Rethinking Worthiness


Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.

For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. (D&C 18:10)

I learned an important truth this year: the worth of souls bears no relationship to a soul’s “worthiness.”

A year ago I left the corporate world to pursue my civil rights lawyer dream.  One aspect of my new work is fighting for Muslims’ right to follow the pillars of Islam in prison.  My first visit to prison will forever stand as one of the most spiritual days of my life.  I met with humble men who frankly admitted their mistakes, implored God to grant them the mercy to improve, and asked for an opportunity to practice their faith in peace.  They sought to better the religious experience not just for themselves, but for all of their brothers and sisters.  Sitting with them, I glimpsed the depth of God’s abundant love.

I may have been physically sitting with convicted criminals behind seven layers of lockdown security, but spiritually I stood with angels on hallowed ground.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  (Romans 8:38).  Prisons that day became my temples.  For I was in prison, and ye visited me.  (Matthew 25:36).

Yesterday’s temple news kindled in me a desire I had scarcely dared hope was possible: to return.  Because the D.C. Temple is closed for extensive renovations, and because for years the temple caused me much anguish, I have let my recommend lapse.  But in the last 36 hours I have started making eager plans to meet with my bishop, to travel to Philadelphia, to fly to California, to joyfully worship with my dearest friends in witnessing an answer to our most heartfelt prayers.

But my newfound excitement has forced me to confront a quandary I’ve quietly let percolate:  I’m not sure I believe either temple recommends or worthiness interviews should exist.

When my Catholic husband and I started dating, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ “worthy” vocabulary was one of the first things he flagged as distinctively jarring.  He insisted that no works of ours make us “worthy” of Christ’s grace.  For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

In response, I started scouring the scriptures for insight into the word “worthy.”

I learned that Christ, the Lamb of God, is the only one who is righteous and worthy of life.  (Revelation 5)

I learned that all we as sheep have gone astray; all we as sinners are worthy only of death.  (Mosiah 2)

I learned that despite our lack of worthiness, Christ nevertheless offers us love and grace.

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.  (Matthew 8:8).

The woman taken in adultery was worthy of stoning; Christ dispersed those who condemned her, forgave her, and invited her to sin no more.  (John 8)

The Prodigal Son confessed he was no more worthy to be called his Lord’s son, but the Lord forgave him, embraced him and welcomed him to a celebration of enduring love.  (Luke 15)

John the Baptist acknowledged he was not worthy to even stoop down and untie the strap of Christ’s sandals (Mark 1:7 ; Luke 3:16) – and yet Christ himself stooped down not only to unstrap the apostles’ sandals, but also to wash their filthy feet. (John 13).

This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. (Timothy 1:15)


Last Christmas, I attended a midnight mass in a Lutheran church with family.  I don’t know why, but as we sang the joyful Christmas hymns, something felt off.  I felt darkness and despair and like I did not deserve this season of joy.  Growing up a Latter-day Saint, I have always identified that feeling as spiritual guilt – as a symptom that I was no longer “worthy” of God’s love.  So I started mentally castigating myself for my imperfections, scrambling to make lists of my flaws to fix with New Years resolutions, desperate to identify what more I needed to do to earn divine approval.

Nothing, came the answer to my prayers.  You cannot earn my love, I offer it for free. 

I remembered then that we celebrate Christmas because Christ’s atonement is a gift.  Christ’s love is offered without money and without price.  Christ heals us from despair, regardless of whether or not we deserve it.  (We don’t deserve it.  That’s the point.)

In that moment, my heart cracked open to receive Christ’s gift of joy.  I didn’t need to cower in fear of divine retribution for my (abundant) sins, because God is love. I didn’t need to wall myself off from grace until I had achieved perfection on my own, because God is love.   I may never succeed in living up to some minimum standard of perfection set by an institutional church, but that’s ok, because God is love. 

Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts:

Let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him;

and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.  (Isaiah 55)

One moment during my recent Catholic pre-marital counseling program dealt with what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would dub “worthiness.”  A teaching couple opened a discussion of natural family planning by frankly admitting their indiscretions.  They had met at Catholic youth group in college.  They started dating, went on birth control, had lots of sex, moved in together, and then (surprise!) got pregnant.  In response, they prayed, consulted with their priest, informed their friends and family, and scheduled a wedding.

A Catholic wedding.  With approval from the Priest.  While pregnant.  I was stunned.

The couple’s dramatic backstory served as a build-up to their finale: through prayer and a decade of life experience since, they had realized God’s way was better.  The couple invited the class participants to learn from their mistakes, and to experiment upon God’s loving word.  In a sermon later that day, a Priest clearly explained God’s standards regarding chastity, encouraged the Catholics to go to confession, and testified of the blessings of following God’s law.  But he made clear that even if the audience rejected his invitation, God still loved them, and they were still invited to get married in the faith.

Separately, the church provided us a booklet which explained God invites all of his children to partake in sacraments and ordinances, because sacraments are how God imparts his grace and inspires us to love like him.  The booklet stated that Catholics have a right to a Catholic wedding, which cannot be denied based merely on sex or living together or birth control or any other deviation from God’s standards.  God wouldn’t punish anyone into obedience; he would instead persuade them to live a higher law through love, knowing that only love can unite hearts with Christ.*

This entire framework radically diverged from the messages I heard in Young Women’s and Singles’ Wards.  What was instead burned into my memory was a seminary video where a Bishop threatened to cancel a woman’s upcoming temple wedding because she hadn’t confessed a long-ago indiscretion properly.  For most of my life, I had simply accepted that a Bishop, as a judge in Israel, had the power to judge me unworthy and sever my connection with God.

Yet in all of our half-dozen wedding-preparation meetings, our Catholic priest asked us, together, exactly once:  “Are you being good?”  We answered “yes.”  There was zero follow-up and zero inquiry into details.  I’ve since learned that even if we had said “no,” the response would have been to invite my Catholic husband to attend confession, and little more.

That contrast lies at the heart of my resistance to the very idea of “worthiness” interviews.  Through a set of rote and scripted questions, the LDS community has codified a checklist that bears very little relationship to true humility, or to the inherent and divine worth of our souls.  Our emphasis on “worthiness” teaches us to arbitrarily rank our sins while outsourcing our standing before God to the (flawed) determinations of men.

Striving for “worthiness” teaches us that if we can check enough specific and measurable boxes, like paying tithing and not smoking, then we are good enough to be loved and blessed and ordained by God.  This can, admittedly, provide a measure of comfort for many.  A decade ago, I confess, I used to proclaim that if an individual was worthy to enter the celestial room of the temple, they were worthy to enter the celestial kingdom of God.

But the flip side of worthiness is dark.  The consequences of falling short of the worthiness minimum standard of perfection are terrifying.  Temple recommends, marriage sealings, saving ordinances, employment, college degrees, housing, callings, families, friendships, acceptance in the ward community – it’s all at stake if we admit we’ve failed to live up to the Church’s standards. If we fail to check specific boxes, the church claims the authority to cast us out from the body of Christ.

Even though broken hearts and contrite spirits are exactly what God asks for, so he can heal us with love.  Even though the scriptures teach that “if ye should serve God with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.”  (Mosiah 2:17)

And therein lies the problem.  By idolizing worthiness, we’ve demonized repentance.  “Repentance” is no longer the daily mercy of turning our hearts to God’s love – repentance is the scary thing we have to do because we’re no longer worthy.  “Repentance” signifies that we have committed a sin so great, we have to confess it to a Bishop – who will respond as a Judge in Israel by revoking our blessings.  Being “in need of repentance” becomes a state to be avoided at all costs, because admitting we sinned threatens our fundamental self-identity as a “worthy” child of God.  Pride in our “worthy” status teaches us to rationalize away our sins.  It incentives us to lie to ourselves, to our clergy, and to our God.

Which brings me back to where I started:  I want to return to the temple so I can experience the answer to my most fervid prayers.  I want to return to the temple so I can implore God for further future expression of Christ’s equal care for all souls. I want to return to the temple so I can express my gratitude for God’s persistent and unchanging love.  I want to return to the temple in the hope that it will help heal a decade of pain.

But I balk at the idea that as a condition of entering the House of the Lord, I have to submit to a lay Bishop judging my “worthiness” off of a checklist.  The same deep confidence in God’s love that led me to take a spiritual break from the temple is the love that is inspiring me to return.  My genuine desire to worship and serve Christ is not subject to mediation through any man.

Even more than for myself, I cringe at the knowledge that thousands of my sisters and brothers have left the church or abandoned the temple because of the pain they encountered there.  If anything, the changes validate their questions and their suffering.  And yet, whether they will have the opportunity to experience the changes and seek healing is more likely to be a function of clergy roulette than Christ’s open invitation to all.  It will have more to do with leaders lecturing from a Rameumpton than ministering to their broken souls.

I believe the worth of their souls is not contingent upon their worthiness.  I believe Christ is no respecter of persons. I believe that to preach otherwise is to “blaspheme the worthy name of Christ by which ye are called.” (James 2:7)

I believe in Heavenly Parents who invite all of their children to rejoice in their love, to witness the answers to prayers, and to seek greater light and knowledge.  I believe in a God who visits us in the prisons of our doubts and sins and fears, and through his love sets us free.

*Note: I’m aware that the Catholic Church is inconsistent in applying my articulation of their theology, and that conservative vs. liberal strains within that global church bicker over the exact applications just as in other faiths.  The core idea of a God who always loves and never punishes is nonetheless radical to me.

