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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Which Sins Do You Confess To The Bishop? » Which Sins Do You Confess To The Bishop?

Which Sins Do You Confess To The Bishop?

Don - November 24, 2007

I home teach a person who asked me this question.

I can remember when I was serving in the Bishopric and during a youth interview the young lady I was interviewing started to tell me about a situation she was in. I quickly stopped her, told her I wasn’t the one to talk to. Since it was a sin of morality I told her to talk to the Bishop.

But where is the line drawn?

Is it morality only? Which morality sins? Is it lust, or Playboy centerfolds, or po#n, or petting, or or or? Is there something in the handbook that tells us?

Then that brings up another question. If the Bishop needs to be involved with our forgiveness process for “big” sins, then why not little ones too? Why does he have to be involved?

I told the person I’d get some answers and get back to the person. So give me some answers.

68 Comments »

  1. Great questions. I’ve never understood any of this myself, and look forward to whatever elucidation folks can provide.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — November 24, 2007 @ 8:22 pm

  2. Now, when we speak of confession there is always a question of what we need to confess, how we should confess it, and to whom? President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988), then an Assistant to the Twelve, provided this clear explanation:

    “I would assume that we are to confess all our sins unto the Lord. For transgressions which are wholly personal, affecting none but ourselves and the Lord, such confession would seem to be sufficient.

    “For misconduct which offends another, confession should also be made to the offended one, and his forgiveness sought.

    “Finally, where one’s transgressions are of such a nature as would, unrepented of, put in jeopardy his right to membership or fellowship in the Church of Jesus Christ, full and effective confession would, in my judgment, require confession by the repentant sinner to his bishop or other proper presiding Church officer” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1955, 125).

    Comment by MCQ — November 24, 2007 @ 8:46 pm

  3. No respondents? Curious.

    Having been a bishop (and willing to place a bull’s eye on my back) I’ll take a stab at it.

    First, talk to your bishop about things that might get your temple recommend pulled or keep you from getting one.
    Morality certainly. Including, but not limited to: Po#n, centerfolds. Masturbation. Petting. Fornication. Adultery.

    WoW. Coffee. Alcohol. Tobacco. Eating meat. Not really the last, I thought I’d see if you were really paying attention. Dishonesty. Theft. Non-payment of taxes.

    After having completed my service as bishop, I feel that I would include gossiping and back-biting in this category.

    Secondly, although they aren’t sins you can talk to the bishop about anything that you feel you need help to overcome that you feel your spouse or HT/VT might not understand or keep confident. Such as recurring lustful fantasies which may lead to sin. Not to be confused with mutual non-sinful fantasies you share with your spouse.

    Don’t bother the bishop because you missed scripture study today. You can handle that alone. If you feel need a buddy to help you with it because it’s a really persistent problem enlist your spouse, VT or HT.

    Comment away!!

    Comment by Floyd the Wonderdog — November 24, 2007 @ 8:48 pm

  4. I’ve never heard a list of sins that require confessing to the bishop. There are some obvious ones like adultery that would require confession. However, I think there’s a rather large gray area surrounding what I guess would be the “minor” moral sins. I’m not sure what would be minor, in that context though. I don’t think lust (when just limited to thoughts) would have to be confessed to the bishop, though, or there would be a line out the door and around the corner of people waiting to confess.

    I suppose, just to be on the safe side, it would be good practice to err on the side of over-confessing instead of under-confessing, when it comes to the gray areas.

    I guess this is just a long-winded way of saying that I second Kevin Barney’s response and look forward to seeing what people have to say on the topic.

    Comment by Keri Brooks — November 24, 2007 @ 8:52 pm

  5. I almost always second Kevin Barney’s comments…

    I really hope the swath of grey on this is substantially wide. One of the reasons I joined this church was because of the direct line to the Lord I am allowed. I don’t desire having to use a mediator, aside from Jesus Christ, for anything but the most egregious mistakes. (Most of which, I pray, are far in my past!)

    Marion G Romney’s quote is reassuring and sounds about right to me.

    Comment by tracy m — November 25, 2007 @ 2:40 am

  6. I like Romney’s quote, too.

    I would say anything you feel puts the recommend in jeopardy, anything that seems to keep you from the influence of the Holy Ghost on a regular basis, or anything that you feel is out of control.

    Comment by Norbert — November 25, 2007 @ 5:53 am

  7. When I was an Elder’s Quorum President, we had a Stake training meeting. The Stake President took the Elders Quorum Presidents aside and talked about PPIs and how to conduct them. He also touched on how an EQP holds keys and there is much he can do to take on issues to free up the Bishop’s time.

    Then I got a surprise. He asked a hypothetical question: what if during a PPI an elder confesses a struggle with masturbation or pornography? We all said, “Oh he needs to go see the Bishop pronto.” His response was, “Hold on. Isn’t that something an EQP can counsel about?” Our meeting was over before we could really define perameters. He told us he would speak of it more in the future, but I moved away before we had another meeting.

    There was kind of a philosophy floating around in that Stake for a while that as a holder of keys in a ward, there was much an EQP could do to almost act as a 2nd class Bishop, for lack of a better term. I know Bishops have alot on their plates and would appreciate an EQP or HPGL sharing the load, but moral worthiness issues seemed to be reserved for a Bishop. That idea was new and awkward to me.

    I don’t know if that was localized counsel from an Area Authority or if the Stake President felt inspired to teach that just for our stake. Has anyone here ever heard of that concept?

