On Visibly Not Partaking of the Sacrament

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Occasionally I will notice someone not partaking of the emblems of the sacrament. This is always inadvertent on my part, usually when I’m checking to see from which direction a deacon will be sending the sacrament down my row. And I feel very uncomfortable witnessing such a public (non-)action that seems to disclose something that, it seems to me, should be very private and not at all public.

This practice seems to be grounded mainly in several BoM scriptures, such as these:

“See that ye are not baptized unworthily; see that ye partake not of the sacrament unworthily” (Morm. 9:29).

“For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul.” (3 Ne. 18:28–29).

I think the way we have applied these scriptures to encourage the practice of public non-participation in the ordinance of the sacrament is unfortunate. What does it even mean to be baptized unworthily? Isn’t everyone pretty much by definition unworthy? Isn’t that the whole point behind getting baptized in the first place? And shouldn’t the same logic apply to partaking the emblems of the Lord’s Supper? Sure, if you’re in open rebellion against God, don’t partake, but how often is that really the case? If you have experienced normal human weakness, shouldn’t humbly partaking of the sacrament be a part of the repentance process, rather than accomplished repentance being a prerequisite to such a partaking?

There is no clear standard governing when one should partake or not, which leads to a situation where more and less sensitive souls apply this practice of non-participation very differently.

This is not only something individuals self-apply, it is also something that has become perhaps the first tool of choice by bishops in applying discipline, and again, the common roulette problem means different bishops will require non-participation in widely divergent ways.

There are lots of sins, but since in contemporary Mormonism our first concern is with sins of a sexual nature, non-participation becomes a seeming disclosure of something that should not have to be publicly disclosed.

There seems to be an imposition of public embarrassment aspect to this practice that I find unseemly.

But I have no actual lived experience with this practice beyond occasionally inadvertently observing it. So I’m turning to you. What do you think? Good thing, bad thing, indifferent?

Comments

  1. Yeah, I think it’s a weird practice in our culture and it isn’t helpful. When I was a young man growing up in the Church, there was an unspoken assumption that if you saw someone not partaking it was because of some sexual sin, pornography addiction, etc. That’s a weirdly specific and intimate thing to know (or to be led to assume) about another congregant’s personal life. The deacons passing the sacrament will see this and internalize the messages of a shame-centered culture that will then reflect in the ways they think about themselves and their worth.

  2. As you state, it’s a highly PERSONAL thing. A discrete wave of the hand or simply passing the bread or water tray along is enough, nobody needs to shake their heads vigorously or make other public display that they aren’t partaking. As a reactivated member, I have occasionally passed because of something I find a sin and feeling unworthy to partake…nothing of a sexual nature either. I came to church in an angry mood, I was spiteful towards someone, I simply don’t find my spirit in tune properly to do what is in essence a very sacred ordinance. And as you point out, partaking is part of the atonement that we should do in order to try to do better. But sometimes I think (and this is the problem…humans over think) that it’s just better somehow not to partake. I’m for it, just not as a bid for attention or other unsavory reason for refusing. That, to me, is a greater ‘sin’.

  3. I don’t think anyone would get upset if an un-baptized visitor took bread and water. So it is a little weird as a disciplinary measure. It’s not the worst one though – a loved one of mine was not allowed to speak at a friend’s funeral because she was disfellowshipped at the time.

  4. Anne Chovies says:

    There have been a number of times when I have not taken the sacrament but it has never been for reasons related to any transgression of a sexual nature. I think it is a mistake to assume it is because of sexual transgression when one sees another abstain.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree it’s a mistake to assume much of anything, but human nature being what it is I imagine such assumptions are routinely made.

  6. On the one hand, I think the public humiliation aspect of forbidding the repentant sinner of partaking is sickening. Not only is it the one time in their life they most need the atonement, but the public way the sacrament is taken makes a mockery of “confidentiality”.

    On the other hand, I found myself having SERIOUS doubt about Mormonism, and so for a while I didn’t partake of Mormon sacrament, because quite frankly, I didn’t think the Mormon church has the authority to do the ordinance. It was not that I considered myself unworthy, but that I considered the Mormon priesthood authority unworthy of Christ.

    Now that I am a full fledged apostate, I don’t think “authority” matters and it is totally between God and me.