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash


  1. This is a beautiful meditation. God is Love is so hard for us to wrap our brains around, and I think particularly for Mormons, we are sometimes afraid that the “justice” side is more important than the “mercy” side and that someone, somewhere, might not feel quite bad enough.

    Thank you for your vulnerability and honesty. It’s helpful to me on my own quest for remember that God is Love.

  2. Paul’s words in Romans 5–that Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners—have been ringing in my ears these past months. He died for us *before* we deserved it in any way, *before* we were worthy, which we can only become through him.

    Thanks, Carolyn.

  3. I posted this on FB, and figured I’d leave it here as well.

    “I agree with this to a point, but only to a point.

    One of my favorite chapters in the scriptures is Romans 6, in particular the second half. In this chapter, Paul strengthens the argument that he’s made in favor of the infinite power of God’s Grace by then explaining why, contrary to the objections of others, his framing of Grace does not undermine the Law. In very brief, he argues that, if you are living under God’s Grace, then you will be stripped of the desire to return to those actions that required repentance in the first place. You won’t be following the Law as a way to avoid punishment or to justify yourself; you’ll be doing so because, if God’s Grace is active in you, you will be fundamentally changed and won’t have the desire to sin again. This is also the essential message of Alma 5.

    The way I see it, worthiness interviews are a check, however crude, to determine if you are bringing forth fruits of holiness or fruits of sin (to borrow from Paul’s phrasing). This in turn will at least require some consideration of whether one has actually turned their hearts toward God or if they’ve just said so.”

  4. @JohnM I’ll then repeat my Facebook response, too:

    I agree with the principle that partaking of God’s grace will work within our souls to “have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” And I agree that we should always be humbly asking ourselves how we can better align ourselves with God’s will.

    But I think, at a minimum, that goal could be accomplished through genuine and vulnerable spiritual conversations with a Bishop about what you’re struggling with and how you desire to follow Christ …. and that’s it. Not a checklist assessment of “you sipped champagne once at a friend’s wedding and haven’t sufficiently repented so we’re going to bar you from the temple and release you from your calling.”

  5. This quote really stood out to me:

    By idolizing worthiness, we’ve demonized repentance.

    I think in the zeal of some individuals to ensure “worthiness,” we have made repentance the big boogie-word that people get scared about, instead of a meaningful spiritual experience that Christ atoned for and that we can participate in. Perhaps on a small-scale, people are comfortable with this, but when it happens to be one of the “big no-no’s,” we get spooked. I don’t think Christ wanted it to be that way.

  6. I agree with Carolyn’s response. The purpose of the Bishop in this process is to act as an intermediary to facilitate reconciliation between the person and the Lord, and not for the Bishop to enjoy an endorphin burst of power.

  7. You’re overthinking it.

  8. The Other Mike says:

    Thank you for the post. As someone who administers temple recommend interviews on a regular basis, I too have struggled with some of the issues you have raised. That last question–do you consider yourself worthy . . . is one that causes a lot of discussion. That word “worthy” has been weaponized by some in our church I think. Of course none are worthy in that none can merit anything on their own, and we are all unprofitable servants and are still “indebted unto him . . . and will be, forever and ever.”

    If I were asked to write the temple recommend questions I’d simply ask one question: Are you repentant/have you repented of your sins and are you striving to come unto Christ? A discussion on that topic with the Bishop (as you mention) is the real key. I think the Lord himself set the standard as to what we should all be focusing on in D&C 10:65-59. That is the Lord’s standard–repent and come unto Him. And to endure in that (repenting and coming unto Him) to the end. His warning in those scriptures if we go beyond that is pretty clear.

    Good luck on your journey back to the temple. Wish I could be there with you!

  9. I had a much longer comment, but I deleted it. I really disagree with you here. I appreciate the sentiment of personal worth, but I believe the temple is holy and should be for those who obey the commandments and demonstrate their willingness to be part of the community. If you want to go to the temple, repent first, not afterwards.

  10. One thing that has come up consistently in my recent interviews is being able to voice my honest doubts and frustrations. I feel that if I made an appointment with my bishop to talk about these things I would be seen as lukewarm and a project. By bringing them up as each question is asked, I’m able to unburden myself for feeling guilty for having some degree of doubt or disagreeing with a policy. In the process, I feel less alone because I have had my local leadership agree with me that the status quo isn’t maintainable for marginalized people in the church. I realize that I am lucky to have the local leaders that I do and that not everyone has that privilege but it is a side benefit for me.

    I see Carolyn’s point in the article. I agree that the older I get, the more I identify guilt cycles as the most toxic part of my thinking that needs to be changed. I can see how worthiness interviews can be turned into a time of self-rationalization and covering up instead or a time of review and improvement.

  11. jlouielucero says:

    Officiating in ancient temple rites required a basic checklist of worthiness, so it’s not a Mormon thing for sure, but a ai do believe that the interview questions can lead those who are conducting the interview and those being interviewed to be skewed to condemn or feel unworthy. I agree that worthiness is misunderstood and that repentant is the goal, but ai also believe when you are officiating in an ordinance we can expect to have a slightly higher level of devotion and commitment and and interview like this seems the only good option. Maybe change the interview questions, which by the way wouldn’t surprise me in the least as so many things are being changed for the better in my opinion. I think discussions and inspiration are being had with many different types of people for some of these changes to be made.

  12. Mark Brown says:

    I agree. We are much more comfortable thinking of ourselves as people with “imperfections” or “shortcomings”, but we don’t like to think of ourselves as gross sinners, which we are.

    In my opinion, spiritual maturity requires us to accept both 2 Nephi 4:17 — “Oh wretched man that I am” and 2 Corinthians 12:9 — “My grace is sufficient.”

  13. This is thought provoking, Carolyn.

    I don’t think I can say that I disagree entirely with the idea of having standards of living for temple worship, or interviews to give us the chance to declare whether we are meeting those standards, but I agree that unless we’re careful to correct it, focusing on temple-worthiness not simply as the fact of complying with the church’s standards for temples, but as a measuring stick of whether I am a “good person” or not can lead us to fear real repentance, and to therefore be in denial about our need for it. Because the reality is that none of us is a good person (though we are still of great worth to our father). But if we think we can make ourselves good by doing the right checklist, and that repentance is only the backup plan for failures who don’t do the checklist, then we won’t really fully repent. Instead, we might admit to some minor sins of omission, and we focus on fixing those minor checklist items through self-improvement, instead of exercising faith in Jesus to claim his mercy and experience a holistic change of heart through his grace.

    For me, it was Alma 38:14 that first nudged me to correct that tendency in myself: “acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times.” I read that as a teenager one day and realized that I was afraid to do that, because unworthiness was bad and scary and stigmatized.

    Since then, I’ve slowly learned that my “worthiness” to hold a temple recommend is not an exemption from the need to acknowledge my unworthiness before God at all times, and is therefore not a guarantee that I am worthy. Nor does it mean that someone who doesn’t hold a recommend, for whatever reason, is unable to receive God’s forgiveness or grace until they do hold one. I gladly maintain a temple recommend, because I find spiritual power in the temple, but I know that having a temple recommend is no guarantee that I’m worthy.

    And lest someone object, nothing that you or I are saying here means that obedience to the commandments doesn’t matter. It matters, because it’s a sign of our faith and of our relationship with God, but it’s not the means of accessing grace, nor the measuring stick by which we can judge whether another person is worthy of grace. Similarly, to me, the temple recommend is a symbol of the way that obedience matters as a sign of faith.

  14. I appreciate the thought that repentance is “….the daily mercy of turning our hearts to God’s love….” I also appreciate your capturing many thoughts I also have about the temple recommend practice. Unfortunately, I am afraid the if I shared these feelings with my SP, he would deny me a recommend.

  15. I think the worthiness language can be problematic insofar as “worthy to enter the temple” gets misconstrued into “personal worth” or “worthy of God’s love” or “worthy of exaltation”. I don’t think the intent of the recommend process is to gauge or judge your personal worth, but rather to self-certify that you are prepared to enter the temple. Are you keeping the covenants and commitments you have already made prior to making and keeping additional ones in the temple? If not, how can your Bishop or other church leaders support you in your repentance and preparation process? Recognizing that we all fall short, and that repentance is a good and vital and healthy thing, not something to be avoided or procrastinated. Maybe if instead of referring to them as worthiness interviews, we referred to them as temple preparedness interviews (consistent with the temple prep class), that’d help resolve some of this concern.

  16. Mr. Schmidt says:

    Carolyn, I assume that your comment “Not a checklist assessment of “you sipped champagne once at a friend’s wedding and haven’t sufficiently repented so we’re going to bar you from the temple and release you from your calling.”” is reflective of a bad experience you’ve had in the past. I don’t believe that is how things work, however – or at least is a gross simplification of some of the processes used to facilitate repentance.

    Leaving that aside, I would say in general that the viewing of such interviews, and any possible consequences from confessing sins, as possibly resulting in “revoking” our blessings, is incorrect. Can our recommend be revoked for a period of time? Yes. But our blessings are not “revoked” by some act of bishoply pique when we sin. Rather, our opportunity to attend the temple (or to take the sacrament, etc.) is delayed to give us space to work on our hearts, to turn them towards God and that joy you describe. For example, I don’t think it’s mere fluff that Christ taught that we should not take the sacrament unworthily – I believe each of us must decide for ourselves what that means, but to me so far in my life I’ve understood it to at least mean that we are not willing to repent when we take the sacrament.

