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The Sacrament of Penance

Chagall stain glass windows take in Zurich 2007

Chagall stain glass windows take in Zurich 2007

Many religions, throughout history, have required the confession. When a member of a the Catholic faith or LDS faith commit larger sins, they are required to confess these sins to one in authority. The person is generally male (in the LDS religion it is ALWAYS a man) and this person is supposed to act as an agent of God to work on getting the person forgiven. I am not sure how the confession process works in other religions, like Baptist or Methodist.

Confession is called the “Sacrament of Penance” as:
1. the recipient must be truly repentant of their sins
2. be determined to avoid these sins in the future
3. be willing to make reparations to any parties injured

I believe that confession has been used for hundreds of years as a way to protect and enforce orthodox belief and practice. And the churches today have several methods for insuring adherence to orthodox belief– excommunications, ecclesiastical courts, public expiation…and I have been wondering this week if this is simply cultivating within us a culture of guilt.

A question I have been thinking about this week is “why confess to a man you may not know, instead of to God directly?”

And what is the purpose of confession?

Have you found that when you confess something you feel better? Is a weight lifted? Does it purge your soul?

A dear friend of mine and I have been on similar paths this year. She has fallen away from the strict rules of the LDS church as much as I have. However, we differ in VERY large ways. I don’t believe in these strict rules anymore and thus, I don’t believe I am sinning (and I am not even sure how I feel about the way the word sin and especially SINNER is used so commonly in religion today). While I feel completely happy in my life, she has been tormented in her soul. While I have been wondering why I don’t feel riddled with guilt (as I did for much of my life any time I thought I had done anything “wrong”). She has been sobbing and beating herself up and dying a little inside each day.

So last night she decided to confess to her Bishop. I found this whole process, a process I have engaged in before, completely insane. Why does some older man I have NEVER talked to or interacted with, a man who doesn’t know me or doesn’t know my situation…why does he have the right to tell me whether or not I should feel good or bad about myself?

Do these spiritual leaders really have the authority to tell you your standing with God?

She is a grown woman of 31. She has made wise decisions her whole life. She has hurt no one. She is one of the most beautiful and sensitive people I know. And yet, because she isn’t meeting the standards she has been taught, she has felt lower than Gregor Samsa after he turned into the bug! (sorry, I just reread The Metamorphosis). After her confession she called me crying. I am unsure about whether or not I should go into the details, but basically it was her sitting across from three men who decided what she could and couldn’t do in the church. She had no one there with her, and she felt completely despondent and overwhelmed that she had to discuss personal details of her life to these three men who then told her what she must do to be in good standing with God again. She had to give up her calling. She can’t take the sacrament, and she was given a pretty harsh warning about what would happen to her should she ever commit the sin again. As she told me all of this, I felt myself getting angry about what she had to endure.
Is confession merely something created by men to exercise some form of control over the masses (do this and this and you will be granted this reward)? Does is simply play into creating a religious hierarchy (it’s actually quite similar to the old feudal systems)? It was often used as a method for discovering and eradicating heresy, is it so today?

Does is have any value?

I honestly don’t know. I’ve been raised to believe that you must confess and forsake your sins to get to heaven. But the past year I just haven’t felt right about it.

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32 Responses

  1. amanda says:

    This is something that I still don’t understand very well. So forgive me if this answer is too simplistic. Here’s how I have thought of it.

    When we sin, we distance ourselves from God. The holy ghost cannot dwell with us as readily as a result of this and so it can be hard for a person to know exactly what is needed for that sin to be overcome. It’s not just a matter of needing forgiveness, it is a matter of gaining spiritual guidance on the process that is required for forgiveness and possibly on how to overcome habits or addictions that might have been developed. Other times, when a habit hasn’t been developed and just a change of heart was required, the ecclesiastical leader is there to comfort that person and let them know that they are truly clean once more. I know of those who needed that confirmation from someone outside of themselves, and particularly from someone who is authorized by the priesthood to receive that revelation for them.

