The Church of Contrition

“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” (3 Nephi 9:20)

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Note:  During the last few General Conferences, I’ve pondered what message my spirit most yearns to hear.  Today I’m writing out that message for others, as if I had been asked to speak during General Conference.  This writing requires a suspension of disbelief: I do not purport to actually have any authority to speak on behalf of the Church. 

I speak today to apologize.

I believe a sincere “I’m sorry” is second only to “I love you” as the most powerful sentence anyone can utter.

Apologies are essential to repentance.  Apologizing requires introspection and humility.  To truly apologize, we must recognize our behavior has fallen short of the loving standards set by Christ.  We must specifically identify our errors, and confess how our sins have harmed other beloved children of God.  We must rely on grace as we “cherish the gift of repentance and seek to improve each day.”  In repenting, we invite the Spirit and turn our hearts to Christ.

There’s a beautiful prayer in the Catholic liturgy that captures our need for constant repentance.  Meditating on every word has brought me closer to Christ.

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and
in what I have failed to do.

Reciting this prayer weekly with my Catholic husband, I’ve noticed my need to repent more often.  All too often my response to my sins has been to minimize and justify them, not admit and confess them.

While this confession prayer invites the Holy Spirit, it is also rather vague.  Reciting the prayer is not itself a confession — it feels more like a reflective prompt.  In response to that prompt I have strived to pay closer attention to my specific sins.  I’ve used the Sacrament to confess them to God, and tried in my personal life to offer heartfelt apologies to my sisters and brothers in Christ.

MY APOLOGIES FOR PERSONAL SINS

Some of the sins I’ve noticed in myself include anger, racism, and pride.

AngerAnger destroys love.  I know this in my soul; my first marriage ended because of pernicious anger.  I try to avoid yelling and defensiveness in all of my relationships.  If a friend offers correction, I’m learning how to listen and not bristle.  But I fall short.  Just a few weeks ago I raised my voice at my husband for changing the headlight settings after borrowing my car.  I knew immediately from his wince and forced calm response that my outburst had scared him. I could have chosen to react with charity or laughter to such a small mistake but instead I chose anger.  I messed up, and sweetheart, I am sorry.  I am grateful for your patience and our commitment to apologize often as we build a lasting relationship together.

Racism.  Every person on this Earth is a beloved child of God.  President Hinckley taught “No man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ.”  I believe this, and I try to live this.  But when I honestly examine my upbringing, I realize I learned stereotypes and parroted phrases imbued with racist origins.

As just one example, a few months ago a colleague introduced herself.  Trying to build camaraderie, I made a pun off of her name.  I thought I was being welcoming and creative.  I wasn’t.  She frowned.  She told me my pun was an insult she had been bullied with for years, and moreover it had racial overtones.  I profusely apologized and vowed to never use the phrase again.  My welcoming intent didn’t matter; the harm I caused was real.  Her name and identity were not mine to make jokes about.  I am grateful she responded with the grace to correct me.

Pride.  Nearly every chapter of The Book of Mormon condemns pride.  Scripture rails against those who proclaim themselves chosen of God, who divide society into -ites, who seek power without acknowledging their responsibility to serve, and who pursue wealth while shunning the poor.  The Book of Mormon calls us to come down from our Rameumptoms and do the work of building Zion.

My husband often teases that “keeping Carolyn humble is a full-time job.”  Sometimes, when I’m trying to get a post just right, he reminds me I can’t redeem internet praise “at the Facebook Like Store.”  I confess my vanity needs that reminder.

One area where I’m learning to check my pride is in how I prioritize interpersonal relationships. Christ made time for everyone; he was fully present for everyone.  I am not.  I am often brusque. No matter how many times I pretend multitasking is possible, I can’t both respond to work emails on my phone and truly listen to my friends’ or family’s emotional needs in dinner conversation.  Because I work in a “service industry,” I often justify that my duties at work somehow exempt me from ministering assignments at Church, or from displaying compassion to my neighbors.  I am wrong.  No professional accomplishments justify acting like a jerk.

My efforts to seek out different perspectives, pray for compassion and empathy, listen to well-taken criticism, and frankly apologize when I err, has helped me be a better Christian.  I am grateful for Christ’s mercy which invites me to repent daily.

