Sexual Transgression and Dwelling Together in Love

This is a guest post from Jacob Baker. Jacob is a doctoral student in Philosophy of Religion and Theology at Claremont Graduate University and an instructor at BYU and UVU. And he still finds time to post funny things about Mormon life on Facebook.

I remember the first ward my wife and I moved into after we were married. One Sunday in Sacrament Meeting the bishop (a man who was as plain-spoken as any bishop I’ve ever seen) got up and pleaded for us to be less judgmental of one another, to have compassion on each other, for there were many dealing with heavy burdens in our ward. He said that within our ward boundaries alone there were people dealing with illegal drugs, adultery, pornography, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and many other problems. He was especially terribly saddened at having to counsel and try to provide help for women who were victims of rape, one within her own marriage. He then stated that statistically speaking, for other wards and branches about the same size as our ward anywhere in the country, the same sorts of problems were occurring at the same or greater rate, but the problems and violations of a sexual nature were both more widespread and more damaging. Studies, of course, have generally long borne this out. One recent study shows that nearly 1/5 of boys and nearly 1/3 of girls in the United States have had a sexual encounter of some kind with an adult by the time they reach high school. The rates are much higher in less developed countries.

Discussions regarding sexuality in the Bloggernacle probably number in the hundreds or maybe even the thousands by this point. In a way, there is a sense that this topic has been discussed, talked about, screamed at, and wept over pretty much to the point of a terminal blogging coma. Yet, misunderstandings and problems regarding sexuality in virtually every community (Mormon communities included) persist unabated. These additional meditations, then, (unlikely to be very original in the end) may be received in a pre-packaged vegetative state; nevertheless, the topic, it seems to me, remains a consistently urgent and crucial one, because “many hearts [continue] to die, pierced with deep wounds,” not women and children only, but men as well.

There are many, many potential reasons for why problems, misunderstandings, and violations of a sexual nature continue to plague us, but I will suggest that, more than any other problem we deal with in the church, we deal with problems of sexuality alone, and this an important reason why, for those of us who have willfully and knowingly engaged in any sort of illicit sexual behavior, they stalk us, almost unimpeded. Even where others might be involved as confidantes or counselors, we often feel isolated and forsaken, because we have committed a sin that is considered, essentially, to be unbearable by our families and church community. Alma tells us that because of the law of justice when we sin we feel estranged. We feel estranged from God, from other people, and, perhaps most significantly, from ourselves. So before anyone else in our family or in our ward has knowledge of what we’ve done, we feel already that we are cut off from everyone. The atonement is meant, in part, to provide us a space by which we can stop being cut off from everyone, from God, from our community and family, and ourselves. But the ways we have been taught to think and act about sexuality have created walls of humiliation and shame between us and other people. And in our loneliness we seek to destroy ourselves, to extinguish our lives so we don’t have to feel alone anymore, and so that the shame will stop crushing us. The shame, guilt and embarrassment associated with sexual transgression have effectively cut so many of us off from the rest of our brothers and sisters.

Looked at in this way, our sins, sexual and otherwise, are not isolated acts we commit outside of our relationships with our families, friends, and church communities, but sins precisely because we live with others. The sin that is in fact most damaging is the severing of these connections, cutting ourselves off or being cut off by others from those we love and who should love us. Sin is ultimately the damaging of relationships. When we as a community heap shame and humiliation on someone because of their behavior, we contribute to the same estrangeness and isolation that they experienced as a result of their sin. Consequently, that person’s individual sin and our sin as a community in not loving that person amount to exactly the same thing: we are cut off from one another, or better, we are bound to one another in shame, embarrassment, isolation, and misery.

We need one another in every moment. We are beings who are in constant need of practicing forgiveness of ourselves and others, who unfortunately often heap shame and guilt on others because we do not understand, and so are afraid, of sins and transgressions of a sexual nature. We need to learn better how to talk with one another about these problems, so that we do not contribute to the loneliness and forsakenness of those who already find themselves hurt and bleeding from something they’ve done or someone they’ve hurt. We are losing too many of our husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors, not always because they have cut themselves off from us because of their behavior, but usually because we have cut ourselves off from them because of their behavior. Forgiveness because of the atonement means that Christ has given himself in advance to us, as he who will never abandon us, as he who wishes always to be at one with and in a relationship with us. The grace of the atonement is that because Christ has given himself to us in advance, he has always already extended himself to us in forgiveness. We are always already forgiven because of his pure love extended to us unconditionally. Christ’s love is not dependent on what we do, and therefore forgiveness means that Christ gives himself to us before anything we do. Fore-giveness. [1] “We love him,” the scripture says, “because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). His love is not contingent on what we do but is grounded in who we are. The punishment of sin comes when we refuse to accept this forgiveness, refuse to accept this mercy, and instead choose to remain cut off and unforgiven, after which the temptation to continue in sin, to continue to be isolated and alone becomes greater. Unforgiveness means that we refuse to accept that Christ gave himself to us before anything we did, to believe that his love is contingent on what we do, how well we obey, how well we behave. When we accept his forgiveness, when we embrace his love and mercy, we feel the sincere and powerful desire to stop doing those things that damage our relationships with God, ourselves, and others and instead do those things that deepen and strengthen our relationships with others. When we are aware that his love was there before those sins we committed and it remains afterward, the most powerful ever-present force in the universe, everything changes for us and we are newly born in his image. Being newly born means, in fact, that the entire world takes on a newness of life, a pristine texture of hope and possibility. Repentance in this context means to accept Christ’s forgiveness and mercy, always already given to us before anything we’ve done. When the gospel becomes a matter of everything we do and not a matter of accepting the love offered to us in the atonement, then we despair and continue in sin, because not only is our attention diverted from the atoning work of the Savior, but we realize we can never do enough, or even do it right. Our good works are only possible when we become aware of the healing, loving power of the atonement, which has always already forgiven us and loved us.

To be a community of Zion will mean that we are constantly in relationships of forgiveness of one another, that we always already give ourselves to each other, before and regardless of what we do, that we are serious about dwelling together in love. This decidedly does not mean that violations of divine and social boundaries are meaningless and anything goes as long as we love one another; on the contrary, it means that such standards are imbued with substantive meaning and context for the first time because we love one another and have covenanted to give ourselves to one another. When both our sins and our love are given a background and a frame (instead of being isolated acts which are violations of abstract metaphysical laws), we see one another with new eyes. To see with new eyes is to see through Christ’s eyes, eyes of faith, hope, and love. When we are bound to each other in relationships of unforgiveness we are saying that we are waiting to give ourselves to each other until we see what the other does, and if it’s acceptable. In other words–to see with our own, old eyes, eyes of distrust, despair, and fear. “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves; for charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Whose sins? Not our own. Charity is a love of others, not ourselves. Or maybe better said: it is the true and pure love of ourselves that allows us to freely love others and see them as they really are. Peter teaches here that to have charity, to love others, is to hide their sins from our own eyes. This is why, in the end, we are the ones that become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17), and all things become new to us. To this end we must plead, pray, and work to become a community of forgiveness, a community for which all things and all people have become new. This, I believe, is the kind of community that Enoch’s city was, the kind of community that the Lord is trying to help us create, and the kind of community, I think, we all ultimately would like to live in.

