You’re the Bishop: Poll #3

guestMormon 48 Comments

Bishop Bill back with more.  We’ve had fictionalized situations in the last two installments with a YW and a YM.  Now, let’s have a situation with an adult. middle-aged single brother moves into your ward.  He has been divorced for nearly 10 years.  He was married in the temple.  He has been inactive for many years and is just starting to come back to church.  He would like to go back to the temple.  During your Temple Recommend interview, he confesses to having had sex with a woman about a year after he was divorced.  This relationship went on for several months, and then he broke it off.  He has not had any other Law of Chastity issues since then, for over eight years.

[poll ID =”97″]

Would your answer change if he had not been endowed?  Would your answer differ if the infraction had gone on longer or been more recent (e.g. 4 years ago or 2 years ago)?  Would your answer differ if this was a woman’s confession rather than a man’s?  Discuss.

Comments 48

  1. Well, he’s already forsaken the sin, and assuming your short talk included the fact that he had sincerely gone before God in repentance, the confession would seem to pretty much finish things up with regards to the repentance process which would make him worthy of a temple reccomend. Or, am I missing something?
    The only way my answer would change (besides a specific spiritual prompting) would be if it had been much more recently, like less than a year or so, but it feels so arbitrary to place an actual time line on it when it’s so individual.

  2. wait, huh? The scenario begins with a single brother. Then the poll question is about a single sister. Huh?

    Okay, if a middle aged man came into my office and was inactive after his divorce, and about a year after his marriage, he had sexual affairs with a woman (member or not), but has had a clean slate since, I see no reason to do anything about that incident except maybe review to ensure the relationship was consensual.

    If this man had the relationship up to four years or even two years before coming back to activity, I would again, not do anything except counsel the man to keep the law of chastity from this day henceforth. If the man continued in that relationship, then the story changes.

    It doesn’t matter if he is endowed or not. We’re too focused on punishing people rather than building them up and welcoming them back.

    There should be no difference for a woman.

  3. The bishop would need to visit with the sister before he could make any decision about what he needs to do. We don’t know if she is continuing her promiscuous behavior or if she had sincerely repented. That would make all the difference in how the bishop works with her.

  4. Dan, your right there should be no difference, but unfortunately there is. I had my temple recommend taken away because I disciplined one of my seminary students who acted out during class by bringing homework from school and not paying attention in class.
    That being said my home teacher who was a former branch president told me I had severe emotional and psychological issues simply because I asked him to back off and stop calling me and asking me to explain my whereabouts to him. He told me that he had the right to say these things to me because of his previous calling and neither the current branch president, nor stake presidency took any steps to correct or discipline him in any manner because they didn’t want to become involved. As a result I am inactive because I won’t allow myself to be abused by members of the branch and then when I say something I’m the one who gets disciplined and nothing is done about the male members

  5. I also have something else to say. I began to think of all the teenage girls who get pregnant and everybody, meaning teachers, parents, etc try to come up with programs about how to teach girls to wait until they are married to get pregnant. Why is this relevant to the Bishop Bill question? its’ relevant because one of the responses asked what about the female. I ask why, or better yet what happened to holding men or priesthood holders just as accountable for there actions as the female members? It really doesn’t seem to be happening

  6. If he just moved into the ward he should wait a year before returning to the Temple anyway and in that time one can do follow-ups to see if he is still worthy.

    But informal discipline, such as not taking the sacrament for a few months, should do in cases like this since he is returning and this happened after a divorce. Handbook does say to be considerate of people in these difficult situation such as a recent divorce, as would’ve been his case 8 or so years ago. However Temple covenants shouldn’t be treated little too, so some discipline is warranted ie “Work with [him] informally toward repentance”

    Automatically issuing a Recommend after someone returns to activity is incorrect in my opinion. The year long wait should clear up any other issues too.

  7. Unless the Handbook has changed, the bishop might have no choice but to convene a council for the woman. It will be up to the stake president what to do with the man.