    Comment by fregramis — November 25, 2007 @ 7:19 am

  8. CHI pg 107, first paragraph:

    Repentance reguires that all sins be confessed to the Lord. “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins- behold he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43). Members should also confess to their presidingofficer if they have committed serious transgressions. Members who voluntarily and completely confess transgressions demonstrate that they have begun the process of repentance.

    No definition is given for what a serious transgression is or isn’t however. I believe it is at the the discretion of the person needing repentance. If they feel they need the Bishop’s help in the process of confessing or forsaking their transgression, they should seek his aid, even if it is missing scripture study or something like unto it.

    On a personal note, I have a habit of avoiding the bishop like the plague, because he is so busy all the time helping people, I just feel like I don’t want to add to his burden.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 25, 2007 @ 8:58 am

  9. The “easy” answer is that you confess conduct which could jeapordize your membership in the church, and that much is certainly true. If members confessed every deed which could threaten their temple recommends, they would be confessing to the bishop almost daily. Ever “fail to sustain” your priesthood leaders, because their decisions made you grumble?

    Beyond those actions which legitimately question a person’s membership, a member of the LDS church should talk to his/her bishop about their conduct anytime that confession to deity and/or to any persons directly affected feels like inadequate confession. This may sound like a “squishy” rule, but it’s more practical than it may seem. If you feel like you should be confessing something to your bishop, that unsatisfied feeling will interfere with your spiritual progress, whether or not the conduct actually mandated such confession. Further, if you find yourself in a pattern where you can’t forgive yourself for mistakes without such intervention, a wise bishop can help you get over that problem, as well.

    Comment by Nick Literski — November 25, 2007 @ 9:16 am

  10. Hm… like usual, the word “morality” or “morals” is being misused here to imply sexual sins. Let’s don’t forget morality is much more general that sexual sins… violence and dishonesty are also immoral (although some Republicans don’t seem to agree). Anyway, I am not intending to threadjack this post, but I thought we need to make better use of the word “morality” as a society.

    My two opinionated cents: confess everything that puts your Temple Recommend Status in question. Confess anything that is not letting you have true spiritual peace.

    Personal opinionated critical criticism:
    “Such as recurring lustful fantasies which may lead to sin.” Hmmm… unless this is a true problem and extreme problem; I would not recommend this at all.

    Bishops, with all due respect, are not perfect, and for some of them, their preparation as counselors is rather limited (I am tempted to say inadequate, but that may be too aggressive). They are human, and very likely equally morbid creatures as we all are. I am not going to be feeding my lustful fantasies to his equally morbid and human brain… ha! No Sr. Mr. Bishop, you are not going to get erotic narrations from me. Yeah, I can imagine a bishop hearing about the whole ward’s lustful fantasies; I don’t think so.

    Comment by Manuel — November 25, 2007 @ 3:35 pm

  11. I like Nick’s answer. When the repentance feels inadequate, something else might be needed. The only hang up I have on this one is when individuals can’t forgive themselves – finding themselves over- burdening the bishop with every little thing.

    While serving a mission I found myself “confessing” to my MP constantly for things that really didn’t require such an action. He told me one day – “forgive yourself!!”. After that, I felt fine. Repentance is a tricky thing and individuals should have the opportunity to learn the difference between “grevious/bishop’s office” sins and ones that can be forgiven between a person and the Lord alone.

    Comment by backstreet boy — November 25, 2007 @ 3:51 pm

  12. I was always led to believe that confession to the bishop is for sexual sins (of commission, not mere thought) and/or crimes that you’d do time for (speeding breaks the law, but doesn’t require confession; embezzling from your employer — yeah, go talk to him).

    Comment by RCH — November 25, 2007 @ 6:20 pm

  13. I greatly resent the idea that a Bishop needs to play a role in my repentance. I have no desire to have the bishop (or anyone else) involved in my repentance process and I reject the idea that the nature of a particular sin mandates a different repentance process than for another sin. Placing the sins on a “spectrum of seriousness” and stating that everything more serious than sin X requires bishops intervention seems silly.

    I’ll take what Nick said, without the caveat “Beyond those actions which legitimately question a person’s membership…”

    I confess to whomever I have offended. If I cannot see that the Church as an organization has been offended by my actions, then I see no reason to confess to the church. If I believe, however, that my actions lessen my ability to carry out assigned tasks or callings in the church, then the bishop needs to know (not necessarily the sin itself, but just that I am unable to fulfill my calling).

    I find nothing faith affirming about telling personal shortcomings to someone I barely know. I wouldn’t tell the Bishop most of my personal secrets, fears, thoughts, worries, or actions, and my spiritual experiences are far too sacred to be shared with near strangers, so why whould I tell him my sins?

    Comment by rrc — November 25, 2007 @ 6:40 pm

  14. why whould I tell him my sins?

    Because, in some cases, it’s required of you?

    Repentance requires a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Resentment and rejection of the bishop’s legitimate, ordained role in this process is not helpful to or indicative of repentance.

    Comment by MCQ — November 25, 2007 @ 10:43 pm

  15. I find it interesting the contrast between a Mormon’s Bishop’s position in the repentence process and a Catholic’s Priest. It seems to me that the Catholics find it necessary / comforting to go to the priest on a regular bsis and confess their sins. He then can give forgiveness. Other Christians seem to take to opposit veiw, they do not confess to their pastor – leader.

    Mormons on the other hand feel we must go to the Bishop for certain sins only. This discussion has been interesting in seeing where that line is drawn by different individuals.

    Why is it required that we go to the Bishop to confess certain sins?

    Comment by Don — November 25, 2007 @ 11:24 pm

  16. Don-
    Yes, but Catholics only have to confess their sins. Isn’t the repentance process with the Bishop much, much longer? Isn’t there some kind of journey involved, rather than just saying it out loud once?

