Worthiness vs. Confession

We’ve all seen Catholic confession in movies and TV shows. It’s a situation that we might liken to our own worthiness interviews, and yet there are some significant differences in purpose, theological implications, and in how the act is understood by believers.

First, let’s talk about Catholic confession. Here are some features and how they compare with Mormon worthiness interviews:

  • Symbolic Role. The priest stands in for Jesus directly during the confession. This is only a role assumed during a confession. In our church, a bishop is considered a “Judge in Israel” which is not limited to worthiness interviews, although individual interactions with church members is where this role is mostly manifest. Once the bishop’s assignment ends, so does the role of Judge in Israel.
  • Authority. The priest has the authority to forgive sin. Mormon bishops are merely counselors and spiritual advisers in this process; they do not have the power to forgive sins. In both cases, seeking the approval of an authority figure to remove spiritual obstacles is part of the design.
  • Training. Priests are trained professionals for life. Mormon bishops are usually only in their role for up to 5 years and are volunteers with regular day jobs in a variety of fields. They don’t have specific academic or ecclesiastical training. On the one hand, priests are probably more knowledgeable on the whole and will often have many more years of experience in spiritual counseling, bishops may be more empathetic to supplicants due to their lifestyle being more mainstream, including families and careers.
  • Celibacy. Most priests commit to lifelong celibacy and the priesthood exists apart from the types of lives congregants lead. Mormon bishops are married heterosexuals who are not divorced and who are financially stable, but they are chosen from the congregation and live a life very similar to the rest of the ward members. Those who self-select to Catholic priesthood represent a specific sub-set of people, those willing to live a life of celibacy, whereas any male could theoretically become a Mormon bishop.
  • Setting. The confessional box which came about in the mid-sixteenth century has historically been highly symbolic. The priest, representing Jesus, sits bathed in light while the penitent kneels in supplication in the dark. (Many modern confessions are done in a more casual setting rather than the box, sitting in a pew or in a parish room set aside for the process of ‘reconciliation’–the current preferred term). The confession box was created due to confessional seductions that were causing strife in Catholic congregations in the middle ages. Mormon worthiness interviews take place in a classroom or bishop’s office. The setting is casual and not symbolic.
  • Communal Absolution. Group absolution for sins was briefly offered from mid-1970s to 1983. (It was quashed by Paul VI.) While there isn’t a ready Mormon comparison to this abandoned Catholic practice, it is taught that partaking of the sacrament resets the clock on sin. This is related to the Mormon practice not to take the sacrament if one feels “unworthy” based on self-assessment.
  • Starting Age. Since 1910, children make their first confession at age 7 in preparation for their first communion. Previously, one’s first confession was during puberty, between ages 12 and 14. In Mormonism, worthiness interviews begin during youth program years, starting at age 12, although children age 8 who seek baptism are interviewed for understanding. These childhood baptismal interviews often include parents in the room. Youth recommends (to perform baptisms for the dead in a temple) must be renewed annually. Adult temple recommends must be renewed every two years.
    • There are some striking parallels here. The reasons for Catholic confession at puberty is because of the prohibition on sexual thoughts and acts that considers them “mortal sins.” There isn’t a specific stated reason within Mormonism for the ages, other than milestones of maturity and a linkage to specific ordinances (another reason for moving the age earlier in Catholicism).
  • Frequency. Historically, confession was encouraged annually. In the 20th century, there was a push for more frequent, even weekly, confessions. However, most Catholics have abandoned the practice of regular confession, despite repeated papal encouragement.
  • Structure. In Catholicism, there is a standard way of speaking to introduce the confession. Mormons simply affirm “yes” to a series of questions regarding belief and practice to verify their worthiness to participate in specific ordinances.
  • Content. In Catholicism, “mortal sins” require confession to a priest. These include: murder, larceny, physical violence, adultery, and also all other sexual sins including (possibly) using condoms, any sex outside of marriage, divorcing and remarrying without annulment, homosexual sex, masturbation and indulging in “impure thoughts.” This is a much longer list than what Mormonism considers “confession” sins, although individual bishops or counselors may improvise their own additions for “clarification,” and Catholics, in practice are unlikely to confess things they don’t believe are required.
  • Consequences. In Catholicism, children are taught that failure to reconcile with God results in hellfire and damnation. The Mormon focus on sin is more about lack of spiritual progress or receiving a “lesser” reward or being separated from one’s family in the hereafter.
  • Requirement. Confession is considered a sacrament in Catholicism, something required to receive absolution. In Mormonism, one could go a lifetime without confessing anything, although worthiness interviews with yes or no answers would be a regular feature. Put another way, our worthiness interviews are more of a check-the-box to ensure readiness for an ordinance or continued purity whereas Catholics are required to confess to reconcile themselves to Jesus and seek absolution for sins.