  8. I say convene a council. Why should this brother/sister get a pass on discipline when other ward members (e.g. single, never-marrieds who do the same) are chastised for the same? Is the difference that he was inactive and the church needs all the converts or re-activated members they can hold on to? I know people disfellowshipped for less.

  9. I was told by my friends brother who is a bishop that if you had your temple recommend before you went inactive, there is no need to wait for a year before the reinstatement of a temple recommend. The only period of waiting would be if you had your name formally removed from the church rolls

  10. Dblock is correct in #13. The man in question here already has his endowment.

    I’m still confused by the gender issue. Are we talking about a man or a woman in the original post?

  11. my friends brother who is a bishop that if you had your temple recommend before you went inactive, there is no need to wait for a year before the reinstatement of a temple recommend. The only period of waiting would be if you had your name formally removed from the church rolls

    Again, if one follows the handbook anyone who moves into our ward should wait a year before renewing a recommend unless the new bishop calls previous bishop to checkup on him -if he wants to renew it before that one year’s up.

    However many Bishops don’t follow every paragraph of the church handbook so I’m not saying that he is incorrect in his belief just that the church would prefer things to be done differently.

    If you had your name removed you would need to be re-baptized and then after one year passes, the restoration of Temple blessings

  12. Why isn’t the picture of this adult brother/sister showing more cleavage? Bishop Bill’s scenarios just isn’t the same without a questionable picture to illustrate it.

  13. because I asked him to back off and stop calling me and asking me to explain my whereabouts to him ..You must be in Utah, surely?

    I had my temple recommend taken away because I disciplined one of my seminary students who acted out during class by bringing homework from school and not paying attention in class …Yeap, I’m sure its either Utah or Idaho. This is surely Mormon extremism.

    I’m still confused by the gender issue. Are we talking about a man or a woman in the original post?

    Transvestite maybe?? Sorry, sorry I know….

  14. To answer the question seriously, though, I’m a little naive when it comes to the Bishop’s handbook and what he is supposed to do in this situation. Is there a standard policy for what he is supposed to do? I know bishops have some leeway but it seems like they are given some guidelines. Is there something about this situation that makes it not textbook, like the amount of time since it happened or that it only happened once or that he has been inactive?

  15. I now know why I could never be a bishop. I just don’t think it’s right to ask questions about someone else’s sex life. “So, Bro. Jones, have you masturbated lately?” No matter how you justify it, this seems really perverse.

  16. I think the gender switch in the voting section is the result of some poor copying and pasting. Should probably be the man…

    In that case, since he’s already endowed and has the Melchezedek Priesthood, the Bishop has no choice but to hand him over to the Stake President. Stake President would probably disfellowship the brother and have regular meetings with him to ensure repentance has taken place. Probably a 3 or 6 month ordeal. No official disciplinary hearing would be held since he made the effort to come forward and wants to get active in the church.

    I could only see a disciplinary hearing if he was “found out” and un-repentant, and if the incident was more recent.

  17. I lean more towards thinking this guy hasn’t had problems for 8 – 9 years, so move on. I would make sure he has repented, he seems to know it was wrong and is on a good path now. I’d give him the recommend if he can answer the questions. The guy probably feels horrible, possibly punished himself by not going to church for all these years. Also if you are too harsh I imagine he’ll just leave.

  18. @ 17, nope, I’m in PA. in a small branch. We have one elderly sister who is allowed to say any and I mean any nasty mean spirited thing she can think of and everyone is suppose to just ignore her. Its’ quite hurtful as well as nasty and no one in leadership has or ever will address the issue. People who are on the receiving end of her tirades are expected to just walk away from her and what was worse I was her visiting teacher and expected to provide compassionate service.

  19. I doubt I would give him a temple recommend, but only because he just started coming back to church. I would want to make sure he has shown commitment to coming out again and participating. His fornication would not have been a factor in my decision.

  20. #19 “I just don’t think it’s right to ask questions about someone else’s sex life.”