    But I still think using it as punishment is an abomination. Repentance is between the sinner and God, and no bishop has any right to with hold the tokens of the atonement from anyone. Repentance is not between the sinner and the church, as this church seems to think.

  7. If I am in a bad mood or mad at someone, I pass on taking the Sacrament.

  8. jaxjensen says:

    I don’t think it is public humiliation at all. Nothing is made public, nothing is announced. If someone does feel it is publicly humiliating then they have choices they can make to avoid that, so it would even be humiliation at the hands of the church, but by the persons own consent and choice. In fact, a person could choose to partake even if asked not to do so.

  9. I was forbidden to take the sacrament as a late teen as part of my disfellowship discipline for a sexual sin. I 100% felt that all my ward members had to do was happen to look at me at the moment I was silently declining the sacrament and they would immediately know my sexual history, and my shame. Of course people decline the sacrament for other reasons, but I was not the only one led to believe that it is primarily sexual sins that are disciplined by forbidding the sacrament, so when it happened to me I imagined everyone else would jump to the same conclusion I had in the past. It was indeed humiliating.

  10. Left Field says:

    Whenever I pass the sacrament, I always make it my practice to not watch the tray go down the pew. I always face forward and wait until I see the tray in my peripheral vision. Now that I think about it, I should recommend this to the Aaronic priesthood brethren.

  11. Also I’ll add, no I did not have any way to avoid the humiliation apart from leaving the church all together. As part of my disfellowship and repentance process I was required to attend church regularly, especially sacrament meeting. And partaking of the sacrament when I had been forbidden would go against the discipline given by the bishop. He may not have been watching me every week, but he certainly kept track of my attendance and probably spot checked my sacrament consumption. About a year after I was re-fellowshipped, I abstained from the sacrament for a few weeks because of a separate private issue and the bishop of course noticed and pulled me aside to tell me he noticed and see if I needed “support” again. All this to say, no, a disfellowshipped member can not avoid humiliation with out giving up on their church attendance and traditional repentance process all together. Sacrament is taken publicly and noticed publicly.

  12. You ask: “What does it mean to be baptized unworthily? Isn’t everyone by definition pretty much unworthy?” Repentance is supposed to take place before baptism. That repentance likely included forsaking visible sinning, and so a church leader ought to see some sign of worthiness before performing the baptism. Baptism is an outward sign of an internal repentance and a covenant already made in one’s life to follow God. I recommend Noel Reynolds’s article “Understanding Christian Baptism” in BYU Studies. For 8-year-olds, that worthiness might be manifest simply by attendance at church and expressing a desire for baptism. If repentance hasn’t happened, then a baptism would be done unworthily. If we think of baptism as washing away our sins, that’s true, but the full story is that we should have already repented, and in being baptized, we are expressing out faith that God forgives those sins.

  13. I have family members who have broken laws of chastity. Two of them became inactive, and two were brave enough to keep attending and let the sacrament pass them by for months or years. I was very grateful that they were willing to be there. One of them told me that he knew he had done something seriously wrong, foolish, and cruel, and when he was finally ready to repent, he was happy to spend that time letting the sacrament pass by. If someone is going to be a Saint, and really be part of the fellowship of the Saints, they have to keep the rules, and live with the consequences if they don’t. About the public nature of it, yes, it’s awful, humiliating, painful, but also shows that one is willing and grateful. I know a lot of people who have been disciplined, and I admire them very much for being willing to keep coming. They are often close friends. We don’t have to say anything except, “Welcome to church! I’m glad you’re here!” and mean it.

  14. When I realized that it’s legitimate to be in the temple even if I have unkind feelings toward someone, I stopped being hard on myself in gauging my readiness to partake of the sacrament. I’m grateful to let the sacrament soften me when that’s what I need. The sacrament is an opportunity to commune with the Spirit, not an occasion to display our worthiness. We should not apply those passages from the Book of Mormon harshly.

  15. The Right Trousers says:

    Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change. – Brene Brown

    Not only is public shaming a sign of a sick culture, in this case it’s counterproductive.

    I tire of all the ways the Church attempts to break us down and rebuild us in its image.