    I remember my good friend who had a baby at 16. After she chose to give the baby up for adoption (her choice, by the way, and she doesn’t regret it) I remember helping her through the hard times that came after. She visited with the Bishop for a good 2 or 3 months before she was “called” as the Laurel secretary. I remember her once telling me that it was hard at first –to admit to the things she was doing, but that the actual process of repentance, although frustrating at times (“Why does it have to take so long?”) changed her life. Currently, she and her husband (who are sealed) have two children.

    I believe we go to the Bishop to confess certain sins because if we have gotten to that point, our character is certainly in need of some desperate help. And the Lord knows we can’t do it by ourselves. And He knows that we will need intervention and counsel –reading the scriptures alone in our room once in a while won’t take away adultry or the stain of pre-marital sex. Praying every morning won’t fix the harm that dishonesty caused when the money was embezzled from that company. It helps, but it won’t fix it. The Bishop holds keys that are used specifically for helping those that need to repent. I mean, isn’t it hard enough, being imperfect, but then to claim we’re above intervention because the sin doesn’t seem “bad” enough? Like Kevin said, wouldn’t it be best to err on the side of prudence? What’s the worst that can happen? “You can repent of this on your own”?

    [Oh, and this reminds me of that Seminary video --"Sorrow for our Sins" or something. Anyone remember that? It was kind of cheesy, but it made a good point.]

    Comment by Cheryl — November 26, 2007 @ 8:21 am

  17. First comment – Whose going to argue with Marion G. Romney? His advice is as good as it gets.

    Second comment – (and this is somewhat of a copout) I believe that if a person is truly repentent he/she will know, guided by the Spirit, which sins can be dealt with peronally and which ones need to be confessed to the bishop.

    Third comment – Having served as a bishop I can tell you that it is often helpful to come to the bishop to discuss things you are struggling with. Sometimes those are serious transgressions and sometimes they’re not. But the bishop has special insights, given by the Spirit through his mantle as bishop, that can be very helpful. I think many people fear talking to the bishop, assuming they have committed a terrible sin that will overwhelm the bishop. In reality the bishop’s greatest desire is to help people, not condemn them, and there is very little under the sun that the bishop has not heard before.

    Comment by Lamonte — November 26, 2007 @ 8:35 am

  18. I’ve wondered in the past if we feel better after talking to the bishop just because we are taught to. But in my mind this can not be true. There is something that happens during that conversation with the bishop that cannot be replaced with anything else. Believe me, I’ve tried. I don’t know why but through personal experience have found it to be absolutely “freeing”.

    Comment by cj douglass — November 26, 2007 @ 9:20 am

  19. Floyd the WD and all- you really think a stray cup of coffee is reason to confess to the bishop- or a weak moment of masturbation? In my opinion, these things only warrant a trip to the Bishop if they area recurrent problem in someone’s life.

    I can’t imagine the line outside our Bishop’s door if all the members of our ward confessed these things.

    I have no problem with WoW, but I loose my patience with my kids. That is as big a stumbling block to me holding a TR as an occasional cup o’joe would be.

    Comment by claire — November 26, 2007 @ 9:35 am

  20. My kids would be in mortal danger if the wife didn’t have her cup o’joe in the morning … it’s the small sacrifices that get us through the day, God Bless.

    Comment by Chino Blanco — November 26, 2007 @ 9:59 am

  21. Why is the bishop the only one we can confess our sins to?

    James 5:16 says Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.

    Comment by Tim — November 26, 2007 @ 10:17 am

  22. #21 Tim – In the LDS religion the bishop is called as a “Judge in Israel” with a special calling to hear confessions and to help the members resolve problems. Sometimes that involves discipline but most often it requires a caring, listening heart that will guide the transgressor in the right direction. The issue raised in this post is that not all transgressions need to be confessed to the bishop.

    #19 Claire – I don’t think everyone is suggesting that every sin needs to be confesssed to the bishop. I think your stated rule about recurrent problems is a good rule to use.

    Comment by Lamonte — November 26, 2007 @ 10:57 am

  23. Lamonte 22- Floyd was pretty explicit in what he thought should be confessed in his #3 and no one else had called him on it, but perhaps I’m taking him more literally than he intended.

    Comment by claire — November 26, 2007 @ 1:18 pm

  24. Has no one talked about the need for humility? Or did I miss it? I think one of the prime reasons we need to confess to a judge in Israel is to show the Lord we’re humble enough to let a church authority (a judge, even) that we erred. It’s one of the best ways to show others and more importantly, yourself, and most importantly, the Lord that you have a broken heart and contrite spirit.

    cj’s right about it being a “freeing” experience, too. There’s nothing like it. Also, the bishop may give us things we need to do to help brake our hearts or forgive ourselves, or make restitution, or whatever. It’s part of the “sentence” I suppose from his judgment as bishop. Since he’s blessed with that judgment power, he may know what we need to do when we do not.

    As for when and what…I think it depends. It depends on all the things everyone above said:)

    Comment by Bret — November 26, 2007 @ 5:54 pm

  25. I only confess Bill’s sins.

    Comment by annegb — November 26, 2007 @ 8:24 pm

  26. Whose going to argue with Marion G. Romney? His advice is as good as it gets.

    Lamonte,

    It’s certainly sound advice, but it really doesn’t answer the question posed by Don, or really even the question Pres. Romney himself was trying to answer. In essence, what Pres. Romney is saying is that we should confess sins which would put our temple recommends in danger. But that presupposes we know which sins actually do put our temple recommend in danger. Like many here, I’m clear on as to the obvious (I should probably confess murder and adultery to the bishop, but probably don’t need to confess my cussing in traffic), but I don’t know for sure about the middle: discrete violations of the WoW, occasional masturbation, failure to pay tithing, etc. I’ve served in a couple of bishoprics, and these “grey area” questions came up frequently. I never had a good answer to people when they asked me, so I always referred them to the bishop because I thought that should be his call.