    What? The returning brother wants a temple recommend. One of the temple recommend questions is whether you live the law of chastity, and another is whether you’ve committed any sins that should have been resolved with priesthood authority and haven’t been. Seems adequately clinical to me. The guy had such a sin, and they talked about it. Bishops aren’t supposed to get into the nitty-gritty details.

    Look, if a job requires a physical, you have to go to the doctor and get the physical, and that can involve getting a finger up your rectum. You submit to the indignity because you want the job. Next thing you know, the doctor might say your prostate’s swollen and start asking if you have any trouble peeing. Or ejaculating. Yeah, it may suck, but the doctor’s doing her job.

    I find the two situations analogous. You can argue that doctors get more training than bishops (and I’d actually argue back, to some degree), but you’re not going to get homogeneous behavior from them either. Both bishops and doctors have occasionally been known to exceed the limits of propriety. Doesn’t mean the office itself is bad, just the occasional officer.

  21. Let’s assume for a moment that the phantom bishop here has not botched this question and has actually written what he intended to say: A man (person #1) comes into his office and confesses to having extramarital sex many years ago with a woman (person #2). Person #2 happens to live in the bishop’s ward. The question is, what does the bishop do about person #2?

    Answer: not a freaking thing

    Fortunately I have never been a bishop. I have served in two bishoprics and participated in disciplinary counsels. In every one I tried to make it as clear as I could that repentence is a process between a person and the Lord, and that the bishop/stake president’s/counsel’s role is merely to facilitate that process and not to judge. If person #2 wants to bring this issue up fine, but I think a bishop would really be looking for trouble if he were to unilaterlly raise the issue, unsolicited, with person #2.

  22. A bishop can’t act on this information without the brother’s consent. It would breach the priest-penitent privilege and would be a major disaster. The bishop has to ask permission of the brother to broach the subject with the sister.

    The bishop can ask the sister questions without reference to information he holds; if she doesn’t fess up to anything it could mean the brother is lying or she has dealt with her problems elsewhere.

  23. There is a passage in the handbook that addresses counseling for members when there has been a significant time of passage since the transgression. I would think close to 10 years could qualify and that there may be justification by the handbook for not referring the man to the Stake President for a disciplinary counsel. If there is a question, then usually the Bishop could run it by the SP and get advice before just sending him onward.

    Since he is just starting to come back to church, the Bishop would have to be the judge for TR eligibility of whether he strives to keep his covenants and attends his Sac Mtg and Priesthood Mtg regularly. That is where the answer of working with him informally toward repentance seems like a good answer.

    I don’t remember the “one year” requirement that Carlos mentioned, but I may have not come across that page; it seems like it might be difficult to contact his former Bishop if 9 years have gone by. That Bishop is probably enjoying a new calling in Scouts by now. hehe

  24. Well I’d have to wonder what was wrong with a healthy male who hasn’t had sexual relations with anyone in like 8 years. But I suppose that’s not the point of this post. So to answer the question, I know I’m in the minority of thinking here, but if he really hasn’t had sex in about 8 years, give the guy a medal, tell him to ask God for forgiveness and when he feels forgiven, let me know so I could sign that recommend lickety split.

    As for the woman, gosh NOOOOOO should the Bishop contact her or find her Bishop so she could be brought in. No one’s business– at all. If and when she feels compelled to go to her Bishop, she will. Until then, Big Brother, back off.

  25. re: 29
    does anything have to be wrong? cant there be a decision to follow his chosen religion and abstain from sex?
    i am sure this scenario is a fictional one, comprised of a few different situations, but are we so cynical that we cannot imagine a man(or woman)abstaining from sex for 8 years?
    i think the pronouns were mixed up, but it that wasnt the case, i agree with lulubelle, the bishop should keep his nose out of it until the sister makes an appointment with him.
    overall, if anyone wants a temple recommend, you are inviting the church into your personal life. we all know the drill, its no surprise.

