Confession Time

Note: This is a guest post. It was not written by me (Tim Malone). I used to accept guest posts many years ago. It remains here since it is part of the historical record.

My mother (bless her heart) has been posting these new “helpful” videos put out by the Church that promotes the Church’s 12-step program, which is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. The Church’s program is targeted toward those with drug or sex addictions, and some with eating disorders.

I like what AA has done for people. I think the 12-step program is a GOOD program, at least its principles are good, even inspired. The videos are good. I thought it was very brave for a person to get up and tell their story that way, until I noticed that the people confessing on camera also had a camera following them around showing us their sinful ways and the repercussions of their sins. Yes, they were actors. I wonder of that sends the wrong message. I get that people are ashamed, but I also wonder how powerful it would be if a real person said these things, raw, in front of a camera, then stated . . . and I’m a Mormon.

Full disclosure, I have had a mild addiction to pornography. The joke is . . . who hasn’t, at least among us men. I get a little sensitive to people (like my mother) who have no such addictions, being pre-occupied with such things, worrying about the beams in others eyes. OR . . . a Church full of men who have never made the kinds of mistakes that would embarrass the Church (the shameful “heinous” kind), having been fully vetted, now setting themselves up as a light to help heal those of us that have as if they have it all figured out. None of them have had sex or drug addictions. They were able to escape such holocausts, or hide them enough to escape the Church vetting process. Can they really help us bear that burden? I don’t think we contemplate enough the mystery of how Christ can succor our pain. Perhaps there is more to this than we think, being the only perfect being, yet feeling the weight of every sin upon His shoulders.

It made me think about sin in general and how it relates to shame, to culture, to the idea that in the LDS world, we rank sins according to their heinousness through a misapplication of Alma 39. One wonders why we don’t have 12-step programs for anger, indifference, pride, arrogance, vanity, selfishness, greed, or self-righteousness. What does it say about the state of the Church that the very things that are keeping us from Zion are the very things that we care little about in terms of repentance? What does it say about a church that keeps tallies on its members to vet them so that they won’t get into the kinds of leadership positions that would embarrass the Church, as a missionary, or for a future leadership assignment.

We all know certain priesthood leaders that take their calling this way–spending more time worrying about “protecting the flock” than saving the stray sheep, but again, only from certain “heinous” sins. Come, confess to the bishop . . . share your pain and lighten your burden with a servant of the Lord . . . , to disallow you the opportunity to serve, or deny you ordinances because the Lord needs you to suffer and scrub your heart completely clean (on only some sins) before you can have that temple recommend back, or so we can quietly annotate your record if you have crossed certain lines. Talk about ulterior motives. No Alma the Youngers allowed. Do you think that encourages MORE repentance, or less, especially among men who subconsciously rank their righteousness with how many priesthood keys they hold? I believe this to be anti-Christ and an abuse of the priesthood that God has given men. It’s no wonder signs and miracles are not seen in our day . . . too many of our priesthood holders have had it “amened” quietly by the Lord, and they have not repented in order to get it back; they feel they are justified by a secret handbook that has no power to save. They heap judgments upon their brother, many against their own promptings, but feeling they have to be obedient to the handbook. They then rush to give the widow a blessing, but there is little power in this blessing. Why have miracles ceased, says Moroni, because of unbelief (unbelief in God’s ways, belief in man’s system of obedience to handbooks or the written order of things).

37 Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.

38 For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made. Moroni 7: 37-38

Then there is this guy, confessions of a Mormon bishop . . .

I enjoyed reading his perspective. It was a good read. I wonder if he has been unwittingly placed in a position he is not supposed to be placed. I wonder if one of the problems we have in the LDS community is caused by “confession” to a bishop or stake president.

Confession in our culture, is upheld often as the most necessary part of repentance. We have this shame and guilt of sin, we are told to bear it to our “judge in Israel” and we feel lighter. I understand this is a cultural understanding and not a doctrinal one. The Church’s official position would disallow such things. Nonetheless, when we go the bishop, we often feel we are forgiven, particularly if he is sympathetic and kind, like this good man. I wonder if this is a false forgiveness–all of those who leave the bishop’s office feeling better. And . . . since we only confess “heinous” sins, one wonders if we don’t get ENOUGH repentance. We stop short of what is required of the Lord, to give away ALL our sins to know Him. I get that confession can help, so who better to confess to, than your own spouse! If we would also spend more time in our closets crying unto the Lord for forgiveness and a change of heart, instead of crawling to the bishop, perhaps we would qualify for that mighty change of heart, and lose the disposition to sin. I know in my life, as I have cried unto the Lord, and have taken the time to give away all my sins, and have received the Baptism of Fire, that I lost the disposition to sin entirely. That’s not to say that I’m not perfect, but that I am a changed being. The light is quicker to embrace, and it’s quicker to return. I know the Lord and that He is quick to forgive, so in turn, I am quicker to forgive myself and worry less about the guilt and shame, and worry more about embracing the light. It’s changing me for the better.