Then shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other. And there shall be mine abode, and it shall be Zion.

[1] As far as etymology is concerned, the Latin root of “forgive” is perdonare, or “to give completely.” My use of forgive as foregive is thus more of a theological gloss, but nevertheless describes, I think, what is happening when Christ, through grace, forgives and when we forgive in emulation of Christ.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this, Jacob. It is insightful and profound.

    There’s a lot I could say, but I only will add the obvious:

    When youth, especially, are taught that sexual sin is next to murder in seriousness, it can be very easy for those who have sinned sexually to give up and commit spiritual suicide, so to speak. I think that interpretation of Alma is wrong – that it is a reading not consistent with his actual message to his son – and I think it is one of the most damaging “incorrect traditions of (our) fathers” in the Church today. (I”m not saying sexual sins are not serious and, in some cases, I believe some are rightly classed as “next to murder”. However, to lump them all together in one sweeping, extreme condemnation . . .)

    Fwiw, I wrote a post earlier this year about that issue:

    “Sexual Sins are NOT Next to Murder” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2011/06/sexual-sins-are-not-next-to-murder.html)

  2. i think the church would be better off if it stopped publicly punishing people for their private sins. we all make mistakes, so it seems unfair that only certain people have to avoid the sacrament in front of all their peers. it prevents confession, causes shame, and is not productive, in my opinion.

    if you believe in god and sins, etc. then you believe that people will be responsible for their actions, no matter what. so why add the public shaming to it ?

  3. Ray, that echoes of Mike Ash’s classic Sunstone article “The Sin Next to Murder”: An Alternative Explanation.

    I tend to agree with it also, by the way.

  4. Mark Brown says:

    Excellent work, Jacob. Thanks.

  5. Peter teaches here that to have charity, to love others, is to hide their sins from our own eyes. This is why, in the end, we are the ones that become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17), and all things become new to us.

    I always thought it was my own sins I was trying to cover with charity. This insight changes everything.

  6. “We need one another in every moment. We are beings who are in constant need of practicing forgiveness of ourselves and others, who unfortunately often heap shame and guilt on others because we do not understand, and so are afraid, of sins and transgressions of a sexual nature. We need to learn better how to talk with one another about these problems, so that we do not contribute to the loneliness and forsakenness of those who already find themselves hurt and bleeding from something they’ve done or someone they’ve hurt.”

    Sometimes you read the right thing at the right time. Thank you for this post. Thank you.

  7. Thank you, Jacob. I hope this gets a wide audience. Many of us have children who feel the burden of others’ judgments and keep themselves distant from that judgment, which also means they keep themselves distant from the Church. Whenever I hear a chastity talk, I long to have a follow-up talk on the healing, connecting power of the atonement.

  8. This is a great post. It should be required reading.

  9. There is a female I know, about a generation older than me, that was told be her mother that if a man ever touched her breast she would be in danger of getting breast cancer. This caused some problems after marriage. We are a generation removed from having an apostle recommend that missionaries who have a problem masturbating should be handcuffed at night to help solve the problem. At another time, there was a brag that one had never seen his wife nude. We are only a few years removed from some real neurosis.

    One result of the kind of environment Jacob is talking about is a place where we can discuss why sex can be destructive, and why it can be such a huge part of a happy life. Until then, it will be more of this … the best safety lies in fear thing that we have inherited.

  10. This shift in perspective does actually change everything. Thank you Jacob. Very nicely done.

  11. Is this kind of unity and charity possible? I pray for it in my ward, but I don’t really believe it can happen. In many cases, church members’ religious activity is motivated by the fear of being exposed to those who sin. Mothers I know are especially focused on protecting their children from “sinners”.

  12. Honestly, Angie, it’s a fine line. I truly want to be charitable, but “sinners” are sometimes predators. That instinct to protect our young is natural, I think. I never thought I’d behave uncharitably to my daughter’s friends, but the day came when my protective instincts trumped my charitable ones. Even I was shocked. Also, apparently I am capable of growing claws instantaneously. (Metaphor, but metaphorically true. I could see myself praying in the early Christian style–arms upraised–and then see that same image transmuted to a protective angel–or perhaps a mother bear, suddenly capable of murder.)

  13. #11 – Angie, I’m focused on protecting my children from sinners, but I also am focused on protecting my children from avoiding sinners and forgetting that all of us are sinners in one way or another.

    It is a fine line, but I’d rather walk on the charitable side than not.

  14. oh how I wish this had been our RS lesson instead of the one we had on the evils of cohabitation and even non temple marriage. We tried to damage control in the comments and the president spoke afterwards about how God loves each one of us and he has a plan for us and He wants us to be happy.

    Some people think if others aren’t walking in sack cloth and ashes it is their personal responsibility to make it so… and happily they happen to have a collection of sack cloth and ashes in their car.

    I would like open healthy conversation about sex…but I’d also like sins kept private by those who are NOT the sinner… and not guessed at, speculated about, wondered at, gossiped about and judged… To listen and love and be willing to do so is a gift…some people have delicately honed skills that paparazi would envy.

  15. Jacob, your thoughts on the atonement and it’s relation to love are the wisest I’ve seen. Thank you for this. This is my kind of theology.

  16. Wow. This was stunning. Thank you for sharing your insights and testimony.

    Margaret,
    Just as we attempt to shield our children out of love I think it’s quite possible to do that same thing out of love for the would be sinner. If I thought someone was going to harm my child (or someone else) would it be a loving thing to allow that person to damn themselves by sinning against my child? I don’t know how you’ve behaved toward your children’s friends or what was in your heart at the time, but I think its possible to uninvite their influence because you love them or because you despise them. My point being, sometimes we create physical distance precisely because we love the person we are separating from, because we do not want to present the opportunity for them to sin. So, not continuing to welcome certain people into your home is a behavior that can be born of charity just as much as it can be a reflexive act of rejection. What remains is for each of us to judge the condition of our own hearts iin these moments.

  17. Mommie Dearest says:

    Since most of my immediate family are either not practicing or not members, I live in a different world than a lot of my ward; sometimes I feel this acutely. And yet we all live in the same world. Go figure.
    By necessity, I’ve mostly discarded the Mormon construct of sin and sinners, at least for the purpose of assessing others, which I learned in my childhood and is still alive and kicking in many corners of my life, for one of my own devising. It takes more work to tell who’s worth seeking out and who’s to be avoided because most of the easy cultural markers I was taught to rely on are not dependable. I must invest some time and effort to actually get to know a person before I can presume to judge their value in my world.
    This post has helped me feel validated as I navigate the complicated relationships in my life. Thank you.

  18. Jacob, a lovely post. The clarity of the Savior’s having already suffered for our sins, and therefore already “foregiving” us is fascinating, as we have power to accept his atonement or not. Really lovely. Thanks.

  19. StillConfused says:

    I compare two people coming together in love with a person saying horrible, nasty cruel things to another and I have a really hard time saying that the first is worse than the second.

