The member should come to this interview having prayerfully considered and written down a personal plan of action. This is the member’s plan not the bishop’s plan for the member. People are more likely to change when they create their own solutions rather than when others impose solutions.
Your objective is to guide the member in developing a plan that breaks their pornography cycle and achieves the goal of repentance, which includes forsaking the sin. Elder Oaks explained repentance well in his talk ΄Sin and Suffering‘ Ensign, July 1992, page 70.
. . . . All of our personal experience confirms the fact that we must endure personal suffering in the process of repentance—and for serious transgressions, that suffering can be severe and prolonged.…
Why is it necessary for us to suffer on the way to repentance for serious transgressions? We tend to think of the results of repentance as simply cleansing us from sin. But that is an incomplete view of the matter. A person who sins is like a tree that bends easily in the wind. On a windy and rainy day, the tree bends so deeply against the ground that the leaves become soiled with mud, like sin. If we focus only on cleaning the leaves, the weakness in the tree that allowed it to bend and soil its leaves may remain. Similarly, a person who is merely sorry to be soiled by sin will sin again in the next high wind. The susceptibility to repetition continues until the tree has been strengthened.
When a person has gone through the process that results in what the scriptures call a broken heart and a contrite spirit, the Savior does more than cleanse that person from sin. He also gives him or her new strength. That strengthening is essential for us to realize the purpose of the cleansing, which is to return to our Heavenly Father. To be admitted to his presence, we must be more than clean. We must also be changed from a morally weak person who has sinned into a strong person with the spiritual stature to dwell in the presence of God. We must, as the scripture says, ΄[become] a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.‘ (Mosiah 3:19) This is what the scripture means in its explanation that a person who has repented of his sins will ΄forsake them.‘ (D&C 58:43) Forsaking sins is more than resolving not to repeat them. Forsaking involves a fundamental change in the individual. . . .
The fundamental change comes through the atonement and through behaviors that produce and reflect repentance. As President Spencer W. Kimball said, (paraphrasing), ΄Repentance is reflected by proper behavior over an appropriate period of time.‘
The member will typically come with a plan which includes behaviors he has tried before and that have been suggested by prior bishops; read the scriptures, pray, fast, and don’t look at pornography any more. These are all important components of an effective action plan. You should thank the member for preparing the plan and commend the member for the effort and obedience. It may be helpful to read the excerpt of Elder Oak’s talk to help draw the analogy of strengthening the tree and the proper understanding of repentance.
The member’s plan will need reinforcement in order to facilitate forsaking the sin and generating a fundamental change in the member. Under direction of the Spirit, you and the member should agree on additional behaviors that will facilitate repentance – strengthen the tree (suggestions listed below). It is also helpful for the member to determine what they want more than this – what does he want in his life that is missing or not possible because of his pornography involvement? The development of this plan may take more than one interview to help the member understand and agree to apply behaviors that will bring long-term change.
Through proper attitude, motivation, behaviors and boundaries, results will be real repentance, forgiveness and peace, not temporary abstinence. There will be a change in body, spirit and mind. Some of the behaviors listed below such as counseling and loss of privileges are temporary, but most behaviors should be a part of every member’s life. The emphasis should be on things the member should do instead of things he should not do. All corrective behaviors might not be needed for every member.
Even though some behaviors are ΄hard‘, they should not be avoided by you or the member. For example, it has been shown that when the member has parents in his team of support, he will have a higher likelihood of repentance and long-term success. It is typically very hard for a member to call his parents and explain that he has a pornography problem and needs the parents’ help and support to overcome it. Most members will not choose to do this. It requires a loving, persistent, persuasive bishop to help the member see the value of this behavior. The more positive behaviors that are integrated into the member’s life, the higher the likelihood of repentance. One member who recently worked with his bishop gave this counsel to bishops, ΄Do not minimize my problem. Take my problem seriously. Bishops who are too easy do not help. I have already failed with several bishops. I want to stop bishop shopping.‘
The personal plan of action should be built upon realistic expectations. This is not a plan based upon time, but a change of heart and a change of behavior. Future events in a member’s life such as a mission, marriage, or end of semester can be motivating factors, but are not determining factors or deadlines by which repentance will have taken place. Repentance will usually take longer than a member expects. Their past history with repenting of this sin as a youth probably involved weeks instead of months. If a member asks you when he can submit his mission papers, partake of the sacrament, go to the temple, etc., an appropriate response is, ΄It depends upon you and your behavior. When you have repented, the Spirit will let both you and me know. We both want that to be as soon as possible.‘ It is helpful to share with the member the quote from Elder Oak’s talk regarding strengthening the tree.
You should not mention a time period for having the repentance process being complete. A member can abstain for several months and still not have repented. When a time period is discussed, the member will typically focus on abstinence for that period of time and not a fundamental change. A focus on time will create frustration for both the member and you. This is typically what has occurred in the member’s past – incomplete repentance because of a focus on cleaning the leaves instead of strengthening the tree. The plan must be focused on many positive behaviors.
Once the plan is agreed upon, you should obtain a commitment from the member to do everything in the member’s plan. This commitment will be helpful in the future when the member is struggling with following parts of the plan. You can remind the member that they agreed that they would do everything in the plan and then give him encouragement to do so.
We want to ΄strengthen the tree‘ not just ΄clean the leaves‘ in order to facilitate the fundamental change in the individual. This change must take place in order to break the cycle and have the member live a happy and productive life.
For additional resource i.e. scriptures, quotes, articles and books see Appendix A