Let’s give bishops less sleepless nights and rely more upon the Lord!

12 thoughts on “Confession Time”

  1. My Institute teacher confessed how he dealt with confessions while serving as a bishop in a family ward in Mesa, AZ. He would often come in late on Thursday evenings as that was thd preferred day for his ward members to bare their souls to him by appointment. Sunday was just a bit too public for the all seeing eyes of the curious.

    His wife would see him stumble into the house heavy with the burden of these endless and often repeated confessions. She saw how hard it was on him and he had no way to talk through it. In their creative survival mode, they came up with a pretty clever “Remember-them-no-more” approach. He would watch an entire Ann of Green Gables movie (or at least until he fell asleep in his chair) to cleanse and replace in his mind the unwanted knowledge of the deviance human beings are capable of. Forever after that, when he came in from a long night of confessions, his wife coukd take one look at him and ask, “Is it an Ann of Green Gables Night?” One night, in the early 2000’s shortly after the internet was in full swing, pumping all manner of filth into every neighborhood home that would have it, he came stumbling in exceptionally late, and he looked exceptionally burden-worn. So his wife asked the question, “Is it an Ann of Green Gables Night?” Feeling she already knew the answer, she was surprised when he said, “no.” She looked at him strange and after the right amount of pause, He exclaimed, “It is a two movie Ann of Green Gables Night!” where upon they sat down to double the familiar cleansing and replacing routine.

  2. Interesting thoughts .I served in multiple bishoprics for 14 years including 9 as Bishop. I certainly spent 100s of hours maybe close to thousands trying to help people repent of “serious'”sins .I presently serve as a group leader in the local state prison ministry to a group of approximately 25 LDS members ( the bulk of whom are RMs) who are serving lengthy prison terms as sexual offenders .I am presently using the LDS addiction recovering materials in my weekly meetings with them, I have 2 thoughts . First while I do believe in the importance of confession ( D&C 58 :43) and its efficacy under the correct circumstances the present approach in ecclesiastical settings is seriously flawed. In my ward which had rampant issues ( my goal was to go a whole year w/o a pregnant teenager- never made it etc) there were too many people who were so overwhelmed by guilt and the attendant compulsion to confess that it was difficult to make the time to deal with more fundamental issues. The culture of shame that we have created connected with sexual desires and such minor issues as masturbation and even pornography easily leads members to fail to believe in the efficacy of the Atonement and focus on their sins rather than God’s love for them. Secondly there are in my mind more serious sins than some ( like child pornography etc) that my brothers are imprisoned for. Our prison meetings are some the best most spiritual meetings I have ever attended. Not only is the Spirit there but revelation takes place and souls are redeemed. Several SPs who have attended our worship services say things like “why can’t we have remarkably spiritual meetings like that in the wards in my Stake”. The answer is the members of your wards generally haven’t had their hearts broken like those in the prison have.The issue is our humility and whether we come to the Savior with a broken heart ( as do my incarcerated brothers) or do we in the pride of our hearts sit and partake of the sacrament to our condemnation. It is that pride ,envying and competition that we should confess and repent of. In 9 years I never had a member come to me to confess their pride or envying Ultimately confession and the state of our souls is between the Lord and ourselves not some intermediary no matter what his calling.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I have never been in a bishopric, or in Church leadership positions, so I was basing my commentary on what I have learned from others. I believe your testimony adds valuable insight to this problem of shaming and how it’s a negative feedback loop to sin and confession.

  3. 7 Elevations of Wholeness

    Alma says this about repentance and how fast it works: “Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.”

    The word IMMEDIATELY is not there on accident! We make people go through long processes of repentance and think that if they do so many steps and so much service, and become humiliated enough that that will cause them to have a broken heart and contrite spirit. It won’t! Only our own confession to GOD on a daily basis for those sins like pride, selfishness, fear and judgment will take us out of the pattern of sin. I know repentance works the moment we repent and choose differently. We do not have to wait for the word of a leader to tells us we are forgiven to be forgiven. It is as fast as we are willing to go to God and repent and choose differently. I agree with everything you’ve said and I watch daily as people change their lives as they choose to stop being ashamed that they are sinners (we all are sinners — SO WHAT!) and take the power of the atonement into their lives and seek the Lord. When we are let off the hook for being less than we want to be, and realize that everyone is less than they were in the pre-existence then we can face that we only have to grab hold of the atonement and look to God and LIVE! Oh what a different world it would be if we taught that repentance is beautiful and exciting and easy instead of that it’s for the “bad guys”!

