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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : An Unworthy Bishop and Forgiveness of Sin » An Unworthy Bishop and Forgiveness of Sin

An Unworthy Bishop and Forgiveness of Sin

Don - July 31, 2006

I had a friend of mine approach recently.  He wasn’t comfortable talking to the Bishop or Stake President, but had a question for me and thought I could help him.

He had been involved with pornography and self-gratification for many years.  He continued his activity in the church during this time but finally decided to confess to his Bishop.  The Bishop had known this person for many years.  The Bishop was one I had served under several years ago and that was I think, one reason he approached me with his question.

When he confessed to the Bishop, the Bishop minimized the situation, really didn’t seem to be very conserned, told him everything was ok, don’t worry about it and just don’t do it anymore.  This person went away at the time relieved that he didn’t lose his temple recommend, or have other consequences.

He has subsequently carried around the guilt of feeling that he really wasn’t forgiven.  He found out shortly after his confession that the Bishop was unworthy (I can confirm that the Bishop was unworthy to say the least) and since he was unworthy then he felt his whole confession was worthless, and the Bishop couldn’t pass it off like he did.  This has eaten on him for several years now and has finally gotten to the point that he had to ask someone he trusted about the situation.

He asked me what I thought.  Did the Bishop really have the right / power to forgive him?  Does he need to go through this whole thing again with the current Bishop?

He told me that pornograhy etc. has not been a problem since his confession.  He is now happily married, hasn’t told his wife about this and is worried that if he has to go to the Bishop that it may all blow up in his face.

What should I have told him?


  1. How long ago was his confession?

    If it was years ago, and he hasn’t had any problems since then, I think he’s okay. The fact that he confessed (which is probably the hardest part of repentance) and then did forsake his sin, means he’s probably okay.

    Should he have lost his recommend? Probably. But he would probably have it back by now.

    How would confessing to the current Bishop blow up in his face. Is he worried about his wife finding out? I would have him speak to the Bishop and do so “hypothetically.”

    Last point, the last step of repentance, for me anyway, is forgiving yourself. Sometimes we think there should be more pain and suffering when going through the process, when often times its just not neccesary.

    Comment by Tim J. — July 31, 2006 @ 12:43 pm

  2. I don’t think the worthiness of the bishop is a factor. If he’s forsaken the sin, sounds like it worked.

    But if he continues to feel troubled, I think the new bish would probably be happy to confirm the repentence took.

    and HEY, I love this design. what a cool looking blog!

    Comment by Johnna — July 31, 2006 @ 2:14 pm

  3. So he stopped the offending behaviors, right? What is the issue then? Is he hoping for a figurative beating or two as well? (A lot of people think this way, actually.) It seems to me that in the church the point of any disciplinary action is change the hearts and behavior of the person who is offending God. If that has already happened then punitive action would be pointless in this case I think — especially since he already took the difficult step of confessing to the proper authority (regardless of the personal problems that Bishop had).

    Comment by Geoff J — July 31, 2006 @ 2:14 pm

  4. My rule of thumb is if your conscience continues to nag you to see the bishop, then see the bishop, if for no other reason than to get your conscience to stop nagging.

    The conscience is the “Light of Christ”, no? Then it comes from Christ. I went through something like that, not with an unworthy bishop, but as I went through the process of coming back to church, more and more impurities “bubbled to the surface” in the refining process, and my conscience told me that those sins/impurities/dross needed to be dumpted into the so-called “sin bucket” that bishops have in their office.

    I wondered what the need for confession was for, because I was already an ex-member, but I figured it was just part of the humbling and purification process. Sometimes the verbalization of confession is just part of that process, even when no further disciplinary action is required. Sometimes the emotional pain of confession is needed to drive home the point “I don’t want to have to go through that again.”

    Comment by Bookslinger — July 31, 2006 @ 6:19 pm

  5. Suppose he found out that the person who baptized him had been “unworthy” at the time. Would he ask to be rebaptized and would the Church do it? The answer is obvious and your friend’s situation is the same. He’s performed his pennance– encourage him to move on.

    Comment by Paul Mortensen — July 31, 2006 @ 6:21 pm

  6. “Did the Bishop really have the right / power to forgive him?”

    Does the Bishop himself actually ever do the forgiving? I think this belief is where the problem lays.

    Comment by Eric Russell — July 31, 2006 @ 8:24 pm

  7. This sounds like old-fashioned unhealthy guilt to me. I second the last statement by Tim J. This guy needs to forgive himself; if he has confessed to the church and prayed to God for forgiveness and still feels guilty, then he needs to have faith that he is forgiven. There isn’t anything more “the church” can do for him, short of give him a blessing to rid him of guilty feelings that are not from God. He can confess again, but I guarantee he will find something defective in the second confession and the false guilt will return.

