In meeting with members of the Church, priesthood leaders will often counsel with members who struggle with pornography. By nature, pornography is addictive and has been found to be more difficult to quit than substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs. Bishops and stake presidents hold the keys to receive inspiration and guidance from the Spirit of the Lord for those who are combating this pervasive problem. Priesthood leaders should extend love, offer hope, render assistance and bear testimony of the atonement of Christ and His power to overcome all things, to forgive, make whole and heal.
Although you, as bishops, need to learn the full breadth of members’ pornography problems, addressing this issue can be a difficult task due to the sensitive nature of the transgression. It is important for you to approach the subject with care, love and confidence – assessing thoroughly but in a manner that facilitates hope and healing. The purpose of this section is to offer suggestions on how you can lovingly assess your members’ pornography problem so you can know best how to extend the most appropriate counsel and assistance. These suggestions are designed for an interview where you are already aware that a member has a problem with pornography and enough time has been set aside to make a thorough assessment.
To help members gain your trust, it is essential that you pray with one another so the Spirit can be present to guide and inspire the meeting. It is suggested that you offer the opening prayer and that the member offer the closing prayer. This could be the pattern for this and subsequent interviews.
RECEIVING THE CONFESSION
Be aware that this is very painful thing for a young man to talk about and that a gentle inquiry is most effective. This interview is as much about developing a relationship with the young man as about learning about information from his past. Remember that the person is more important than behavior. It takes a great amount of courage and trust for a member to disclose to anyone that they struggle with pornography. Many have talked with previous bishops about this problem and are discouraged that they are in this position again. Many have also lost hope. Most want to be rid of this problem.
When a member confesses, you are encouraged to:
GATHERING THE SEXUAL HISTORY
Going over key historical facts related to a member’s pornography usage will help you gain a deeper understanding regarding the severity of the problem. The following items of discussion may be helpful:
One powerful way to assess where members are spiritually is to ask them to share their testimony with you and, in turn, you share your testimony with them. The sharing of testimonies provides a core understanding of how their involvement with pornography has influenced their perception of God. Many people tear up when asked this question because they question their testimony and whether God loves them. Many of them question whether God can or will forgive them because they have been involved in pornography for so long. You should provide hope and let them know that change is possible. God’s love for them is powerful and he wants them to succeed in their battle to conquer pornography.
Ask them about their personal prayers and scripture study. Do they partake of the sacrament and do they understand the purpose of this sacred ordinance? Have they ever let the sacrament pass by them?
There may be times during the repentance process as you are discussing personal progress and spirituality that the member may benefit from a priesthood blessing. It might be appropriate now or after he has done some introspection and developed his own personal plan of action. Ideally the member should request a blessing. You could ask the member when was the last time he had a priesthood blessing regarding this issue.
USE THE SCRIPTURES
Of the many scriptures that address hope, the atonement, and forgiveness, the following may be helpful.
At the later part of the assessment interview with a member that has confessed and is involved with pornography, you should give guidance in a loving, non-condemning manner that the member should not, at this time, participate in sacrament and temple ordinances and that priesthood holders should not exercise their priesthood. This should be presented not as a punishment, but a period of time for the member to prepare to be able to participate in these blessings again. You should hold the member’s recommend until he is worthy to again attend the temple. The member will naturally be curious regarding when the privileges will be restored and might even ask you when he can have the privileges back. An appropriate answer is that it depends upon the member. The member’s behavior will determine when the privileges are restored. You hold keys and should be inspired by the Spirit regarding restoration of these privileges. More information will be given regarding restoration of privileges in the ´Following the Personal Plan of Action’ section. We do not give timetables of when privileges will be restored.
Some members will be concerned about the perceived embarrassment of not partaking the sacrament. You could counsel them that, ´… you should not have feared man more than God¡ (D&C 3:7). A behavior reflective of a change of heart is when the member isn’t embarrassed by not partaking of the sacrament but uses that time to commune with God and seek inspiration and forgiveness.
ASSIGNMENT FOR THE NEXT INTERVIEW – Develop a Personal Plan of Action
It is important that you not act like a doctor, e.g. a patient comes in with an illness; the doctor performs a diagnosis and provides a prescription for recovery. It is neither appropriate nor helpful for you to tell the member what to do and that he will get better. The member, who has just confessed, should develop his personal plan of action. The member should prayerfully consider what needs to change in his life.
At this stage, the member might not know what he needs to do to overcome and repent of this addiction. While you should not give him specific steps on how to recover, you do want to give him some resource material that he can read and find some solutions. Ten outstanding articles regarding recovering from pornography are listed at the end of Appendix A with full copies in Appendix E. You should become familiar with each and provide some as a resource. Different articles might be more helpful for different members.
Four that are especially recommended are:
At the end of the assessment interview, you should suggest that the member come to the next interview with a written plan which includes those things that he feels are important for repentance and healing. Including things that have worked for him in the past should be considered. This procedure, of the member developing his plan, engenders investment in and ownership of their personal plan of action.
In the next interview, you and member will review the plan, with you providing additional guidance. You will also make the decision on whether to refer to a professional (Appendix B). You and the member should schedule at least 60 minutes for the next interview.