  26. #27 “There is a passage in the handbook that addresses counseling for members when there has been a significant time of passage since the transgression. I would think close to 10 years”

    Good point. But that passage is conditioned on the member having been faithful during a long time since the sin. Since the member’s service since shows full repentance then only the confession is needed and no formal discipline would have to happen -since the person is fully repented as their long faithful service shows. Elder Featherstone once gave a talk on this mentioning two cases when he was SP, one a women who had an abortion 24 years previous(from memory 24years) who been faithful since but needed that final confession. He checked with then elder Kimball, pres of the 12 then, who wrote back saying ‘this sister has repented long ago’ etc so tell her now all is ok. The other case was a couple in their 50’s who had sex a few days before their temple wedding but never told anyone. He served in many callings etc but that confession was still needed to end it. So after confessing no further action was taken.

    You see the point is that church discipline is mainly there to help the member repent fully (others, sometimes, is to protect church doctrine or good name or to protect the innocent) So in the case of this man, had they found out about it 10 years ago he most likely would’ve been excommunicated but then rebaptized a year or two later and had blessing restored 1 year after that, so it could’ve all ended maybe 7 years ago. But he is only confessing now and also hasn’t been active since so if it was me, at first thoughts, I’d go for informal discipline like not taking the sacrament for 3 months to be sure he will still attend and be sure he’s fully repented and then, if he pays tithing etc, let him have that recommend a year after his returned.

    Re #22 “@ 17, nope, I’m in PA. in a small branch.” then are they all republicans there? who cling to their guns and bible -or book of mormon in this case? j/k 🙂

  27. If anyone is interested, that talk by E Featherstone in at:

    And it was 34 years previous not 24. Anyways I can across this when reading up on abortion after I had a 15year old girl in my ward who had an abortion. What surprised my most was President Kimball’s response, which was:

    “ ‘Dear President Featherstone: You inquired about a woman who had been involved in an abortion thirty-four years ago. From the way you describe her it sounds like she has long since repented. You may tell her on behalf of the Church she is forgiven.

    “ ‘After a thorough and searching interview, you may issue this sweet sister a temple recommend so she can go to the temple and be sealed to her present husband.’ ”

    Anyway, its here in case anyone is interested in further reading on why that paragraph in the handbook.

  28. Bishop Bill here with what I did when I had a situation very similar to the above. About a year after I was called as bishop , we had a bishops training meeting which was church wide and conducted via satellite to all stakes. Pres Monson, who was in the 1st Pres at the time, told a story about driving home from work several years ago, and having the impression that he should stop and visit an elderly couple. I don’t remember if he was Bishop, Stake Pres, or a GA. Anyway, he stopped and visited with the couple.

    While in their home, the couple said they had something they wanted to tell Pres Monson. The husband then proceeded to tell him that two weeks before they were married in the temple, some 50 years ago, they had sexual relations. They didn’t tell anybody, and went ahead with the temple wedding. They had tried to make it up to the Lord by doing all that he asked of them and more. The wife had been ward and stake RS pres, and had sat on some general counsels of the church. The husband has served in some “very high” church callings.

    They both were in tears and they recounted the 50 years of guilt they has suffered through. Pres Monson told them they had suffered enough, and that they were forgiven of their sins. No church disciplinary council, no informal probation. He told them that when asked during their temple recommend interview if there are any sins or misdeeds in their life that should have been resolved with priesthood authorities but have not been, they were not to ever bring this up.
    Pres Monson then told us bishops that the passage of time without further sinning was an indication of true repentance, and that in most instances nothing further need to be done.

    So when this person came to me for a Temple recommend, and after confessing the sexual sin, we talked about it, and I invited them back the following week for another discussion, at the end of which I gave them their Temple recommend, with the same admonition Pres Monson gave, that there was no reason to bring this up again during a temple Recommend interview. It was over.

  29. Bishop Bill–your story bothers me on a number of levels.

    First: that story about the couple who confessed to transgressing years earlier (the number of decades always changes) has also been ascribed to President Kimball and President Hinckley in the past. It’s possible that all three prophets had this happen to them, but my guess is (as with most stories in the Church related by GAs) it was totally fabricated.

