and s/he’s an essential part of the repentance process. Despite all the cute acronyms and mnemonics I’ve heard, the 12 Steps are still the most effective systematic approach to repentance I’ve ever found.

    I’d probably skip the ARP for anyone dealing with an actual addiction like a drug or alcohol problem, too, instead of being “addicted to TV” or to “not reading your Scriptures regularly.”

  89. I have to agree with juliathepoet, too. Miracle of Forgiveness[sic] almost drove me out of the Church when I was a fairly new member (less than a year). One of the most misleading titles of all time. After reading it, I was pretty sure that there was no hope for me; every time I was awake, and half the time when I was dreaming, I was damning myself. No one could repent fast enough to keep up with all of the different ways I wasn’t meeting President Kimball’s expectations.

    Combine that with a GA Seventy who visited my mission about halfway through and told us all in a zone conference that we weren’t working hard enough, and if we didn’t buckle down and give it our all, the Lord would (and this is a direct quote) “never trust us again.”

    I spent years recovering from my mission. I’d only been a member for 13 months when I left; I had no idea what God wanted from me.

  90. As one who committed serious sins and violated his temple covenants – I know intimately the price of repentance. Confession is a critical part of that process – regardless if that confession is required only to the Lord or if it is serious enough that the reputation of His church is in play and thus, in part, the reason for the necessity of confession to the appropriate priesthood leader.

    I know that a truly repentant person does arrive at the place where “there is no price to great to be paid” – how do i know this? Because I hid my since for years, and then, when the reality of who I’d become, and how much I had offended my God and my Savior and the pain I’d caused, attendant with those realizations was the awful realization that unless I could obtain complete and full forgiveness of the Lord – I would be lost in eternity. Humbly placing myself at the mercy of the Lord, and trusting in Him, in His ordained priesthood leaders, and in His loving process of repentance – meant I had no concern for consequences. I had earned whatever consequences I received. To me, anyone who truly wishes to repent, but abides concerns for who might find out what, hasn’t reached the level of humility and contrition requisite to obtaining true forgiveness. I cannot say that I am dependent on Him and His mercy, and then dictate the terms and conditions of that which I believe I so desperately need. Anything less than such submission is an indication that what I seek is an easing of conscience and not that I NEED His complete forgiveness.

    This is the Lord’s church. He sets the conditions. If I accept Him as a member of the Godhead, then He is incapable of error – thus His ways, His terms and His requirements (i.e., confession to designated priesthood leaders) IS right. Period. There can be no further debate – IF I truly accept Him.

    Now if we were discussing the building of a manmade organization or company – then I whole-heatedly agree.

    However, to understand the nature of sin, the nature of the Atonement and the nature of repentance – is to accept what our mortal minds maybe can’t fully understand.

    Lastly – to me, religion and spirituality are the two sides of the same coin. Religion being that which God must provide for His children as the framework within which we can safely find our way home. And spirituality being the individual’s contribution to that same endeavor. In that same spirit, I would strongly recommend that anyone desiring to TRULY KNOW the nature of the Atonement, and the Nature of repentance and forgiveness, read two books that I testify represent two sides of the same coin. The Atonement is that which God and our Savior provided as the means by which we might obtain mercy and forgiveness, and thus not fall prey to the full penalties of eternal justice for our sins. Repentance is our part of that same endeavor with the outcome being full forgiveness.

  91. Sins – not since :)

  92. Wow, I actually failed to give the names of those two books! Please forgive me, trying to move too fast for my own good! The two books are, first, The Infinite Atonement, by Tad Callister. I HIGHLY recommend this to ANY christian of any denomination as it will expand and expound on your understanding of all the facets of the Atonement. The second is the much maligned and difficult to the offender, The Miracle of Forgiveness. The reason it is such a hard book, is not that it is impossible to live up to, it is that it represents (in my humble opinion) the full measure of God’s law, and the reality of the effects of sin and pulls no punches as to the seriousness of may of man’s favorite little immoral indulgences.

    Believe me, I know – I had many such indulgences (or so i liked to think of them) for years! Pres Kimball simply removes the candy coating and reveals the true nature of sin. What he does not do in that book is focus on God’s nature and desire to forgive – he mentions it repeatedly, but the intent of the book is to bring to our consciousness the realities of sin and, perhaps most importantly, our attitudes when it comes to them and to the notion of repentance. Repentance is, as he states, (paraphrasing) not so much a process of time, but of depth of feeling, of attitude, of desire of the heart for humble and submissive change. After all, isn’t the very definition of and intent behind the term “repentance” to turn away from and to change?

    Anyway, I appreciate the chance to comment and the sharing of ideas. We are all (I presume) seeking the same eternal outcomes – exhalation, though that be the summit, the climb is not easy, nor quick – but together, serving one another, at times, as “sherpas” we can reach the summit. So thank you for indulging my perspective.

