A Former Bishop Shares His Experience
As a man, as a father, and as a bishop, I’ve had plenty of experience trying to solve problems. It’s almost ingrained in me—fix it. When something breaks, something needs to be done. If someone is suffering, I want to help. If you’re a Church leader, it’s likely been deeply instilled in you that you have a solemn responsibility to do everything within your power to assist those in need and bring peace to those that are hurting. And then you have someone who comes to you asking for help with an addiction. And you can’t fix it. I’ve struggled together with members of my congregation who suffer from pornography addiction. They come in genuinely repentant, seeking help and guidance. I give my very best counsel and they go forward with a new conviction—a new conviction that lasts a few months at most and sometimes only a few days.
The purpose of this letter is to give you a lot of hope and a little direction, because in addition to working from a bishop’s standpoint, I’m also the father of a boy who has been addicted to pornography and masturbation. I met with him as his priesthood leader and wanted to help more than anything. I wanted to fix it, and I believe I was wrong for taking that approach.
I offer two suggestions for you to consider as an ecclesiastical leader.
First, Moses 1:39 states, “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” [emphasis added]. It’s His work, not yours. You and I are not ordained or set apart to take the place of God. We offer help and guidance and counsel and support. But the members of your congregation are God’s children who have agency, and they must learn to access the Atonement of Jesus Christ if they are to be saved. You will not save them because you are not the Savior. Surrender your desire to save and let God do His work. Make that clear to your members.
And second, though you are not the one to offer salvation, you do have a unique position in a person’s life. You can facilitate three things that help every addict in his recovery: (1) honesty, (2) responsibility and (3) humility. As a Church leader you can assist in these areas. But I believe the one where you will make the most difference will be with humility. Encourage the addict to be honest and responsible, but I encourage you to also help him to attend a 12-Step program and seek professional counseling. A sponsor and a therapist will help with regular opportunities for the addict to continue practicing responsibility and affirm his honesty. But as his spiritual leader, you will have a wonderful opportunity to teach humility and to help him find the Savior, which will bring him healing. Give him counsel and help him to be humble—but not humiliated. Share your own faith in the Savior and affirm your dependence on God. Never be shy to affirm your inadequacies, but don’t apologize that you are only doing what you can. You are a spiritual leader doing all you can to point people to the Healer.
Don’t carry the burden alone. Let each person perform his or her role. Counselors, 12-Step programs, family, and friends all contribute in important ways. Remember the most important role is that of the Savior, and the addict’s relationship with the Savior is what will ultimately save him. Just do what you do best—give counsel and guidance to help him deepen his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t try to fix it.