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Brad Wilcox: The Role of a Bishop in Repentance

Riley and I are so excited to release Episode 1 of The Repentance Podcast—our interview with Brad Wilcox, the Second Counselor of the Young Men’s General Presidency for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Brad Wilcox is most well-known for his 2011 BYU Devotional speech “His Grace is Sufficient” (which is the most viewed BYU Devotional of all-time).

He is also a professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University and an author of several books (including mine and Riley’s personal favorites The Continuous Atonement and Changed Through His Grace).

Episode 1: Interview with Brad Wilcox

In this episode, we discuss (1) what the role of a bishop is in the repentance process, (2) worthiness (why bishops sometimes place membership restrictions as part of the repentance process), and (3) what the limitations of a bishop are (or when a sinner and/or bishop might look to additional resources for help).

In this blog post, we’ve only highlighted insights from the first 30 minutes of our 60-minute interview with him so—if you like the highlights from this post—we strongly encourage you to listen to the full episode.

The episode is available on every major streaming platform—Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and YouTube—but you can also listen to it right here:

What is the Role of a Bishop in the Repentance Process?

In Section 32 of the General Handbook of the Church, it says:

Most repentance takes place between an individual, God, and those who have been affected by a person’s sins. However, sometimes a bishop or stake president needs to help Church members in their efforts to repent.

And, as many members of the Church know, bishops and stake presidents need to be involved when a Church member commits a “serious sin.”

Serious Sins

Many members of the Church wonder, “What qualifies as a serious sin?”

In Section 32.6 of the General Handbook, it says:

Serious sins are a deliberate and major offense against the laws of God.

The two key words here are deliberate and major offense.

Deliberate (as defined by Merriam-Webster) means “done or said in a way that is planned or intended” or “done or said on purpose” and major offense means a “serious infraction of law.”

In other words, we commit serious sins when we intentionally break serious laws of God.

Examples of Serious Sins

Some examples of serious sins outlined in the General Handbook of the Church are:

  • Violent Acts and Abuse (see sections 32.6.1.1 and 32.6.2.1)
    • Murder and Attempted Murder
    • Rape
    • Sexual Abuse, Including Assault and Harassment
    • Child or Youth Abuse
    • Abuse of a Spouse or Another Adult
    • Violent Predatory Behavior
  • Sexual Immorality (see sections 32.6.1.2 and 32.6.2.2)
    • Incest
    • Child Pornography
    • Plural Marriage
    • Sexual Predatory Behavior
    • Adultery
    • Fornication
    • Same-Sex Relations
    • Intensive or Compulsive Pornography Use
  • Fraudulent Acts (see sections 32.6.1.3 and 32.6.2.3)
    • Financial Predatory Behavior
    • Robbery
    • Burglary
    • Theft
    • Embezzlement
    • Perjury
    • Fraud
  • Violations of Trust
    • Committing a Serious Sin While Holding a Prominent Position in the Church or Community
    • Committing a Serious Sin That is Widely Known
  • Some Other Acts
    • Felony Conviction
    • Abandoning Family Responsibilities, Including Nonpayment of Child Support and Alimony
    • Selling Illegal Drugs
    • Other Criminal Acts
    • Submits to, Performs, Arranges for, Pays for, or Encourages an Abortion

Priesthood Keys

When a member of the Church commits a serious sin, they need to involve a bishop or stake president in the repentance process because they hold priesthood keys.

In Section 32.3, it says:

[Bishops and stake presidents] hold priesthood keys to represent the Lord in helping Church members repent (see Doctrine and Covenants 13:1; 107:16–18).

This idea of priesthood keys is something that Brad Wilcox really emphasized in our interview with him.

Priesthood keys allow bishops and stake presidents to represent Jesus Christ in helping Church members repent.

In Section 32.2, it says:

If a member commits a serious sin, the bishop or stake president helps him or her repent. As part of this process, he may need to restrict some Church membership privileges for a time. In some situations, he may need to withdraw a person’s membership for a time.