    All of that said, I do agree with the general import of your post that there are ways in which we culturally imbue “worthiness” and “repentance” in ways that are unhealthy and frankly harmful. But I don’t think the baby should be thrown out with the bathwater, rather let’s look at the doctrines and figure out how to square God’s infinite love for us with his clear calls to repentance and worthiness, charged word though it may be. At the least I’d say that “worthiness” would mean that we are working on repenting each day and not wallowing in our sins. i.e., “are you worthy to enter the temple?” “yes, I am striving to repent each day from my sins.” I do believe there is a gradation to sin, so in your parlance yes there can be a ranking of what is serious enough to warrant visiting a Bishop for help in the repentance process. But I don’t think that is a negative thing. Is it painful? Yes. Could it be socially embarrassing? Absolutely (at least to me). But is it a retributive revocation of blessings? No. It is designed to help us work on better living up to the covenants we have made (which include obeying all of God’s commandments).

    To cut to the chase of your concern, a bishop is not checking your worthiness off of a checklist. Ideally, that bishop (and stake president) is functioning in his appointed role as a gatekeeper to a sacred place, assessing whether you are seeking to draw closer to God each day and not remain stagnant in sin – the checklist, if anything, is a protection to the interviewee so the bishop (stake president) does not ask inappropriate questions (a risk that has been blogged at length about in these forums).

    Finally (and sorry this is so long), if mediation through a man is disconcerting, remember that Christ mediates our relationship to God. All things have their type, including temple recommend interviews. Will the bishop/stake president that does such interview be mortal and imperfect (in contrast to Christ’s perfect mediation to God)? Yes. But so are we all. I encourage you to give it a try.

  17. I like that, jaybee.

  18. Mr. Schmidt says:

    *I should have just waited to see JKC’s comment. I think that articulated better some of what I was getting at. I think I’m done for the day…

  19. Temple recommends, marriage sealings, saving ordinances, employment, college degrees, housing, callings, families, friendships, acceptance in the ward community – it’s all at stake if we admit we’ve failed to live up to the Church’s standards.

    I’m not a fan of the temple recommend as a metric for a bundle of employment, education and other opportunities. As a kind of “worthiness” shorthand, the linking of the temple recommend to extra-temple fields of endeavor strikes me as an example of how management techniques impede rather than facilitate ministering; I mean, who can engage freely with the Lord’s representative in spiritual matters knowing that the mortgage payment may be on the line?

  20. Thank you for this post. It helps clarify a few things I have long wondered about. I am reminded of Christ’s counsel in Luke 5:31, “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.” As others have pointed out, all of us fall short, and are sinners.

    I will take issue with John M’s statement at 8:10, when he said “The purpose of the Bishop in this process is to act as an intermediary to facilitate reconciliation between the person and the Lord…”
    We have no intermediary but Christ, and no one stands between us and our Savior. I would hope that most bishops understand this. It took me a while as a bishop some years ago to understand that better. I would remind folks that when I signed their recommend, I was not passing judgment on their worthiness, but only that I had asked the questions, and they had reflected (hopefully) on their answers.

    The value of the recommend interviews for the person being interviewed is to help them evaluate if they are repenting, or not repenting. Standards of behavior can be important, and I would agree that part of the value of the temple is in its separateness from the outside world. We should leave our sins at the gates of the temple, and in a repentant and humble state, enter to serve others and gain spiritual nourishment.

  21. No one is suggesting throwing out all Mormon standards and flinging open the gates of the temple. The problem is, the metric through which we grant that access is restrictingly narrow on one hand, and ridiculously broad on the other, and who decides where that dividing line is can be really problematic and random. If one has one’s eyes towards God, one’s heart should be in a constant state of consideration and repentance, and there is no “before” or “after.” That doesn’t mean adultery and taking drugs are a-ok. It means that maybe too often the person who abstains from Starbucks but is absent at home and unkind to their spouse and kids is judged as “worthy” but the person who humbly seeks to do better but is honest about an overzealous make-out session is deemed “unworthy.”

  22. @Brandt: That’s precisely my point. There are the “acceptable” sins we feel like we can publicly admit and repent of, and then there are the “unacceptable” sins we hide at all costs. We rank them as major and minor, but I don’t think our major / minor sins quite match up to reality.

    I think your typical Mormon would be perfectly comfortable admitting they don’t pray/read the scriptures as often as they should, they yelled at their kids, they weren’t patient with their sister, they refused to give money or food to the homeless, and that overall they were “selfish.” But I think the exact same Mormon might be TERRIFIED to admit that they didn’t like garments, or disagreed with some leader’s message, or have experimented with tasting small amounts of wine. And I just have a hard time understanding how all of those sins are categorically different. Or if they are different, maybe the ones that involve us being mean to other people are actually the bigger deal, and yet they’re the ones we sometimes brush off?

  23. Part of it is that we like to focus on sins that are easily identifiable, measurable, and quantifiable. We know that there’s some level of impatience, or selfishness, or whatever that won’t keep us out of the temple, but it’s not easy to draw the line where it becomes a “major” sin. But tithing is relatively easy: you either paid or you didn’t. And it’s totally achievable to be a full tithe payer, while we understand that at some level, it seems impossible in this life to entirely root out selfishness from hearts. And WofW is easy: you either abstained or you didn’t (also why we focus a lot more on the don’ts than the dos–how much is sparingly?).

    I had a bishop who used to say that he wished pride had a smell worse than cigarette smoke, because then we’d actually care about repenting of it.

  24. @TracyM: EXACTLY. Thank you. Yes, God has standards and wants us to follow those standards. I’m not disputing God’s ability to set standards. I’m not disputing that striving to follow God’s commandments and align our hearts with God — an endless and infinite effort — will lead to happiness and worship and greater community with our fellow saints.

    I’m just saying that I feel like we have a mismatch between what we describe as God’s priorities and what God’s priorities actually are. What I’m trying to get at is I feel like our cultural and temple recommend requirements can sometimes be, at best, a first-order-approximation of what God’s will really is. For example, I increasingly feel incredibly convicted and a desire to serve more whenever I walk by the homeless in D.C. But I also increasingly roll my eyes at church if I hear someone making super judgmental comments about someone else’s sleeveless blouse. It doesn’t feel right to me that a God would care more about sleeve lengths than he would about compassion for the poor.

    Which leads me to @steveevans‘ disagreement. Steve writes “If you want to go to the temple, repent first, not afterwards.” And what I’m saying is that repentance is constant. It is absolutely, 100%, and completely, constant. I feel like I have spent the last several years trying very hard to get to know Christ better, and the Christ I have encountered is merciful and forgiving in ways I never would have imagined in my youth. I have grovelled before his feet and felt a love of “I just want you to talk to me. Don’t run away when you mess up, of course you mess up, that’s why I’m here. To teach you a better way through love.”

    I want spiritual counseling with clergy to be about that — to be about the sincerity of the struggle of the human condition, about our “favorite” sins and how we can rely on Christ to fix them, about how Christ invites us to rejoice in that love anyway as the means to fixing them. But I balk at the idea, for anyone, that any one particular sin on a temple recommend checklist is so great it justifies barring us from the temples or the body of Christ.

  25. pdmallamoyahoocom says:

    On full display: Mormon scrupulosity. Keep in mind that a cup of green tea consumed for health benefits will bar you from the temple. I, along w/ many others, have thrown in the towel on this long ago b/c the entire process is random, arbitrary, intrusive, offensive & frankly nuts. The temple is full of Trumpites who don’t smoke.

  26. “Worthiness” is another of those words that we have corrupted in LDS culture. If you look up the definitions, none of them include a standard of righteousness based on a laundry list of possible sins you have avoided. “Worthiness” is derived from “worth,” which means simply “the value of something.” The LDS definition of “worthiness” is unique in the English language. Just like our definition of “priesthood,” our usage of “worthiness” means nothing to those not of our faith.

  27. “I will take issue with John M’s statement at 8:10, when he said “The purpose of the Bishop in this process is to act as an intermediary to facilitate reconciliation between the person and the Lord…”
    We have no intermediary but Christ, and no one stands between us and our Savior. I would hope that most bishops understand this. It took me a while as a bishop some years ago to understand that better. I would remind folks that when I signed their recommend, I was not passing judgment on their worthiness, but only that I had asked the questions, and they had reflected (hopefully) on their answers.”

    Perhaps intermediary isn’t the exact right word, but I feel like there has to be a word along those lines that somewhat conveys what I’m trying to get across. I feel like I’m on the right track with this idea; maybe a guidance counselor?

    I’ll put it this way: I think it’s no accident that, in the temple, a particular role is initially filled by God, and at the end it’s filled by Peter.

  28. pdmallamoyahoocom says:

    Imagining mortality as some kind of divine set-up wherein we are (pre)destined to crawl around down here as perpetually unworthy dogs before God is pathological, and I don’t believe it for a micro-second. As evolutionary beings we unavoidably possess the tooth & claw of our ancestors – but how is any of this our fault?