  20. Thank you for your wonderful insights. I especially loved the image of fore-giveness. As I read this I thought of an insight I had recently. As I thought lately about how Christ performed the atonement for us by taking upon Himself our sins, sorrows, pain, and anguish. A light bulb went on and I thought of the quality of empathy. Dictionary.com says empathy is “the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings” or “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner” or “Direct identification with, understanding of, and vicarious experience of another person’s situation, feelings, and motives.” or “Identifying oneself completely with an object or person, sometimes even to the point of responding physically, as when, watching a baseball player swing at a pitch, one feels one’s own muscles flex.” Before the Savior could take upon Himself our sins, He had to feel them, not because He did them but because he felt what we felt –he empathized even beyond our definition. He felt what we felt so we did not have to bear it alone.

    I realized that if we are to truly be like the Savior, we must learn to truly empathize…to feel the sorrow, pain, suffering of others…and then to stand back from judgment and reach to take out to do what we can to lift that pain, sorrow, and suffering. If the atonement–that act of empathizing with each of us to degree that He was one with us in experiencing our suffering– was Christ’s greatest mission, then perhaps it should be our greatest goal. If we were doing that then our thoughts and actions would be an invitation for others to come back, to heal, to rest while we help carry the load, to be embraced and loved. We would not do anything to add to their suffering because we would feel that increased pain as well. If, in our goal to emulate the Savior, we accepted the ideal of taking part in the at-one-ment–the process of being one (—and creating Zion) we would not see judging, gossiping, excluding, or isolation.

  21. I don’t understand how some people keep talking about “sinners” as if they were someone else that we need to protect ourselves or our children from. “Predators?” yes, if you can identify them, by all means keep them away from your kids, but it seems to me the set of “predators” with whom we are likely to come in contact is pretty small and hardly worth talking about when compared with the set of “sinners” which is, hmmm, let’s see, oh yeah: everyone. Including you.

  22. MCQ, nobody has done that. Each of the four comments that includes the word “sinners” is making the same point you just did.

  23. Good comment, MCQ. “Sinners” is inherently first-person-plural

  24. Sexual behavior is tied into strong emotional and motivational circuitry in our bodies involving our neurological and biochemical systems. The more we reinforce those patterns through willing indulgence, the harder it is to have fully volitional control over them. Many people who commit felony level sexual predation were traumatized by another sexual predator. It can take a great deal of commitment and conscious determination to alter such habitual behavior, and the aid of covenants with God and the influence of the Holy Ghost can be crucial to having volitional control to repent and refuse bad habits that provided sexual feedback. The experience of the law enforcement community is that sexual predators have significantly high habituation to continuing their behaviors. While ordinary criminals might grow out of some kinds of crime, sexual predators who escape discovery continue their depradations to the ends of their lives. That is one reason why the statute of limitations has often been extended for sexual abuse of children, since a sexual crime decades past means it is highly likely that similar crimes are still being committed. While we want to extend forgiving and hopefully transformative love toward all sexual transgressors, part of repentance must include absolute avoidance of opportunities to commit the same sins. As pointed out, it is not a kindness to someone with that history to place them into temptation to commit sin, any more than we would encourage a reformed alcoholic to work as a bartender.

  25. Ray, to clarify, I’m not talking about any commenters here. Rather, I’m agreeing with Angie’s comment that many people I know in the Church are not ready for this kind of charity toward others that they perceive as “sinners.” I know a lot of people in my own ward that are just as she describes: they see the Church as a wall and themselves as guards on that wall protecting their families against “the world” and the dirty contaminating influence of the “sinners” therein. That’s how they live. They make rules that prevent their children (and often themselves) from having any meaningful contact with even non-members. If they find out anything about a fellow member that leads them to believe that member is not upholding the standards of the Church as they see them, they want to put distance between that person and their family. Those people are not going to understand the ideas being expressed in this post. Those people do not recognize, in any meaningful way, their own identity in the word “sinners.”

  26. MCQ,
    I don’t think the conversation is meant to imply that some people are sinners and others are not. Predator is a loaded word as well. I chose sinner because predator is often associated with sex offenders and I was addressing a larger definition of those who would seek to harm another, be it physically, spiritually, or otherwise.

    I’m sorry if I was unclear in my comment. I didn’t mean to imply that only some are sinners and should, therefore, be avoided. I was addressing the issue that had been raised regarding what it might look like to love those whose actions are potentially more harmful in others’ lives. People do deal with abusive spouses or parents, friends who entice to drug use or other undesirable activities, those who would seek to chip away at faith. Those things are real and raise questions for some who face the question of how to love in the Savior’s way in the face of these things.

  27. Ah, MCQ, looks like we posted over one another. I understood your previous comment to be directed at this thread as well. Looks like we’re okay though.

  28. #24: if we make this discussion about sexual criminals, we might as well give it up right now.

  29. #28. But it is quite revealing that no sooner than we start talking about sexuality we also start talking about criminality.

  30. The Church has policies to help us from being tempted to commit sin, including insisting that missionaries stay with their companions all the time, and that men and women who are not married to each other avoid spending time together in a church context, such as driving together to distant stake meetings. Similar cautions that prevent any person from having opportunities to be alone for extended periods with children not their own are also ways we not only protect our children, but also remove temptations from those who may be susceptible. We have no duty to place our children or ourselves at risk from sexual predation in order to prove that we are willing to forgive and trust others. Part of the problem of the past is that people refused to acknowledge the prevalence if sexual abuse and closed their eyes to evidence of it among their friends and co-workers. The worst examparent refuses topredation by the other spouse, with victims including neighbor children, stepchildren, and even the criminal’s own children. Also terrible are ecclesiastical leaders who take so much pride in their own spiritual piwer that they think they can bring a sexual predator to full reform without reporting their crime to law enforcement and guarding church members by excommunication of the offender. That was the case with an offender who was a young adult Boy Scout camp counselor in Idaho, who was allowed to continue in that capacity after he had committed abuse because he claimed he had repented.

  31. And therein lies the problem. Are we as Mormons so sexually hung up that we can’t conceive of sexual imperfections in those around us without seeing predators and criminals?

  32. Again, RTS, not what the post was about, in my opinion. But by all means, talk about how church leaders should report child molesters. We haven’t heard enough about that.

  33. McQ: Some sexual behaviors are”merely” sinful, while others are in fact criminal. As with con artists who take advantage of the trusting relationships we form in the Church to commit fraud, others use the same trust to commit sexual crimes against children. Our duty to love and forgive others is not a duty to be stupid victims and deny the possibility of sin by those we know. It is the nature of sexual abusers to hide not only their crimes but also their criminality. Forgiveness and repentance start with confession and confronting the enormity of the sin. Denial of the reality of sin is not forgiveness.

  34. Granted, RTS. All of that is not in dispuute. Not in this post, and not in the comments.

    Can’t we talk about sexual sin without talking about criminals? That’s what the post was about, it seems to me. The fact that you go straight to the issue of criminal behavior as soon as we have a post about sexual sin speaks volumes about the problems we face in discussing these issues. We have to be able to talk about sex without going straight to the issue of criminal behavior and reporting the abusers to the cops. There is a whole world of discussion to be had before we get to a single crime. Can’t we talk about that?