    I really don’t see it as a method of eradicating heresy. Although I can understand the importance of making sure that a person has the ability to have the holy ghost with them when they are put in positions of responsibility within the church. It’s hard enough to fulfill callings when you are living all of the commandments. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be when you are struggling with other issues. Primarily, I think confession is meant to be a system of guidance and support through the repentance process. It can be incredibly painful at times, as you mentioned in your friend’s case. But it makes the healing by the atonement that much sweeter and the determination that much stronger to stay close to the Lord.

  2. Anon says:

    I’ve been through a Bishop’s court that was much like the one you describe. It was one of my most traumatic church experiences and got the same warning your friend did about if it happened again the penalties would be much more serious.

    It wasn’t a redemptive experience, but it did indeed make me fear the wrath of God. It also made me fear/distrust bishops and most priesthood leaders. Since then I’ve been convinced I’m just a bad/sinful/evil person. I know that these courts are supposed to be about “love,” but I think they are really about scaring you away from ever doing anything wrong again.

    Were I to do things over again, I would not confess. I would work through it myself.

  3. mw says:

    when i was a teenager i thought it was weird that i was supposed to go to some bishop–some old guy–and tell him all the bad stuff i’d done. something about it just felt kind of creepy to me.

    now that i am older, my issue is more related to how punishments are determined in disciplinary counsels. i have heard of people getting a slap on the wrist for a “sin” that gets other people disfellowshiped.

    i think that the church discipline system exists to help maintain orthodoxy in the church, but i find that the variety of punishments handed out for similar infractions creates confusion among members about what constitutes a “sin”. we don’t even know what the rules are or who they will be enforced. how can that be promoting the church’s goal?

    i also think our church’s discipline system reinforces the idea that bishops have all the power and members are beholden to whatever they say. this can be problematic because it may encourage church members to rely on their church leader for spiritual guidance instead of cultivating their own relationship with the lord.

  4. mw says:

    in addition, it it really the job of church leaders enforce the rules? really? isn’t that what god is supposed to do? get justice and christ provides the mercy? maybe my doctrine is wonky (probably) but i don’t see the need for church leadership involvement in the process–unless of course someone has broken the laws of the land.

  5. Caroline says:

    I have a lot of questions about the practice of confession in the LDS faith. I believe that for some people, in some situations, it can be a healing and loving process. But for others, I know it is violating and traumatic.

    My main beefs are these. 1) I’d like people to be able to pick their confessor. Particularly women. I’d like women to have the option of confessing to another woman, like the RS president.

    2) I think there should be space for people to work out their situations directly with God. If it helps some people to talk with someone about it, then the confessional route may be great. But if a person just needs to deal with a situation on her own and it would cause trauma and violation to confess to a stranger, then I think personal repentance should be a viable option.

    3) I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of church courts. It’s one thing to talk one on one with someone. It’s another thing to be discussing the most intimate details of your sex life (I imagine lots of courts have to do with sex) with the three members of the bishopric plus clerk taking minutes. And knowing the whole time that if you don’t fully and openly answer invasive questions, your membership might be in jeopardy. I can imagine some bishoprics being sensitive and loving about it, but I can also imagine some asking some terrible questions (how often was the sex? was it both oral and vaginal? ughhh… just thinking about the details they might try to elicit makes me cringe.)

  6. Starfoxy says:

    Something that I find to be an interesting contrast to confession is testimony bearing. Especially when you remember that humans desire to be consistent- that is when a person says something they are often reluctant to go back on that without some sort of reason to justify the change.
    I could see going to a bishop and saying “I will never commit that sin again” and have that be a motivation for ‘being good.’ But that is a two edged sword- it is just as easy to say to the bishop “I’m a bad person” and have that simply reinforce whatever behavior it was supposed to change.

    Anyhow, I had a sort of interesting case study- through moves, ward boundary changes, and bishopric changes I dealt with 4 bishops in the process of dealing with one problem. The vastly differing experiences I had with each was mind boggling- and really illustrated the fact that while he may have inspiration, you are dealing with a human first and foremost.