  16. Brian Taylor says:

    “One form of punishment is deprivation, and so if one is not permitted to partake of the sacrament or to use his priesthood or to go to the temple or to preach or pray in any of the meetings, it constitutes a degree of embarrassment and deprivation and punishment. In fact, the principal punishment that the Church can deal is deprivation from privileges.”

    Spencer Kimball
    May 1974

  17. As one who has, for personal reasons, at different times, not partaken of the sacrament, I really don’t care what others think. If they are assuming stupid, judgmental things about me, that’s their problem. What I chose to do when the sacrament is being passed to the congregation is strictly between me and my Father in Heaven who loves me. Their take on it is not important.

    And if I am assuming stupid, judgmental things about them, I need to repent.

  18. And here I’ve always assumed that a) we all try to keep our eyes to ourselves and not notice who is and is not partaking, and b) that when someone does not partake and I accidentally see (something that has happened twice in my life with people I was sitting with), that they are being brave. I certainly never assumed anything about what was going on in their lives.

  19. “Worthiness” is a big subject. I once did a careful study of the concept with reference to the (Mormon) Sacrament in particular. I wish I could find the whole work again (but it was >20 years ago and so far I’ve failed). What I remember clearly because it led to action is that the concept is not well-defined but one legitimate interpretation is that a person has a reasonable understanding and a sincere desire to partake. Full stop. It’s a little counter-cultural to think that way. That’s more of a feature than a bug on my scorecard.

  20. Your average Mormon says:

    I remember at a family reunion years ago, my brother-in-law didn’t take the sacrament because he and his wife had gotten into an argument right before sacrament meeting and he was too angry. His wife didn’t even come to Sacrament Meeting until after the sacrament had been passed, so she, too, didn’t partake of the sacrament.

    That one experience changed the way I look on those who don’t partake. This morning, two of my children and I had a heated discussion in the car on the way to church. It was heated enough I didn’t want to take the sacrament because I was not in an emotional place to renew my covenants. I was too frustrated with my children to be in a place where I felt I could humbly and reverently take the sacrament.

    I no longer judge those who don’t partake. They have their own reasons and it’s none of my business.

  21. Well there are always busy bodies who will think what they will – and even sometimes say something. I have been chided for taking the sacrament with my left hand – I’m left handed and depending upon the direction the tray is traveling sometimes it just makes sense. Sheesh. Anyway, I don’t think anything of it when people don’t take the sacrament or take one part and not the other. Maybe they’re allergic to wheat. Once I saw a little kid slobber sneeze over the whole tray and the entire row skipped the water that day. Lots of reasons why people would skip and really who should care but them?

  22. I had a bishop who announced in GD class that if you don’t take the sacrament you’d better be in my office. Luckily he moved.

  23. Aaron Brown says:

    Kevin, I mostly agree.

    Except that I have this (apocryphal?) story stuck in my head about a modern prophet once refusing the sacrament and scandalizing some onlooker, who subsequently asks the prophet why he abstained. The prophet gives him a reason which shocks him, because it involves some minuscule sin that all of us commit constantly and would never dream of refusing the sacrament over. The story is meant to illustrate how super-spiritual modern prophets are (of course), that they would apply such exacting worthiness standards to themselves. But its effect on me has been to wonder if some who abstain from sacrament participation aren’t trying to ape the modern prophet from my story.

    In other words, when I see this happening — by a non-teenager anyway — my first reaction isn’t always to assume there’s sexual sin in play. Sometimes it’s to imagine that the abstainer is some super-prude who is self-flagellating unnecessarily.

    Aaron B

  24. I am usually in the foyer with the baby during the ward after mine’s sacrament, and always decline because I don’t feel the need to take it twice. Sometimes I wonder what the other people are thinking when I decline, but I don’t really care. But I also know that it isn’t because of sin or whatever, so it doesn’t bother me.
    When we get into an argument before church, my husband is likely to not take the sacrament, but I tend to feel like that’s when I need it more.

  25. My bishop once instructed me to refrain from taking the sacrament. It was awful. I never wanted to go to sacrament meeting because I felt like everyone noticed me *not* partaking and automatically assumed I had done something terrible. I felt as if I unjustly had a scarlet letter ‘A’ emblazoned on my chest and that shame made it difficult to worship and, subsequently, difficult to repent.