  35. I appreciate the thoughts in this post. I’ve been so grateful to witness loving arms being wrapped around people who have committed serious sins. Finding such love surely makes the process of repentance easier and more desirable. I’m reminded of Joseph Smith’s thought about how nothing motivates change more than love.

    There’s such a tricky irony coming the other direction, though, methinks. I think that often those who ‘aren’t showing charity’ also need charity, perhaps in ways that are harder to identify, and maybe sometimes for some harder to give, because, after all ‘”they’ should know better” and they are allegedly not feeling outside of the fold.

    But maybe some of “them” are in their own way? Or maybe just as those who commit ‘serious sins,’ such people need charity, too, to help them in the process of repentance and becoming better. The process of being changed through the Atonement over time takes a LOT of time, and it’s messy business. And it’s not just sin that needs covering with charity — it’s weakness, too (a la Ether 12). Sometimes people do dumb things not because they are evil, but just because they are human/weak/learning/doing the best they can with what they know and where they are.

    I recently had an experience where someone who had been hurt by something I (inadvertently) did come to me (this was a decade after the original incident) and apologize for being offended. Although it had been a long time, I didn’t realize how much of a burden I felt of regret for the pain my humanness brought to her…even as I honestly didn’t know what else I could have done to rectify the situation. Her humility and love and purity and willingness to come to me giving me the benefit of the doubt, even retroactively, unlocked a sense of healing that I didn’t even know I needed. I have a long way to go with this (and this sphere probably reinforces that reality more than any), but it also motivated me to be more deliberate about giving others the benefit of the doubt. Growth takes time, and I think most of us really are doing the best we can with what we know and where we are.

    It’s really Christ’s charity first and foremost that covers us, and I think when we give others space to grow and learn, not only when they sin but also when they are weak, we open more space for Christ’s charity to enter into our midst.

  36. Thank you Jacob. This is shifting my understanding and trust in forgiveness as salvific.

    @Thomas Parkin, you are right about us all being so closely removed from some unfortunate beliefs and behaviors. Let’s be the change we want to see in the world. I can only tremble and press on as a new father. More soon.

  37. It can be hard to totally accept someone who has committed a sin that *you* over the line. I think everyone has their own judgement on what’s bad and what’s “really bad.”
    I have a family member who cheated on his wife, and has repeatedly relapsed into abuse of prescription drugs and alcohol. I can still treat him with Christlike love, but of course it colors my views of him and what little respect i have for him dwindles each time I hear he has started in on pills again.

  38. I sincerely appreciate all the positive feedback. The text for the essay was part of a Latino YSA fireside I gave in L.A. last year. The bishop who invited me to speak essentially told me that so many of the young adults in the stake had lost hope, and were leaving in droves or struggling severely with the consequences of pretty illicit sexual behavior. He specifically said that there were fundamental misunderstandings concerning sexuality, not just willful disobedience of the law of chastity. I’ve found that such misunderstandings are widespread, but even more importantly we as a people have not created a safe, constructive *communal* space for talking about sexuality. We have only created space to speak of sexuality in terms of violation and avoidance. When we speak of the joys of sex it’s with vague references to sex being wonderful within the bonds of marriage, and then a return to the deadly serious consequences of its violation.

    But the most fundamental misunderstanding is concerning repentance. Repentance is not simply the 4 step sequence of addressing individual acts or thoughts but the re-orientation and transformation of our entire being. Crucially, repentance is always without exception about me, about us, not about others. The moment we look outward to others as those in need of change is the moment that we have lost faith, hope, and charity. Repentance is about our own destabilization and constant re-adjustment of what we thought we knew and how we can more precisely love and forgive. Repentance requires that we constantly be broken down and made new. How soon before that which is new becomes old again? The process of beginning again with new eyes is relentless. If we cannot see others and the world around us with new, restored eyes we cannot give ourselves to them in those ways that are mutually redemptive. The Restoration, then, is decidedly not simply the restoration of original doctrines and practices, but the constant personal restoration of our souls through repentance.

  39. Jacob, there won’t be anything new or profound for you in the following post, given what you just wrote so beautifully, but, fwiw:

    “A Fresh View of Repentance” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2008/01/rethinking-repentance.html)

  40. Ray, I enjoyed both of the posts you linked to in this thread. Though I will say that we are to try to be like Christ *precisely* because it’s impossible to be like Christ. In other words, “Follow me, because when you do you will see the constant need to repent and become new again.” I can’t find the reference right now but Kierkegaard has a memorable quote that essentially says that Christ has jacked up the price so high as far as personal emulation is concerned that we have no choice to but to follow and perpetually have our hearts re-broken again and again. Thus, to become “more Christ-like” is to be more and more intimately aware how *unlike* Christ we are, and therefore more intimately conscious of his unspeakable love.

  41. Amen, Jacob – when the impossibility is understood to be in this life and the eternal possibility is understood to be the heart of grace / atonement.

  42. Sharee Hughes says:

    What a beautiful post. Thank you. Just a few examples:

    Some years ago, when I was attending a singles ward, my roommate became pregnant. She went to our bishop and was disfellowshipped (but not excommunitcated) for a time. She never stopped attending church and the ward members never made her feel like an outcast. She was as totally accepted as she was before her “sin.” And when the baby was born, the whole ward adopted her. Great Christian charity there, but perhaps other singles understood the temptations that can come so easily.

    The granddaughter of some people in my (not singles) ward became pregnant and her parents threw her out. Her grandparents then took her in and supported her throughout her pregnancy. You can still love the sinner without condoning the sin.

    The daughter of a woman in this same ward became pregnant. Her mother loved and supported her as did the ward. We did not judge her. I don’t know what her membership status was at that time. I didn’t figure that was any of my business. But she had a beautiful child and later married a nice young man in the temple.

    I really like the concept of Christ’s fore-giveness. And we all also need to remember that it is not up to us to judge.

  43. And since it’s Christmastime, there’s always that one girl, Mary, who got pregnant out of wedlock to consider…

    Parker Blount wrote a terrific article for Sunstone a few years ago, about the “scarlet threads” of sexual sin in Christ’s lineage, and the message that would have been clear to people obsessed with genealogy. (It’s here: https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/issues/143.pdf)

  44. Job observed that “He that is ready to slip with his feet is as a lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease.”

    It seems to me that if we never talk openly and honestly about sex and sexual sin in church, we’ll never get to the heart of why people choose to cross the bounds the Lord has set, and we’ll never understand ourselves or help others understand themselves in what is surely a major issue with having a physical body.

    (I believe that one of the most important objectives in speaking about the gospel to each other is to illuminate our own motives and help others illuminate theirs. So, for example, why do we generally speaking choose to look at pornography? We need to have such discussions because if we don’t understand the reason for and answers to that question, mere scolding or shaming the brethren in priesthood meetings seems a complete waste of time and ultimately counterproductive in its shaming.)