  7. anonymous says:

    My experience with confession has been positive, but I’ve never thought about the doctrinal foundation of WHY we are expected to confess to priesthood authority. My first instinct is to say that it is to help us, but this post and some of the comments have shown that it is sometimes traumatic.

    I really like the first comment by Amanda. That explanation makes sense to me.

  8. Katy says:

    As a member of a twelve step group, my experience with being willing to confess to God and another human being the EXACT nature of my wrongs redeeming, uplifting and psychologically healthy. While I believe in choice of that human being, I must say that lds differ greatly from catholics in the scope of a bishops role as opposed to a priest. I was inactive for 8 years and when I came back, I felt no pressure to disclose my history in detail. That said, I converted at 18, so I do not have the cultural restraints that some raised lds may have. I have seen the guilt card more as a function of the cultural than the doctorine. My opinion obv.

  9. mb says:

    I agree with Katy that accurate confession of my sins makes me take a realistic look at them and increases my ability to identify and eschew them.

    Years ago I went with my father to seek counsel from a priesthood leader. The fellow was honestly trying to do a good job but he acted like an insensitive clod in his interaction with me and the experience was upsetting. My father was not happy with the way that priesthood leader had conversed with me, which was helpful as it validated my feelings that his behavior had not been what it should have been. However, I did get down on paper the counsel I had been given. I can honestly say that in spite of the bad experience with the priesthood leader, the counsel, over the years, has been extremely helpful.

    So, I’m glad for the counsel received, in spite of the insensitivity and failures of the messenger.

    The fact that I’d found the counsel good in spite of the leader’s failings led me to seek counsel from another priesthood leader years later. This one was kind and helpful in his interaction with me and with his assistance helped me to begin to mend a serious rift between me and one of my siblings.

    So, my take on it is this: Write down the message, use the Spirit to sift through it and find the parts that are inspired, and try not to shoot the messenger, however much he may seem to deserve it.

  10. D'Arcy says:

    Thank you for all of your comments. This is an interesting topic, to be sure. I always come back to what one of my friends discussed with me. She said,

    “As a PARENT, I don’t understand the need for an intermediary. Our children certainly don’t need an intermediary to come to us, why should we need one to talk to our heavenly parents? That just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s between us and God and no one else. ”

    I’ve also had a sibling in recovery and he was supposed to confess, but the difference there is that he confessed to someone he trusted and knew, a friend, a mentor, someone of his own gender and they were to help him relieve his burden of shame.

    Somehow, I don’t have a problem with that method because it’s good to get things out. I think if you feel you’ve done wrong, then talking it out with someone is healthy and I think most of us do that anyway. This helps us work things out in our own minds.

    The thing I don’t like are the guidelines of when to confess (about what, even if we don’t feel bad about it) and to whom we confess. I’ve seen several women commit the same sins and each bishop gave different consequences. One was comforted and told to sin no more, one was given a little slap on the wrist, one was degraded and shamed and made to feel stupid and was told she couldn’t participate in church for a few months….she left church and never went back.

    Shouldn’t there be a standard type consequence for the same sin? ?Or are all Bishops just regular men, maybe not all that inspired, just trying to figure things out too?

  11. Katy says:

    D’arcy- I would go with they are all men, just trying to figure things out.
    My recovery helped me in alot of ways with church, another AA’ism, “Put principles before personalities.” That has been required inner uderance ESPECIALLY during this last election season, don’t even get me started on same-sex marriage! Priciples before personalities keeps me from focusing on the people I find difficult and gives me my power back. I can listen to the message they bring, I can find something of value there, or … I can choose to ignore that message.
    I have never considered the Bishop or anyone else an intermediary, only a concerned and well-meaning support system that I could use if I needed to. But again with the difference in cultural guilt.

  12. Jana says:

    I’ve had friends with no church discipline whatsoever for long-standing sexual indiscretions and then others who had church courts even without having actually had sex. The difference between the penalties is difficult for me to understand, and while I can see that it allows for inspiration on the part of the Bishop to determine the appropriate consequence, it seems that with matters of such significance, that personal biases are very likely to cloud the outcomes.