  26. I agree there is a stigma that if people do not partake of the sacrament they must have committed a serious sexual sin. In some circumstances this is true, but someone might have personal reasons for abstaining from the sacrament. Under the direction of the Holy Ghost, it is up to the discretion of the individual to determine their worthiness. It is not up to us not to judge. It’s one thing to notice someone didn’t take the sacrament. It’s another to gossip about it.

  27. The Other Aussie Mormon says:

    I am ways understood that we partake the sacrament to show that we remember the Savior and we are willing to take his name upon us and follow his commands to the extent that we are able as imperfect humans. As such, something that I have been grappling with for some time is the idea that the sacrament should be withheld from those who have sinned, even if they are repentant.

    My feeling is that if somebody has sinned and they have a desire to restore the covenant, then the sacrament absolutely SHOULD be taken.

    If a person has had an argument with a family member prior to the meeting and is repentant, or if a person has viewed pornography during the week and is repentant and willing to talk to the Bishop about it, or even if the person has committed a more serious sin surely it’s about their heart and desire to follow the Saviour?

    It appears to me that we punish some by disallowing the sacrament at a time they need to reaffirm that covenant the most.

    Punishment is about hurting people. Discipline is about helping people. I don’t see punishment helping very much.

  28. The Other Aussie Mormon says:

    Forgive typos (am ways vs always)

    Was using talk to text.

  29. Last Lemming says:

    On the subject of when one should refrain from taking the sacrament, listen to Elder Bednar’s comment at the 6:39 mark of the linked video (short version–only if you’ve done something to endanger your church membership).

    On the one hand, that should eliminate some of the self-flagellation that commenters have referred to. On the other hand, it makes judging so much simpler.

  30. nobody, really says:

    The story was supposed to be that President Kimball refused to take the sacrament one day, explaining later to a shocked stake president “I allowed myself to become distracted by the sounds of the birds singing outside, and didn’t consider myself worthy today.” The lesson would seem to be that one doesn’t need to be guilty of any profound sin to turn away the sacrament. But, the person who first shared this story with me also claimed that the Salt Lake Temple was built on giant stone rollers, so it would just wheel back and forth like a roller skate during the final tribulations.

    Back when I was a deacon, our organist was refusing the sacrament week after week. At one point, she took me aside and asked why I would keep bringing the water back to her when she’d already refused the bread. I told her it was because I didn’t want anyone else to know that she wasn’t taking the sacrament. She could appreciate that, and from then on out didn’t mind when I’d come up to the organ and pause for a second or two.

    We might do well to assume that anyone who isn’t taking the sacrament just took it at another ward meeting earlier in the day. Or, at least, I try to make that my default.

  31. One memorable lesson in priesthood meeting was taught by a member of the BYU History Department, and he used the BYU basketball coach, a member of the quorum, as his example. All without the coach’s prior consent, it appeared.

    The story: the basketball team had played poorly and lost to a 2nd rate team the night before, the coach and wife had had an argument in the car on the way to the church, so he was in no mood to take the sacrament. Someone sitting behind him noticed, and assumed that he was guilty of some serious sexual sin.

    I don’t remember any fights breaking out, but the coach looked as if he had steam coming out of his ears and daggers from his eyes. Great fun for us younger guys in the quorum!

  32. Lots of couples fighting before church on this thread. I wonder what that’s all about?

  33. Last Lemming, you beat me to the Elder Bednar quote.

    As a recent RM in a YSA ward I was asked by my Bishop to abstain for a couple of weeks. It was rough, but I felt public obedience was a penance I could do. As a married man, there have been a few times I didn’t feel like taking it, but didn’t want to have to answer my wife’s queries as to why. Still I abstained, but didn’t go into detail at the query and she didn’t push. As a Bishop in my first year I held a member to a standard I later realized was not justified when I had asked her to not partake. Elder Bednar’s quote straightened me out and I apologized to the sister for my ignorance and rescinded the restriction immediately.

    I do feel Bishops and Stake Presidents are the only ones who can ask a congregant to abstain. Under certain serious situations I would still do it. The reason is due to the scriptural mandate in 3rd Nephi. I don’t think there is any need to grind people’s faces with it though. By that I mean it is awful if a Bishop is watching to see if there is obedience. In most instances when counseling with struggling members I have suggested that they do their own self assessment during the sacrament hymn and choose for themselves whether to abstain or partake.