    Next, this 70+ year old couple was somehow absolved because “the passage of time without further sinning was an indication of true repentance.” HELLO!!! They “sinned” a couple of weeks before marriage! Their sin was “fornication,” so they repented just by getting married? So now singles who have sex can just marry each other, then get divorced, and there’s no harm, no foul, because marriage means they’re not fornicating anymore, right?

  30. And if the passage of time means no other kind of repentance is necessary because “they suffered enough”, why not just stay out of everyone’s business all the time? Why have periodic interviews at all?

    And what about the decades of lies about “honesty in all (their) dealings” and “is there anything you should have resolved with priesthood leaders?” Isn’t lying a sin, too?

    Good grief.

  31. Are you saying that a brother came in, confessed to an affair some number of years ago with a woman in your ward and so now what should you do with the WOMAN? If that’s what you’re asking them the answer is simple – it’s none of your damn business as a bishop to do anything with the sister until she comes to you. Anything other than that is a serious abuse of priesthood authority and has nothing to do with pastoral care. Until she says something to you it’s just hearsay and the “evidence” of one person against another.

    A bishop’s involvement begins with a desire on the part of the person to confess and follow the church’s path to repentance. For all you know this woman confessed to her earlier bishop – you wouldn’t have been the bishop 9 years ago. And it’s quite wrong for a bishop or any other ecclesiastical authority to bring up what God has forgiven even if it’s in well-intentioned ignorance.

    (One exception (since there’s always one) – if this woman is running around having affairs all over town and with all the men of the ward, then yes, of course, you should do something about it. But then you would be going on lots of evidence and having to deal with someone who is destroying the ward from within. But that’s not the scenario you painted – I just wanted to nip in the bud all those potential comments dealing with the bishop’d responsibility to protect the ward…..)

  32. Yana, Yes, I’ve heard the same story by many people. It might just be made up (ala Paul Dunn). But the object of the parable was that after a long passage of time, it is not right to hold disciplinary councils. This is the idea that Pres Monson was trying to get across to the Bishops in the meeting. Yes, this presents a dilemma, as it seems that keeping something secret will get you off the hook. There is no easy answer.
    In the situation I had while bishop , the “other woman” was not a member, so all I had to deal with was the brother that was confessing. Even without hearing Pres Monson’s talk, I would have not held a council. It was over and I was ready to move on.
    If the “other woman” had been a member, say in another ward, and was married so she committed adultery, all I would need is the confessing brothers permission, and I could call the “other woman’s” bishop and tell him what I learned. There is no confidentiality between me and other people, only between me and the person confessing. But I can’t even tell the Stake President what I learned in my office unless the person gives me permission. And everybody I counseled with always gave me permission to share with the SP. The only exception to this is child molestation, and then I’m under state laws that require me to call the authorities.

  33. I’m coming late to this discussion. But I would like to make some observations:

    1. The portion of the handbook that details actions for church discipline is long and complicated: there are no cookbook answers. So what may be right for the brother in this instance may not be right for someone else. That’s why the bishop needs to rely on inspiration.

    2. If the matter is to go to a church disciplinary council, then a conversation with the stake president would be in order (with permission of the confessor, of course). If excommunication is “likely” (as judged by the bishop and stake president) then the matter for a Melchizedek PH holder must be handled by the stake, but in other circumstances, the SP may recommend handling it at the bishop’s level.

    3. Passage of time and the attitude of the member are among the extenuating circumstances. In this case, you must have had a sense of the brother’s attitude that led to your determination.

  34. “passage of time means no other kind of repentance is necessary because “they suffered enough””

    The point is that the passage of time without any sin plus faithful service proves that they have fully repented and church discipline would be pointless since it no longer is an incentive to repent (which has happened) nor will anyone need protection, even though technically they did lie in many TR interviews over decades. The lying would be another sin that they need to repent off on their own directly with the Lord.

    I personally don’t agree with allowing someone who has only just returned to full activity avoid all consequences of Temple covenant breaking, as in this mans case above. But each Bishop will probably vary in their judgment a bit. The purpose of reaching repentance can be reached either way.