  13. ThomasB says:

    I would like to respond to some of the comments from the position as a former Bishop that has some experience in dealing with these situations. Let me say first that I am so grateful that I only had to hold one council (they are no longer called courts and I think the reason should be obvious).

    There are not many things that should convene a Bishops council and to clarify a Bishop only holds councils for those that are unendowed all endowed members are referred to the Stake President. Issues of moral nature, apostasy or if one has been convicted of a major crime (felony).

    It is not easy to get excommunicated and my impression is that in most cases when one is it is because he or she is unrepentant, or in a leadership position.

    It was always my position (and still is) that to many members insist on seeing the Bishop for things that can be repented of during the sacrament. In other words if you have sinned and it will not effect your standing in the church you more than likely do not need to see the Bishop. If you are unsure see the Bishop.

    It is true that many people can have a council for the same sin with varying results. The Bishop is the judge and will be judged for his position ultimately. My other question would be why do you know the results of a council? It is truly none of your business. I decided early on that I would always err on the side of mercy and be willing to accept the judgement of the Savior if I made a mistake.

    At the end of the day the Bishop cannot forgive you for the Lord. The Lord does that all by himself and really only you and the Lord know. The Bishop is designated as a protector of the church and forgives you for the church and is given guidelines within that framework to do so.

    The other thing that I want to address is what is appropriate to disclose. I strongly believe that you only disclose what is necessary. If you are in a Stake Council it is the job of the Stake President to disclose information to the HC before you sit before them. I do not think it is appropriate for a group of men to sit around asking about specific sex acts to a male or female and actually it is really disgusting. If you broke covenants then the only questions should be how many times and how long ago and was there more than one individual involved. I think you get my drift.

    Sad experience has shown me that women are often not treated equally in these councils. I have often watched with immense sadness as men who have broken covenants are given every benefit of the doubt and treated with kid gloves while their wives who have committed no sin are treated with contempt. I am not saying this always happens but I have personal experience in a handful of instances where it has been the case and it was extremely frustrating for me. I can only imagine what it was like for the sisters.

  14. Alisa says:

    ThomasB, it is interesting to hear your perspective.

    “Sad experience has shown me that women are often not treated equally in these councils. I have often watched with immense sadness as men who have broken covenants are given every benefit of the doubt and treated with kid gloves while their wives who have committed no sin are treated with contempt.”

    Unfortunately, I’ve seen this too. Not for grievous sins, but in instances where a husband might have a problem with online material. The wife is totally devalued because of the disruption of trust in her marriage and then sometimes, in some cases of my friends, the Church leaders can be less than empathetic to her situation and feelings. Sounds like you strove to be different, and I applaud you for that.

  15. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for adding your thoughts.
    I’m glad to hear your explanation as representing the church, and that God’s forgiveness is not something you can grant.
    That gives me great peace.

    You also confirmed my suspicions that people come to the bishop for things they should repent of on their own.

  16. Alizarincrimson says:

    This post raises many hackles for me. I, too, am disturbed by the practices of confessing private sexual behaviors and the tenuous connection between sexual deeds (never mind misdeeds!) and church membership, especially where confession to men by women and children is concerned.

    There is (or should be) a distinct difference between an erring married partner confessing infidelity to a counselor and an unmarried person confessing private (solo or shared) sexual behavior. Wherever the practice came from, and whenever it started, it should be obvious that unless an ecclesiastic leader himself has the power to forgive, he should not encourage, invite, or continue to listen to “confessions” of sexual behavior from unmarried people.

    In the singles wards I attended from the ’80s to the ’00s (yes–I was single a while) from west coast to east, most of my bishops insisted that all sexual behavior from solo masturbation to petting and ultimately full sexual activity should be confessed as a beginning point to “repentance.” When an authority figure states that should be the case–from the pulpit–you assume there’s a Church policy to that effect and that it has some grounding in theology or doctrine.

    I blame President Kimball for his attitude about penitence, repentance, forgiveness, etc. He seemed to value shame and public humiliation in the journey to full forgiveness.