    And surely the amount of mercy and forgiveness we extend to others is directly proportional to the amount of mercy and forgiveness that we ourselves feel we need. Or as President Faust said late in his life (paraphrasing): I don’t know about you brethren, but I don’t pray for justice – I pray for mercy.

    The Lord seems to nicely wrap the other side of this up when He tells us plainly, and repeatedly, that however we judge others is how He is going to judge us.

    With the exception of reasonable precautions for safety, could this be the super (open) secret trick to getting into heaven? To simply not make a factor at all the sins of others when we determine how we will interact with them as another human soul?

  45. Jacob, this sentence from your OP has been rolling around in my head for a bit: “We are always already forgiven because of his pure love extended to us unconditionally. Christ’s love is not dependent on what we do, and therefore forgiveness means that Christ gives himself to us before anything we do.”

    How do we square that notion of Christ’s unconditional love with Elder Nelson’s very direct teaching to the contrary: “We are always already forgiven because of his pure love extended to us unconditionally. Christ’s love is not dependent on what we do, and therefore forgiveness means that Christ gives himself to us before anything we do” (Feb 2003 Liahona, “Divine Love”).

    I have my own bridge between the two thoughts. It seems your view is that Christ’s love (which Elder Nelson describes as universal instead of unconditional) is available to all; his sacrifice is already complete, so he has already demonstrated that love for us. The blessings of that love in our lives, however, require us to claim them.

    You write: “The punishment of sin comes when we refuse to accept this forgiveness, refuse to accept this mercy, and instead choose to remain cut off and unforgiven….” I think this broadly squares with Elder Nelson’s view that the blessings of God’s love come to us as we come to Him.

  46. Oops — I pasted your quote twice instead of Elder Nelson’s: “While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional.”

  47. The devastating effects of sexual transgression on relationships is the common thread in all my experience—with family, with friends, with colleagues—with these kinds of problems. It’s, I think, a function of how closely the parameters around sexual relationships and sexual appropriateness are connected with trust. Trust binds human communities in powerful ways, and on some level is the very foundation for all human community. Violations that implicate sexuality in any degree breach trust, tearing its fabric not just on the individual level but on the community level. It’s not a justification—I think this post powerfully demonstrates the Christian and even the particularly LDS imperative to overcome and transcend the very human instinct to shun those who have compromised their own trust through transgressions of a sexual nature—but I think it helps explain why things tend to break down so devastatingly in the wake of sexual violations and why we need an outside source of power—the Atonement—to prevent these kinds of problems from destroying us as individuals, as families, and as communities.

  48. Reading this post through again brought to mind Brad’s amazing post:

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2011/01/17/to-heal-the-afflicted/

    In the OP Jacob discusses distancing ourselves from those we see as sinners because we are afraid. Coupled with Brad’s idea that the miracle behind Jesus’s miracles was the healing of social divides, it seems clear to me that we fear “sinners” because we are so busy trying to appear sinless ourselves. We hold others at arms length, apart from ourselves, so as not to tarnish our own social (and, ultimately, imagined) standing. As Brad points out, those who followed Jesus had to choose to consort with lepers and other castoffs, thereby potentially bearing their social shame and stigma along with them. Maybe this is what it means to follow Jesus, to love in His way. We must give up our carefully imagined and constructed view of ourselves, we must literally take upon us the weight and stigma of others sins, leaving us free to actually see (and therefore begin to give up) our own sinfulness while simultaneously gaining the clarity empathy brings regarding others.

  49. “Thus, to become “more Christ-like” is to be more and more intimately aware how *unlike* Christ we are, and therefore more intimately conscious of his unspeakable love.”

    I have a concern about too much of this way of thinking. I think it is true as far as it goes. But the power of Christ is not only in forgiveness, but in transformation. Part of the joy of living within the covenant that brings us to Christ is that we experience growth, literally expansion, augmentation, in many different ways. We should be able to look back at some period of our lives,- say, ten years,- and say to ourselves, I understand Christ better, and am more like Him. Grace enables us, it isn’t only a magic that covers us. I think that if we are not realizing this, then something has gone wrong. I may have become more aware of the distance between myself and and Christ, but I am also aware that the distance has narrowed in meaningful ways.

  50. Thomas just said much better what I tried to say in my last comment.

    That happens a lot.

  51. #49 Thomas: Yes. What I was getting at was that a transformation occurs (yes, it does occur) in that we begin to see the world through Christ’s eyes (“we have the mind of Christ,” 2 Cor. 2:16), in such a way that it becomes possible to disentangle the real from the unreal and see things as they really are. This is the newness and rebirth that the scriptures speak about. *This,* then, is what it means to be godlike rather than becoming some superhuman otherworldly god for whom perfection is to become more and more flawless (how we often speak about becoming more Christ-like).

  52. “in such a way that it becomes possible to disentangle the real from the unreal and see things as they really are.”

    Love it.

  53. Anonforthis says:

    I love this post. Thank you Jacob. I wish my inactive young adult children would read this and give them a different view of the gospel than what they learned at church. I have spent the last few years unlearning a lifetime of misinterpreted gospel teachings that I learned in the church. This makes much more sense.

    A person I know in his early thirties confessed to the bishop, refused to take the sacrament, for months, and broke up with his serious girlfriend because he had a bodily response ( that older men would envy). They had been kissing, but she was fully clothed and they weren’t touching inappropriately ! He finally married a woman he wasn’t attracted to sexually, because that was the only way he could get to the temple without shaming himself.

    I wonder how people were judging him when he didn’t take the sacrament. I guess some wouldn’t want him to work with their boy scouts. Or date their daughters.

    I was sexually abused by a man my mother trusted (he was a priesthood holder and blessed the sacrament). My sister was offered a ride from a man who had to remove his garments before trying to rape her.

    Very human people who would love to share the gospel and serve missions are refused because they masturbate? The whole world knows about this. What else can it be when young men aren’t aloud to serve. ( I know it can be other things, but this will be the first thought). Are we humans or robots?

    Then we teach our children that smoking is a sin. Some very good people smoke, or drink coffee(or caffeinated beverages), and our kids are taught these are sins, instead of just harmful habits.

    Guard your children well, and trust no one, but if someone is going to sexually molest them it is most likely going to be Grandpa, Uncle, brother, boyfriend, or Dear Old Dad. Sad to say, but even in the church, those are the facts.

  54. #53: I’m trying to get my head around your story of your 30-something friend. His experience certainly doesn’t mirror what I was taught in my youth at church. And I wonder if his not taking the sacrament was bishop-directed or self-imposed.

    “I wonder how people were judging him when he didn’t take the sacrament.”

    How many people notice? I sat on the stand for more than 10 years as a counselor or a bishop and I usually could not see who was or was not taking the sacrament.

    “Then we teach our children that smoking is a sin. Some very good people smoke, or drink coffee(or caffeinated beverages), and our kids are taught these are sins, instead of just harmful habits.”

    This is an excellent point. These are sins for those who have covenanted not to do these things. I think most parents need to cross that bridge with their kids sometimes.