    And I’m happy to tell everyone to rely on the spirit for these questions, but isn’t the very nature of serious sin that the spirit withdraws?

    Comment by jimbob — November 26, 2007 @ 9:51 pm

  27. And I’m happy to tell everyone to rely on the spirit for these questions, but isn’t the very nature of serious sin that the spirit withdraws

    I think you’ve hit it jimbob. If the spirit will not return after doing all we can do to repent – I think its time to talk to your bishop.

    Comment by backstreet boy — November 26, 2007 @ 11:00 pm

  28. “…but isn’t the very nature of serious sin that the spirit withdraws?”

    jimbob #26 – But isn’t the very nature of someone wondering whether to go the bishop and confess serious sins indicative of the Spirit returning? I totally agree there are many gray areas that we must deal with when considering this subject. I would say that if you have a question about a particular sin (Should I go see the bishop?) then you probably should go see the bishop. His door is always open. Don’t worry about overloading the bishop because those of us who probably rationalize too many “little sins” as being too trivial to bother the bishop will balance out the scales.

    One of the best things I learned while serving as bishop was that so many of our FAQs (Should I pay tithing on gross vs. net; Is this appropriate behavior for the Sabbath; did I really violate the WofW, and so many more) can and should be resolved between us and the Lord. No need to see the bishop. But if we EVER have a question about any of those issues, or any of the more serious issues, we should always feel comfortable taking it to the bishop. He welcomes you no matter what the circumstance. At least he should.

    Comment by Lamonte — November 27, 2007 @ 7:18 am

  29. When I was bishop, someone once came and confessed to me what seemed a relatively minor transgression. After we finished talking about the issue, he asked me if it had really been necessary for him to confess what he had just finished confessing. I asked him if confessing made him feel better about the situtation, and he said yes. So I said, “Then you’ve just answered your own question.”

    From that experience I learned that confession is often good for the soul. From that point on whenever I was asked what needed to be confessed to a bishop (or other priesthood authority) I always answered the same way: “Whatever you feel like needs confessing.” (And, of course, I didn’t mean for that to be a pass to NOT confess serious issues that affected one’s membership.)

    Comment by Chris Williams — November 27, 2007 @ 7:52 am

  30. Re 27-28: I am going to assume when you say “…if you have a question…” or “…I think it’s time to talk to your bishop…” you mean the hypothetical “you,” and not the you as in “you, jimbob.” Or has my bishop told you something?! Has he?! Has he?! Because everyone agrees that issue with the Wells Fargo truck in Vegas last year was a complete misunderstanding. Well, everyone except Wells Fargo. And the Las Vegas police department. And the FBI.

    Comment by jimbob — November 27, 2007 @ 8:57 am

  31. Chris just demonstrated why he was such a good bishop: he helped people answer their own questions and make their own decisions rather than relying on him to do it for them. Not only is this better for the person but it’s better for the bishop to not need to have all the right answers all the time. This also helps facilitate the Spirit and people’s recognition of the Spirit. Plus, the Handbook condones this type of counsel.

    Comment by Rusty — November 27, 2007 @ 8:59 am

  32. True Rusty. Chris was good like that. And jimbob – Of course I was talking about YOU. I can see you’re sinfulness right through my computer screen… :)

    Comment by cj douglass — November 27, 2007 @ 9:54 am

  33. My scriptural understanding is this: if it is a private sin (no one else is involved), then you confess it to the Lord. If it involves another person, you confess the sin to the Lord and to the offended person. Period. The bishop never needs to be involved except if you’ve offended him, in which case you need to confess your sin to the Lord and to him, or in those cases in which you do not repent, and it is known by more than one person, and they bring accusations against you to the bishop, who holds a court, etc., in which case you then need to repent and confess your sin to him in order that your membership is not in jeopardy. Obviously, some sins, if you truly want to receive forgiveness, require confession to the bishop, who, if he follows the letter of the law, will initiate excommunication procedures. For example, the adultery two strikes and you’re out law. But a first commission of adultery does not require the bishop, only the second commission. Or murder, which would be an automatic excommunication. The bishop’s job is merely to judge whether a person has repented of a sin, in cases in which that is in question (witnesses coming forth) or to enact the excommunication requirements of the law (two strikes and you are out for adultery, one strike and you are out for murder, or, in cases of any other type of iniquity, in which witnesses come forth and you fail to confess and repent, excommunication or disfellowship.) The law is written in D&C 42 concerning these things. The rule of thumb is that only if you do not repent and confess to the Lord and, if there is one, to the offended person, should you be delivered to the bishop for his judgment upon you concerning your membership and good standing. There is no scriptural requirement of sins needing to be confessed to the bishop before forgiveness can be received if the sin is repented of or not one of the above two types (2nd adultery and murder.)

    One other thing, obviously during the temple recommend interview, when asked the questions, they should be answered honestly. But a simple “yes” or “no” is sufficient. There is no need to, nor should you, elaborate unless you’ve committed one of the automatic expulsion sins (adultery twice or murder.) For the most part, everything should remain between you, the Lord and the person or persons offended.