    That said, I believe that the practice of “confessing to the bishop” is perpetuated to dissuade teenagers and single adults from breaking the law of chastity. One problem with the confession method is that, as stated above, it is rarely universally applied. Some bishops say that they don’t want to hear confessions about anything besides “fornication”–yet everything from masturbation on up (for singles) is considered against the law of chastity.

    I have a friend who was dragged to a church court because she refused to stop using a vibrator or having internet sex with people she met on LDS dating sites. That’s how insidious and ridiculous the control gets.

  17. Alizarincrimson says:

    Another thought:

    The 1970s and 1980s was a particularly strict period in church practice regarding confession regarding counsel to youth and single members.

    Equal in impact to Apostle/Pres. Kimball’s harshness on confession and repentance is Elder Featherstone’s address, “A Self-Inflicted Purging” (whatever that means). Excerpts from that address were included in young men’s curriculum as recently as the early 2000s. In it, Featherstone says:

    “We shouldn’t have a problem with masturbation. I know one fine father who interviewed his 11-year-old son and he said, “Son, if you never masturbate, the time will come in your life when you will be able to sit in front of your bishop at age 19, and say to him, ‘I have never done that in my life,’ and then you can go to the stake president when you are interviewed for your mission and tell him, ‘I have never done that in my life.’ And you would be quite a rare young man.”

    The father again interviewed the young man, who is now 18 years old, and he asked the son about masturbation. The son said, “I have never done that in my life. You told me, Dad, that if I didn’t do that, I would be able to sit in front of the bishop and stake president and tell them I had never done it, and I would be a rare young man, and I am going to be able to do it.”


    So I don’t believe people are running to their bishops confessing for yuks and giggles. I think these ideas are culturally passed on, particularly by those who were impacted by these teachings, themselves as young adults, and who now are in positions of power and influence.

    I think that the whole repentance/confession system is, in many cases, incredibly abusive and inappropriate.

  18. EmilyCC says:

    This is something I’ve struggled with…I can’t see how telling the bishop about my sins is necessary for repentance although I do think telling a family member or friend could be beneficial for the reasons others have mentioned.

    I remember learning in Seminary that there was Godly sorrow, which would lead to true repentance because we truly understood what we had done was wrong, and then, there was the sorrow we felt for being caught. Then, we were told that only be confessing to the bishop could we begin the process of Godly sorrow. This made me feel like I was doomed to be a sinner forever because I just couldn’t bring myself to go into a room alone with a man my grandfather’s age and tell him the things I was most ashamed of (even though my bishops when I was growing up really were good and kind men).

  19. ThomasB says:


    I think your comments and so many others here are so interesting. While I do not diminish any of the experiences that anyone has had I do not believe the negativity that any of you have expressed is the cultural norm in the church.

    I will be the first to admit that there are likely more than a few Bishops, Branch Presidents and even Stake Presidents that handle the confession/repentance/forgiveness process with little or no tact.

    I will tell you though that in my experience that I believe everyone that came through my office to confess felt better as a result.

    I found that the problem was never the sins or acts that were committed. The problem was always that they felt that there was not way to be forgiven. They did not know how to allow the atonement to function in their lives.

    Honestly I cared little about the sin because when you are contrite and seek forgiveness the Lord forgives asap and will continue to do so as long as it takes.

    The other complication involved is that people do not know how to forgive themselves because they believe the Lord has not. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Some of these experiences that I have had have been some of the most powerful experiences that I have ever had. I would not trade them and I do not believe the other party would either.

    I feel horribly that any of you have walked away with an experience that has left you feeling less than who you are. Remember that these leaders are supposed to be representing the Lord. Lets face it most men do not know how to communicate gently and effectively with women in an emotionally charged setting. I am still a tenderfoot (ask my good wife).

    In those circumstances when you feel something inappropriate is being done in that setting. Do not be afraid to speak up. Irregardless of what has been done you should be treated lovingly and with respect. I am confident that even in our final judgement the Lord will not be bringing wrath upon us but will be tearfully letting us know we fell short.