  29. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Yeah, I’m torn on this one. The whole concept of worthiness is absolutely fraught with problematic implications. Also, using the standard of temple worthiness in areas that have nothing to do with the temple leads to unfortunate consequences. Should there be standards for being allowed to enter and participate in temple activities? Yep. Are we focusing on the right things? Not so much. Finally, I don’t mind the checklist approach (different list, though). Mostly, I prefer the dichotomous response options. I can answer those without having to delve into the nuanced positions I take in those areas. The last thing I want is to have an extended discussion with a Bishop, or Stake President, about anything. Not only would my nuanced views and practices have the potential to get me in hot water, but the nuanced views and practices of the revolving door of those leaders would also influence whether I am deemed “worthy”.

  30. John M, guidance counselor or facilitator all sound better to me. Intermediary in our religious culture normally only refers to Christ. I have known a bishop or stake president along the way who have been a bit too intrusive into that relationship, but fortunately, that appears to be the exception rather than the rule.

  31. Carolyn, there are two aspects to the temple recommend that I think need to be treated distinctly.

    First is the spiritual state of the applicant. Does that person feel God at work in their life? Have they repented (and, as you rightly state, do they continue to repent)? I don’t think the TR questions get at this very well.

    Second is the community state of the applicant. The temple is the summit of Mormon community, and the TR process is partially to ask the questions: are you one of us? Can we trust you? and this is why shibboleths are asked even though they are not the greatest commandments.

    Personally, I view both of these aspects as important precursors to temple attendance. But the gap between the two aspects may explain the mismatch you see.

  32. Ryan Mullen says:

    Carolyn, thank you for this piece. I have personally idolized worthiness and demonized repentance, but never thought to frame it that way. You have given voice to some of my struggles, and that both validates my struggle, heals my pain, and challenges me to grow.

    One aspect of the temple recommend interview I do appreciate is that the questions are codified. No bishop can deny me entrance to the temple if I am not a John Birch member, or if I don’t pay tithing on gross, or if I support gay marriage, or if I think the Second Coming is a minimum of 5,000 years off.

  33. (and I would add that the Bishop-as-gatekeeper model is not very effective or wise). The dual roles of bishop as judges in Israel and also spiritual counselors threaten to hinder each other, and this is one instance.

  34. This is a fascinating discussion. Carolyn, I hope you do choose to return to the temple. I too, feel like it’s a time for rejoicing. Interestingly, I’ve never viewed my temple recommend interviews in the way many here have described. I have always viewed it as a formality that is more about protecting the church than about the man in front of me serving as judge. I have always thought it was more about keeping polygamists from doing their own ordinances inside the temple, making sure men are paying child support, a reminder of basic standards, etc. I mean, it’s totally self-reported, so how could it be anything else? My “worthiness” is between me and my Savior, and He will show me where and how to direct my daily repentance. Bishops can and have been a great source of comfort and help to my family, but I definitely see this particular practice as one of administration, rather than ministration. Again, I hope to see you in the temple.

  35. TataniaAvalon says:

    I once did an in depth study of Charity and the meaning behind it. It led me to a much deeper understanding of Grace. I know members sometimes criticize other churches for focusing too much on grace vs. works. (I think of those churches where I’m baptized, Christ saved me, therefore I’m good!) However my in depth study led me to believe that as a church we focus way to much on works and saving ourselves. If I read my scriptures everyday, go to church, and do the other million things I’m supposed to do then I’m saved! In reality there’s a much more delicate balance between the two that not many people can realize and walk. I do think there has to be some kind of guideline for entering the temple however our current worthiness interviews are not the way to go. I know good people who fell behind on their tithing payments who were made to do back payments until they caught up before entering the temple. OTOH I’ve known people who have lied their way into the temple. So what is the middle ground? I’m not sure but I think we should be our own judges of our worthiness and the bishop should help us feel closer to Christ.

  36. @SteveEvans: now I think I am in agreement with you. I would be ok, I think, with there still being gatekeeping requirements. In any community there has to be some. But I think we need a full scale re-evaluation of what our requirements are, and why they are our requirements. And we need to divorce those requirements from spiritual counseling and other aspects of our faith community.

  37. I like it when we agree! And re-evaluation can be healthy and necessary and good, especially here.

  38. your food allergy is fake says:

    Does anyone know if there’s a paper somewhere reviewing the history of the LDS practice of worthiness interviews?

  39. allergy: This looks promising. I think Dialogue ran an article in the last few years, too, but I can’t find it.

  40. Thank you Carolyn. I agree with your sentiments.

    As to whether “intermediary” or “mediator” is the right word for Church leaders (or the Church institution itself), I agree that those are not correct words, and that the concept is incorrect. In my opinion, no earthly thing or person or institution stands between us and God or the love of God.

    I believe Elder Andersen has given this some serious reflection as well, and his formulation might be considered:

    “A prophet does not stand between you and the Savior. Rather, he stands beside you and points the way to the Savior.”

  41. I was struck by this article because it conveys a complete misunderstanding of Latter-day Saint doctrine. I don’t know who is to blame for the understanding, but it is contrary to the teachings of the Church to presume that worthiness of an ordinance is equated with love of the Savior. I have never come across a scripture, talk by a General Authority, publication, or any other authoritative piece that would equate those two things.

    Second, I don’t know if Carolyn is intentionally sugar-coating Catholicism or is simply unaware, but the Catholic Church has a whole slew of requirements for taking the Eucharist, that, as far as I am aware, Carolyn has not met (primarily since she appears to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and thus, not a Christian in the eyes of the Catholic Church). One must not have committed a mortal sin without first having gone to confession. Divorced and remarried Catholics cannot receive communion. I point that out not to be critical of the Catholic Church, but to point out that they too take seriously the scriptural mandate that people not take the bread and wine unworthily. The fact that the Restored Church often requires a period of living certain commandments seems like a relatively minor difference. Further, the notion that a Latter-day Saint Bishop serving as a “common judge in Israel” is no more radical than the notion that a Catholic Priest has authority to absolve sins through the sacrament of Penance is puzzling to me.

    I respect Carolyn’s feelings on the matter. There are lots of legitimate questions that require hard-fought answers. There are even policies that likely require examination and modification. But I just don’t see this piece as an accurate reflection of either Latter-day Saint or Catholic teaching and practice.

  42. re: Catholicism, see my footnote at the end, and what it links to. I attend Mass almost every week with my husband and I’m fully aware of the Eucharist / marriage / annulment / etc. restrictions. I’m not saying Catholics don’t exercise their own gatekeeping. But what I am saying is that if you’re a baptized Catholic, the experience I’ve seen over the years (and particularly under Pope Francis’s leadership) is that they are quicker to invite you to partake in Christ’s love and ordinances, quicker to forgive both venial and mortal sins, and more focused on removing barriers than in building them.

    I have all sorts of problems with how Catholics operate in practice, too. But the fundamental idea that sexual (and other “serious”) sin could just be frankly forgiven and you’d still be eligible to participate in all of God’s ordinances, because God believes that partaking of the ordinances themselves is grace and healing that he offers freely? That was an utterly radical concept to me.

  43. Carolyn’s post is entirely accurate about the way that worthiness and repentance are understood within a very strong and deep strain of Latter-day Saint culture. So I disagree when dsc says that the piece does not reflect Latter-day Saint practice. Carolyn’s post and the ensuing discussion here are necessary for us to filter out toxic traditions that cause many members of the church to misunderstand the nature of God’s infinite love.

  44. Kristine A says:

    @TheOtherMike: If I were asked to write the temple recommend questions I’d simply ask one question: Are you repentant/have you repented of your sins and are you striving to come unto Christ? I love this reconception of the practice. Thank you.

  45. A few years ago a young relative and his girlfriend (soon to be wife) were both publicly and simultaneously released from their callings in a YSA ward after confessing to the bishop that they had gone too far chastity-wise. Their bishop was clearly in the trance of worthiness. The worth of these two souls was not so high in the eyes of that bishop that their situation could not have been handled much more delicately. They are both inactive now. They basically underwent a public shaming–what else would ward members think would be involved with a young couple about to be married? The bishop no doubt believing he did the right thing, but his worthiness trance blinded him as to what is of real value.

    I have been a bishop or branch pres 3 times now. The TR interview needs totally reworking –but I do think an interview needs to be held. The temple is an incredible metaphor–the mountain of the Lord etc. It is sacred space that requires a purification ritual of some kind. Our problem is again improper valuation. Currently it is recognition of authority and obedience to the lessor commandments. Somehow charity needs to be front and center. Not as easy to measure as WoW compliance, but asking it as a matter of course during the TR interview would greatly elevate charity as a goal for all.

  46. The temple is a spiritually sacred and holy place for the Savior to come. It is His house.
    To protect and preserve this holiness some kind of standard of worthiness needs to be met.

    Elder Oaks teaches well the balance between love and law. He teaches except for a few of the sons of Perdition, out of love all his children on earth will receive a kingdom of glory.

    He also teaches “..the kingdom of glory to which the Final Judgment assigns us is not determined by love but by the law that God has invoked in His plan to qualify us for eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7).

  47. I was struck by dsc’s comment because (1) he’s so sure there’s a single monolithic set of Mormon teachings and doctrine, and (2) he’s also sure that the version in his head is *the* right one.

    I’ll grant you that there are more love-oriented strains of LDS thought, but seriously, it’s absurd for you to claim that Carolyn’s understanding is totally wrong when the church is at this very moment led by a man who’s spent so much ink explaining how important it is for us to remember that God’s love is *conditional*.