  93. Jamie, I hope that my post was clear in that the process of repentance is essential and confession of sin can be an integral part of that process. My focus instead is on the needlessly punitive social structures we have put in place such that people in our religion pay extreme social costs for even relatively minor sin.

    Many kudos to you for your journey.

  94. Hope things change says:

    Jamie – I contemplated suicide after confessing to a Bishop who made me describe everything in graphic detail. I think that the power given to a Bishop is just a haven for abuse. I simply think this practice is contrary to the loving teachings of Jesus. Since I have spoken to another young women who contemplated suicide after her DC (or church court). I know of another man that was so devastated about his excommunication that he did commit suicide. President Kimball’s books was banned from many missions because Mission Presidents couldn’t cope with the work load of the confessions it generated. Jamie, you are obviously wired differently to some other people in regard to this book. That’s not right or wrong. Just shows how different we all are. The safest thing is to get rid of confessions and church courts. The very nature of them in my view is not Christian. The desert fathers got rid of them in Christianity years ago. They learnt that they simply caused more harm than good. I won’t be discussing this matter further – it just brings back too many horrific memories I wish to forget.

  95. scott roskelley says:

    I have only served on 8 disciplinary councils while serving in the HC, and each time I agonized that we as a priesthood body of 15 people having traveled from all over the stake to spend 2 hours in behalf of this person, his family, and soul, was that it was a tragedy and some how too late. In many cases the change and transformation after 1 – 5years has been remarkable in the positive. However I felt during the proceedings, what more could be done to help support individuals and families before such tragedies occur? I have three daughters and have concerns over the prying sexual questions. I feel that far too much page real estate in Handbook 1 is expended on public affairs, building maintenance, and other matters, instead of on counseling. There should be required training for the first 1 year to become a certified bishop with some 200 – 300hrs of counseling training to avoid the big mistakes and pitfalls and to learn when and how to work shoulder to shoulder with professionals. Same for EQ, YM/YW, and RS presidents. Bishops take on far too much of the counseling load, when other leaders in the ward could also provide confidential support.

  96. Scott, I very much appreciate your comment. I too served on a HC for approx 8 mos before moving from northern CA to southern CA and was thus released upon my move. During my HC tenure there were no disciplinary councils for me to experience. As one who some 10yrs later was the focus of such a disciplinary council in a sincere effort of repentance – I can understand and sympathize with the sentiment of your comment.

    In an attitude of sharing only, I offer these thoughts. These are the premise which shape my thinking. 1 – This is Christ’s church and by accepting Him as God the Son, I accept His Omniscience and therefore I accept He and His organization are perfect in design. (not always is the church perfect in its execution). 2 – I believe the proper execution and what we might term as the success of His “programs” of family, church and repentance are ALL predicated completely on the individuals’ worthiness to receive personal revelation and inspirations.

    If any party with a responsibility over anyone (i.e., family, quorums, wards, stakes, etc.) is not completely worthy, or to the extent they are limited in their worthiness to receive decisive guidance, promptings, inspirations and revelations from the Holy Ghost – then the effective “success” of any of the Lord’s programs will be less than was designed. Thus in the case of a disciplinary council you can see where we might recognize “failures” or “deficiencies” in the program, the process or the outcomes. But I believe those to be a direct result of those individual’s executing the program and not the program design.

    Having said that, as one who could have benefited GREATLY from what you described as a Bishop with formal training to counsel – not solely on my spiritual worthiness and life, but in family relationships and marriage or other topics – your sentiment is echoed and appreciated. However, given my perspective shared above, I am left with this thought – The Bishop and other ordained priesthood leaders DO have sufficient training to counsel me on spiritual matters. And that counsel for family relations or other topics which erode such relations, those must, by necessity, be handled by one properly educated over years and with sufficient professional experience as to be effective in that work as a true profession, not a hobby.

    So while I’d have greatly benefited from a single person to wear both hats – the reality is, such is not the design and I chose rather than use what might have been available, to rely solely on my own faulty and failing wisdom and run my life off into a deep ditch as a result.

    There’s no easy answer – but I will leave this final thought. There was a time EARLY in the beginning stages of issues, faulty thinking and wayward thoughts (which I interpret is where you were focusing rightfully) when the ability of a priesthood leader, to more warmly and effectively put his arms around me, love me, care enough to take the time and ask the questions, and offer friendly warm advice as a brother in the priesthood, might (and I stress MIGHT) have helped me, and even aided me in avoiding my later heinous sins – IF we’d have developed the right level of trust and love and relationship over time.

    I don’t view the lack of that as my Bishop (or anyone else’s) fault – but more that such might, in fact, be the Lord’s design, but that we are human (and as you pointed out, busy) and thus we don’t maximize what the Lord’s program might have brought as a blessing. Which takes me back to me – both NOW and in the future, what can I do, in my sphere, to ensure I am always maximizing the Lord’s will regarding those around me that I might serve.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,832 other followers