    I hope some of this helps.

  20. Alizarincrimson says:


    Please note that I am not casting aspersions on the “office manner” of specific bishops, nor am I suggesting that any one priesthood leader with whom I am personally acquainted is behaving indecently. That is a different topic entirely. Individual abuses have happened, and do happened. That is not remotely what I’m talking about.

    When I say the practice is abusive, I am saying exactly that: the practice of confession to a priesthood holder for innocuous, healthy sexual behavior and/or mutual, consenting sexual behavior between two adults is potentially, and usually, very harmful.

    Consider this: in the Vaughn Featherstone quote I gave before, Featherstone was praising a man for questioning his child about masturbation and for letting his son believe it was so horrible that he should never “do this thing in his life.” Exhibit A. Harmful.

    Next, the son–for seven years–dutifully chose not to masturbate because of the fear of having to eventually “confess” to a church leader. Exhibits, B, C, and D. Very harmful.

    By delivering this talk at a priesthood session in General Conference, having the talk printed in the Ensign, publishing excerpts of the talk in YM materials for the next 30 years, the church is still trying to tell youth that masturbation is shameful and wrong, confession to a church leader is necessary, and forgiveness cannot be acquired otherwise.

    Inherent in this story related by Elder Featherstone (if the story was even true at all in the first place) is the idea that parents and even strangers have the right to question their children about non-harmful sexual habits, and have the right to demand near-impossible promises from them, under the guise of the Lord’s will.

    I have had very good, kind men as priesthood leaders over the years. The fact that they’re stuck in a system that forces their questioning me does not negate their personalities.

    On that note, my last bishop finally understood what I was trying to say when I told him I did not like the confession component of the law of chastity and didn’t believe that solo or partner sex among mature single people should require confession to a church leader. When he asked why, I asked him, “How would you like to have to run to a bishop every time you had an orgasm? How would you like to meet with an ecclesiastical leader every time you had sex? Silly, isn’t it?”

  21. amelia says:

    i think the most important factor in the confession process is the individual’s own determination whether they need the help of an intermediary in their process of repentance. unfortunately, i do not think that is stressed very much (if ever) in the church and as a result we end up having a cookie-cutter idea about what does and does not need to be confessed via priesthood leaders. if i feel, with all honesty, that i can resolve a situation with god directly, then i don’t see why i need to involve a bishop, no matter what the situation is. if i, with all honesty, feel i need that bishop’s help, i’ll seek it. it seems as simple to me as that. our relationship with god is ours and it’s up to us to determine what to do with it.

    i will say that my experience with church discipline has only been good. but i will also say that i have sometimes felt the need for that process and other times not felt that need, in spite of the similarity of action.

  22. ThomasB says:

    Aliza and Amelia,

    Great insight for me thanks so much. I cannot say if the VJF talk is true. I am not going to research to find out but I would lean towards believing it.

    I truly believe that if you are comfortable with your relationship with the Lord and you have peace in your heart when taking these issues into consideration then what can one say. One can expound and exhort doctrine but at the end of the day it appears you are at peace with your own process. If you are comfortable with that then run with it.

    The specific topic of masturbation is an interesting one. I think if one has a chronic problem that disrupts their daily life then it is a problem and a Bishop may be able to help.

    I think if one has an occasional incident then yes by all means work it out with the Lord on your own time.

    You know self mastery is something we should strive for. I am not sure if it was in this thread or another but I was impressed by an individual that stated they had not had any kind of sexual stimulation until they were married at 42. Now I know some would say something is wrong with that person but I say I wish I had that kind of self control.

  23. D'Arcy says:


    I really like how you summed it up so nicely. I agree that if a confession helps someone (like it did my friend) then it is a good thing for that person. If another person (myself) feels no need to involve the Bishop, then again, that is right for me. None of God’s children are the same.