THE CHURCH’S APOLOGIES FOR OUR COLLECTIVE SINS

Although Christian doctrine often emphasizes repentance for individual sins, our Heavenly Parents’ divine invitation to repent and apologize extends to the Body of Christ as a collective.  In order to be filled with the Holy Spirit, the Church itself must also admit, confess, and apologize for our sins.

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor.

(1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 23)

During the last two years, the Church has received an outpouring of inspiration.  We’ve kept eating our vitamins, and have been blessed with answers to prayers.  These include:

  • Increasing knowledge about God’s will for his children through temple covenants
  • Recognizing that all baptized and endowed members may witness ordinances
  • Emphasizing ministering like Christ
  • Restructuring youth and adult curriculum and quorums to focus on Christ
  • Proclaiming our identity as Christians, not “Mormons
  • Acknowledging our Heavenly Parents
  • Building dozens of new temples, including in Rome

The Gospels instruct us to “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”  (Matthew 7:7).  It is important to acknowledge, therefore, that our recently opened doors resulted from decades of prayers from our saints.

Our sisters and brothers in Christ have knocked at heaven’s gates precisely because they felt shrouded in darkness and pierced with pain. Instead of listening, too many of us have labeled them faithless or apostate for expressing doubt. Too many of our saints have left our pews because we told them they were not welcome.

We did that. We who call ourselves the Body of Christ did that. The Church did that. And we cannot heal unless we frankly acknowledge our error, repent, and apologize.

It might help to begin:

We confess to our almighty God
and to you, our brothers and sisters,
that we have greatly sinned,
in our teachings and in our wards,
in what we have done and
in what we have failed to do.

But once again, that confession is vague. Yes, imperfect people are all God has to work with, but we cannot admit fault in generalities.  God who numbers the hairs on our heads is not a God of vagueness.

The sins of the Church are much like the sins of our individual lives.  Flawed human beings build flawed human institutions.  Through anger, racism, sexism, and pride, the Body of Christ has fallen short of God’s loving commandments.  For these, we offer an apology.

Anger.  The Church has sinned through anger. We have retaliated against faithful dissent.  Instead of acknowledging the Church’s history, incidents of hypocrisy, and failures to address sexual abuse, we have too often denied, deflected, or excommunicated the truth.  We have responded more to mainstream media coverage than the tears of our members.  Those deeply hurt by the Church have been unfairly cast as our enemies.  Even when some critics can fairly be characterized as enemies, we have not followed Christ’s sermon to “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.”  (Matthew 5:44).  We apologize for responding with anger when we should have listened with humble hearts.

Racism.  The Church has sinned through racism.  The Priesthood and Temple Ban on black members reflected human prejudice and not divine revelation.  As the Restored Church of Jesus Christ we had the responsibility to light the world with a message of God’s love for all of his children.  We failed.  We criticized those who begged for change and doubled down on hateful rhetoric as doctrine.  Invoking God’s name to justify racial division is blasphemy.

Even after President Kimball sought and received the 1978 revelation on the Priesthood, we failed to timely disavow past doctrinal theories.  We have never truly apologized.  We do so today.  The black saints who exercised faith to ask for access to God’s ordinances had the gift of prophesy.  In excluding them from the body of Christ we harmed us all.

Sexism.  The Church has sinned through sexism.   The Apostle Paul taught “there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”  (Galatians 3:28).  Despite all humanity’s equality before Christ, within the Church we spent decades reducing women’s organizational autonomy, then spent generations shaming women for any other pursuit than motherhood.  We did not address the pain of women who yearned to become mothers but were unable to experience that joy due to singlehood, infertility, miscarriages, or stillbirths. We minimized sincere fears of eternal polygamy.

We told women to abandon careers and self-reliance, to hearken to husbands, and to not seek divorce from even abusive temple marriages.  We cast righteous ambition and life variations in a negative light, and maligned divine discontent.  We quashed women’s doubts about temple ordinances and condemned their virtuous desires to seek opportunities to provide greater service.

Lest there be any doubt: our recent changes to temple and church programming, as well as updates to our teachings on abuse and depression, are the direct result of Church leaders listening to women’s pain.  We thank the societies of women who have diligently and prayerfully put in the emotional and mental labor to deconstruct harmful messages and propose positive change.  We intend to counsel with Relief Society Presidents, Young Women’s Presidents, and other women leaders to raise awareness of sexist tropes and make further adjustments to our Church practices and curriculum.  One immediate adjustment is calling women as Sunday School Presidents.  Together, we can repent of our collective sin of limiting the divine potential of half of God’s children.  We look forward to empowering all to love and serve like Christ.