From the book The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession by John Cornwell:

“My father was convinced, like many non-Catholics, that confession allowed Catholics to commit sins, have them forgiven (and feel good), then commit them again.”

This statement reminded me of the prohibition on planned repentance that we hear in Mormonism, as recently as 2016 General Conference when Elder Cornish said this:

“The worst kind of sin is premeditated sin, where one says, “I can sin now and repent later.” I believe that this is a solemn mockery of the sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus Christ.”

Confession is voluntarily telling your sins, feeling contrite and asking for forgiveness. It frequently, but not exclusively, comes up during a worthiness interview. Church members can voluntarily request a meeting with the bishop to confess a sin. By contrast, worthiness interviews are required to attest a member’s moral cleanliness and uprightness of belief and behavior to grant access to something here on earth such as temple access, access to BYU, or to be granted trust for leadership callings or to perform ordinances. When it is not granted, there is a social cost (and even financial, in the case of BYU) to the denied individual who may be barred from attending a child’s wedding or pre-mission endowment or from performing an ordinance. This makes a judgment of “unworthiness” visible to others whereas guilt in Catholicism is more privately held, without social costs.

Even in the earliest days of the church, Joseph Smith would shake the hand and look searchingly into the eyes of those attending the School of the Prophets held in the upper floor of the Newel K Whitney store before each meeting to discern that individual’s worthiness to attend. Such attempts rely heavily on a human’s ability to ascertain accurately whether a person is worthy. Mormons, perhaps even more than Catholics, believe in a bishop’s power to discern worthiness, a belief not necessarily supported by evidence or a person’s self-assessment. Bishops clearly have human failings and biases just like everyone, some more than others. By contrast, Catholic confessions typically have a set of penances that are performed depending on the sin being confessed. While these used to involve corporeal mortification and other excesses, they are usually simpler now, like saying a rosary or lighting a candle or other spiritual devotional practices.

Keeping our sacred spaces pure by preventing access to those currently deemed “worthy” is a long-standing practice. This also occurred at the documented spiritual outpouring during the opening of the Kirtland temple. Likewise, for current temple dedications, even those that are broadcast via satellite, members must pass a worthiness interview.

My conclusions:

  • Both practices are subject to abuses by individuals who choose to abuse, to predators as well as psychological abusers.
  • Catholic guilt beats Mormon guilt due to the definitions of “mortal sins,” accompanying punishments, and the age of first confession.
  • Mormons are vulnerable to social costs in ways that Catholics are not, although one can be barred from being married in a Catholic church, but only for something visible to outsiders such as divorce without annulment.
  • Catholic priests have more potential to abuse and cover up due to the lifelong appointment, symbolic role of priest that elevates their standing, absence of women and children in their lives, the network of priests, and the nature of the confessional (which is always a retelling of sins with an emphasis on sexual sins).
  • Mormon bishops have more potential to accidentally abuse due to lack of knowledge and training, and the purpose of a worthiness interview which puts the bishop in role of gatekeeper. Sticking to the questions and limiting answers to Yes/No seems the safest route.

I’ve only had one worthiness interview that I would describe as abusive, and I’ve been in many of these interviews in my life. That one was plenty, though. The bishop’s counselor in my BYU ward who conducted the interview attempted to bully and browbeat me into a confession, throwing out many examples of sexual behavior that he thought were possible sins I might have committed. He shouted and banged his desk and ran his fingers through his hair. It was a scary spectacle, motivated by his skepticism about my attendance in a different ward during my engagement. He threatened to withhold my live endowment recommend to get married (I had a current temple recommend) if I didn’t confess something. By contrast, the bishop in my fiance’s ward was a kind and lovely man who blessed our union and congratulated us as he talked about the commitment we were about to make.