  35. I’m with Yana on this one: how does the “passage of time with no additional sin” apply in the case of fornicators who marry each other? Of course there’s “no additional sin” once they get married because now any sexual activity they have is as married people. It’s not as though anyone who has sex before marriage is some kind of deranged serial sinner who will commit any and all forbidden acts whenever they can. Since the sin was sleeping with their fiancé before they were married, once they are married, they do not sin in doing this.

    The problem is that if they don’t confess before a temple marriage, they lie in their recommend interview, priesthood interviewed, intrevirws for callings, in every subsequent interview, and they take the chicken**** way out. There are thousands of single LDS people who face the music when they are honorable enough to confess to sexual conduct before marriage. Some are dealt with quite harshly. It should be made clear to them that all they have to do is wait a few decades and whether they come forward or not, “the passage of time” is sufficient, and they are utterly absolved.

  36. I guess I have nothing to add to this other than the fact that I don’t think it’s right that we have to confess to a Bishop. I’d prefer my sins and my repentance process stay between me and the Good Lord. He knows my heart and knows when my repenting is sincere, it doesn’t take a talk with the Bishop to prove that. When my husband was young he masterbated and repented to the Bishop, who said things to make him feel like a really horrible person. I’m sorry- but I think it’s wrong on sooooo many levels for children to have to talk to a grown man about things like that. What about teenage girls who confess about masterbation to their Bishop?? Bishops are just men, with flaws. For all we know there are probably many Bishops who have enjoyed having to talk to teens about their sexual encounters… I think it’s just wrong.

  37. Of course the story about the couple having sex before their temple wedding is fabricated. Everyone knows that if you have pre-marital sex and then attempt to get married in the temple without telling anyone, the temple workers will know by the power of the Holy Ghost and they’ll stop you from entering the temple. Duh.

  38. #42 (apart from the sarcasm) no, its not fabricated and its rather a common thing nowadays.

    #40Janet & Susan, You seem to be looking at the sin only. The bishop is there to assist in a process ie to reach forgiveness, he’s not a cop. If people do that on their own then there isn’t much sense in getting the bishop involved.

    But from experience I’d say that as a general rule people who seek repentance on their own for the more serious sins tend to take many many more years to reach that, and whilst carrying that nagging thought that they will either get caught out or need to confess one day.

    (by the way I’d personally say that there is no need to confess about masturbation nor should a bishop talk down a YM/YW for it)

  39. Um, it’s not the premarital sex before a temple marriage that I question–many members do that and then just lie to get a temple recommend, just like the proverbial “older couple who repented in sackcloth and ashes fifty years after they fornicated.”

    What I question is whether President Hinckley, President Kimball and President Monson all had repentant couples in their offices personally confessing to premarital sex decades before and whether they all three “forgave” the couple with the couple’s having to be disfellowshipped, not partake of the sacrament, etc. I think this is a faith-promoting rumor.

    And I think it is a shame and disgrace that they force teens and single adults to confess their sins to their bishops when apparently all they have to do is wait 40 or 50 years and it’s all forgiven anyway.

  40. #44 ,

    I’m sure most of these ‘stories’ come from when they were stake presidents or bishops. Monson’s one was as an apostle though. they still have memories.

    Confessing today shortens the process. Instead of 40 odd years it become only 2-3 years max or less in the couples to marry situation.

  41. “There is no confidentiality between me and other people, only between me and the person confessing.”
    Bishop Bill, this sounds a little messed up. If a man confesses to adultery, you can’t tell the wife. But if he confesses to adultery with someone else, you can blab about it to whoever you want? You can tell the woman’s bishop who then can confront the woman and her husband? Meanwhile, you can’t confront the man’s wife because he confessed to you?
    I hope you really thought about what you were saying.
    I would HOPE that if the sin were far in the PAST, you would assume she took care of the sin with a previous bishop and didn’t need you dragging everything up all over again.

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