As I walked into the Bishop’s office, I felt the slightest tremor of fear come over me. I did not know this man to whom I would be confessing my most personal secrets. I brushed the fear aside and stepped over the threshold. The sky had already turned dark outside the window. I’d watched the last rays of sunlight draining from the sky as I’d made the short walk to the Bishop’s office from my Hale.
Bishop Smith reached over his desk and greeted me with a handshake as I entered the room. He was a short, middle-aged man with circular, wire-rimmed glasses. His impeccably combed, thinning brown hair lay limply across his pale scalp. His facial features were rounded and slightly bulbous, reminding me of the friendly toy trolls I used to play with as a child.
We got into the meat of the confession fairly quickly. I had promised myself that I would confess everything honestly and openly. No more lying. No more coloring the truth. No more omission. I had decided to be honest. And I was.
Bishop Smith listened quietly, nodding and smiling kindly as we went. He asked only a few questions here and there. I relaxed into the comfort of this safe space.
Then the questions became more personal and I could feel my body tensing in response. It was a horrible feeling, going into deep detail about the private intricacies of my young life with a much older, male stranger. But I calmed myself and held true to my promise of honesty. This was a safe space. What I was doing mattered. Bishop Smith told me I had made the right choice in coming to him. He wanted me to know that I could trust him. I did.
Bishop Smith told me I had made the right choice in coming to him. He wanted me to know that I could trust him. I did.
When he asked me why I chose to confess, I explained everything – all my years of living as two halves instead of one whole, my lost moral compass, my religious quandaries and resulting exhaustion. I was ready to move on with my life. I had spent the previous month locked in deep soul searching and prayer. I had made the necessary changes, ceased my indiscretions and prayed for forgiveness. The single-minded determination was freeing comparatively. Confession to the Bishop was the last piece of the puzzle. I explained that choosing this road hadn’t been an easy decision for me, but I felt it was the best one.
Bishop Smith smiled compassionately and said, “Thank you for sharing this with me.”
He continued, “It’s important to remember that everything I do as Bishop is through Christ and is out of love. It is my job to be an acting representative for Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father. My actions are their actions; my decisions, their decisions.”
I nodded amicably.
He expounded further, “Keep in mind that what I determine comes from God.”
Something stirred uneasily in the pit of my stomach. The wording felt off. Loving as Jesus would love and speaking as Jesus would speak were all concepts that I could understand. But what was God deciding and why …
It was as if a switch had been flipped. The Bishop’s compassion evaporated into a steely businesslike tone. He spoke as if reciting from a script. He never stopped smiling. It had plasticized into place. “Due to the severity of your sins we will hold a disciplinary court to determine your future. My secretary will contact you to arrange a day and time.”
I was stunned.
My body stiffened in shock. My throat constricted refusing to allow any verbal response. The world had just inverted. I could feel any control of the situation rapidly flowing through my fingers with no hope of recall.
What had happened to the love? It had evaporated. I was a ball of terrified confusion. The Bishop had said that he spoke for Jesus, didn’t he? At the moment I could recall only one instance of someone confessing to Jesus in the Bible, but nothing about Jesus conducting a court to punish them … Or had he? Had I missed that part?
Bishop Smith continued, “In the meantime, you are not allowed to take the sacrament in church or pray in public.”
My mind was in hyper-drive. Could I back peddle? Pretend it had all been a big mistake? Laugh it off like I had with Gavin the night we squared off with the security guard? Ha ha ha, I got you! It was all a joke. Good fun! Well, I’m off to my prayer circle now …
No. There was no escape. I’d walked into the trap willingly and now I was stuck. The only way out was to gnaw off my own leg or wait for the end. My mouth felt dry and numb but my brain whirled with questions.
“What is the court for? What’s going to happen?” I forced the words out through my constricted throat. My chest clenched mercilessly.
“You will return and repeat everything you’ve told me here, as well as anything else you would like to add, in front of myself and my counselors,” the Bishop intoned. “Then you will step outside while we deliberate and pray. When we are ready you will come back in and we will tell you what has been decided … what God has directed us to do.”
“What would you decide? What are the possible outcomes of something like this?” I asked hoarsely, trying feverishly to stave off the desperation in my voice.
“Well, it’s hard to say,” he replied, leaning back in his chair, his small hands interlaced behind his philosophically inclined head. “We won’t know anything for sure until then. You could be put on probation, or be disfellowshipped or excommunicated. I suppose it’s possible that you might be let go free and clear, although I think that’s unlikely in your case.”
A nauseating thought flooded into my head. “Am I going to get kicked out of school?” I stammered quietly.
Bishop Smith was still smiling. “It is definitely a possibility, so you really should make a plan for that scenario.”
I had fallen into another realm. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I simply couldn’t fathom the idea that this conversation might result in my being kicked out of college. And excommunication? To be excommunicated in the LDS faith was a fate worse than death. The ex-member was cut off completely. Their connections to their families were severed for eternity. They would not be reunited with their families after death but would be cast out forever.
The full ramifications of this would be difficult for someone outside the church to comprehend, but suffice it to say that this is the worst thing that could happen. It is the spiritual equivalent of the electric chair. I was struck dumb at the mere thought.
A few moments passed in silence. Then Bishop Smith stood up and reached across his desk to shake my hand, which I held out numbly in response. “Thank you so much for coming in today,” he gushed. “It was just wonderful visiting with you.”
I released his hand and melted from the room.
This is the latest installment in my story. If you haven’t yet read the previous entries, click here to start at the beginning. Then continue to read each post in numerical order.