I got an email from a young man who asked me this question. Here is my response to him:
I greatly appreciate opportunities to do a little research on psychological topics, and your question has provoked this opportunity. So many people in our culture/religion just take it for granted that you have to talk to a bishop about such things without exploring why. I found a few articles in the Ensign and New Era (links below), but I wanted to address my thoughts on the topic first.
As I scroll through my head my own experience and the experience of many clients with confessing sins with Bishops, a few thoughts come to mind. In general, there is a common, unexpected sensation of relief. As if a burden has been lifted. As a psychologist I find this interesting because it is so different from what thoughts and feelings keep an individual from visiting with their Bishop in the first place. We each fear that the confession will make things worse, but it turns out making things better. Interesting paradox.
Coming at this from a more doctrinal level…
1-Bishops are referred to as Judges in Israel. They play some kind of proxy role for Christ.
2-Many of the things Christ set up in this church are activities that are symbolic. The sacrament is symbolic. Baptism is symbolic. Christ was baptized to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15).
3-Ether 12:27: “…my (Christ’s) cgrace is sufficient for all men that dhumble themselves before me (or my proxy, your bishop); for if they (the “sinner”) humble themselves before me (or my steward, you bishop), and have faith in me, then will I make eweak things become strong unto them (the sinner will be given one more piece of the power necessary to overcome the weakness).”
It appears that going to the bishop to confess sins is symbolic of having the courage and humility necessary to go before Christ to confess. There are many spiritual people that have the idea that coming unto Christ should not need to include a symbolic activity like baptism. But, for some reason that I am still working to comprehend, from the beginning of time (Adam doing a sacrifice), Christ has used symbolic activities.
So, I encourage you to set aside your feelings of fear and/or humiliation, and follow through on the symbolism of confessing to your bishop as if you were confessing to Christ. You will probably have it explained to you through personal revelations after you act with faith (“ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” Ether 12:6)
For the future, I have made a rule for myself that seems to work for both me and for others. If I can’t get idea of confessing to my bishop to stop tormenting me, then I just go dump it on his desk and let him decide if I need to confess to him. The rule I use before that is, “Don’t do anything that might cause me this kind of torment.” Both rules have worked very well for me for a very long time.
Let me know if you would like more discussion on this topic.
Oh yeah, here are the links I found