Pride.  The Church has sinned through pride.  It is human nature to repeat the sins of scripture, and we are no exception.  Although the Church dedicates considerable resources to welfare, disaster relief, education, and service mission projects, it is a fair criticism that we have resisted financial disclosures about our scope of service to the poor.  Starting next April, our completed audited financial statements will be posted on the church website for member review.

Another area of pride is assertions that we are unchanging and infallible.  The truth of the restored gospel necessarily encompasses change through continuing revelation.  Continuing revelation is only possible through the collective humility to acknowledge past error.  This pattern of revelation has been true since the ancient church: the Apostle Paul had to correct President Peter regarding ministering to Gentiles.

The Church recognizes we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  We have excluded needed voices and failed to acknowledge the pain of past harms.  We thank all of our struggling members who exercised faithful courage in asking the Body of Christ to do better.  To them, and to all God’s children, we apologize.

We also acknowledge that because the Body of Christ is human, we have blindspots.  Today’s message is only the start of a reconciliation.  There are prophets among us we have cast out as heretics.  We know our past refusals to apologize have reduced members’ trust in the Church as an institution.  We don’t yet pretend to have answers, but we do have ears.  The Church is committed to listening.  Next conference, we hope to begin to address the immense pain and suffering the Church has wrought on our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community.

I pray that through listening, repenting, and apologizing we will increase our access to the Spirit. Together, we will aspire “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:  Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”  (Ephesians 4:12-13).

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

*Cover photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash

Comments

  1. This message would be wonderful. I can only wish.

    I am male, so I understand that I do not know what is actually important to women in the church. I think a more substantive change in our sexism that would not require a change in doctrine would be allowing women to be clerks, executive secretaries and/or auditors. I’ve been in SS presidencies. Not a great use of anyone’s talents, in my opinion, but maybe I just wasn’t very magnifying.

  2. Thank you for this!

  3. “We don’t yet pretend to have answers, but we do have ears.”

    Love this take Carolyn and always appreciate the bits of wisdom you bring over from Catholicism. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Wayfaring Stranger says:

    If only someone had said these things and meant it from the pulpit my children and friends might still be active members or felt that they could safely stay in the church and be loved and heard! Alas, until the Church can apologize (which DHO says will never happen) for these sins more and more people will choose to exit this institution. I would add in the apologies an apology for encouraging leader worship. As the first commandment states, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

  5. This is a lovely imagining. My SO has said many times, “The worst part about [insert here a Church policy that has changed] is that they never apologize, and they never recognize the role of the people who so painfully begged for the change.”

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Amen.

  7. It’s really hard to even read this, Carolyn. I want so much for any of them to say any one of these suggestions. The institution should make restitution the same way and manner that I dig deep and do. I sincerely need repentance and forgiveness and it is so healing to hear those words.

    I feel the same way over the garment wording. I worked hard and put my nose on the line so many times, baring my soul, writing blog posts and letters and comments and risking alienation for even daring to suggest that not everyone thinks garment wearing (the way it was heavily worded) meant one was “worthy.” And poof, (gratefully!) the day/night wording changes, but with no acknowledgement that the insinuation that not wearing them at night or during yard work (eyeroll) meant you were an awful follower of Christ- was really shaming of them.

    Nelson edged so close to the line, saying how bad he felt for the marginalized: “Unfortunately, some roadblocks may be the result of another’s misbehavior,” he said. “It grieves me to think that any of you have felt marginalized or have not been believed by a priesthood leader, or have been abused or betrayed by a husband, father, or a supposed friend. I feel deep sorrow that any of you have felt side-lined, disrespected, or misjudged. Such offenses have no place in the kingdom of God.”
    Sooo close.

  8. Amen. thank you for this wide-eyed and transparent articulation of a simple human act, apology, which can be the beginning of healing and building of healthy human relationships. I agree with many who have posted about how we view this as an individual thing, but as institutions and organizations are made of humans, they involve human relationships. Despite how close to the edge of apology leaders get as they try to make something right, they will never accomplish this nor bring to pass the healing and the moving forward and the rebuilding until we let go of this pernicious lean towards authoritarianism. The idea that the authority can’t be wrong because it is the decider of what is wrong is a core element of pride. Humility is difficult, sometimes painful, but a healthy way to reconnect to what is real, right and true. This can lead us forward from the hidden sins covered by pride, the arrogance of authoritarianism, and the lack of accountability for those who make the decisions that direct an organization or institution.