    Comment by hplc — July 31, 2006 @ 10:45 pm

  8. Eric is on the mark. God does the forgiving. The bishop simply declares his standing with respect to the church.

    Comment by Mogget — August 1, 2006 @ 5:50 am

  9. The Bishop can only become the person who forgives sins on the day he starts suffering for all the consequences thereof. That is clearly not the case.

    “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.” (John 5:22)

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 1, 2006 @ 7:18 am

  10. Congratulations to your friend for having repented of heavy involvement in pornography, and avoiding relapses for several years. The friend should consult with the Lord about whether he needs further ecclesiastical involvement to help relieve lingering feelings of guilt or shame. With respect to his wife, he should consult with the Lord as well, but I think, particularly if the past experiences continue to bother him (or if there is any “pull” at all towards a relapse), the general principle should be to disclose in a sensitive, tactful, and careful way: “A husband must have no private, hidden agenda that is kept secret from his wife. Sharing everything about each other’s personal life is powerful spiritual insurance.” Richard G. Scott, Ensign, May 2000. His ecclesiastical leaders, or a professional therapist, could be very helpful in this process.

    Comment by DavidH — August 1, 2006 @ 10:58 am

  11. I think the unworthy bishop may have given bad guidance- your friend is probably right that he was too easy on him and wrongly made it seem like “not a big deal”.
    But aparently, the bad guidance didn’t stop him from recovering, and that’s what counts.

    Forgiveness/confession wise, he’s covered. (assuming he made a full confession)

    So I’d tell him it’s confessed, it’s over- unless inside him, it’s not really over and he needs further guidance from the better bishop.

    his aproaching you and feeling guilt might be a sign that he’s still really struggling with shameful temptations and does need to see the bishop. And if he didn’t want to tell you so, he could ask about the technicality of the former confession…
    just a possibility.

    Comment by cchrissyy — August 1, 2006 @ 8:44 pm

  12. If the problem is that he is worried his confession doesn’t count due to a the bishop being unworthy then this seems like a no-brainer. Doesn’t matter at all as far as I’m concerned.

    However, if I were giving this Brother counsel, I would make sure to follow that point by saying that the question of whether he has been forgiven is one he should take up with the Lord. The feeling that comes when God lets us know that we are forgiven is one of the sweetest experience in the gospel, and if he is still wringing his hands he should spend a good deal of time wearying the Lord on this point until he either gets this witness or is prompted as to what else remains for him to do. I have no doubt one of those two will come if sought diligently.

    Comment by Jacob — August 1, 2006 @ 9:21 pm

  13. [...] After reading Don Clifton’s short post on forgiveness over at Nine Moons, I spent the rest of the day feeling somewhat sad. It sounds like the gentleman in question was well-taught on the subject of sin, but less conversant with respect to forgiveness. That sort of imbalance strikes me as unhealthy. [...]

    Pingback by Faith-Promoting Rumor » Blog Archive » The Effects of the Christ-Event: Redemption and Forgiveness — August 2, 2006 @ 3:51 am

  14. Not to get too off track here. It is my understanding that the worst things about self gratification and pornography is the more serious sins that they can lead to. In and of themselves they are sins, but is confession required to gain forgiveness? I had thought that adultry/fornication were the big ones that required confession.

    Comment by Anonymous — August 2, 2006 @ 6:40 pm

  15. The fact that he’s asking about it seems to indicate that he has something that he wants to get off his chest. He would probably benefit from visiting the current bishop and putting it behind him.

    However, I don’t think anyone has really grasped what your friends real concern is here.

    The way I read the post, he’s worried that a confession would require him to rat-out the old unworthy bishop to the current bishop. Am I wrong?

    If that’s the problem, then I can think of a couple ways he could approach it with the new bishop without implicating the old bishop. But it’s really up to him to determine whether to inform his current bishop on that issue.

    Comment by Seth R. — August 7, 2006 @ 3:49 pm

  16. Sad. Your friend is one of many self salvation Mormons who has yet to embrace faith in Jesus and his gift of the atonement, and no Bishop can do that for him. His having repented of the sin long ago and still being concerned that some bureaucratic step, in this case a confession, might not have been valid says it all. Faith in Jesus isn’t faith in the Bishop; it’s faith that Jesus will shield us from the judgment. Confession to the Bishop and a Bishop’s counsel are tools that can assist repentance and help regain faith in Jesus. But in the end, only Jesus can lift the burden of the judgment. Sad that one of the flock should be unnecessarily burdened for so long. A victim of cultural Mormonism?

    Comment by Steve EM — August 8, 2006 @ 7:14 am

  17. The Bishop cannot forgive him, that is the Lord’s job. Confession to a Bishop is to assist in repentence and to determine if the persons sins affect his standing in the Church.

    Comment by Mike F — October 5, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

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