What should we do about confessing our sins in public?
January 1971

“What should we do about confessing our sins in public?” New Era, Jan. 1971, 10

I’ve read in the Doctrine and Covenants where it says to confess your sins and I’ve been told we’re to do it in fast and testimony meeting. What should we do about confessing our sins in public?

Answer/Elder Marion D. Hanks

Generally speaking, we do not confess specific serious personal sins in public meetings.

The Lord has taught us that we are to confess our sins: “… I command you again to repent … and that you confess your sins. …” (D&C 19:20.)

In his own definition of repentance he has taught us: “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” (D&C 58:43.)

Thus, confession is commanded of God and is part of repentance.

Related questions arise: Confess what? To whom? Under what circumstances?

We are to confess all our sins to our Heavenly Father. If we forsake these sins, he will forgive (D&C 61:2; Isa. 1:18), forget (D&C 58:42), and never mention them to us (Ezek. 18:20).

Those sins which injure others we are to confess to those whom we have hurt, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation:

“And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled.” (D&C 42:88.)

Sins that by their nature put in jeopardy our membership or good standing in the Church must also be confessed to the Lord’s agent, the bishop or other appropriate Church officer. The bishop as common judge has stewardship of the flock and its members. He is responsible for safeguarding the “body of the Church” and its various members in his appointed jurisdiction, even to the point of “cutting off the right hand” or “plucking out the right eye” if it offends.

It is not the general practice of the Church for individuals to confess explicit sins in fast and testimony meetings. The Lord has said that where many are offended or where an offense is widely known, it may be required of an individual by the appropriate Church officer that he acknowledge a sinful act or condition before the priesthood or the congregation (D&C 42:90–91), but members of the Church are not generally encouraged to discuss their sins or those of others before the body of the Church or otherwise publicly (D&C 42:93).

  • Assistant to the Council of the Twelve