    One last thought. When I first saw the movie Brigham City I was a little upset by the Sacrament scene. It felt wrong to take that sacred ordinance and put it on display like that. As the scene played out, I changed my mind completely and felt like for once I had seen the Sacrament as it truly should be, a place of atonement, forgiveness and healing.

  34. your food allergy is fake says:

    The Bednar link doesn’t work for me. What is the reference?

  35. Not being able to take the sacrament might not be that humiliating for some, but for those who carry a lot of shame, it can be extraordinarily painful. Coincidentally, like Dan, I just described the feeling of wearing a scarlet letter while having to abstain from the sacrament (in my case, for being raped), in my comment on Wheat and Tares.

    I think the whole problem is exacerbated when these punishments are dealt out to people who are super scrupulous or inclined to self-flagellation, or who have been sexually (or physically, or emotionally) abused and thus are living with high levels of accompanying shame.

  36. My bishop noticed a lot of people self-selecting to not take the sacrament. Everyone was to take the sacrament unless he had specifically instructed them not to.

  37. I’m so righteous and non-judgemental that I never look up from my phone during the sacrament, so those who don’t partake won’t be shamed by me inadvertently.

  38. Last Lemming says:
  39. jaxjensen says:

    Rachel might have felt like she was wearing a scarlet letter, but she was NOT in fact wearing one. All of the shame and humiliation is largely imaginary for the person. Far and away, most don’t notice, care, or think anything of it. If you are embarrassed, show up late, find a baby to take to the lobby, go use the restroom, or pretend to take it. You might FEEL like the world is staring at you to determine if you partake or not, but they aren’t. Nobody really cares.

  40. it's a series of tubes says:

    “All of the shame and humiliation is largely imaginary for the person.”

    Sorry, Jax, but in many instances that’s simply not the case. And the tone of your response leads with your elbow in a way that is particularly unpleasant to behold.

  41. I think it’s true that few people think twice upon seeing someone refrain from taking the sacrament. It doesn’t matter to most people. Even if that’s true, though, there are still a couple of problems. First, it only takes one censorious person to humiliate someone, and here we’re talking about people who are often in a vulnerable state of mind. Second, this is a thing we don’t talk about, so there is no common understanding about what it means not to take the sacrament. We leave too much space for a few people to be judgmental.

    At the least, when a bishop asks someone to refrain from taking the sacrament, he also ought to talk about the potential for embarrassment and how to prevent it. As counseling continues, he ought to return to this question as much as necessary to make sure that social humiliation does not become a needless extra burden for the person who is working things out.

    Thanks to Kevin for bringing up this subject that needs discussing.

  42. You are right, it’s a series of tubes. I don’t know what gives JaxJensen the idea that he knows more than I do about my old ward (other than his superior man-brain of course ; )), but he is wrong that no one was judging me. I personally heard young women leaders gossiping about some girls in our ward, and I also heard gossip that was about me, that later made it back to me. Additionally, I had to cope with my dad suspecting the worst (since he was not really the sort of person I could tell about the rape). This is setting aside the fact that I had already been thoroughly shamed by my bishop—the bishop that made me write an apology letter to my rapist—so that should give you an idea of the sort of ward I was in. Incidentally, Jax, I have seen you try to minimize or explain away other women’s experiences in the past, and I am so over it.

  43. Going Bananas says:

    When I joined the church (and for years after), there were many times that taking the Sacrament was hard for me – often because of doubts or questions about faith, not feeling like I “got it” or whatever. Anyway, there was one time that I our stake president attended our singles branch and noticed that I didn’t take the sacrament. The way I heard about this was because he asked the branch president, “Why isn’t your Relief Society President taking the sacrament??”

    So many things annoyed me about that… but to me, I felt like it was a personal choice that day. It wasn’t a punishment (and I kind of hate that it can be used that way), it was just me, feeling like I didn’t have the faith to invest. Now, if he wanted to have a discussion about how faith questions were affecting me as a RSP, that would have been a totally different situation.