  4. Although posted under my name, the following was sent by a reader who wished to remain anonymous. – Tim

    Hello I’m Carhart. I’ve been sober since June 15, 1993. I’m taking this opportunity to tell my story and a little bit about my understanding of the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

    I drank with complete abandon from the time I was 15 until age 42, in other words anytime I got a chance. I was a Baptized member of the church and attended seminary until my junior year then the drinking was more fun than thinking about going to church.

    The next few years I started a business and got married and had a family.The next few years were very successful but eventually I became very depressed and knew that things were not happening the way God wanted them to be, so I quit drinking cold turkey.

    I immediately became suicidal and homicidle to an extent,of an almost complete breakdown. Lost my marriage and my business.

    A doctor suggested I go to AA, so in 1988 I attended my first meeting. I kept on going for about 3-4 years , I thought it was about a form of group therapy. I read their literature but never figured out that I needed to have a complete psychic change. And the meetings I was going to it was never really talked about.Now, in that time period in a meeting in my hometown a man that was visiting told a story of Jesus appearing to him and giving him a hug and telling him that he loved him.Now every Mormon knows that only happens to Prophets that live in Utah not ex-problem drinkers ( Catholic,cigar smoking,gamblers) from New Jersey.

    I didn’t know what to do with that story. While later I got drunk again but I never forgot that story .I never repeated it to anybody and years later I was never able to find anybody else that was at the meeting to repeat it because they hadn’t heard it .they remembered the man being in town but not the story.

    In June 1993 I quit again but this time I did the work as outlined in the big Big book of Alcoholics Anonymous. In September I had a spiritual awakening I was rocketed into a fourth dimension .I had a born-again experience and that placed-me on my journey that put in front of Denver Snuffers blog then books and my new friend Tim .

    The beautiful part of this is that over 20 other drunks Who couldn’t stay sober are now able to go and do anything they want and not have to worry about drinking. The problem has been solved. They have a personal relationship with their own conception of God.

    I believe that the big book of alcoholics anonymous was divinely revealed to Bill Wilson and is written so simply even a drunken know it all Mormon can have a relationship with God.

    Thanks. God bless you and thanks, Mike

  5. And another from an individual new to the idea of posting comments. She wished to add her comments, but wasn’t sure how. I’ve edited them slightly for clarity.

    “Thank you very much. I do believe in what I have seen (spirits of addiction). I would welcome all and any more insight help in prayer to break and deliver myself my family, in laws and friends from generational curses and to protect my children. I also grew up on cursed Indian burial slave hanging plantation land. Thank you.”

    From Tim: I suggest a reading of Doug Mendenhall‘s or Mel Fish‘s books on how to break generational curses. Doug is working on a second book which should provide greater insight in this area.

  6. Recent studies have shown there is no such thing as a Porn or Sex addiction. Researchers ran Functional MRIs on people with these so called addictions and compared them to people with real physiological addictions (drugs). The part of the reward center of the brain in the Porn/Sex people did not light up like it did with the people with true addictions. The medical take on this is they are habits, some very bad, but you can’t call porn/sex an addiction. Calling it an addiction (like alcohol) demonizes it, and actually makes it harder for the person to kick the “habit”. I wish I’d have known this when I was a bishop. I got no professional training on how to handle these situations.

    1. I too have found this interesting. Sex, like food, is a necessary thing for our bodies, while drugs and other addictions can be completely forsworn. Our bodies are built to eat and have sex. The more I contemplate these things, the less I focus on the activities (gluttony and sex), and the more I focus on the underlying behaviors that separate us from God and from our loved ones such as the lying, the self-doubt, behaviors that encourage Babylon to exploit others (as in porn), unfaithfulness, etc. Those are the weightier sins.

  7. I tried to read this with an open mind and heart, but wow, you have a lot of underline emotional things that I personally feel a little humbling and forgiveness would do wonders for. This whole article was about leaders unrighteuos judgement but the only one doing the judging here is YOU. I’m not trying to be judgemental myself and please correct my error, I just feel a lot of anger and spite in this article, let it go and focus on the peaceful things of the kingdom.

    1. Ross, all of us, every single one of us, could always use more humbling and forgiveness, yes, even for the unrighteous dominion of our leaders. I didn’t single any one person out. I was focusing on unrighteous practices in the hopes that the rest of us can rise up and approach the Lord without the cultural practices of man getting in the way. I hope you can see by my response that there wasn’t any anger of spite here. I believe our leaders are doing what they think is best, but it is still wrong. One of the problems we have had in the kingdom is that we focus so much on the “peaceable” things that we let our sins be covered. Instead of being peaceable, we instead adopt an “all is well in Zion” attitude. Instead we ought to repent and find the ways that will help lead us to Zion. Thanks for your comment.

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