Membership Restrictions or Withdrawal

Section 32.2 also outlines 3 purposes for membership restrictions or withdrawal:

  • Help protect others.
    • Sometimes a person poses a physical or spiritual threat. Predatory behaviors, physical harm, sexual abuse, substance abuse, fraud, and apostasy are some of the ways this can occur. With inspiration, a bishop or stake president acts to protect others when someone poses a threat in these and other serious ways (see Alma 5:59–60).
  • Help a person access the redeeming power of Jesus Christ through repentance.
    • Through this process, he or she may again become clean and worthy to receive all of God’s blessings.
  • Protect the integrity of the Church.
    • Restricting or withdrawing a person’s Church membership may be necessary if his or her conduct significantly harms the Church (see Alma 39:11). The integrity of the Church is not protected by concealing or minimizing serious sins—but by addressing them.

Confessing Serious Sins

Understanding the role of a bishop in the repentance process can help a sinner to understand why we are asked to confess serious sins, but repentance is not just a matter of confessing our sins, it’s a matter of being transformed through the power of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.

Something that Brad Wilcox said that we love is:

The goal of confession is not just to get [your sins] off your chest or to ‘feel better’ and then go out and mess up again; the goal of confession is to be able to make changes… and the bishop is the one who can give us help, counsel, inspired guidance, and lead us to others who can help us.

Brad Wilcox believes this is one of the main reasons why we get “stuck” in the repentance process, making the same mistakes over and over again.

He says, “I feel like young people in the Church understand that the Atonement [of Jesus Christ] is about cleansing. They know that. And they know that confession is part of the repentance process so that they can be clean… [and] forgiven, but they rarely look past forgiveness. So it just becomes this cycle of I sin, I repent, I’m forgiven, I sin, I repent, I’m forgiven, and they don’t look beyond the forgiveness and realize that… the grace that flows from the Atonement of Jesus Christ… can actually help [them] throughout this transformation process. It can strengthen [them] and it can change [them].”

Forsaking Serious Sins

Brad Wilcox points out in Preach My Gospel, Chapter 10: How Can I Improve My Teaching Skills, Repentance and Addiction Recovery that it says:

Sometimes [we], even with the best of intentions, give in to temptation as [we] progress toward greater self-discipline. Thus, both repentance and recovery may take considerable time.

And followed this up with this profound quote:

Time is the medium through which the power of Christ’s Atonement is made manifest in our lives.

He continues, “So ‘never again’ is a great long-term goal, but between there and now, there are a lot of short-term goals that need to be reached… and if I were to give a word of hope to anybody out there who is in this forsaking process, it’s recognize the growth! You may not feel like you are changing, but you are. Those changes are happening. You just have to stick with it and remember that when you slip up, you don’t give up.”

Worthiness

One important thing that Brad Wilcox encouraged us to remember in this process of forsaking our sins is that we don’t have to be “worthy” to qualify for God’s help.

He says, “[Jesus] is not waiting for you to break your bad habits so that you can go to Him. He meets you where you are and He is working with you throughout [the] perfecting process.”

And followed up with this amazing quote:

We don’t pray because we are worthy; we pray because we need help. We don’t go take the sacrament because we are perfect; we go because we are willing to be perfected over time. We don’t go on a mission or to the temple because we’ve “made it” in our Latter-day Saint society; we go to these sacred places because that is where God is making us more like Him.

Conclusion

Most of the time, repentance can take place between an individual, God, and those who have been affected by a person’s sins.

However, when an individual commits a serious sin, they need to involve a bishop or stake president as part of their repentance process because they hold priesthood keys that allow an individual to not only be forgiven of God, but also to be forgiven by His Church.

The way we involve a bishop or stake president in our repentance is by confessing our sins to them. Then, they will work with us towards forsaking our sins. The forsaking process can take time.

The good news (or the “gospel”) is that we don’t have to be “worthy” before God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost will help us to change. They will meet us where we are and work with us towards our own perfection.

This process of change is complicated and is one of the primary reasons why Riley and I decided to create this podcast, but we both recognize that the opportunity to repent (or becoming perfected through Christ) is truly one of the greatest blessings Heavenly Father has given us through the gift of His Son.

Listen, Share, Review, and Send Feedback

We hope you enjoy Episode 1 of The Repentance Podcast.

Please take some time to listen to each episode, share them with friends or family in need, write a review, and/or send us feedback through the contact form on our website or by e-mailing us at hello@therepentancepodcast.com

Until next month,

Maxwell and Riley

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