Let’s get your take.

  • Is the purpose of worthiness interviews worth the cost? Will our sacred spaces and experiences be hindered if the unworthy (who unsuccessfully obfuscate) are granted access?
  • Is the emphasis on confessing sexual deeds disproportionate to the focus on other types of misdeeds like dishonesty or being unkind?
  • Do bishops, as part of their calling, have a heightened ability to discern that should be trusted?

Discuss.

 

Comments

  1. No, worthiness interviews offer no benefit that I can see, other than to congratulate ourselves for achieving confirmation of our righteousness. Further, I simply reject the notion that any human being has any power or authority to declare anyone “worthy”. What utter nonsense. We are all, simultaneously, unworthy (in that we all sin and are separated from God) and of infinite worth (in that we are beloved children of our Heavenly Parents and through the grace of our Savior we are reconciled to God). Signing a temple recommend can neither confirm nor negate that fact. I see no inherant value in confession to a Bishop of any sins. Confession is between the sinner and God. Full stop. One might turn to a Bishop for spiritual support, but I would never recommend that (given the woefully inadequate training Bishops receive). And no, Bishops have no more ability to discern than you or I. This is abundantly clear.

  2. “Mormon bishops are married heterosexuals”

    From having read your columns for many years I’m 100 percent certain you don’t mean this to be offensive, but it is problematic to speculate on the orientation of people who haven’t made that information public.

  3. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I’ll ‘confess” that I have never understood the act of confessing a sin to your Bishop. I just don’t get it. They don’t/can’t forgive. Lean on them for spiritual strength and support, if you have one you can trust. In doing so, it might be necessary to divulge the behaviors that are causing distress, but not as a requirement of being forgiven. I’m ok with Bishops being gatekeepers for certain things, determining worthiness, recognizing that we need to mitigate the enormous potential for abuse. If I have something in my life that would not allow me to “pass” one of these interviews, I’ll work things out with the Lord beforehand, and then walk into the interview with a clear conscience.
    But, I don’t have the misfortune of regular worthiness interviews playing a significant role in my career.

  4. I wonder if there couldn’t be a better word for the legitimate functions of a temple recommend interview than “worthiness”. A number of the questions for a general recommend have to do with the interviewee’s beliefs. Without beliefs at least articulable as set out in those questions, the interviewee should not be making the covenants required in the endowment ceremony. (That concern does not apply to merely attending a wedding or to baptisms for the dead.) Other prescribed questions I would prefer to take as prompting guided self-reflection, the most important being the last – whether the interviewee feels worthy to enter the temple (paraphrased). To that question, “yes, through the grace of God” might be a better answer than a simple “yes.”

    I believe temple recommend interviews can assist an interviewee in determining readiness and willingness to enter into covenants and in self-reflection and assessment of willingness and efforts to follow Jesus’ injunction “if ye love me, keep my commandments.” This is a different function than being judged by a bishop who may or may not have the gift of discernment. To the extent of my observation, merely being called and ordained an LDS bishop does not bestow that gift on a man. (D&C 46:27 can be understood to be consistent with this observation.) From what I hear, I suspect, however, that there may be individuals, both men and women, who have at times the gift of discernment. Some of them might also happen to be bishops. I think the use of the “worthiness” word and the “judge in Israel” concept in the context of a temple recommend interview distorts what could be (and for some are) the legitimate functions of those interviews.
    I would leave the “judge in Israel” concept to church disciplinary councils which also have a legitimate function, even if it is sometimes also abused.