    Comment by LDS Anarchist — November 27, 2007 @ 1:40 pm

  34. I don’t like the idea of confessing to a bishop unless the person feels they really need to. It seems like such a total invasion on my privacy. I’m not saying I’m perfect. I ask the Lord for forgiveness (and others) all too often. But confessing to someone I know some of the most private and intimate details of one’s life just… ick… feels really awful actually. For some, hey, if you need it, by all means. By I’ve always looked for a scripture that said that Christ died for our sins… except in some instances where, in order to participate in the atonement, we have to ask an intermediary first who will then let us know if we are forgiven. I haven’t yet found that scripture. I would probably be much more OK with confessing to someone I hardly know if it were at least done anonymously, like with the Catholic church, you’re behind a curtain or veil or whatever.

    Comment by Lulubelle — November 27, 2007 @ 1:59 pm

  35. How come everyone keeps talking about the scriptures as if new revelation has never been received?

    Comment by Cheryl — November 27, 2007 @ 2:48 pm

  36. But a first commission of adultery does not require the bishop, only the second commission.

    Sorry, Anarchist, but I think you’re way off on this one. I highly doubt that you’ll find any bishop in the church that agrees with your interpretation of D&C 42. If you read The Miracle of Forgiveness, you’ll find that adultery is a serious sin that in many, but not all, cases will demand excommunication.

    However, it seems clear to me that even when adultery is committed once, and the person is repentant, there will still be penalties, either probation or disfellowshipping.

    Other sexual sins, such as fornication, homosexuality, sexual abuse, and even heavy petting require confesson and will usually result in some kind of disciplinary action, and in some cases, excommunication.

    I think that you need to take into consideration the fact that it is the bishop’s interpretation of D&C 42, and not yours, that matters in dealing with serious sins. I don’t have a copy of the full CHI, but I’m sure that one of the former bishops that post here can provide some data for this.

    Comment by Mitchell — November 27, 2007 @ 3:35 pm

  37. Mitchell – since it has been more than 6 years since my release as bishop I can’t say that I can quote the handbook chapter and verse (never could, actually) but this is what I recall from that time. In dealing with matters of adultery it was always necessary to elevate a case involving a Melchizedek Priesthood holder to the Stake President and the High Council. Sisters in similar circumstances could be dealt with by the local or ward leaders – the bishop and his counselors. I suppose some bishops go looking for members who are actively committing transgressions in order to “weed them out” of the congregation and that is certainly their right to do so. I chose not to do this. I remember being told by the bishop that I replaced of a certain sister who was in the process of getting a divorce that there were “disciplinary issues” that needed my attention once I got settled. I never persued those issues. That sister remained somewhat inactive for 2 or 3 years. I visited her home, along with my counselors on more than one occasion and invited her back to church. Then one day she came back to church and SHE came to ME and said she needed to resolve some issues from her past. We ultimately held a disciplinary coucil and she worked her way back into full activity and eventually went back to the temple.

    I suppose that the decision to excommunicate is sometimes based on the severity of the transgression (was the adultary a one-time thing, was it an ongoing issue, did it happen with more than one partner, were family members injured by the action, were there children involved in the marriage, etc, etc) and sometimes it depends on the attitude of the offender (were they humble and repentant, were they defiant and unwilling to accept regret and remorse, etc., etc.). Often the person involved requests excommunication, not because they want to leave the church but because they see the need to start over, start fresh. That can be a long process usually taking years of faithful repentance before a person can be re-baptised but I have seen it happen. Just last week I saw a fellow who attends another ward at church with his wife. I was on the High Council about four years ago when he was excommunicated. His wife is a non-member and that was always an issue all by itself. Although I hoped otherwise, I assumed the reasons for his excommunication (adultery facilitated by his longstanding addiction to pornography) would not only end his marriage but would end any chances of him and his wife continuing association in the church. I am so happy that he has continued in his journey back to full membership in the church. Since I am not on the High Council anymore nor am I a member of the Stake Presidency I don’t know his status in the church but it makes my heart glad to see he is continuing a hard fought battle to do the right thing.

    Like so many issues in the church I beleive that church disciplinary actions are often the subjective decision of the local leaders – hopefully guided in all things by the Spirit.

    Comment by Lamonte — November 28, 2007 @ 5:52 am

  38. Yes, Mitchell, I am well aware of what many bishops believe and how they interpret the scriptures, as well as what the CHI says and also The Miracle of Forgiveness, on this issue. I am also aware of the practice of ignoring D&C 42: 24-26′s two strikes and you’re out rule for adultery by the priesthood leadership. Undoubtedly, we have many double time adulterers and adulteresses in the church who have not been cast out (excommunicated.) But my comment only dealt with what the scriptures say, and the law of the church (D&C 42) does not say “[name sin] must be confessed to the bishop in order to receive forgiveness.” What ends up happening, if any sin is either confessed to a bishop, or testified to one by witnesses as having been committed by a member of the church, is that, as a judge, he then obtains, in a sense, jurisdiction and can judge the worthiness of that member. He can then initiate disciplinary action. Ultimately, then, it is not the bishop’s interpretation of D&C 42 that gets people to confess their sins to him, but the people’s interpretation of D&C 42. If they believe they must do it, they will do it. If he believes they must do it and they don’t believe they must do it, they won’t do it. Only when he becomes aware of a sin does his jurisdiction as a judge begin.

    Comment by LDS Anarchist — November 28, 2007 @ 6:03 am

  39. Thanks, Lamonte, for bringing a bishop’s perspective into this.

    Anarchist, let me first state that basing your entire argument on an interpretation of what those verses meant in 1831 is highly problematic, considering how much things have changed since the revelation was given (whether or not those changes are good is the topic of another post). A close reading of the revelation shows that the church’s power structure has shifted quite a bit, but even taking into consideration the original intent of the revelation, I don’t see how your purely individualist interpretation of vs. 24-26 stands.