  48. @Steve Evans
    “TR process is partially to ask the questions: are you one of us? Can we trust you?”‘

    I find that offensive. I know plenty of members of the church– who are very good people— that can’t or don’t have a TR recommend. I still feel very much feel that they are “one of us.” That kind of “othering” and exclusivity, I feel is not of Christ.
    Unlike you, I agree with a lot of Carolyn’s sentiments in this post. You say the temple is the “summit of the Mormon community.” I say that Christ should be the summit and that he made a habit of mingling with sinners.
    Every one of us is simultaneously completely worthy and unworthy. It is okay to have gatekeepers to protect the sacred experience of the temple, but beyond that, I take issue with what you’re saying.

  49. Bishop here. It’s tough. However, as a rule, I believe that there are very few “sins” that should prohibit attendance to the temple. In fact, most of our sins–in our constant repentance–are best addressed through attendance there.

  50. @sw
    I completely agree with you

  51. Carolyn, thank you for your lovely post. I agree with you.

    I’m not sure why it’s such a big deal to make sure that only people who can be “trusted” are allowed into the temple – at this point, you can find everything you want about the temple ceremony online, so it’s not like someone can go in and then share secrets people don’t know about. Obviously you don’t want people who are disruptive of sacred experiences etc., but that’s why theoretically you have meetings with two people who make sure that you’re not going to show up and like, shoot a paintball gun in the middle of the celestial room. I’m sure crazy stuff still happens from time to time anyway. Why those two people (NEITHER OF WHOM IS A WOMAN, by the way) need to be concerned about a person’s coffee drinking habits or whether or not they pay a certain amount of money to the church seems beyond the mark to me.If the temple is truly the best place to connect with the divine, then wouldn’t we want ALL of our members to attend, even those who are on the margins? Even those that the bishop doesn’t seem to be a perfect member, or those who have doubts?

    It’s also troubling because these “worthiness” rules keep families and friends from seeing their loved ones married in the temple – not just that it keeps them from doing proxy ordinances, but but from seeing their child get married. I think Christ would want families to be able to rejoice together, and not have half the family sitting out in the lobby because someone can’t answer that they know for sure that Joseph Smith is a prophet or because someone is sleeping with their long-term unmarried partner. Going back to Carolyn’s experiences with the Catholic church – I may not be a Catholic, but I can darn sure go to a Catholic wedding and see my friends get married. Our concept of “worthiness” prevents us from celebrating what we theoretically believe is the most important step in a person’s life (marriage) with anyone other than “worthy” Mormons, and that’s incredibly sad to me.

  52. Thank you, TL. I may someday write a separate post on this, but I cried walking down the aisle because I had never imagined a world in which ALL of my friends and family could celebrate with me. Even more meaningful was that my maid of honor, my best friend of 25 years signed the marriage certificate as a witness.

  53. Let me clarify my comment, as it has clearly been misunderstood, which is ironic given that misunderstanding was precisely the point of my comment.

    I don’t blame Carolyn for misunderstanding the doctrines of worthiness, repentance and love, as there are undoubtedly lots of people who hold and repeat the same misunderstanding. I’m not blaming; I’m saying that it’s tragic that it is the case. My point, though, is that authoritative sources (scriptures, conference talks, lesson curriculum, etc) have consistently taught against the heresy that God does not love the sinner. Verses, talks, lessons, etc that focus on repentance and forgiveness have often failed to make that clear and can cause misunderstanding, but even the Miracle of Forgiveness, as problematic as it is, includes language affirming that God always loves the sinner, and that repentance allows us to more fully feel that love.

    Even President Nelson, in describing the conditional nature of “the full flower of divine love and our greatest blessings from that love”, reiterates that God loves the sinner (“Does this mean the Lord does not love the sinner? Of course not. Divine love is infinite and universal. The Savior loves both saints and sinners.”)

    My point is that it pains me to see these things taken out of context because it hurts people. It does not reflect the doctrine of Christ or the teachings of the Church as an institution. We can lament the misunderstanding while acknowledging efforts to correct the misunderstanding.

    Regarding the Catholic comparison, again, further context would aid the discussion. The main difference appears to be the length of time between confession and absolution. This seems like a fairly minor difference to me. Having said that, if you come to a better understanding of divine love by seeing absolution immediately follow confession instead of following confession plus a length of time, then I count that experience as a blessing.

  54. I am so glad about the changes, and happy for my friends and family who are returning to the temple. I am sad that it didn’t happen in time for me to make that return and change my decision not to pay tithing and keep a current recommend. Thirty-seven years of temple attendance and activity wore me down, along with the damage I saw the Church (cultural or doctrinal, I don’t really care at this point) do to my LGBTQ friends and patients. I am still active in my ward and supportive of my husband’s temple participation, but it’s just too late for me. Still, yay!

  55. @DSC: What if instead of talking about divine love, we talk about feeling the holy ghost? Which for many people (including me) has long been equated with divine love?

    We certainly teach constantly that if you sin the holy ghost will flee from you. We certainly teach constantly that if you sin you will be beyond the ability to feel God’s will and inspiration and influence on you. We certainly teach constantly that certain sins are grounds to deny you access to churches/temples/blessings/callings/ordinances. We certainly teach constantly that if you are not feeling the spirit when everyone says you should or getting the answer everyone says you should (like in the temple, which as I’ve said before, felt for me like falling into a spiritual black hole with respect to literally the things that just changed), then the problem is most likely with you and your sins.

    The point of me opening this post with a story about visiting inmates in a maximum security prison is that all of the above is false. The God I believe in offers his love, AND the gift of the holy spirit, AND a forgiveness that inspires you to do better, AND an invitation to draw closer to him through ordinances, each and every time you sincerely ask for it.

  56. Wow. This is very interesting. Maybe we should all question the idea of having a requirement to meet a checklist of requirements — including paying 10% of our salary — in order to qualify for the privilege of receiving Christ’s saving grace, which he gives freely. To me, there is something that suddenly feels very wrong there. Very very wrong. Like, give us your money to be saved wrong. Hmm.

  57. “We certainly teach constantly that if you sin the holy ghost will flee from you. We certainly teach constantly that if you sin you will be beyond the ability to feel God’s will and inspiration and influence on you. We certainly teach constantly that certain sins are grounds to deny you access to churches/temples/blessings/callings/ordinances. We certainly teach constantly that if you are not feeling the spirit when everyone says you should or getting the answer everyone says you should (like in the temple, which as I’ve said before, felt for me like falling into a spiritual black hole with respect to literally the things that just changed), then the problem is most likely with you and your sins.”

    This is not my experience, FWIW. There’s undoubtedly a strain of thought within the church that teaches this, but it’s not my experience that the church teaches these things monolithically and constantly.

    Maybe I’m being overly sensitive and nitpicky.

  58. whizzbang says:

    I really like what the late Elder Loren C. Dunn said at a BYU devotional in 1985
    “We are told in D&C 18:10 to “remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” This worth is constant and does not depend on how much we accomplish or how popular we are or how many honors we attain in life. We do not become more worthwhile by accomplishing more, and we do not become less worthwhile by accomplishing less. Our worth before God is not dependent upon what we accomplish. You may not be the most popular person on campus and you may not be BYU’s next starting quarterback. You may not be getting a 4.0 this semester. But these are not connected with your worth. Your worth is great.

    If you sin, the Lord does not want you to hate yourself, for you are one of his creations. Hate the sin, but do not hate yourself.

    The principle of repentance is not merely the process that those few go through who really have problems. For one who has taken upon himself the name of Christ, repentance is a way of life. Repentance means progress. Repentance is a means of lifting the burden. Repentance is healing. Repentance is peace. Repentance, properly directed, is the means the Lord has given us to bring us within the circle of the Atonement. It can lift us from our sins and make us whole again. Perhaps it is not well enough understood. Listen to this definition found in the Bible dictionary:

    The Greek word of which this is the translation denotes a change of mind, i.e., a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world. Since we are born into conditions of mortality, repentance comes to mean a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined. Without this there can be no progress.”

  59. That’s not to say, of course, that you didn’t experience this, Carolyn. I’m not questioning your experience.

  60. @JKC: Trust it to a lawyer to quibble with the adverbs another lawyer used for effect.

    I’m fine with deleting the “constantlys.” There is certainly a lot of emphasis on the gospel of infinite love and forgiveness and grace as well.

    Nevertheless, it took about 20 seconds of searching for me to find this quote, that is exemplary of our manuals still today.

    “Therefore it behooves the Latter-day Saints to live pure and upright, in order that this Spirit may abide in them; for it is only possessed on the principle of righteousness. I cannot receive it for you, nor you for me; every one must stand for him or her self, whether of high or humble birth, learned or unlearned, and it is the privilege of all alike to be made partakers of it. The Holy Ghost descends only upon the righteous and upon those who are forgiven of their sins.”

    And this one:
    ” I have never found a man who was keeping the commandments of God that had any criticism to offer concerning any administration of the affairs of the Church. Neglect of duty, failure to keep the commandments of God, darkens the mind of man and the Spirit of the Lord is withdrawn.”

    And this one:
    “All faithful members are entitled to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for themselves, their families, and for those over whom they are appointed and ordained to preside. But anything at discord with that which comes from God through the head of the Church is not to be received as authoritative or reliable.”

    I mean, it’s literally a header at the top of the second lesson in a manual:

    “The guidance of the Holy Ghost is available to all worthy members of the Church.”