    “What else can it be when young men aren’t aloud to serve. ( I know it can be other things, but this will be the first thought).”

    Will it? How do you know? There are many reasons a young many may not serve. Why would someone who knows nothing of the matter speculate?

  55. Sunny (#48),

    it seems clear to me that we fear “sinners” because we are so busy trying to appear sinless ourselves. We hold others at arms length, apart from ourselves, so as not to tarnish our own social (and, ultimately, imagined) standing.

    Yes!

  56. Re: Noticing when someone takes the sacrament. Why is anybody looking at anybody else?

    I dunno. My takeaway from this post isn’t how we view/deal with sexuality in the church. It’s is a) not assume what’s going on in someone’s life, b) not gossip about it, and c) treat people well (notice I didn’t say “anyway” or “despite”).

    I grew up in a house where gossiping about people and judging them based on our own “standards” was a sport. Years after a woman in our ward, married to a paraplegic, committed adultery and was excommunicated (and completely eviscerated at our dinner table), I have come to have some sympathy for her based on what little I know about the situation.

    Beyond the sexual sin she committed, IMO, the worse sin was in using her for reputational bloodsport. I look back on those people and remember how reserved I was with them, how AFRAID of them I was, how afraid that *I* would become fodder for someone else’s dinner table, and all I see now is my father’s insecurity, inferiority complex, and fear.

  57. .

    The first stone, etc etc.

  58. “Beyond the sexual sin she committed, IMO, the worse sin was in using her for reputational bloodsport. I look back on those people and remember how reserved I was with them, how AFRAID of them I was, how afraid that *I* would become fodder for someone else’s dinner table, and all I see now is my father’s insecurity, inferiority complex, and fear.”

    That is a powerful paragraph. Is it any wonder that the power of the community Jesus forged during His ministry was grounded in a radical and strictly imposed injunction not to judge each other, not to make our acceptance and love for each other conditional on our perception of other people’s worthiness or sinfulness, or whatever—all made possible by His atoning power?

  59. Anonforthis says:

    #54 It doesn’t really matter for the point I’m making whether it was self imposed or not, but I know he was very harsh with himself, or why would he go to the bishop over this matter. I also know of other young people, (myself included-when I was young), who felt guilty for the slightest sexual thing. The thing I was getting at is that when we try to protect our children from sinners at church, we can’t always go by who holds what calling or no calling. Who takes the sacrament or not. Who smells like cigarett smoke or not. Two people on this post have already admitted to judging people at church for different reasons, trying to protect their children, and sport. Maybe you didn’t/ don’t judge others, I’m glad of that, but Jesus knows it is a weakness of many, or he wouldn’t have mentioned it.

    #56 Sometimes you have to pass the tray to the next person in your row. If you take the tray and pass it directly to the person beside you, they may not be closing their eyes and praying for forgiveness and need you to tap them on the shoulder after you quietly partake. They might notice willingly or not, gleefully or compassionately but ya can’t help but notice sometimes.

    A person I know had to get breast surgery for a disorder she has. She was told to get the size she was while she nursed her kids. Months later the bishop’s wife asked me if I knew about it. It was private and I wasn’t expecting to be asked out-right about someone else’s private matter. When I stumbled over an answer (I didn’t confirm, she just guessed), she says, with a malicious gleam in her eyes, “I KNEW it!” I’ll never forget the look of smug self-righteouness. This person has taught in many influential callings. She is basically a good woman, but also very judgemental. It made me sad, because I couldn’t explain to her why my friend had this surgery. There was a reason, and it wasn’t the sexual reason this woman thought it was.

  60. #59: The only reason it might matter is that a compassionate bishop could teach your friend about the inappropriateness of his own response if the bishop was aware of it. One hopes the bishop did so, but maybe not.

    You’re right, though: we often feel shame when we do not need to, and many of us gossip and we shouldn’t.

  61. Anonforthis says:

    Thank you Paul for understanding what I meant and responding. I appreciate that.

    Side note to #37, Karalyn Z
    Some people self medicate for myriad reasons. He may be suffering a mental disorder that has been misdiagnosed, or undiagnosed. Mental illness can also affect a persons ability to control their behaviors, and can affect the degree to which they feel a compulsion to do something. Imagine the difference in your own feelings and behavior when you are extremely thirsty after mowing your yard for two hours in 105 degree weather and have had nothing to drink all day, and then compare it to your desire for a drink after eating two Thanksgiving dinners and four glasses of lemonade. We might never commit adultery because we are stronger or more righteous than another, or maybe we feel like the full person and the adulterer feels like the person dying of thirst. I don’t think temptation is always felt equally by each person. I don’t mean to excuse the bad behavior of *sinners*, but if we consider that their sins may have some basis in a circumstance we know nothing about, it might help us not to judge. It helps me, and I have been very judgmental in the past.
    The more I know, the more I know I don’t know! I’m getting Old!

  62. When I see someone not taking the Sacrament, I love to wonder why. Is it adultery? Impure thoughts? Wearing three earrings? Murder? It’s all so juicy.

  63. As I read the OP, it seemed like I was hearing a Baptist preacher, all that unconditional love from Jesus. Why, just a few weeks ago our stake leaders came for ward conference and stressed how our relationship with Jesus is conditional on our worthiness. My 15-year old daughter, stunned by the statement in her Sunday School class from one of the stake leaders, rose her hand and stated what she had been taught by us, her parents, similar to the OP, that Jesus has already forgiven us, loves us without conditions. Are we Mormons still missing the point, is Elder Nelson’s Ensign article on conditional love from God still hovering over us? Are we still not sure of our own doctrine? Am I a, as a Mormon, a schizophrenic doctrinally speaking? It sure feels like I am trying to justify our current rhetoric, but in reality I felt like the OP was speaking the truth. We’ve got something wrong with ourselves.

  64. Fwiw, Elder Nelson’s talk is taking a beating, but it also is getting mischaracterized, imo. I wish he would have used a different phrase, but what he said isn’t the bogeyman most critics portray it to be.

    Back to our regularly scheduled discussion.

  65. Thomas, you crack me up! Maybe they are allergic
    to wheat!

  66. Jacob, this is excellent. I must say, as I was reading, I felt proud to be related to you. These conversations are changing all over the church. There is a shift from asking “will our sons, brothers, boyfriends, fathers ever struggle with pornography?” to “When will the problem arise, and how long with it last?” If we don’t learn to talk about sexual transgression now, there will be an ever-growing chasm in the church between those who admit that they have/have had problems with these things, and those who don’t dare talk about it. An increasing number of our sisters, daughters, mothers, etc are being sorely tempted as well. Essentially, if we don’t learn to talk about it now, we will ALL go under.
    The Lord does not say “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged” because he needs some arbitrary leverage to get us to do what He wants. The Lord doesn’t use arbitrary leverage. If He tells us to do something it is because that will enable us align ourselves with His will, and become more like He is. This, too, is not arbitrary–for God did not create Truth. He simply lives ALL Truth fully, ALL of the time, while we don’t (not even kind of sort of. We don’t even know all Truth, and if we did we’d be even worse sinners than we already are). He is so desperately trying to show us the way, and we’re too busy “keeping up with the Jones'” to pay attention.
    He doesn’t tell us that He will judge us as we judge others randomly, or even out of strict sense of “fairness”. He is teaching us that as we come to see the world the way He sees it– or better yet, to see PEOPLE the way he sees them, we acknowledge mercy, thereby claiming mercy, and making it efficacious in our OWN lives. It always comes back to worrying about oneself and the necessity to “work out your OWN salvation with fear and trembling”. It is an eternal principle that ties into the nature of charity, the nature of us as human beings, and ultimately the nature of God and his perfect alignment with the eternal Truths that He embodies and perpetuates.
    I have actually been collecting some of my own thoughts lately about righteous judgment that will undoubtedly become a blog post at some point… a blog post that can only hope to ever be as insightful as this. haha! Thanks.