    As to confession to a bishop, I see no inherent value in it unless the sinner initiates it out of the belief that the particular bishop can help with the repentance process. Confession to self, God and those hurt by one’s sins is a different story and likely a part of repentance. Incidentally, if temple recommend interviews are limited to the prescribed questions as instructed, there is not in that context any more emphasis on sexual deeds than on dishonesty and certain others. In other contexts (in LDS culture generally and in church policy with respect to disciplinary councils) there is a great deal more emphasis on sexual deeds. Sometimes that emphasis seems to evidence an unhealthy, maybe even voyeuristic, preoccupation with sex. Sometimes it seems to relate to legitimate concern about the scope of the possible temporal and spiritual consequences — though I believe the possible consequences at times been significantly misunderstood by many including general authorities. Of course, my observations represent a quite limited part of the whole and it is possible, maybe even likely, that I have also misunderstood. :)

  5. We had a gay bishop for years before it went belly up. Best bishop ever. Don‘t ever assume!!! Worthiness interviews? Not for me, ta.

  6. Bishops may not have the ability to forgive sins in the ultimate sense, but they do have the ability to forgive sins in the sense of being able to release somebody of the ecclesiastical consequences of some serious sins.

    In early Mormonism, confession was a bigger deal than it is now, but it was usually either public, before the whole congregation, or in small groups where members would mutually confess their sins. Sometimes a public confession was a condition imposed as part of church discipline. Confessing in private to a priesthood leader, if I remember correctly, began in the late 19th century, with teachers primarily being the person you would confess to, and that function later shifting to bishops.

  7. “Mormons are vulnerable to social costs in ways that Catholics are not”

    Could you expand on this? I didn’t see anything supporting this conclusion in the post. Granted, it’s probably a long post in itself.

  8. I think our practice of linking church employment to worthiness exercises (including interviews/confessions) is problematic in two ways. It makes any pastoral purpose highly conflicted —it puts the believing confessor in the ugly position of seeking help through penance / risking job loss and communal shame. Which way to go? The choice can be freighted with many issues— like family support. One friend had tithe-paying status questioned because of choosing to pay on net income, largely because of huge medical bills—with the real threat to report to the church entity that the person wasn’t in line with worthiness requirements. Only when the confessor vowed to “makeup” the tithe would the bishop sign off on worthiness. However one thinks of such acts, the problem really existed and the threat to livelihood was real for the individual. On the other hand, who wants a murderer for a BYU professor?

    On the other hand, I think the old saying, “confession is good for the soul” really does have some validity. I speak from personal experience from both sides of the confessional. It can be a powerfully redeeming experience in some cases whether one assigns that redemption to the mental state of the confessor or the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit, or both.

    The potential for abusing the confessional, like your bishop’s counselor is a real one and violates what should be a real sanctity of purpose (and for the latter–this is the real problem for church employment worthiness accounting).

    So I believe the institution can have divine purpose and involvement. But it may also be fraught. In the end, perhaps it is the volunteer confession outside of the yes/no interview station of worthiness checks that can be most valuable.

  9. As a cradle Catholic who became an adult Mormon convert and now identifies with no particular sect but loves to study them, confession is so different in scope and feel from worthiness interviews that I can hardly compare them. In confession, my parish priest (a good man, not a predator, may he RIP) listened. I spoke far more than he did. He did not ask a list of questions; any questions from him were follow-ups on MY thoughts and feelings about what I was confessing. Before offering absolution, he would sometimes offer advice.

    He was so serene and it invited a contemplative spirit into the box (which was well-lit for everyone. It had an option to kneel behind a screen but I always turned the corner and sat across from Fr. C. He could not have touched me without rising and taking a step).

    I’ve enjoyed TR interviews in my life, had many laughs during them, and never failed one. But the revolving counselors, the check-list, and the three-layer form to sign made them more of a transaction than a shared contemplation.

    I had occasion to counsel with bishops over the years as I learned to parent outside the influence of the bad model I had growing up. The best two were: the one who was a retired family therapist and the one who had a stack of secular social science books behind him so he could study on his downtime and be prepared to help people. The worst would cherry-pick scriptures or tell long stories of their own experiences that were only tangentially related to my query.

    Long before Sam Young I pulled the plug on one-on-one interviews. The Boy Scout files were coming to light (with much Mormon crossover) and the catholic priest abuses and cover-ups were known. It made no sense to expose my children to such a practice. I don’t know how I would have handled confession for my children. *I* always felt safe there, but the priest before mine WAS a predator.