    There seems to be an institutional fear that as human people with our sins, and our prejudices, and our hurtful policies we may hurt the church as a whole if we institutionally “apologize”. We hope to reverse a “policy” or “revelation”, whatever Public Relations wants to call it and just move past it”, but I think we know that that really isn’t enough, and falls short in a human and gospel way. I have heard several general authorities get ever so close to the edge as they explain away, lay blame, or distance themselves and the church from the racism of the past. How simple (and profoundly scary) it would be to say as a church, as a body of saints: we were wrong, we sinned, we hurt other brothers and sisters of our family of God, and we apologize in the hopes that we can make it right . . . we then can recommit ourselves to the relationships that were damaged and move forward in a healthy productive progressive way. And, then the “we” that we use to apologize to the “others” that were marginalized, hurt, dismissed, or even excommunicated can start to really mean “we”.

  9. Taiwan Missionary says:

    I can think of two possible reasons that Dallin Oaks says “it is not the policy of the Church of Jesus Christ to seek apologies, nor to give them” (my paraphrase, but I think it captures what he said).
    (1) Church leaders think that to offer apologies for past hurts and wrongs would weaken members’ confidence in Church leaders as God’s spokesmen and authorized servants, and cause them to doubt Church assertions that ours is the one and by only true Church. If this is so, I don’t care for the reasoning, and thinks that it misplaces priorities. (See Matthew 5:23-24.) Realizing that although there are some people who have been offended, who will never be satisfied with the Church’s attempts to improve itself, I nevertheless think that the Church needs to reconcile itself with the brothers (and sisters) whom it has offended. A Christian humility that is willing to admit that wrong things have been done is a basic start, like Dieter Uchtdorf’s acknowledgment from General Conference pulpit that mistakes have been made. It would be nice if the Church could start being more specific about what the mistakes were, but I do not think that the personalities of our current leadership can open themselves up to such an approach. I think that Church leaders view our current “gotcha” culture with distaste and fear, and have determined that they are not going to go down this road. I also think that they have a very expansive view of the concept of revelation, and have difficulty realizing how their personalities and mindsets filter, in good ways and bad, what God is saying to them.

    (2) I think that the Church is afraid of the legal cans of worms that would be opened by apologies, i.e. lawsuits. I joke that Kirton and McConkie would excommunicate our Church leaders if they issued apologies. I think that the Church looks at what has happened to the Catholic Church, as it has attempted to deal with its history of sexual abuse, and is determined not to be similarly vulnerable. I think that the Church will nevertheless have to face a day of reckoning, but I am guessing that the Church is trying to preserve itself, institutionally. I just wish it would place the Sermon on the amount before institutional preservation.

    My opinions only, but it makes sense to me.

    In the meantime, as a believing member of the Church, I try to sustain my leaders as they attempt, however imperfectly, to do God’s work. They are, I think, good men, who have to struggle sometimes to discern God’s intents; I doubt I could do any better, and appreciate what they do. It would simply be nicer if they were not so defensive.

  10. It occoured to me yesterday while checking in a large number of people quickly for a conference that there is not single person with a name that could be teased or joked about who has not already heard them hundreds, if not thousands, of times. No matter how clever you think you might be, you are minutely unlikely to come up with that one no one else has used before. You can admire and wonder at the beauty and history of names, but the jokes just aren’t funny.

    In any case, the difficulty I have with the Church as an institution apologizing for anything is that, when the problem rears its ugly head again, that apology suddenly rings false, making future apologies less believed. For example, the US as a Nation has apologized (through politicians) a number of times for various aspects of slavery and racism, occasionally offering reparations of one sort or another, but new policies and laws continuing the racism (and some would say slavery) continue to be made and enforced. An apology without a change of heart is worthless.

    For the Church, how many hurtful things do we continue to perpetuate? We’re 40 years past 1978 – can we honestly say the whole “cain’s seed” theology has been eradicated from Church leadership? We’re 100 years past polygyny and we still shine the light on the successes and ignore the failures and that the Church had anything to do with those failures.
    Apologies can be nice, but change and intentionally pulling out the deeply rooted theologies that have caused pain are much more important.