  61. Quibbling over words is kind of what I do. Sometimes it’s based to turn it off.

    I think we mostly agree. These kinds of quotes are certainly part of the manuals. The only thing I wanted to express was that they’re an exceedingly small part of my lived experience in the church. But I don’t claim that my experience is representative.

  62. *hard to turn it off

  63. Carolyn,

    “What if instead of talking about divine love, we talk about feeling the holy ghost? Which for many people (including me) has long been equated with divine love?”

    I don’t see any reason to equate those things. We wouldn’t equate a mother’s love with her child’s willingness or ability to accept a gift from her.

  64. Huh, see, I think I would characterize them as a “major” part of my lived experience. The Christmas day story I tell in the post is one that’s repeated itself a hundred ways in a hundred different forms over the last two decades. Something feels off, and so I convince myself the problem is me and my wanton sins and I’m not even allowed to ask for God’s grace until “after all I can do” — until I’ve done everything I possibly can on my own to browbeat myself into changing, into submitting to the church, into living every commandment perfectly, and even then I often approach God afraid it’s not enough and he’s going to yell at me.

    Newsflash: God has never yelled at me.

  65. Yeah, I’m not going to argue with your experience, Carolyn.

    In any case, I’m with you 100% that God will never yell at us for asking for grace. Amen forever to that.

  66. For the record, I didn’t think you were arguing — I thought this conversation was insightful and respectful.

  67. Yeah, I didn’t think you did, I just wouldn’t want somebody reading this that doesn’t know us to get that impression.

    I’m sure the difference in lived experience is due at least in part to the ways that men and women experience the church in significantly different ways. Something I’m still learning after years of first learning it.

  68. I have known many, many people raised in Mormonism who learned to believe what Carolyn is describing here: that perfectionism, shame, disgrace, and anxiety are a necessary part of repentance. As Carolyn says, these beliefs are part of the lived experience of Latter-day Saint culture. They affect (and infect) both men and women. These beliefs have deep roots in Mormon teaching going back many generations. Of course Mormons have also taught true doctrine about repentance and divine love. Let’s just not pretend that the false teachings don’t matter.

    I think that we are gradually uprooting these false ideas. We realized sometime in the last thirty or forty years that perfectionism is deadly. Our turn toward studying the Book of Mormon has made us appreciate the doctrine of grace as never before. But I like Carolyn’s post because it points to a rotten piece of doctrine that we haven’t discussed enough. The concept of worthiness absolutely needs an overhaul, or, if you prefer, a clarification. There is a place for the idea of worthiness, but not if it’s the flip side of repentance as shame and perfectionism.

  69. To your point JKC I have also noticed these differences in lived experiences between LDS men and women. I hope the recent temple changes will help with that. Carolyn your lived experience reminds me of the wife of Stephen E Robinson in his book “Believing Christ.” Maybe you have read it? I heard Professor Robinson talking about his book in a podcast of a conference that was about Grace. They asked him if his lived experience since writing the book would cause him to want to change anything about it. He said he would have been more emphatic that “saved by grace after all we can do “in the BOM meant all they could do to repent, bury their weapons and show faith in Christ. To me this is the most difficult question in our doctrine: grace versus works and worthiness. His book really helped though.

  70. Having thought about it some more, i definitely remember guilt being a bigger part of my experience in the church when I was a teenager. For what it’s worth.

  71. Something I don’t understand… If the atonement of Jesus was perfect, and everyone says it was, and if Jesus is the author of salvation, which everyone in Christianity believes, then why do we need the “saving” ordinances of the temple?

    I get that Jesus wanted us to follow his example and be baptized. I understand the symbolism of a rebirth and taking on his name… But I seriously don’t understand how the temple ordinances factor into my salvation. Didn’t Jesus already do that? Didn’t he already save me? How can I be a Christian, if I believe that part of his grace isn’t complete until I attend the temple? Why would something I do at the temple wash me clean, when Jesus (through the atonement) already made me clean?

    I’m happy for friends who find peace and understanding at the temple. I’m happy for the new changes. I still find the temple to be a challenge in many ways…

  72. And that sentiment, Amy, is why I often teasingly call myself a “liberal protestant Mormon.”

  73. Amy,

    Under that reasoning, why baptism?

  74. Amy, fwiw, I’ve come increasingly to see the temple ordinances as designed to help us recieve the holy ghost.

  75. Yeah, the phrase “saving ordinances” is unfortunate, in my opinion. Ordinances don’t save us; Jesus does. Following a similar line as JKC, I see all ordinances–not just temple ordinances–as creating situations and relationships that deliberately expose us to God’s influence. An interesting idea that crops up in the Doctrine and Covenants is “binding.” Ordinances and covenants help bind us to each other and to God. That means bonds that join and unite–not bonds that restrict. “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say” does not mean that we can force God to do something. It means that God joyfully joins himself with us when we come to him. Ordinances, and especially temple ordinances, give us a kind of map on the journey toward union. They show us the things and the people to which we should be bound.

  76. When I was in Jerusalem and saw the remains of the many mikvahs surrounding the temple mount, I wondered what requirements were placed upon the common people who wished to “go unto the House of the Lord”. I’m assuming that they simply assessed their own level of worthiness, used the mikvah and were their own gatekeepers. The idea of a more open temple has always appealed to me, especially as one who converted to the church and left her parents and siblings standing outside the temple doors when marriage came her way…

    Click to access 113-41-49.pdf

  77. NowinChina says:

    Although I go to the temple for spiritual refreshment, it’s important to remember that what happens in the temple are ordinances. I think about John the Baptist baptizing those who came confessing their sins (repenting) and his urging the Sadducees to bring forth fruit meet for repentance in Matthew 3:6-8. It seems to me that the act of repentance to make ourselves worthy of or in a position to be able to accept the blessings bestowed by an ordinance is an important element of the ordinance. In this light, purifying ourselves through repentance to receive the temple ordinances for ourselves of others seems to be critical to receiving the ordinance. This, I consider the temple recommend interview a chance to evaluate myself to see if I have made the spiritual preparation to receive these ordinances.

  78. John Mansfield says:

    This post got me wondering what Pope Francis has taught on penance. A couple quotes:

    “I feel compelled to say to confessors: talk, listen with patience, and above all tell people that God loves them. And if the confessor cannot absolve a person, he needs to explain why, he needs to give them a blessing, even without the holy sacrament.”

    “Anyone who confess does well to feel shame for his sins: shame is a grace we ask for; it is good, positive, because it makes us humble.”

    But then my thoughts went back to the last Mormon I listened to give us this thoughts on the joy of Catholic penance, Brandon Flowers singing Magdalena.

  79. Carolyn: I’ve read your OP twice and most of the comments. I’ve written three long comments and deleted/saved them all. My long response amounts to a book, or at least a very long chapter. So here just a few short comments, all from my idiosyncratic point of view:
    1. I am more consonant with the original OP than all of the rest. It’s a keeper (literally—something I have already filed and—with permission—will refer back to or quote). Your first visit to prison alone . . .
    2. There’s a whole lot of opinion here. We do not have a consistent, logical, thought through theology of the temple, the temple recommend, repentance, or worthiness. But most dramatically, the temple recommend.
    3. Triangulating with friends and acquaintances, sitting on both sides of the table has an effect. I can usually tell when someone speaks from experience on the listening end.
    4. When I was in a position to do something about it, I studied “worthiness” in all the depth that I could, and then came to a Sacrament meeting where I invited the entire congregation to participate . . . on two conditions only: a modest understanding of the Sacrament and a sincere desire to partake.

  80. Sidebottom says:

    I feel that the testimony questions in the interview are relevant but the rest is baggage acquired over time that needs serious rethinking. Experiences with the Spirit refine behavior – not the other way around. Keeping the honest in heart who struggle out for minor infractions (esp. WoW) seems counterpoductive.

  81. Carolyn, I value your thoughts and find them to be persuasive. I struggle with the Mormon concept of worthiness as it is construed within our religious culture, and find a lack of theology to define it concerning. I find the TR process to be, at best, an opportunity for the TR seeking member to self-certify and pause to ponder the spiritual principles that underpin temple worship. At worse, events like attending family temple weddings can incentivize misrepresentations and inauthentic disclosure in TR interviews. In my opinion, speaking from the experience of having administered dozens and dozens of recommend interviews, our process tends to punish honesty and incentivize dishonesty or apathy. While I understand and empathize with Steve Evan’s counter-argument, I find myself landing more squarely in the space you have created (and I would add Christian’s thoughts here too).

    I have not read all of the comments, but I have not seen anything here that address *youth temple recommend worthiness and TR interviews.* Personally, as an ecclesiastical leader, I found the application of the adult interview and worthiness standards applied to youth recommend interviews to be deeply, deeply troubling and misguided, and so despite the instruction I was given to apply them, I went rogue and did not use the recommend questions when interviewing youth. In fact, I’m not sure you could call the discussions I had with youth interviews at all. And I have to say many of these interactions were the most spiritual I had.

    I would like to know what you think about youth TR worthiness interviews and our Mormon views on youth worthiness and temple worship.

  82. Chris,

    I remember that sacrament meeting. It was one of the most singular and profound experiences I’ve had with appreciating the symbols of the Savior’s sacrifice and what I have covenanted with Him. I reflect back on it often as I share my own experiences with the Sacrament.

    Thank you for teaching the meaning of worthiness in accepting Christ’s grace for it truly is not something we can earn but is something that He freely gives.