    ThomasB–I don’t know if I should digress from the topic of confession, but I don’t know if I’m ok about your idea that a person shouldn’t be allowed to express their sexuality until they are married. What if a person NEVER marries? That idea of inner torment and holding things in and not realizing a whole, healthy part of your personality is more detrimental than owning a vibrator. I think the church has to teach the ideal to the masses, but I think a person who knows how to handle their sexuality should be able to dictate what is ok and not ok.

  24. D'Arcy says:


    I really like how you summed it up so nicely. I agree that if a confession helps someone (like it did my friend) then it is a good thing for that person. If another person (myself) feels no need to involve the Bishop, then again, that is right for me. None of God’s children are the same.

    ThomasB–I don’t know if I should digress from the topic of confession, but I don’t know if I’m ok about your idea that a person shouldn’t be allowed to express their sexuality until they are married. What if a person NEVER marries? That idea of inner torment and holding things in and not realizing a whole, healthy part of your personality is more detrimental than owning a vibrator. I think the church has to teach the ideal to the masses, but I think a person who knows how to handle their sexuality should be able to dictate what is ok and not ok.

  25. D'Arcy says:


    I really like how you summed it up so nicely. I agree that if a confession helps someone (like it did my friend) then it is a good thing for that person. If another person (myself) feels no need to involve the Bishop, then again, that is right for me. None of God’s children are the same.

    ThomasB–I don’t know if I should digress from the topic of confession, but I don’t know if I’m ok about your idea that a person shouldn’t be allowed to express their sexuality until they are married. What if a person NEVER marries? That idea of inner torment and holding things in and not realizing a whole, healthy part of your personality is more detrimental than owning a vibrator. I think the church has to teach the ideal to the masses, but I think a person who knows how to handle their sexuality should be able to dictate what is ok and not ok.

  26. D'Arcy says:


    I really like how you summed it up so nicely. I agree that if a confession helps someone (like it did my friend) then it is a good thing for that person. If another person (myself) feels no need to involve the Bishop, then again, that is right for me. None of God’s children are the same.

    ThomasB–I don’t know if I should digress from the topic of confession, but I don’t know if I’m ok about your idea that a person shouldn’t be allowed to express their sexuality until they are married. What if a person NEVER marries? That idea of inner torment and holding things in and not realizing a whole, healthy part of your personality is more detrimental than owning a vibrator. I think the church has to teach the ideal to the masses, but I think a person who knows how to handle their sexuality should be able to dictate what is ok and not ok.

  27. Alizarincrimson says:

    Thomas B., about the Featherstone story’s being true or not: he did, in fact, deliver that very talk with those very words in the Priesthood session of Conference in the ’70s. What I question as being true is the same thing I question about nearly all conference anecdotes–whether the situation they relate actually happened.

    I think many conference stories are either made up or embellished to make a point. As rhetorical devices, these stories often work well. The main problem occurs when impressionable youth and singles believe that aspects of normal, healthy sexual development are wrong and need suppressing for no obvious reason.

    As for “church discipline”, I think it’s truly sad (pathetic?) that it must exist at all, especially when no criminal acts have been committed. Discipline? Really?

    Once again, with feeling: Is it really necessary to repent, confess, and feel shame every time someone has an orgasm as a single person? And possibly actually confess this to some little-known guy whose day job is a store manager? Really?

  28. ThomasB says:

    We all have been given agency. I will restate my position that if you feel strongly about a position and you have found peace with that decision then more power to you.

    Personally I wish I had used more discretion in my youth regarding decisions surrounding morality. What I have learned is that intimacy is sacred and sex is sex. Intimacy is healthy, it is spiritual, enjoyable and fun.

    Sex just so one can get off or get a release just does not have much substance. This is where “I” have found my peace.

    D’Arcy – with all due respect the fact that you may not be ok with someone who chooses to abstain in this is of little consequence to me. You have stated your position and have found peace with that. The fact is that some individuals have the strength, the ability and have found great solace in their abstinence. Now that may be difficult for you and I to completely understand but it is their journey and their truth and I have the utmost respect for them.

    Aliza – It has already been established that one (Paul H. Dunn) embellished and made up stories. Would I be shocked if others did as well? No. Do I believe that is how most of the brethren roll? No I do not.