  11. Michael Scott says:

    I stand all amazed! This is not Catholicism as I remember it. I wonder if this prayer of confession is the work of Pope John XXIII or perhaps Pope John Paul II.

  12. You’re so right Frank, re: apology sans change is meaningless. But it does convey that harm has been done and it makes it so whoever hears the apology (esp those who hadn’t recognized anything awry) thinks about it and becomes accountable to see, watch, discuss, and correct.

  13. east of the mississippi says:

    If only, but, with all the changes we’ve seen in the last few years it’s not impossible to imagine.

    Interesting that the dateline is October 9…

    “You may say that I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one”

  14. “our Heavenly Parents’ divine invitation to repent and apologize extends to the Body of Christ as a collective. In order to be filled with the Holy Spirit, the Church itself must also admit, confess, and apologize for our sins.”

    Doctrinal (official teachings of the Brethren) or scriptural citation please ((1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 23 neither says nor implies any such thing). There is no doctrine or teaching of “collective” sin, salvation, guilt, culpability, penance or exaltation in the gospel. There is no concept – and cannot be, for deep theological and philosophical reasons – of collective or group righteousness or wickedness in the church, and such a concept, if taken seriously, would unravel the entire basis of the plan of salvation and the individual, personal nature of agency, free will and power of individual discernment and choice that is at the very crux of what it means to be saved and exalted.

    “Social” justice dissolves true justice, and “social” sin or “social” salvation would undue the plan of salvation in just the same manner.

  15. Wondering says:

    Loran, I have heard your view often, but have never heard anyone try to make sense in that context out of an individual being “be cleansed from the blood and sins of this generation” (as if some generational sins were attributed to the individual being cleansed) or of the idea that we cannot be saved without out dead or of JS’ promises of salvation to multiple generations of a family based upon “sealing” ordinances administered to some. Want to have a go at it?

  16. Loran, there are lots of examples of collective sin. You’re just not looking for them. Start with the Old Testament. Plenty of examples there. Even in modern times in the D&C. You are starting with your political world view first and then imposing it on the theological, which is causing your consternation.

  17. It is legitimate for church leaders to be concerned about the effects on an institution when it makes an apology. It’s not a simple thing. What works when people can look each other in the eye doesn’t translate easily, and in some ways doesn’t translate at all, to the massive scale of a church with millions of members, a meaningful public profile, and a historical legacy..

    However, this is not a persuasive reason to shun apologies. Of all institutions, a Christian church ought to take acts of contrition very seriously as an institution and not just for its individual members. In my view, if the church as a body considers itself above making apologies, it’s a sign that we don’t take seriously enough our most fundamental mission to express God’s love. We must hold ourselves accountable collectively as well as individually.

    This is a principle that Latter-day Saints, of all people, should prize. Joseph Smith’s most profound teachings point to the unity of all God’s children. The gospel was restored to bring us together that we might be exalted, because we cannot be exalted alone. Our essential, natural state is togetherness. To deny this, to try to exalt our individuality, is a kind of Babel.

    Figuring out how to be accountable collectively is a deep and interesting challenge of leadership. I don’t have the roadmap on this, and I’ll never be one of the leaders charged with figuring this problem out. However, I believe it is consistent with the burden of discipleship to ask our leaders to take this on. In the culture of our church, a refusal to apologize reflects our deep reluctance to acknowledge error. The truth is that we have made mistakes that divided us. Zion cannot be built–we cannot be one–if we do not collectively repent of those errors. Let us ask in faith. God will show us how.

  18. On a very narrow point raised: the church disclosing charitable/humanitarian spending is a no-win situation. I wouldn’t disclose it, either.

  19. I’ve often thought apologies from the institution might be a good thing. On the topic of the priesthood and temple ban, Tamu Smith has said she’d like to see it, and was hurt along with many black LDS when the fake apology was discovered to be fake. But I tend to agree with Mike above and I think apologies are also a no win situation. No matter what and how often something is said it wouldn’t be enough and would leave some, perhaps many people dissatisfied. I agree with Tamu though that we as a membership can own our past and apologize.