    When I sat opposite those seeking to receive a temple recommend I tried to always remember that I had a responsibility to help them deepen their relationship with the Savior. That I should not become a barrier between them and the Lord. I had a responsibility to listen and inspire and where necessary remove fear, steady doubt and provide care. But ultimately it was as D&C 50 states, the Spirit who must speak.

    I’ve always seen the questions as a means for guiding evaluation of where we are strong and where we might be weak. The outer elements are in some cases truly shibboleths but they are markers even if they might seem quaint. We all have weaknesses in some fashion: for some it is painfully tithing, for others it is anger, and yet for others it is obstinance that holds us down.

    I just sat in with my 11 year old daughter’s first temple recommend interview and watched as she grappled with some of the questions that were well beyond her years and level of understanding. I was there to provide support and not as the Bishop. And yet I felt the desire in her heart and a depth as she answered forthrightly to questions that are not as simple as they sound. I think every leader in the Church should sit in on these very specific interviews because it will tell you, as I learned, that we need to re-examine those questions and how we approach them. They are not completely accomplishing our true objective and can be improved. I will not he surprised as they evolve in the future – hopefully sooner than later.

    I recognized that we had not really prepared her for some of those questions and would need to spend a great deal of time talking through their meaning and history in future home Sunday School lessons. But more importantly, I did sense the state of her current relationshiop with the Church and the Savior and I was happy for her and knew that He is pleased with what was observed.

  83. BigSky,

    I took the same approach as you and followed the Spirit in asking questions of youth. Some of the temple recommend questions are simply absurd to consider asking an 11 or 12 year old. They lead to confusion and bewilderment if asked.

    It feels like a simplified version is necessary for those conversations that teaches while guiding and establishing some understanding of what it means to live our covenants and what it means to feel ready to participate and enter into the Lord’s sacred house and walk on sacred ground. But it is also critical they communicate that perfection is not required only desire and a willingness to continue to walk forward even if we stumble.

  84. Geoff - Aus says:

    Above those defending TR interview questions talk about keeping out sinners, helping members to repent, and all sorts of noble stuff. There are some who love rules and obedience, and others who think the gospel is about learning to love as God loves. I am in the second group.
    A few years ago I went to renew my recommend, answered all the questions, then the Bishop (who is in the obedience group) said do you agree that obedience is the first law of heaven, and I said no the Saviour said love of God, and fellow men are the first 2 laws. He refused to give me a recommend. Some months later the SP forced him to give me the recommend, but the bishop blacklisted me and although I held a recommend, I was effectively disfellowshipped. I have not held a calling or given a talk since.
    We have a new Bishop but he is the son in law of the first and when I went for a TR interview with him he refused to ask the questions, just fishing for reasons to refuse it.
    I do not think TR interviews are even about worthiness, but whether you have the same view of life as the Bishop. I can imagine a Trump supporting bishopbrefusing a democrat a TR,

  85. Geoff-Aus, I suppose your refusing Bishop and his son-in-law successor did not think obedience to instruction about temple recommend interviews was required of them! :)
    The final authorized question is explicitly about worthiness — but about the interviewee’s assessment of her worthiness. As noted by others elsewhere, the most appropriate answer to that question might be “yes, through the grace of God” rather than the possibly hubristic “yes.” For me that more appropriate answer puts all the other questions/answers in a context I can deal with pending what I see as a long overdue wholesale revision of temple preparation and temple recommend interview processes.
    Thanks, Carolyn, for the OP and all for the discussion.

  86. What exactly was restored? I read a lot of conversations like this one on thoughtful Mormon blogs. Insightful comments by faithful Mormons about how LDS are off-base here or should reconsider this or that or should find better language to express this idea or that idea. Why so much confusion and lack of consensus about such basic concepts as worthiness? Even Catholics and Protestants are in agreement here. The Christian world had this worked out so long ago. From my position on the outside of Mormonism, it looks like Smith decided to reinvent a wheel, and the LDS have been grappling to comprehend basic Christian concepts ever since. I dont see conversations of this tone and quality outside Mormonism. It is truly a strange phenomenon to me.

  87. John @12:22pm I think you’re a bit too sanguine about a “Christian world” consensus. Consider μετανοέω (metanoeo or metanoia), usually “repent” in English (see Matthew 4:17 for example). In reading that word do you think ‘penance’ or do you think ‘conversion’? My impression is that the weight of authority is leaning ‘conversion’ but not universally and not settled. In any event, I believe that discussion is a reasonably close analogy to this one. You might say the Mormon tradition retains a fairly strong ‘penitence’ model.

  88. @John: you sound like my husband. “I don’t understand this debate. Catholic systematic theology worked that out in 529 A.D…”

  89. I certainly understand the Christian world is not unified. And I know Christians have internal debates, and cross-denominational debates. There is division. But what I am pointing out is that I don’t see Lutherans coming together, or Anglicans, or Calvinists, etc, in order to engage in these earnest discussions about how “we” might be getting something wrong, or how the way that “we” talk about something might actually be harmful or misguided.

    Full disclosure: I was born a Mormon, now an Anglican leaning toward Catholicism, and I sat through many (oh, so many!) Gospel Doctrine discussions as a younger man in which this same tone was taken. It is a tone quality thing. It isn’t just that the Mormons are debating and discussing their doctrine, which all Christians will do. It is this particular quality I hear.

    I mean…Brad Wilcox is a master of this when it comes to the discussions on grace. Uchtdorf did it, even, when he stirred things up by suggesting that “after all we can do” doesn’t mean what everyone has thought it meant all those years. Oaks did it when in nice lawyerly fashion he informed us that there is a difference between “transgression” and “sin,” all the while admitting that this tidy differentiation isn’t actually supported by the scriptures. He also did it when he presented his six (or was it eight) different definitions of the word “salvation.” I could go on, I am sure. I heard many discussions follow this basic format within Mormonism. I guess I would call it the “I-think-we-need-to-understand-this-differently” format. To grow up in a religion that believed it had a restoration of the fulness of the gospel, yet which also had this compulsion to constantly reconsider and redefine its terminology,…well… is a bit of a mind-twist.

    It makes for what I believe is a pseudo-compelling discussion among peers. It feels like something is actually happening, something is actually changing, some divine force is actually at work. Like there are insights available, revelation waiting to be had! But after 20 years of it, I began to see it as merely a rhetorical device with no sincere effort to actually make lasting change. It was a way of chewing the cud, so to speak.

  90. John – That’s a super interesting perspective. It’s hard for me to understand how you see this as problematic though. Chewing cud might be something a cow does while relaxing, but it’s also how it processes it’s food so that it can digest it through its multiple stomachs. Related then, the whole idea of uncertainty for me (not having everything figured out / digested) is foundational for my faith. (Although I fully recognize a whole ton of Mormons wouldn’t feel this way.) It’s in the wrestling itself that I find God, although rarely concrete answers. Do other denominations not wrestle at all? Or do they wrestle in vastly different ways?

  91. John- Your analogy rings true for me. It is the reason I can have faith in the Plan of Happiness. The plan has been set since before the world began. You are correct. It has not changed. Over the years the brethren have shed more light, clarified, refined, changed the language as to not offend; but the plan has and will remain the same…thank goodness.

  92. Thanks so much for these thoughts that have paralleled many of my own over the past 10 years. Recently my wife and I served in the Addiction Recovery Program where we saw the devastating cycle that our concept of worthiness can cause as brothers and sisters got stuck in destructive practices in order to cover the pain of feeling unworthy. I wish so much that we could see the path that we are on as a continuum and not as the binary of worthy/unworthy. I wish that we could wholly substitute the word worthy with the word ready.

  93. I have to agree with everything Steve Evans wrote. If we truly believe the temple is a sacred space–zero standards, zero boundaries, and zero gatekeeping quickly destroys the entire idea. If it is a sacred space it is necessarily something that is separated out from the profane, which requires some level of definition of what is profane and needs to be separated and kept on the outside, and what if anything can be allowed within the sacred space.

    There can be a lively discussion I’m sure about what requirements seem correct or not, and why it seems correct or not that a particular person is assigned as the gatekeeper, but there is a pre-existing fact that there must be some degree of requirements and some gatekeeping over those requirements otherwise you have no sacred space at all.

    It would of course be ideal to have Christ as the perfect Judge acting as the gatekeeper for our sacred spaces, but as that is not a practical reality we have to work within the system of delegated authority He has left us.

    Carolyn, given that, this means that you and I and all of us will of necessity have to go through somebody other than Christ to meet some level of requirements that defines such a communal sacred space. I agree it should be totally divorced from the idea of personal worth, because that is eternal and unchangeable. At the same time gatekeeping is inevitable and necessary if we wish (or are commanded) to have a communal sacred space at all.

  94. “ready” would be good—IF the Church required such adequate temple preparation that a candidate could determine in advance (a) that they wanted to and were “ready” to make the covenants of their “own free will and choice” and (b) were not going to be shocked or dismayed or otherwise put off by the experience. I wonder, with innoculation in mind, if some knowledge of the Masonic similarities and JS and Smith family history with Masonry should also be required — at least a review of the essay on the subject. Maybe candidates should also be advised on health risks (for some) of garment wearing and determine their own readiness to undertake such risks. Should their be some test of minimal ability to think symbolically? to look for principles taught through historical fiction and 19th century covenantal language?