  29. Anon for this one says:

    I’m late in commenting, but wanted to add my experience. I was an extremely conscientious young woman who felt I was going hell because I masturbated occasionally (a few times a year, which I thought was a lot.) On several occasions I confessed to the bishop and resolved never to do it again. Each time I confessed I felt great relief and that a burden had been lifted. At the time I thought it was because I was doing the right thing and I was feeling God’s forgiveness. In retrospect, my relief was a result of the extreme anxiety that led up to each confession (psyching myself up to talk to one of my parents’ male friends about touching myself) – it was relief that it was over.

    The only thing that made me confess was the belief that if I died at that time or the Second Coming occurred and I hadn’t confessed, my soul would be lost. (Yeah. I was an intense kid.)

    At no point of the process did I feel that Heavenly Father’s love or the atonement of Christ had anything to do with me and my problem (which in my mind was HUGE and made me an abnormal, disgusting person.) I was simply complying with the steps I thought were necessary to not go to hell. No bishop (I confessed to at least 3 since we moved a lot) ever told me that masturbating was normal and didn’t make me a terrible person – they simply told me not to do it again. One even mentioned that if I wasn’t able to get it under control, my church membership might be in jeopardy in the future (at that time I was 14.)

    Looking back, confession was not a healthy or helpful practice for me. It was humiliating and shameful and did nothing to lead me to Christ, but reinforced to me that I was bad. I honesty thought I was some kind of sexual deviant until I got old enough to talk about these kinds of things with my peers and I finally realized that masturbating is normal and some even view it as healthy.

  30. Holly says:

    D’Arcy, an interesting response to the issues you raise here can be found in a terrific essay by Parker Blount published in the November 2006 issue of Sunstone. It’s called “Scarlet Threads in the Lineage of Jesus” and you can download it for free at the Sunstone magazine site–go here https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/index.php?option=com_mira&Itemid=35
    and search the title, author or date.

    Among other things, Blount discusses his reaction to being a priesthood holder required to hear confessions. A woman comes to him to confess past sexual sins, believing that

    “Her only hope was to confess this ugliness to the proper priesthood authority.

    “What did I say to her? I told her it was in the past. I told her to forget it (hoping she could). I tried to assure her that from the perspective of the Church (and I was the Church at the moment), her repentance was complete. I wanted to erase it for her and to not see her scoured raw.

    “I don’t remember her name. I can’t reproduce a clear image of her face. I do remember the sound of her pain. I remember
    that because I remember my own pain as I sat with her. After she left, I cried. I didn’t know why I was crying. Something was trying to speak, but it was too deep for me to find words to express it. Crying was the only voice I had.

    “I don’t know that I am any clearer today about why I cried than I was then. But I have some thoughts now that I didn’t have then. I cried because of what we do to one another and the things we heap upon each other. I cried because Church repentance requires such a big dose of pain. I cried because she had to prostrate herself before me. Too many had. I cried because I am frail and human, and I don’t know how to be anything else.

    “I hadn’t had her experiences, but I could have. I think I cried because she couldn’t choose to whom she would like to tell her story–or even whether she needed to tell the story. I think I cried because I sensed her story had been hijacked…. She was left to tell a story that required her to make shame and guilt the center of it, whether it naturally belonged there or not.”

    I’d like to know your reaction to that passage and to the entire article, if you have time to read it.

  31. Kelly Ann says:

    Holly, This is an interesting link that you shared. I hope it gets noticed and warrants some discussion. I found Blout’s talk about the history of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba problematic sexual history and why it would be relevant to the lineage of Jesus interesting. I like the idea that people are blessed despite their history and life is sometimes infinitely complex. I really found the quote you shared about his experience listening to a confession. However, I feel he betrayed the confidence given to him to even share what he did. I also don’t really agree with all his tenants. I would like to know why don’t we only the problematic women are remembered? What about all the ones in between? Really, I think I might mull on this awhile before commenting further.

  32. Holly says:

    I would like to know why don’t we only the problematic women are remembered?

    As Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has so famously said, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”

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