    In the first place, the revelation was given to the Elders of the Church, which reflects the power of the Elders during the first few years of the Church (I suggest you (re)read Quinn’s Hierarch vol. 1 for more background on this). If we skip down to vs. 80-82, we read that the adulterer is tried by two or more elders (the Bishop is only present if necessary) and the evidence is established by the testimony of two or more witnesses. Then, if the evidence shows that adultery has been committed, the case is thrown to the congregation, which then votes on whether or not to cast out the convicted sinner.

    So, that’s obviously different from now. With that context in place, let’s go back to vs. 24-26. Vs. 18 says that the Lord is speaking unto “the church.” It’s unclear if the church refers to the Elders (vs. 1) or the congregation (vs. 81). Anyway, it is to the church that vs. 24-26 are given.

    Vs. 24: I read that as saying that a first time unrepentant adulterer should be cast out.

    Vs. 25: I read that as saying that if a first time adulterer is repentant, then an unspecified “thou” should forgive the adulterer. I think the thou should refer either to the Elders or the congregation, but regardless, it’s apparent to me that the repentant first time adulterer still needs to make the sin known so “the church” can then forgive the sinner.

    Vs. 26: I read this as saying that a second time unrepentant adulterer is to be cast out.

    So, while it’s apparent that the way we do things now is different from how the 1831 revelation lays things out, it is still evident to me that even D&C 42 specifies that first time repentant adulterers need to judged and forgiven by the unspecified “thou.” I don’t think that verse 25 supports your contention that the first time adulterer can simply confess to the Lord and is therefore repentant. Someone (meaning the church) needs to forgive that person in order for them to be fully repentant.

    Comment by Mitchell — November 28, 2007 @ 11:19 am

  40. Mitchell, I appreciate you going to the revelation and re-analyzing it. I hope we would all do this when faced with a differing interpretation. It’s obvious that this topic and this revelation requires more space to expound than a comments section. I’m going to make a note to write a detailed post on it in my own blog, as I think it is important enough to merit attention. What I will say here, though, is that your interpretation of verse 26 creates a redundancy, as the Lord already states this thing in verse 24. Also, the Lord states in numerous other verses that if you do [this or that, such as steal, lie, etc.], and do not repent, you are to be cast out, finally summarizing the principle in verse 28, “he that sinneth and repenteth not shall be cast out.” One last thing, you’ve taken verse 24 out of its context. It is part of a sentence that begins in verse 25, and thus should be read together like this, “But he that has committed adultery and repents with all his heart, and forsaketh it, and doeth it no more, thou shalt forgive; but if he doeth it again, he shall not be forgiven, but shall be cast out.” The word “it” found in the phrase “if he doeth it again” does not refer to the previous sentence, but to the action being describes in the present sentence, namely, committing adultery. You can interpret “it” as meaning merely “committing adultery” or as “committing adultery and repenting and forsaking it and doing it no more,” but it is not correct to take the “it” to mean what it meant in the previous sentence, namely, “committing unrepentant adultery.” Any English professor could show that English grammar rules don’t allow such jumping around. To do so would be to break the rules of grammar.

    Comment by LDS Anarchist — November 28, 2007 @ 2:07 pm

  41. Any English professor could show that English grammar rules don’t allow such jumping around. To do so would be to break the rules of grammar.

    And we all know that scripture never breaks grammar rules. I guess it’s settled. Congrats, Mr. Anarchist.

    Comment by Patrick — November 28, 2007 @ 2:23 pm

  42. Anarchist: Although I think you misread what I was saying about verse 26, it’s not worth going into here. I’m much more interested in verse 25 and this business of the “thou” forgiving the adulterer, and how that relates to your argument that D&C 42 teaches that a first time adulterer does not need to involve a bishop in order to repent. I’ll look forward to your own post on this.

    Comment by Mitchell — November 28, 2007 @ 2:34 pm

  43. AS someone who grew up in Utah, the local church leadership is waaaaaaaaaaaaay too obsessed with masturbation. At least half of my priest quorum lessons were on the evils of masturbation. In hindsight, I think this was a terrible waste of time. Instead of listening to our 50-year old bishop ramble on about the evils of masturbation (who probably heard about these evils from his father who heard about these evils while fighting in WWII), we could have been learning more about the atonement and Joseph Smith.

    I think the church should seriously re-examine this issue. Sure, people shouldn’t spend all their waking hours masturbating, but it’s ridiculous to pretend that no one does it.

    It’s even more ridiculous to waste precious class room time talking about it. And I’m sure bishops are just about sick of people racking themselves with guilt for masturbating. it’s a waste of time for bishops.

    Comment by karl pinnegar — December 8, 2007 @ 11:54 pm

  44. [...] Back in November, I came across a blog article called, “Which Sins Do You Confess To The Bishop?” Most of the comments followed the presupposition that there were certain sins that members were required to confess to their bishop on their own, in order to obtain forgiveness from the Lord. My comments (which you can read on that page, beginning with comment #33) were based upon a reading of the scripture (D&C 42) that showed no concrete command to the church to confess to their ecclesiastical authorities if no witnesses were testifying against them. [...]