  67. Yeah, when I don’t take the sacrament is always because of my gluten allergy acting up. That’s my story, so stop asking!

  68. In the true church, the sacrament bread would transform itself into the body of God when the Aaronic Priesthood blessed it. So there would be no reason for gluten intolerant believers to fear the sacrament bread.

  69. I’m wondering how often the doctrinal belief of “if you sin again, then all the other sins you might have repented of (in that category) come back, and it’s as if you were spitting in the face of Christ’s atonement” comes into play with an individual’s difficulty in repenting from sexual sin. My guess is that for many, sexual sin is always a repeat of some other sexual sin, according to LDS theology. For example, two young adults get carried away in “heavy petting”. But, most likely, before that there was some “necking”, probably some masturbation, and certainly some sexual thoughts (which many are told are inherently sinful).
    My husband recently confided to me that he was again struggling with reading pornographic literature. We have not been active in the church for several years, but even if we were, neither of us feel that it would actually be in his best interest to undergo the public shaming (yes, people do notice if you’re taking the sacrament….and the shame is in the fear that they will, no matter how many actually do notice) involved in confession to a bishop. I have to say, that since the last time that he struggled with this (a few years ago), having left behind LDS constructs of sin and repentence has made it so much easier for me to be supportive of him. And for him, leaving the ‘every other sin is now piled back on’ belief behind has, he feels, been key to his feeling that there is hope. It’s early still, but I see a significant difference in how he is coping with this sin in his life now, vs when those beliefs were part of the equation for him. There is no life-long-size stack of sin now heaped back on his shoulders. I really enjoyed reading this post, as it echoes what I was just telling my husband, that Christ has already forgiven everything, even before it happens, and while acknowledgement of past behaviors is helpful in understanding how he has ended up where he is now, there is nothing to be gained from the belief that he is now responsible to again make amends for every other sin ever committed. (And, this is getting off topic, I’m sorry….how does one decide which sins fall into the category of needing re-repented of? How precise, or generalizing is appropriate for this? Every other sexual sin of any kind whatsoever? Or is that the wrong category, and it’s actually every past sin that caused hurt to one’s spouse? Or perhaps every sin that evidenced a lack of self-control, including gossip, and that one Thanksgiving when you were 11 and your cousin dared you to eat until you threw up? )

  70. .”I’m wondering how often the doctrinal belief of “if you sin again, then all the other sins you might have repented of (in that category) come back, and it’s as if you were spitting in the face of Christ’s atonement””

    This isn’t doctrine (has the church any?). It is the fear of a broken generation that is now on their way off the stage.

  71. #69 & #70: The “if you sin again all previous related sins return…” idea is usually quoted from Miracle of Forgiveness. I attended a presentation a few months back by Ed Kimball and he said that a bishop informed him that in a conversation with Spencer W. Kimball about repentance, SWK told the bishop that he wished he hadn’t been so severe in some of his statements about repentance in Miracle of Forgiveness. I hope that 1) the conversation between SWK and the bishop really happened as reported and that if it did, 2) SWK had this particular teaching in mind. Deciding a few years back to simply not believe it (despite my particularly great love of and respect for SWK) has dramatically increased my inclination to seek forgiveness for my “chronic” sins, whereas I used to often hold off on repentance for such matters, waiting instead for some future day when my desire to change will presumably be so perfect and pure that I will never re-offend in any degree.

  72. Fwiw, Elder Nelson’s talk is taking a beating, but it also is getting mischaracterized, imo. I wish he would have used a different phrase, but what he said isn’t the bogeyman most critics portray it to be.

    Since I don’t see any beatings or bogeymen in this thread, I wonder what you had in mind?

  73. I feel like the Miracle of Forgiveness is on the outs lately. When I was a teen, the bishop used to keep copies in his office and assign it as required reading to anyone who came in to confess anything. You don’t see that happening any more and you hardly ever hear it quoted or referred to in talks. Hopefully it’s on it’s way out on the same train that Mormon Doctrine, big hair, parachute pants, and other relics of the 80s are on.

  74. Oh for the love of toast…
    The boomerang sin thing is from Miracle of Forgiveness? Man that explains a lot. You’re right though that I haven’t heard that one thrown about recently, definitely one I remember more hearing in my childhood. (You know, to traumatize me.)

  75. A foundation for the “return of sins” teaching may be D&C 42:26 where, speaking specifically of adultery, the Lord says, “But if he doeth it again, he shall not be forgiven, but shall be cast out.”

  76. Paul, how does that follow? In Section 42, the issue is not that the individual’s sin is worse for being repeated, only that the community can bear occasional lapses but would be destroyed by a serial adulterer.

  77. it's a series of tubes says:

    The foundation for the belief is not The Miracle of Forgiveness, but D&C 82:7: ” And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.”

    Probably best to read 1-7 to get this in context.

  78. #63, “Why, just a few weeks ago our stake leaders came for ward conference and stressed how our relationship with Jesus is conditional on our worthiness.”

    Oh boy how I don’t agree. Our low-key, not given over to excessive exuberance, post-mission son stunned us one day with the statement that if the Lord didn’t want him in the Celestial Kingdom, the Lord was going to have to find him and walk him out.

    I have thought about this for months and months, and have come to the conclusion that he’s nailed a key point, which is that somehow in the church we tend to always think in terms of whether we’re acceptable to the Lord, whether he likes us, whether we’ll get above the bar, whether we’ll meet the minimum standards for accreditation, etc.

    Perhaps this is born of our bathing in the western meritocratic culture.

    But my son’s statement has turned around entirely my thinking on my relationship with the Lord, into focusing on what my desire is for that relationship and expressing that desire rather than focusing on whether the Lord likes me or thinks I’m a good guy.

    Ultimately one of the few things I own and can control is my own desires. I can’t control the Lord or his desires regarding me or a relationship with me or whether he’s pleased with my level of progress. If he is or is not fair to me, I can’t control or ever get around that. I can only express my own desire for our relationship and take what comes.

    And that’s fine because for my part I have no problem desiring to hang around and be friends with a man that can and wants to heal blind people and restore dead daughters to grieving mothers.

    And I take comfort, flaws and all, in the exchange: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.”

    “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” (Pure desire.)