  44. When I was in high school, I spoke to the Bishop about a sin that usually requires you to abstain from the Sacrament for a period of time. My Bishop told me that he never has members abstain from taking the Sacrament, no matter the sin, because these are the people who need the Sacrament the most. I really appreciated this because I was a minor and did not want my parents asking me why I didn’t take the Sacrament. But I came to appreciate it more as time passed because taking the Sacrament became a more sacred experience for me through the repentance process.

  45. You know, I wonder if being super dismissive and callous about something that one’s fellow disciples of Christ find painful is a sin that might justify abstaining from the sacrament.

    Whaddaya think, Jax?

  46. jaxjensen says:

    L-dG, I don’t dismiss the pain and feelings of my fellow disciples. I just don’t think that not taking the sacrament is public humiliation. The public doesn’t even know about it by and large. The humiliation is personal, not public. People feel it, but their neighbors largely don’t notice, and if they do, largely don’t care. There are anecdotes of people gossiping about it, and that hurts. I haven’t refuted that, but it is a problem with gossip. It’s a problem of people talking about other behind their backs. It is a problem of strangers discussing other peoples spiritual well-being when they have incomplete knowledge, make bad assumptions, and think they are superior in some way. This isn’t a sacrament problem, it is a people problem that happens regardless of sacrament participation. People do this when they hear what music you listen to, what movies you see, and all sorts of issues. It has been a problem with people forever. It isn’t a bug of church leadership/policy.

  47. Jax, your last comment seems confused. You do know that when I talked about wearing a scarlet letter, I was talking about the discomfort of being publicly judged for having to pass the sacrament, and not any problem inherent in the sacrament itself? In fact, enduring the judgement of others is what it means to wear a scarlet letter. I am also not sure why you keep insisting that no one knew I was passing it without taking it. My family sat by different people every week, and many of them overtly stared when I passed the sacrament without taking any, so after 6 months of doing this, I doubt there was more than a quarter of the ward who didn’t know. The gossip I mentioned hearing about me, was about my passing the sacrament and speculation about what sexual sins I must have committed, so I am not sure why you think you have the right to tell me that there was no public humiliation involved.

    Jax, you are, at best, in a position to speak for yourself. Please stop trying to explain away my experience. It is unkind.

  48. Rachael, your experience sounds very painful for you. The OP wasn’t about your experience though, but rather the rather larger church policy of disallowing sacrament participation and the self-imposed non-participation that some take upon themselves. While you’ve address your experience specifically, I’ve tried to address the topic at large in more general terms. I haven’t been trying to be dismissive, only point out that I believe your experience is the exception, not the rule.

    “And I feel very uncomfortable witnessing such a public (non-)action that seems to disclose something that, it seems to me, should be very private and not at all public.” The point lost here is that, as many besides me have pointed out, that nothing is actually disclosed. Unless you tell someone WHY you aren’t partaking, they actually KNOW nothing. The problem is when some think they do. But others think you might have taken it elsewhere, others perhaps that you maybe had a spat with your spouse, etc. etc.

    If any person doesn’t want “more than a quarter of the ward ” to be speculating about them, then take the reasonable steps to avoid it. Don’t sit next to new people each week which spreads the possibility for people to jump to terrible conclusions. Sit in the back each week, so nobody can see from behind. Sit in the lobby. Go use the restroom. Show up late. Pretend to take it. Wear a Post-it-Note that says, “Mind your own business.” I think that for most people, any humiliation they feel is in their own mind, and not in the mind of those around them – they have their own issues to deal with and think about. Perhaps in your case it wasn’t Rachael, but that is a problem with the people you were around gossiping and being nosey… which isn’t a problem isolated in sacrament participation as I mentioned above. I don’t think it is a bug of church policy as the OP mildly suggests. I don’t think it is a problem that needs addressing but rather that the nosiness and gossip would be better targets for aggression, and not the leaders who make the call.

  49. It seems self-evident that the decision to participate or not in the sacrament is a personal one. But there’s this idea coming through in the comments that not only is it a personal decision to partake or not, but that one’s partaking is a private thing. That seems to me to be starkly contrary to the communal aspect of the ordinance of the sacrament, which is arguably it’s most fundamental characteristic.

    I mean, I’m sure the Lord doesn’t want us checking to see who’s abstaining and judging others based on that. But I’m also not convinced that he wants us to apply the same etiquette to the sacrament that is observed by men at urinals either.