    Pingback by Are we commanded to confess to ecclesiastical authories without witnesses? « LDS Anarchy — January 18, 2008 @ 11:04 pm

  45. You should confess because you masterbates that is not addicted to it? Tell me that a person can only do it once and never again. It’s like any other drug in its addictive response in the brain. If you masterbate you’re either an addict, or you’ll soon be one. Lusting over pictures and video of shady women is pretty bad. The Lord delights in the chastity of his girls. How would you feel about it if you were the God. I’d have my holy shotgun ready to use it. It’s bad. It’s addictive too. You can’t ever beat the addiction without confession either. Trust me. Confession is a source of strength. Secrets and deceit are sins too. Are you honest in your dealings? Not if you’re lying about your sexual secrets. BOOM! Not temple worthy. Sexual sins are BAD. They should be confessed for your own sake. What do you have to lose? A little humiliation? Let go of your pride and feel good about yourself. Confess.

    Comment by David — November 7, 2010 @ 12:26 am

  46. I’d like to put my two cents in here. I came here looking for an answer myself, being conflicted about repenting for a sin committed in the past.
    I prayed about this, and thought about it for quite a long while.
    I feel that you need to confess to the bishop and let him help you through it if it’s something you think you need help with.
    For sins that do not involve another, they are between you and the Lord. Forgive yourself, and ask the Lord for his forgiveness, and make a promise to yourself and the Lord that you will try as hard as you are capable of to not repeat the sin. Be honest, earnest, and have a broken heart and contrite spirit. If you feel the spirit hasn’t returned to you yet or you feel a promting to speak with the bishop, then do so ASAP! Sometimes you need a little extra help, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
    If it’s a sin involving someone else, confess to them, and confess to the Lord, and again, confess to the Bishop if you feel you need it, or will help speed the repentence process. Ask yourself, the other person involved, and the Lord for forgiveness.

    I committed a sin between myself and the Lord. I prayed about it with a broken heart and contrite spirit. I asked the Lord to help me find an answer and help me repent for this. I have forgiven myself, and I feel that the Lord has forgiven me without the help of my bishop.

    Good luck. Remember that God loves you.

    Comment by lrw — August 1, 2011 @ 3:52 pm

  47. I’m glad to see this thread get resurected because it seems like there might be more to say. My favorite quote is this one:

    “I’d have my holy shotgun ready to use it.”

    I guess the holy shotgun is at least one step down from the holy hand grenade. Probably described in a different part of the book of armaments.

    Comment by MCQ — August 1, 2011 @ 10:43 pm

  48. I noticed (I confessed that I skimmed through the middle, so excuse me if my observation is incorrect) that a lot of the issues of confessing to your bishop are directed towards men. I just thought I’d add my share as a woman to this.

    I respect everything the Church has put out on moral standards. They keep you safe – Temple Worthy and from apostatizing – and it’s still your choice whether or not to follow those standards, although your safety may be put in jeopardy if you choose not to follow the standards. However, I don’t think that the Church has emphasized the moral issues that women deal with too. In addition to the generally covered “self-worth” and “modesty” issues, women also have problems with pornography, lustful thoughts, and even masturbation. However, because 1. these topics when applied to women are that much more taboo and 2. the Bishop does happen to be a different gender, with different thought processes and judgments and feelings, it is especially hard to confess these sins to the Bishop.

    It might be a little late by the time I recieve any answer (because I’m planning on speaking with my Bishop tonight on a moral issue), but what are your thoughts concerning how women can approach their Bishop?

    Comment by lilli — January 15, 2012 @ 1:43 pm

  49. lilli, please feel free to report back on how things went with your bishop. We would love to hear your thoughts.

    As for your question, I would say that, being a man, I might not have the perfect perspective on this, but if i were a bishop I would not want or expect women in the ward to approach me in any different way than men. In my expreience, bishops are generally very willing and anxious to help their ward members, whether men or women.

    Let us know how you think your experience went and how you think bishops can improve in helping women in their wards.

    Comment by MCQ — January 19, 2012 @ 12:13 am

  50. If one has committed heavy petting but has fully repented, can he or she still get married in the temple?

    Comment by anna dalled — February 20, 2012 @ 9:50 am

  51. Anna:

    The answer to your question is yes.

    Even those who have committed fornication or adultery can get married in the temple, but only after full repentance.

    We believe very firmly in repentance, and almost all sins, with the exception of one or two very serious sins, can be repented of, and once complete repentance has taken place, a person can go to the temple, to get married or perform other ordinances.

    Comment by MCQ — February 20, 2012 @ 11:45 pm

  52. QUESTION???
    If I left the LDS church at 16 and at 20 was baptised in the Lutheran church because I felt pressure from my husbands family and now 22 years later I did attend the Lutheran Church for about 10-12 years but not real reagularly. I have prayed and prayed and finally when I asked the Lord to hit me with a Brick I was called to be a Family History Consultant and have been going to church when I can and I even paid Tithing. My Question is that I never told ANYONE that I baptised Lutheran probably out of guilt. Should I talk to the Bishop about this??

    Comment by Paw722 — May 25, 2012 @ 10:30 am

  53. Personally, I don’t think your Lutheran baptism matters at all. If you are concerned, by all means consult with your bishop, but as long as you were never removed from the records of the LDS Church your LDS baptism should still be effective, regardles of your Lutheran baptism.

    Comment by MCQ — May 25, 2012 @ 4:01 pm

  54. I will tell you what I don’t confess: the depth of my personal evolution re spirituality, God, and my growing conviction that God’s club isn’t as exclusive as Mormon hierarchy would like us to proclaim. I just answer the questions properly and keep the caveats in my head.

    If I ever have a bishop who I think would understand what I meant, I’ll explain. For now, my last bishop is a guy who thought CS Lewis made the movie “The Ten Commandments” and my current bishop is his son. They’re good guys, but they don’t get me.