  79. #69 –
    I’ve heard the “all your former sins are returned to you, with interest” from a singles ward bishop as recently as 15 years ago. And it wasn’t just a passing slip of the tongue. I think the phrase he used was “If you do it just one more time, then all the dozens or hundreds of times it’s happened before, whether you repented of them or not, are laid upon the Scales of Justice against you, and your one sin becomes thousands. You, then, will be exempt from Gethsemane, and Christ will refuse to pay your debt.”

    (Yes, I stopped going to that ward.)

  80. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walks through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, I will return unto my house whence I came out.

  81. #79, ““If you do it just one more time….” Doesn’t this run counter to Dallon Oaks’ sermon that life is about development of being – becoming – not doing?

    Even if you do it one more time, were you no smarter that time? Where you no different of a person? Where you a little more doubtful, but still non convinced, that the sin might bestow greater benefit than cost?

    Does the Lord really expect cold turkey learning? Or does the Lord understand the process of trial and error, and retrial until satisfied that bitter really is bitter. The atonement appears to be the designed specifically to take sin as a major issue completely off the table. It can all be wiped away in an instant (even if it did all come back with interest.)

    So now we can move on to the important issue of what you have learned – of what you are learning.

  82. Mommie Dearest says:

    Re: #79’s former bishop –

    “If you do it just one more time, then all the dozens or hundreds of times it’s happened before, whether you repented of them or not, … and your one [sin] becomes thousands.”

    This is a useful description of how addictions can function.

    “…are laid upon the Scales of Justice against you…You, then, will be exempt from Gethsemane, and Christ will refuse to pay your debt.”

    This is a non-doctrinal embellishment.

  83. #76 Kristine, I didn’t finish my comment — sorry. I didn’t mean to defend the use of that verse but merely to point out that it is there. But the verse cited in #77 (thanks, iasot) is scriptural evidence of the doctrine.

    I note, however, that D&C 82:7 says nothing about spitting at the atonement, nor about interest.

    Indeed, from my perspective it is more an understanding of what repentance is, namely a change in us, not just our behavior. And when we return to old behavior, we demonstrate that we have not yet fully changed; hence, sin returns.

  84. I tend to think of the verse in D&C 82 like this:

    For sins of commission (being intentional, even if habit or addiction is a strong factor) part of the repentance process is changing our hearts, to “let go” of the desire to commit that sin any more. Christ cannot atone for sins that we will not give up. Re-commission of that sin can mean that, in our hearts, we have left a place for that sin, essentially holding on to the sins related to it in the past that we had not completely let go.

    However, we cannot say that all commissions of that sin are linked together. We are not anywhere near the position to say if an 60 year old committing adultery means that they did not repent of adultery when they were 20.

  85. Any degree of sin keeps us from God, and so no sin (or, rather, character flaw of which sin is the evidence) should be shrugged off. Until we have allowed God to change our nature, all stabs at behavior reformation are perhaps useful only for the purpose of soul-searching and repairing community. My concern with the idea as expressed in Miracle of Forgiveness was that it sounded as if every time you said an unkind word to your spouse you were expected to call your third-grade playmate to re-apologize for being unkind because clearly you hadn’t fully repented of being an unkind person and therefore your first apology was null and void. It didn’t just sound hard–it sounded absurd, impossible, because along with SWK’s interpretation of 82:7, I was using his definition of true repentance (his precise “steps”). I like Mommie Dearest’s thought that maybe this teaching is intended to describe our addictions in particular–D&C 82:7 says “And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.” It doesn’t explicitly say the guilt or accountability for the sins previously committed return–it says the former sins return. Perhaps it is saying that God gives us forgiveness and grace when we repent (as those called out in the revelation for sinning “exceedingly,” members of the mob, presumably had), but that when we allow ourselves to re-offend, he prophecies that we will be dragged back into our old grooves and *commit* the former sins again?

    Perhaps I am wresting the scriptures. Can you tell I really really don’t want to call my third-grade playmate and re-apologize for being unkind? She’s as tired of it as I am.

  86. This post made me remember something my mom said when I was in high school. My older sister had been dating a guy who was a convert to the church, and he told her that before he was introduced to the church and subsequently baptized, he lived “like Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah” (meaning he had sex with his past girlfriends). My sister broke up with this guy, and I asked my mom about it and her statement was that my sister “deserved someone who had kept themselves clean and pure like she had.” This made me more angry than I could articulate at the time, and it was when I was older that I came to realize that it was because that statement totally negated the purpose of the atonement and baptism in my opinion. He WAS clean and pure, because of his acceptance of the gospel, his baptism, and the ongoing, cleansing power of the atonement. I get the whole “seriousness of sexual sins” thing, I truly do, but I sometimes wonder if people realize how serious of a sin it is to judge someone like that, and think that they are not “good enough” to date your daughter/son if they have had to repent for sins of that nature.

  87. Hopefully it’s on it’s way out on the same train that Mormon Doctrine, big hair, parachute pants, and other relics of the 80s are on.

    Alright, but I’m keeping my waterbed.

  88. B.Russ, waterbeds are from the 70s, and so, they are in.

  89. I like what Marie says in #85. It’s not D&C 82:7 that’s the problem, it’s the extreme interpretation. i know a lot of people who just gave up after reading that book. It makes true repentance seem impossible.

  90. I am concerned the talk about “predators” are not being kept under enough control could lead to a miniature Mountain Meadows Massacre type of incident.

  91. #90 – ??

  92. Ray: I am concerned about vigilante types of actions against others, especially when details of what they are rumored to have done are lacking.

  93. I found this post today after some Google searches and was amazed to finally find something that put what I was looking in just the right words. I waited nearly 20 years to “repent” of my sins, partially because I felt I wasn’t worthy of forgiveness, but also because I did not want to be viewed as a “criminal” or “deviant”, that connection is too often made. Sexual sin is so frequently viewed and treated with such disgust, and not all sexual sin fits into the same bin, from personal experience, fornication is such an easy sin to fall into, you are with someone you love and nature seems to take its course, I am in no way justifying my actions, just stating that for such a serious sin it is so easy to commit. There are sins which are also criminal or deviant, and those should be treated differently, those individuals probably need additional help, but the “common sinner” who truly has a repentant heart can become seriously scarred when others treat them as criminals or deviants. For some of us, we do a perfectly fine job of labeling ourselves in such a harsh manner. Hopefully those out there who are like me will read this and change how they view their situation and find hope and forgiveness.

  94. Thank you for your comment. It is usually not the transgression itself that utterly breaks a person, it’s being shattered in the house of those who should have been our friends. There is a real sense that we must come to a realization that we go home together or we don’t go home at all. I hope you have been able to find a measure of peace and happiness in your journey.

  95. Excellent post and excellent responses. Thank you…..

  96. This is a beautiful, beautiful post, and so many excellent points have been made in the comments, too. Yeah, I think we all get the “terminal coma” feeling about this topic sometimes, but there’s obviously a good reason why it keeps coming back. “The topic, it seems to me, remains a consistently urgent and crucial one, because “many hearts [continue] to die, pierced with deep wounds”… Exactly. Thanks for writing about this.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,485 other followers