The following is my reply to a very intense yet edifying conversation in our Sons of Mosiah on-line training group concerning the question posed above:
Wow, you guys, you are totally turning this forum into the intense conversations I would hope this would be come. I am glad you are all brave enough to be open and honest about your perspectives.
I will attempt to be useful now and put my 20+ years of study, inspiration and experience to use on this topic of Confessing Sins to Church Leaders.
I was raised on the Mormon conveyer belt…Deacon, Teacher, Priest, go into the MTC. It was due to the challenges of my mission that I really started to think about life and the meaning of things. Since I became a therapist even more challenging situations have surfaced that don’t follow easy text book answers. In my office I have met many people who have been greatly benefited by confessions with Bishops. It is nice when a Bishop or Stake President has a good set of skills and sensitivity and when you meet with them, “he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another and both are edified and rejoice together.” (D&C 50:22)
Then there are those other times. I am sad that some people have experienced hurt and/or confusion when meeting with church leaders for the purpose of confession. This can be painful and discouraging. But, I think this experience can be minimized by taking a few steps.
Here is what I recommend.
1. Read (or listen to if you are like me) at least 3 different prophets or apostles talks/lessons on this topic. Be sure to get the perspective of those who get their information directly from God on what needs to go through a Bishop and what does not. If we believe that Prophets are the mouth piece of God, then we need to get very familiar with what they have to say on this topic. It is interesting to hear the opinions of us non-prophets, but we are not qualified to answer the question. I would recommend a few talks, but with modern search engines, it would be best to find your own so you don’t feel swayed by me in a certain direction.
2. Remember that when you have a recent history of misbehavior (especially at the addict level), your brain may be resistant to hearing things that contradict your usual thinking patterns. Ask yourself if you are resistant to what I have suggested in #1 above. Yes, our relationship with God is the highest priority, but if this same God took the time to set up an organization that is run by prophets, that He took the time to choose, then this same God may expect us to take the time to familiarize ourselves with the teachings of these prophets. Do you agree? Will you follow through on finding out what the prophets have to say?
3. If you find 2 or more prophets who testify that the issue you are dealing with does need to go through a Judge in Israel, then I invite you to begin the process by reconnecting deeply with God before going into see your Bishop. Specifically request that your church leader will be inspired to understand your situation and provide you with insightful counsel. Specifically pray for your own communication to be humble and clear. Pray for the Spirit of Discernment as you get ready. When you meet, be polite and respectful, but assertively let the Bishop know that because you have had some uncomfortable experiences in the past, you just need reassurance. Explore with your Bishop questions like, “What process do you use to decide the consequences of a person’s sin?” or “How can you tell if a person is truly repentant or not?” “Can you please reassure me that what you have decided about me is based on revelation?” (I can make a long list of questions like this if it would be helpful.)
4. After you explore these questions with him, take your experience with this Bishop to God directly. Let Him know your thoughts and feelings. As you are prayerful, God will work through His called servants regardless of their weaknesses and you will find God working for your behalf. I hope each of us has the courage to do this. It will take a significant amount of courage, but as someone once told me, courage is not a lack of fear, but being afraid and doing it anyway. It is an eternal principle that in order to complete the repentance process there are some things that need to be confessed with church leaders. This is not intended to be a humiliating experience, but greatly edifying if done right.
I am sad for anyone who has had uncomfortable experiences with church leaders, but my confidence in God is unwaning. I have seen power of God work with us mortal men who have been called by Him to do our work. I have experienced insight and revelation way beyond my own wisdom when the person who has come to see me does so with a prayerful heart. I have been empowered with the resources to overcome my own limitations. I am confident your leaders will be able to do the same. The Bishops that I meet with and work with are working very hard to be good servants in the hands of God. They are taking time away from their families, employment and fun to attempt to be of service to us. May we be responsible to bring the Spirit of God with us into these relationships as much as we expect them to do so.
Anyone have any thoughts or questions?
For more information on the Sons of Mosiah program or married adult version of the program, Men of Moroni, text “?” to 8016356474 or email “Help” to firstname.lastname@example.org