I just became aware of a young woman who became inactive from the Church for a few years & committed sins for which she now feels totally repentant. She struggled in the agony of remorse for many years, but now feels she has reconciled to God & wants to move forward. Unfortunately, on seeing her Bishop, she was put through the agony of re-living the experience all over again & is being asked to recount each & every sin individually as part of her repentance process. She feels awful & is desperate to avoid going back over her painful past.
I really feel the emotional desperation & humiliation of this woman’s situation.
As I resigned from the position of Bishop only last year, I’ve had some time to contemplate how I used to think whilst I served in this office & calling for almost seven years.
The position of assumed authority carries a great deal of responsibility, which can be abused. Most members will listen to the advice of a Bishop as if it came from the Lord Himself. This should not be overlooked as a potential for possible ‘unrighteous dominion’!
The ordinary lay ministry of the LDS Church is not adequately trained for the responsibility they are expected to perform. It is ‘wrongly’ assumed that the ‘Spirit of The Lord’ will guide & direct them, and therefore leaders of the Church often erroneously conclude that ministerial training is unnecessary.
When newly called myself, I asked our Stake President for training in counselling skills. Most of the Bishops were appalled that I should ask for this & some expressed shock that I didn’t just ‘rely on the Spirit’! Their reasoning was that any formal professional training would distract from the ‘Spirit’ & handicap the will of the Lord!
Gladly our Stake President agreed with me (he was a management consultant by profession) so arranged two hours of training by the Church Family Services Counsellor.
This, I’m afraid, is grossly inadequate!
I’ve come to the conclusion, based on some small understanding of psychology & from personal experience in the ‘job’, that the way different individuals react in Church callings of leadership, where they have responsibilities for counselling others, is based primarily on their own individual sense of humanity & internal feeling of compassion for others, as well as how judgemental & rigid their thinking.
However, the desire to serve a role of ‘the leader’ & ‘protector of the good name of the Church’ can sometimes over-power their own natural, innate characteristic of human decency & consideration for others. This happened to me when I, as Bishop, verbally & emotionally attacked my brother and his wife when they left the Church, for being apostate & trying to teach others about the ‘uncomfortable origins & history’ of the Church. My role as ‘protector of the Church’ became paramount & all my compassion for my brother was over-powered by the emotion driven thinking of the amygdala response. A flight/fight primitive brain function.
Many priesthood leaders exercise unrighteous dominion over the members, because they are relying on ‘inspiration’ from God & ‘feel’ justified in their actions because they are acting on God’s will. After all, God is guiding them!!!
They nearly always have, what they think is, the best interests of the individual at heart, but without professional training they are often grossly unprepared & offer inadequate and sometimes inappropriate advice & counsel.
Often, as Bishops, we look for signs of humility & despair from those who confess their sins, as a sign of full repentance.
I was taught by the Stake President to create moments of awkward, uncomfortable silence during personal interviews, in which the interviewee was almost forced by embarrassment to reflect on their own personal unworthiness & confess any sins. In effect, to encourage a feeling of discomfort & humiliation, leading to feelings of abject despair & desperation so that the sinner would feel totally at the mercy of God & His servants.
To facilitate this I used to ask members to read aloud verses of scripture in front of me which focused on the nothingness of man & how we are at his mercy, like Alma 36: 12-21.
I felt that God was directing me to do this in order to help the individual trust in the Lord & feel His compassion, love, mercy & forgiveness. I had to witness for myself the person going through the steps of repentance!
I now believe that this ‘inspiration from God’ to the Bishop is just the individual’s own intuition or sub-conscious mind feeding him this ‘inspiration’. So it’s from himself, but he’s convinced it’s from God, so can be completely confident it is the correct thing to do, & arrogantly force his will on others.
My Stake President ‘bigged’ me up so much that the ward members were told to follow me just like they would the Prophet, because God was leading me & I was receiving revelation to lead the Ward! And they were told that the Lord wouldn’t allow me to lead them astray!
That probably explains why the Church got so worried when I resigned as Bishop (out of a sense of honesty and integrity) because of my change of beliefs with regard to the Church.
The role of Bishop as a Judge in Israel is fraught with potential for spiritual & emotional abuse. I don’t blame the Bishops, I blame the system!
Add to that the potential for further humiliation when you realise that the Bishop or Stake President has broken his pledge of confidentiality by confessing your sins to another priesthood leader when the ‘Spirit’ prompted him to do so!
This happened to me as my sins were revealed to the counsellors of the Stake President & I was shocked that they knew, when I trusted my Stake President to keep secret the confidential information intended only for him. It has happened to others with devastating consequences for people’s self-esteem & trust in priesthood leaders.
And consider if the priesthood leaders goes inactive or apostacizes from the Church. Your secret confessions go with him!
I wish that woman, who was humiliated by her experience with her own Bishop, all the very best. I would advise her that she needs to trust in her own sense of self-esteem & spiritual approval.