    I’m not sure how such required temple preparation would work in a culture of expectation of mission service at age 18 and of a rush to the temple for weddings and of social and the sometimes familial ostracism of those who don’t. I wonder idly whether, if adequate temple preparation had been offered/required when I was 19 and without any “testimony” I could recognize as such, I would have refused to go on the full-time mission that was extremely difficult much of the time, but, in the end, one of the most valuable experiences of my life. I had explicitly told my father the bishop that I was not “ready”. His response (under the pressure of the Church’s then Viet Nam era rule of sending no more than one young male missionary per ward every 6 months) was “now or never.” He was unwilling to shuffle me later in his pre-determined birthday order among the multiple young men in our large ward. I have no recollection of what temple recommend questions may have been asked of me. As to behavior, I was, I think, as “worthy” as anyone and more so than some as far as I heard of their behavior, but I was not “ready.” I’m glad I went when I did, “ready” or not.

  95. there/their – I despise autocorrect for its often autowrong changes — as well as my repeated failures to catch them before posting. Oh, well, its not an academic publication or a legal brief.

  96. There is a difficulty with the “sacred space” argument in that is there is no natural beginning or end to the requirements. Examples include: none (said about the Kirkland temple during Joseph Smith’s time), maturity and ‘readiness’ (common with initiation rites, for example), reverence and sincerity (what I would and did expect visiting Buddhist temples, for one easy example), purification rituals and requirements (what I understand about ancient temples in Israel, and other traditions; also Heber C. Kimball required that people bathe before coming to the temple, and Brigham Young advised women not to come for one week before menstruating and couples to avoid intercourse for several days), and the modern temple recommend standards which are a combination of loyalty, right actions, and obedience.

    Furthermore, our temple recommend standards do not seem designed as a “sacred space” qualifier. Rather, they seem heavy on loyalty to the Church, to a specific version of the Church; more defining of an in-group than of readiness or preparation for sacred spaces. As I read the admission experience, it is marked early on by loyalty to the principle of plural marriage and by which bishop you delivered tithes to, reinforced in modern times in particular by the addition of belief questions (in 1985).

    For an opinion of one (understanding that many will disagree), I respect the temples as sacred space AND I think The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is wrong to make loyalty to the Church the price of admission. Also, I think it makes a confusing mash of the idea of “worthiness.”

  97. I’m reminded of a dear female friend (obviously distraught about something) sitting alone in the ward chapel on a weekday evening. For about 20 seconds I basked in the holiness of the situation but then left her alone in this sacred moment.

  98. Chris, I would like to agree with your opinion if it is only as to admission to the building, e.g. to be present for a sealing ceremony (though I’d prefer weddings were elsewhere followed by a private sealing ceremony) or for baptisms or for reverent and respectful tours of the building. I wouldn’t even necessarily disagree on admission to the celestial room, though if admission were extended to the unendowed that could significantly dilute the meaning/symbolism of the endowment for others. But I don’t know how to make sense of admission to participate in the endowment without some notion of loyalty or informed willingness to enter into covenants including the “law of consecration” – itself a covenant of loyalty.

    I have experienced “sacred space” in a number of temples and in a good number of places from which no one who can approach with reverence and respect is excluded. So, for me, the sacred space argument is simply counter to personal experience. Presence and participation in ordinances including covenants do not have to be linked.

  99. I should have added that, while sacred space can exist without exclusion, the LDS church is not unique in having requirements for entry. There are spaces – generally those including the altar – in a number of Roman Catholic cathedrals and Missouri Synod Lutheran churches I have attended, where visitors are very clearly not to tread.

  100. Scott Wall says:

    Roy, on January 4, 2019 at 1:19 pm said,

    ‘Elder Oaks teaches well the balance between love and law. He teaches except for a few of the sons of Perdition, out of love all his children on earth will receive a kingdom of glory.
    He also teaches “..the kingdom of glory to which the Final Judgment assigns us is not determined by love but by the law that God has invoked in His plan to qualify us for eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7).’

    My questions, probably for Elder Oaks. 1) Where are God and Christ in the assignment of a kingdom of glory? You state this assignment is made “by the law that God has invoked”. 2) Where are “mercy” and “grace”? Are these subservient to the “law”? 3) Is our ultimate fate based on obedience to law or the grace of Jesus Christ?

  101. Roy, but how can you have faith in a Plan of Happiness that is always changing? How do you even know what it is?

  102. So here’s the thing with those of you distinguishing between the sacred and the profane, including in our holy spaces. The collapsing of whether that distinction is even valid is why I started this post with a story about prison. A holy space is wherever Christ dwells, and Christ dwells in the hearts of all those who seek him.

    Christ is the Lord.

    We visit the temple to visit the House of the Lord.

    Christ also said that visiting the imprisoned = visiting Him.

    Ergo, when I visit a prison, I also visit the House of the Lord.

    I can think of nowhere more “profane” than a prison, and yet, I felt the spirit there in a measure surpassing most of my visits to our temples.

  103. JR: By reason of past conversations, it won’t surprise you that my first question Wednesday morning this week was “have they fixed the language of that covenant?” (More than that ought to go offline or private.)

  104. My daughter was in rehab in October and November; for some reason it was easy to miss church meetings and go visit her on Sundays. Those were hard but holy months that I shall not soon forget.

  105. Thanks to everyone for an engaging conversation about an important topic, and especially to Carolyn for her wisdom, experiences, and insights.
    Two things:
    1. As a former Southern Baptist, I have continued to object to the LDS transactional view of our relationship with God (He will give me this if I do that), rather than the transformational view (I will do that because I love Him). Coinciding with this is the repeated “The Lord will love you if you keep His commandments”. As recently as within the last several years, I have had occasion while watching GC from home, to assert “That is False!” when a speaker conditionalizes God’s love. The good news is that this is now occurring less frequently, in GC and in Sacrament Meetings.
    This fuels the pain of the worthiness issue.
    2. Perhaps we might be better able to embrace ourselves and each other and among all the souls who are worthy by changing the “worthiness to attend the Temple” to “meeting the qualifications to attend the Temple. This gets to the community angle that Steve point out, while avoiding the disjuncture between the institutionally oriented interview questions and worthiness.

  106. It’s interesting to see that there is a tension in the scriptures. On the one hand, Christ died for us while we were still in sin. On the other hand, those who persist in sin will be cast out. God’s love is for all, but his blessings (the really important ones) are not. Many called, few chosen. Straight & narrow is the path, and wide is the other way and so and so forth.

    I know that people don’t like feeling badly about themselves (and being told that), but “worthiness” is a real thing. If you’re a part of the LDS community, and you’re not living the established rules (ie: actual sin as opposed to cultural expectations), then you should feel bad about that (if you actually believe in the teachings of the church, that is). The downside is that there are always small-minded people who put rules over people, but that doesn’t mean that the rules are wrong.

    Going to see the Bishop can be excruciating because we’ve put ourselves outside the established boundaries that are accepted by the church (and ourselves). When the Bishop (or other ward morons) are mean to us (and even inappropriate and/or damaging), it sucks. That doesn’t mean that the rules are wrong, nor that our behaviour don’t need to change, it just means that other people can be jerks.

  107. @chompers
    You think if you follow all the rules that are required for a TR recommend, it makes you more “worthy” than someone else. When in reality, you are just sinning differently (quote to that effect by Elder Uchtdorf).
    Christ never excluded the sinners or told them they were unworthy. He was actually the hardest on the self-righteous pharisees.

  108. I’ve never heard it called a worthiness interview – only a temple recommend interview.

  109. Another Roy says:

    I will try to be brief. Our third child was stillborn and this caused much anguish and soul searching for DW and me. I had felt that my loyal keeping of my priesthood covenants would bring down the blessings of heaven and empower me to protect and sustain my children’s lives. My realization of my relative powerlessness and insufficiency made me feel an intense need to repent. I desperately wanted to do what it took to have the power to protect my children. Even if I had failed the one child, it would be comforting to think that I could learn from my mistake and never be in that position of vulnerability again.
    The kicker is that those types of guarantees just do not exist in this life. I went to God and asked to be shown what to do. The response was to come unto him in my brokenness – not so that I could be made strong. I turned to God and He showed me that I am inherently limited and insufficient to do all the things I want to do. I simply cannot control what I want to control and thinking that I could was a bit delusional on my part. Ironically, God didn’t need me to become the master of my personal universe before I could be acceptable and beloved by him. I had always been so. My weak, powerless, broken, limited, inadequate, and insufficient self had always been acceptable and beloved by my Heavenly Father.
    My experience has changed how I view my standing before God and how I view the concepts of worthiness and the TR interview in ways that are not always comfortable for my priesthood leaders. I find it helpful that sin was not part of the story – just raw inadequacy.
    Thank you for this opportunity to share my experience.

  110. Wesley Stine says:

    A very good post, Carolyn, thank you for writing this. I am a sinner, but not with the kind of sins that the Bishop is there to hear about, and thus it was for me all growing up, I found rule-keeping to be easy and hence, didn’t take my own unrighteousness all that seriously, and looked at sinning as something other people did.
    I think that we as a people like rules-based worthiness because, for at least some of us, it is so much easier than “love thy neighbor as thyself.” You pretty much always know whether you’re currently imbibing a forbidden beverage, but you may not realize until much later that you’ve neglected someone in need or hurled a careless insult. I can now laugh at my youthful overreactions to guilt of the first kind – but never at the second.

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