    Then again, in Catholicism, confession is a voluntary sacrament. After the first one, it’s up to you if you ever go again.

  10. Is the purpose of worthiness interviews worth the cost?

    Will our sacred spaces and experiences be hindered if the unworthy (who unsuccessfully obfuscate) are granted access?

    –That’s not the purpose.

  11. That’s weird a bishopric counselor would be the one to threaten withholding a live ordinance recommend (or for someone whose recommend has been expired for a long time). Normally those go through the bishop and stake president directly, not a counselor. And if a counselor gets anything other than the right sequence of yes and no, they should immediately end the interview, asking for no details, and refer to the bishop.

  12. anon for this comment says:

    I scheduled my own confession with a YSA ward Bishop years ago. He was a former mission president, so rather well-experienced with this kind of thing, I supposed. His reaction to my sin that I confessed was more loving than I expected. He reiterated my self-worth and the power of the redemption. He did not downplay the seriousness of the sin I committed and I left without my temple recommend and with a major feeling of disappointment in myself. I returned for a follow-up a couple of weeks later and indicated that I had sought forgiveness and had not repeated the sin. He told me that he thought my repentance was sincere and that he believed HF had forgiven me. He returned my temple recommend and invited me to meet with him again as needed. I would say that I came out of it with a positive experience. I was very happy when I left, feeling that the words of the Bishop were true. I was relieved to have the burden gone. I am glad that I had the Bishop who had that type of experience and opted to use that form of discipline. Knowing what I know now, there experience could have been vastly different with someone else.

  13. Rich Harshaw says:

    I know of many, many experiences exactly like “anon for this comment” where the confession was a profoundly positive experience. I am also aware of two separate situations, separated by 20 years, where bishops at Ricks/BYUI kicked kids out of school who were trying to do the right thing and confess sexual sins… and it became a profoundly negative experience. My proposed solutions would be to train bishops better (which I think is happening)… including encouraging them to seek 2nd opinions about situations when they’re unsure (without disclosing the identity of the people involved, of course) from either their counselors, their stake president, or even a church HQ hotline. If the reactions of the bishops are based in love and kindness, the process works. When you get a bishop who feels like his main job is to dole out punishment, that’s when things get messy. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water… let’s work toward making the baby and the bathwater better.

  14. Don: my memory could be faulty on his calling. I have always remembered him as the 1C covering for a traveling bishop, but he could have been the bishop. It was almost 30 years ago, and I never attended that student ward although my records were there. I moved in during summer term, and was already engaged at the time. I only lived in that ward for maybe 2 months. I didn’t know this person at all, but my records were there. My non-attendance was the reason for his outburst.

    Me: My impetus for researching this was my own Catholic confessional envy. It always looks so great in the movies (well, except maybe The Godfather). People seem to get something wonderful out of confession that our perfunctory checklist meetings don’t do, and honestly, I don’t love the increasing frequency of our worthiness interviews since it’s all self-attested anyway. It’s like speed bumps. They slow down traffic and are jarring when you drive over them. So long as I don’t run over any kids, I’d prefer not to have them in the road. I get why some people like em, and I could be wrong.

    Frank: The social costs I was thinking about are because worthiness interviews are tied to performing ordinances and participating in the temple whereas confession is voluntary in Catholicism. A young person who doesn’t “pass” the interview can’t participate in the sacrament work on Sunday (visibly) or might not get to go on that temple trip everyone’s been talking about (visible). Parents who don’t pay tithing or don’t answer belief questions the right way might not get to be present for a child’s wedding (very visible). A BYU student who loses belief may have to change schools (visible). A person working for the church who fails an endorsement (the worthiness interview is a proxy) can lose employment. All of these have social consequences. There is no equivalent to that in Catholic confession, barring being unwilling to let someone marry in the Catholic Church.

  15. I agree with Eliza. Required confession to anyone but God and those who were wronged by the sin is a recipe for manipulation.