    Comment by annegb — July 3, 2012 @ 2:16 pm

  55. I’m sure they don’t, but who really does annegb? Are there any people in your life who are actually on your page with you? There are very few in my life.

    I guess a TR interview isn’t the proper place for that discussion anyway. There should be places in real life where we can discuss those things with our fellow ward members, but until there is, thank goodness for the ‘nacle.

    Comment by MCQ — July 3, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

  56. The way I look at this involves understanding the Law of Moses and ancient Temple ordinances. The Bishop who is ordained with the same Priesthood as Aaron holds the keys of repentance and the atonement within the ward. It is his sole responsibility to be the Lord’s mouthpiece when it comes to matters of repentance.

    This being said, it is not required to confess before him all and sundry however, there are sins that inhibit our spiritual growth that only he has the keys to, this includes those of a sexual nature.

    He administers to the one seeking repentance in the manner that the Saviour would with love, kindness and compassion. He uses the scriptures to set the sinner back on the path to exaltation so they can walk ahead knowing they are forgiven and no longer accountable for those wrongs.

    This Priesthood places us under the baptismal covenant. It stands to reason that there is a strong connection with the Aaronic Priesthood and the Atonement as the covenant of baptism and subsequent sacrament is directly linked with the principles of repentance.

    It is pretty basic:- the laws governing repentance are handled by one with the authority, keys and ordination to that office within the Aaronic Priesthood. This is logical and orderly.

    Of course, with this in mind, the logical sequence to this is the Melchizedek Priesthood has a direct connection to those we refer to as “higher” covenants.

    The Bishopric counsellor was right in stopping the confession – as should anyone within the congregation – nobody but the Bishop has the right to hear of such sins.

    Having had somebody spurge out about their adulterous infidelity I know personally how unpleasant it is and the weight on my shoulders that I bore after. It was made worse by the fact that she refused to see the Bishop and I was placed in a position of whether or not to say anything. That sister quickly went inactive.

    I could not help her through the repentance process but the Bishop could had she given him a chance. The Lord’s organisation is logical and functional, requiring faith and trust in Him. I guess this is why we are here, to walk by faith.

    Comment by Jacinta — July 5, 2012 @ 8:53 pm

  57. President Kimball said: “To every forgiveness there is a condition. … The fasting, the prayers, the humility must be equal to or greater than the sin. There must be a broken heart and a contrite spirit. … There must be tears and genuine change of heart. There must be conviction of the sin, abandonment of the evil, confession of the error to properly constituted authorities of the Lord” (The Miracle of Forgiveness [1969], 353).
    For many people, confession is the most difficult part of repentance. We must confess not only to the Lord but also to the person we have offended, such as a husband or wife, and to the proper priesthood authority. The priesthood leader (bishop or stake president) will judge our standing in the Church. The Lord told Alma, “Whosoever transgresseth against me … if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also” (Mosiah 26:29).
    (Gospel Principles, Chapter 39: The Law of chastity)

    Comment by Rachael — April 6, 2013 @ 8:52 pm

  58. Thanks for the quotes, Rachael. It is interesting to me that we don’t hear nearly as much about The Miracle of Forgiveness as we used to. I think the Church has moved on from some of the answers SWK provided, though a lot of the book is obviously still very applicable.

    Comment by MCQ — April 7, 2013 @ 2:58 pm

  59. It’s a given that I am mentally ill, a bit of a loose cannon. This buys me some leeway in my recommend interview. I’m always tense in the interviews because I’m still disappointed with some of my leaders, although I love those same guys. Frankly, I think they’re tense, too. So we try to make it quick and I don’t do much confessing beyond the elephant in the room that we acknowledge with a quick nod.

    Comment by annegb — April 12, 2013 @ 8:23 am

  60. The elephant in the room? What do you mean?

    Comment by MCQ — April 12, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

  61. My mental issues, mcq…….you know, the reason why you find me so fascinatingly alluring.

    Comment by annegb — April 15, 2013 @ 9:08 am

  62. I don’t think that’s the reason.

    Comment by MCQ — April 15, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

  63. I have an addiction to crossdressing, I’ve had it since childhood. Should I confess to my bishop, is it a serious sin, and what might the consequences be if I confess? I’m a 16 year old aaronic priesthood holder. Any bishops on here that can give me some advice?

    Comment by J — May 20, 2013 @ 3:59 pm

  64. J, I’m not a bishop, but I am pretty certain that crossdressing is not a sin.

    Comment by MCQ — May 21, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

  65. I used to feel the recommend interview was the equivalent of the confessional and spilled my guts about all my sins and shortcomings.

    Now, I keep it short and just answer the questions the way they want me to. I figure it’s all between me and God anyway, as long as I’m not committing adultery or serial murder.

    Comment by annegb — May 30, 2013 @ 7:33 am

  66. I think the recommend interview is just for answering the questions. Unless you have questions about how to answer, you should just keep it to yes and no. If you have things to confess, you probably shouldn’t be in the recommend interview. That should be a separate meeting.

    Comment by MCQ — June 3, 2013 @ 9:26 pm

  67. I would suggest, however, that the threshold for confession is probably somewhere this side of adultery and serial murder.

    Comment by MCQ — June 3, 2013 @ 9:29 pm

  68. Masturbation does not require confession. Read the handbook (Handbook 1). Only serious transgressions require confession, and the handbook’s definition of serious transgression doesn’t reach to masturbation. Far from it.

    If masturbation is a sin, it is a private sin, and repentance can be private.

    If one wants to confess, let him or her. But we mustn’t make anyone else think he or she MUST confess something as minor as this to a bishop.

    Comment by ji — March 2, 2014 @ 3:51 pm

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