  50. Jax, my last two comments have not been specifically about the OP, but about your comment which you addressed to me, in which you said that my humiliation was largely imaginary. You say that people who see a person skip the sacrament know nothing, but that is not entirely true, is it? They know that that person has committed a sin (or believes himself to have committed a sin) that is grievous enough for them to not take the sacrament. In giving the options of where to sit as if that solves everything, you assume everyone, including teenagers who are largely expected to sit with their families, have the option of avoiding people noticing. (In my case, my father would never have allowed me to run to the bathroom every sacrament for six months.)

    You also suggest that my experience is the exception, not the rule. Maybe that is true (although my husband was frequently dispirited by how gossipy our ward counsel meetings were in more than one ward.) The point is that it doesn’t have to be the rule, for it to be a problem. The majority of people do not experience sexual abuse, but that doesn’t mean sexual abuse is not a problem. Likewise, even if most people get away with not being judged for skipping the sacrament (which again, I’m not sure if this is true), that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t examine the policy to see if we can make if better for the minority who do experience public humiliation.

    You say that judgement and gossip aren’t problems isolated to the sacrament. No one said they are. But they don’t have to be isolated to the sacrament for it to be a problem, provided that in some instances, judgement and gossip are directly caused by someone not taking the sacrament. Consider if I said that sexual harassment of women at work wasn’t a problem because women are sexually harassed outside of work. Just because a problematic behavior, x, happens in other contexts besides y, does not mean that x happening in y is not a problem.

    The problem with the policy is that, once a person has humbled themselves and repented, that should be the end of it. I see no evidence in scripture that the atonement does not take effect until after a certain number of months. If the atonement does take effect immediately, then the person is worthy. There is no need to make people endure public scrutiny of any degree. Such a shame-based approach is destined to make at least some people feel less like the atonement covers them, rather than more. This is especially true in the case of vulnerable individuals like myself.
    Since this approach is enforced unevenly–one bishop might be merciful, the other harsh–and since an unreasonable bishop like my own can do a lot of lasting damage, why not leave it up to the individual to determine their own worthiness?

  51. jaxjensen says:

    “They know that that person has committed a sin” No, they think they know that.

    “Such a shame-based approach is destined to make at least some people feel less like the atonement covers them, rather than more. This is especially true in the case of vulnerable individuals like myself.” To this I largely agree. I don’t think the approach is shame-based obviously, but not taking the sacrament does affect a persons repentence and feeling of attachment with the atonement. Your situation might be an exception.

    “why not leave it up to the individual to determine their own worthiness?” That is a good question. I don’t know that I have an answer for it. But if this was the case, the effects of “public shame” that you see would still be present, no? Wouldn’t the same shame effects be present when people see you self-select for non-partaking? It’s a valid question that would be a good discussion, but I don’t think it answers the question/problem about publicly not taking the sacrament.

    You said I addressed to you a comment saying your humiliation was imaginary. I apologize if that is what you understood me to mean. I mentioned you at the beginning of that post to reference your story, not to address you. Your “scarlett letter” point was easy for me to use to point out that you weren’t in fact wearing one… I was trying to use it to show that the feeling is entirely internal, that you weren’t in fact told to wear one (I hope… that’d be horrible!) I didn’t mean to make it personal, just to use that as a reference in addressing the readership at large.

  52. Thank you, truly, for your apology. I had just decided to come back on and apologize to you when I saw your beat me to it. Not that this excuses my behavior, but I have complex PTSD which at times, is more dormant, and other times—like recently, with what’s going on in the news—is more in my face. When it is triggered, it is easy to feel like everything is a personal attack. Also, I tend to worry that there might be others who are hurting even more than myself who might want someone to speak out on behalf of them.

    I believe you to be a decent person who is just trying to defend against what you perceive to be attacks against the Church or its leadership. The truth is, that many of us who speak for change aren’t trying to condemn or attack anyone, we are just hoping that things keep getting better in the Church, especially for those who are broken-hearted or down-trodden. Many progressives have seen and appreciated that the Church has made other small concessions, like no longer requiring young women to read that rape takes away one’s virtue, and we hope that future concessions, especially those designed to bring about a greater sense of peace, will be forthcoming.

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