    The bishop has no authority to forgive sin, and that fact seems to be acknowledged by the brethren. However, they have created a whole new category of sin against the church that requires forgiveness through the bishop, as outlined in Spencer Kimball’s horror show, “The Miracle of Forgiveness.” The question we need to ask ourselves is whether these manufactured sins really matter.

    I do believe that voluntary confession can be both helpful and necessary, though the benefits are more likely to be obtained when confessing to a loved one or to a qualified therapist, not the neighborhood orthodontist that has been called as the ward administrator for a few years.

  16. I confess myself flummoxed at some of the commenters’ inability to see the benefit and need of confession to priesthood authority when major transgression has occurred – which almost inevitably involves more than one person. Perhaps these commenters have had negative experiences with “worthiness” interviews – for that, I feel real sympathy. Or perhaps they haven’t thought the matter through enough and asked the right questions, and I guess in my more charitable moments I feel sympathy for that affliction, too.

    The Lord spoke plainly to Alma the Elder:

    “Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also.” –Mosi 26:29

    Perhaps the question is not whether or not we should get rid of these interviews; perhaps the question instead is, Why does the Lord mandate them for proper repentance?

    Surely we can all agree that there is an occasional bad apple priesthood leader who does more harm than good. Hopefully, these examples are becoming less frequent. There is room for improvement, of course, and based on increased trainings and direction it seems the Brethren are acutely aware of the challenges faced.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but Ted: I’m going to go out on a pretty safe limb and say that Spencer Kimball understood the need for and mechanics of repentance and divine forgiveness better than you do. Instead of self-congratulating your wisdom in dismissing his treatise, perhaps there’s something in there worth re-reading.

  17. Mormon worthiness interviews are superficially similar to Catholic confession, but they aren’t really comparable because they have different purposes. We don’t have anything comparable to the Catholic practice of confession. Thanks, Angela, for helping me see that.

    For Catholics, confessing is one of the normal practices of church activity. For Mormons, confessing to a bishop is extraordinary, and it’s bound up with difficult and unpredictable social costs, as Angela points out.

    Confession to a sympathetic listener has a healing effect. For a religious person, it’s usually even better when the listener is a sensitive religious authority. Practices that make the blessing of confession more accessible seem good to me. I suppose that when you make the decision to bare your faults to someone else, you always have to make some kind of judgment about risks and benefits. I think we’re missing something by failing to lower the risks and failing to normalize the path of confession.

  18. Bensen, there is a reason why The Miracle of Forgiveness has faded from official church use. President Kimball accomplished many good things, but, on balance, that book was not one of them. It is the most influential expression of twentieth-century Mormonism’s punitive, perfectionist approach to repentance. May we work diligently to put that attitude to rest.

  19. It seems we’ll have to agree to disagree, Loursat. I’m not suggesting it was a perfect read, nor that it represents an attitude we should seek to resurrect. But at the very least, it helps the reader understand that sin is serious business – and it should be taken seriously. Our forgiveness was not bought cheaply by the Savior. Calling the work a “horror show” was too arrogant for my tastes.

  20. Bensen, arrogant I may be, but that limb is not as safe as you suspect, at least not for the amount of weight you’re willing to put on it. I have several close friends that have been brought to unimaginably dark places due to guilt induced by “The Miracle of Forgiveness.”

    Further, while the book was not on the approved mission reading list during my time in the field, our mission president took the extra step of explicitly forbidding that we read it. In personal conversation he confided to me that he thought it did great damage to already guilt-prone missionaries’ confidence and ability to feel the Spirit.

    Need we go further and discuss the Big Foot = Cain story that Kimball makes in the book? Or the unfounded claim that masturbation leads to homosexual conversion? That it’s better to die than to commit sexual sin?

  21. I think over the last 50 years the church has undergone an evolution in thought regarding sin and guilt. The old paradigm, reflected in Kimball’s writings, seems focused on the importance of deterring sin by highlighting the pain and suffering caused by sin, and the difficulty of repentance. That’s the sentiment underlying “Miracle of Forgiveness”. The problem is that this considers the issue exclusively from an ex ante perspective, where sin has not yet been committed. It makes sense to scare people away from the mud pit before they fall in.

