I can remember many of my initial confessions to the Lord, of my many sins. I could not utter exactly what I had done. I felt too much shame. I would just say things like, “sorry for everything I’ve done”, knowing that He already knew. It wasn’t until I became an adult and understood just how important confession really was. It was no longer about confessing because I had to, but because I needed to. I needed to give over those sins to God as a way of allowing Christ to change me. While confession alone does not have that affect, it does require humility and acknowledgement that we need our Heavenly Father. And that humility softens our hearts in order to allow change.
What I want to talk about, however, is confession to the Bishop. Many people would argue that it is not necessary. That only confession to the Lord is required. In October 1971 General Conference, Elder James A. Cullimore said this about a Bishop’s role. “It is the bishop’s duty to counsel the members of his ward, assist them in their problems, listen to the confessions of the transgressors and assist them in their repentance. Unfortunately, many in the last category, because of their transgressions, are quite inactive and need much attention. Because of their sins, they feel they are lost—that there is no use trying. It is to these members throughout the Church that I would particularly like to direct my remarks today. These are all wonderful sons and daughters of our Father who, in a weak moment or because of circumstances possibly not of their own liking, have slipped. Now in their despair and guilt of conscience, they feel lost. An attitude prevails of “What’s the use? There’s no hope for me now; I can never be forgiven.” Through the devotion of a wonderful bishop who never gives up in working with these individuals, they can be helped. When they learn that there is hope, that God is merciful, that there is forgiveness for sin, a beam of light can begin to shine through the heaviness and depression of transgression.” Elder Cullimore went on to say, “Repentance isn’t always easy. It takes great humility. It often requires superhuman courage, especially in major transgression. But the Lord has told us plainly how we can tell if a man or woman has repented of his sins. He said: “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” (D&C 58:43.)
Elder C. Scott Grow in The New Era, October 1013 said, “By ordination and righteous living, the bishop is entitled to revelation from the Holy Ghost regarding the members of his ward, including you.” And went on to say, “Your bishop will counsel you on what to do to strengthen your ability to resist temptation. He may encourage you to study a doctrinal topic, such as repentance, and then to share with him what you have learned. He may ask you to visit with him each week to report how you are doing in removing yourself from tempting situations.”
I remember one particular instance where I went to the Bishop to confess some pretty serious sins. I remember being very scared. I was humiliated and ashamed. I was fearful of my standing in the church but mostly I was afraid that my sin was too shameful for the Lord to ever look at me the same way. I felt that somehow my sin created a wall between me and the Lord that would never allow our relationship to be pure and whole. I was right in the sense that there was a wall but the wall was put there by me. I kept it there through my sins and through my fear. It was through the Bishop that I was able to see how forgiving the Lord is. My burdens were instantly lifted and I felt the wall crumble down. Although I had to learn how to strengthen my ability to resist those temptations, which the Bishop was able to help, I felt 100% better. Though it is a difficult thing to confess to the Bishop, it is a great experience that I will treasure and be thankful forever for.