    This neglects the fact that we live in the mud pit. We can all look in the rear view mirror and see sins following us. In this ex post sin world, the effect of highlighting the pain, sorrow, and trouble involved in “true” repentance only serves to increase suffering and decrease the motivation for repentance, especially in the case of serious sin, which includes “self-abuse” and pornography use, according to Kimball. For example, anyone who has been paying attention knows that making depressed users of pornography feel more guilt and shame results in increased pornography use.

    What we need instead is to focus on the sweetness of repentance, the benefits of the atonement, which I think we are starting to do. What we haven’t figured out is how to modify our concepts of worthiness and confession to fit the new paradigm.

  22. I’m with Loursat and Ted 100%. It seems to me that confession in the LDS church is generally meant to be a scary and humiliating process, so as to deter earnest and honest people from certain unwanted behaviors. But shame and humiliation are damaging ways to try to control behavior.

    Imagine that bishops were spiritual advisors, not judges. Imagine that people went to them, not out of obligation and fear of hellfire, but because they truly wanted to improve their lives and knew that bishops would listen to them confidentially (except in cases of abuse or felonies) and offer thoughtful, caring, and useful advice—as an equal, not as a judge handing down a sentence or demanding penance. If we can’t trust that the natural consequences of sin and a desire for closeness to God are enough to motivate good-hearted people to become better, we have a pretty dim view of God and humanity. (Of course, some people may not be motivated by this softer approach, but I can hardly imagine those people making good progress under the current system either.)

  23. I realize I’m joining a threadjack a little bit, but I had an epiphany about the Miracle of Forgiveness’ advice to young women that they should die fighting rather than lose what he’s calling their chastity, advice I took very much to heart when I was a young woman, hoping that if I was ever attacked I would have the courage to sacrifice my life rather than do what I had to in order to live. The flip side is that he’s saying there is no such thing as a survivor of sexual assault. You either die or you wanted it on some level. That’s seriously messed up.

    Should we take repentance seriously? Yes, that I can buy. Should rape victims be blamed or considered complicit? Absolutely not.

  24. Your Words Matter Too says:

    Angela C – what’s messed up is attributing thoughts and words to someone that they did not say — especially someone who as an anointed servant of the Lords deserves some charity and seeking for understanding, not just condemnation when you disagree.

    Not familiar with the quotes in question, I googled around and it’s clear there are a few sentences in an entire book which can be abused to mean more than was intended. But most importantly, exactly before the line you probably object to (better to die defending virtue), he specifically states, “There is no condemnation when there is no voluntary participation.”

    No condemnation. None. And yet, you jammed in condemnation to the 99-th degree (must have wanted it). THAT’s outrageous. And seriously disingenuous.

    To further consider your erroneous comment, you said if you didn’t die, you essentially wanted it — according to Presidents Kimball. Of course he never said that. And the quote in question again specifically says, “It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.”

    It’s harsh. It’s a rhetorical point. It’s not the sum of his argument. It’s even hyperbole to illustrate the importance of chastity. And it certainly has an impact on those who don’t fully contextualize it with regards to their own assault.

    That said, again, he never said what you said he said. NO CONDEMNATION first of all if it was not voluntary. So stop forcing him to have condemned people who were assaulted. He didn’t. Next, he said put up a struggle. When we are faced with very hard things, we all tell ourselves, “this might kill me”. And yet the vast majority of us are still here. His statement was clearly designed to also give people courage to let them know that you can struggle, even if you fear death.

    That advice will actually lead to more people getting away, not more people dying. Better to stand up and die than allow an evil deed to happen if you have strength to resist. That’s a hard truth. But it’s a truth that has saved thousands of women and been the backbone for millions in resisting tyranny. I might lose my life here on this battlefield, but better to do that than remain a slave. Can’t you see how that actual thought as filled countless millions with conviction to fight when it seems hopeless?

    The idea of give me liberty or give me death shouldn’t be abused to mean that if you don’t die for liberty you actually wanted tyranny.

    It’s a rallying cry to demonstrate the significance of action and a call for moral courage and the strength to resist. Put this crap to rest. You would know better if you considered the words with charity, context, and so on.

  25. Your Words Matter Too, even someone who loves the personal ministry of President Kimball and feels great gratitude for him ending the priesthood and temple restriction can be greatly concerned about the legacy of his book.

    Perhaps he didn’t realize that many women react to assault by freezing rather than by fighting or fleeing and that it is a protective measure to reduce injury and death. Perhaps he didn’t realize that within a generation or two the Church would come to understand the tragic legacy of its increased and erroneous rhetoric about homosexuality, and would start trying to repair it. Perhaps he didn’t realize that those touched with scrupulosity would carry a great and lasting burden from the message of the book rather than having their spirits healed by the glories of the atonement.

    If you’re not gay, or scrupulous, or affected by sexual abuse, or have someone in your family or inner circle who is, perhaps you don’t understand some of the most lasting legacies of the book. I would kindly suggest that it would be good to put down the rocks you’re holding, ready to stone those you find in error, and, like Jesus, spend some time on the ground with them.

  26. Geezoram Moriancumer says:

    Not to quibble, but under “symbolic roles”, the bishop/interviewer is told to “be sure they understand that you represent the Lord in determining worthiness to enter his holy house.” This is more than a judge, and is similar to the Catholic Priest’s role.

  27. Your Words Matter Too: The person you are screeching at is me as a teenage girl, a person who no longer exists and hasn’t for decades. You can call that vulnerable young person disingenuous, but I wasn’t alone in my reading of this passage. I was a religious girl ready to sacrifice my life if necessary to prove my worthiness.

  28. Your Words Matter Too: Please review the article “Historical and Contemporary Responses to Sexual Assault by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Angela C isn’t the only one who was negatively affected by President Kimball’s approach. For those of us growing up in the 70s and 80s, it was very much implied that girls would be forever tainted by pre-marital sexual activity, regardless of whether it was consensual or assault. You can go back and read practically any Ensign article or conference address addressing chastity or immorality from these decades and come away feeling depressed.

    http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleBrimhallHistoricalOverview.html

  29. The Other Aussie Mormon says:

    The occasions where I have spent time with a priesthood leader confessing sins that needed confessing have been some of the most faith promoting experiences of my life. Through those confessions I have had my faith in the Saviour’s atonement strengthened in ways that non confession could never provide. The release and relief from confession have been sweet and joyous.

    I am stunned at the number of people on here throwing away scriptural imperatives (he who is repentant confesses sins – paraphrased) and prophetic instruction because they know better or because it’s between them and God. I guess it depends on the nature of the sin, but I’ll keep confessing. It’s so right is can’t be wrong

  30. The $64,000 Answer says:

    Catholic here. There are a number of inaccuracies in this post about what we believe and do, but the one that jumps out at me is the definition of “mortal sin” that Angela C attributes to us. It doesn’t work quite like that.

    In Catholic doctrine, there are three requirements for a sin to be mortal: (i) “grave matter” (it must be a serious form of wrongdoing; (ii) “full knowledge” (the sinner must be aware that he or she is irrevocably crossing the line; and (iii) “complete consent” (the sinner freely chooses the evil act, rather than being driven to it in whole or in part by coercion from others or pre-existing mental disorders).

    Whether *any* of the sins Angela C lists are in fact mortal in any given instance thus depends on the disposition of the sinner. This is why, in Catholicism, none of us can be sure that any soul is lost (with the exception of Judas Iscariot’s: we have that one on good authority). Only God knows.

  31. Aussie Mormon,

    The confession of sins is indeed scriptural. On the other hand, the details of confession (to whom, where, content of confession, etc.) are decidedly ambiguous. This is why we have accounts of saints openly confessing sins from the pulpit, which is now frowned upon.

    Again, the benefits of confession are tangible. But those benefits can be achieved outside the theologically and socially loaded atmosphere of the bishop’s office (i.e. to a family member, trusted friend, or therapist).

  32. Given the social pressures, how much does that result in people lying in these interviews? If people are afraid that they aren’t going to appear part of the social norm is it creating situations where they’re lying when they wouldn’t have otherwise?

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