  20. “Loran, there are lots of examples of collective sin. You’re just not looking for them. Start with the Old Testament. Plenty of examples there. Even in modern times in the D&C. You are starting with your political world view first and then imposing it on the theological, which is causing your consternation.”

    Please explain for me the following: I find myself in a very, let’s say, outre ward, and in this ward, a substantial number of its members, including the entire bishopric, are engaged in sexual immorality, dishonest business practices and the ignoring of the Word of Wisdom. Let us say that this involves 99% of the ward membership.

    Let us then say that I am the only holdout, faithfully keeping my covenants and keeping the commandments. Now, based upon settled, core gospel doctrine and our understanding of how the Lord deals with his people and, to be a perfectly just God, must deal with His children on earth, at the day of judgement, do I go “down with the ship” as a representative of the ward collective, or am I judged solely as an individual based upon my internal spiritual state and my conduct while a member of that ward, irrespective of the behavior and internal mental states of the other 99%?

    Please explain how I, as an individual, can be judged and condemned by God when I have kept the commandments due to nothing more than my proximity to and/or association with other numbers of people who do not, or to an organization, such as a ward, in which a preponderance of members are in apostasy or rebellion? Is my guilt by some kind of metaphysical association? Is proximity all that is required? If so, this would appear to make God, not a fair and just God, weighing all things in the balance at the day of judgement, but a cruel, arbitrary, capricious God little different than the God of Calvinism who determines who enters heaven or who welts in hell based upon arbitrary criteria known only to Him. How do the sins of these other hypothetical ward members “rub off” on me though I, in my personal comportment before God, had nothing to do with them and was faithful to my covenants?

    How can God be a just God if I can be lumped together, no matter how faithfully I have kept the commandments and lived righteously, with a wicked collective and judged with them as part of that collective as under condemnation even though I, as an individual, have used my agency to choose good over evil and have kept my covenants based on my knowledge of the gospel and my freely-willed decisions, grounded in agency against a background of a range of alternative possible choices?

    Collective, or group judgement must, by its very nature, be unjust on its face and, indeed, unjust on a cosmic scale. Such a system would both 1) raise substantially wicked people into the celestial kingdom through no effort or faithfulness of their own but purely by their association with a larger group of the righteous, and 2) damn others, including the most faithful, to lower kingdoms and even to Outer Darkness through association with a larger lumpen collective of unfaithful, commandment-breaking people. This is, indeed, a kind of spiritual Affirmative Action in which it is not faith in Jesus Christ, obedience to the commandments of God and enduring to the end that is central to either salvation or exaltation, but association with a lumpen mass in which, something like the Catholic idea of the transference of merit, the wicked peppered among the righteous are saved by nothing more than association with the righteous such that, in some way, the righteousness of the righteous is somehow transferred to the wicked by some process of spiritual osmosis in which the wicked partake of the righteousness of the righteous, or, in other words – in total contradiction to core gospel teaching – the foolish virgins siphon off some of the oil in the lamps or the wise virgins and apply it to themselves, while logically, the same must then apply to the faithful saints; they can be damned and condemned with a larger group of the wicked, having their own faith and obedience negated by and absorbed within the collective.

    This is not scriptural, doctrinal or rational, nor is it in any sense consistent with God’s character as revealed in the scriptures and in restoration doctrine. If God’s justice is a kind or form of social, or collective justice, then it is, by its very nature, transcendently unjust, as it involves both reward without effort or faithfulness and, on the other side of the same coin, condemnation without cause or fault, and in each case, the collective majority determines the judgement of tiny minorities within it on a metaphysical level; the wicked partake of the righteousness of the righteous, even though being themselves bereft of the requisite personal attributes, while the righteous are judged and condemned even though themselves good and honorable people, and even saints. If there is any such thing as collective guilt, collective sin, collective condemnation and collective salvation, than we are worshiping the either the God of Calvin or the God of Marx, and in neither case, are these gods worthy of our slightest concern.

    Note that Lot’s pleadings with God to save Sodom if there were only a few, or even one righteous person left within it, was not made in behalf of Sodom as a collective or as a community or polis, or for the sake of the vast majority of debauched souls within it, but only for the sake of those few righteous who had not yet been gathered out. Note also that the repeated call to the people’s of the earth by the Church and the Lord is NOT collective, but individual. Each individual is called to “come ye out of Babylon” and to escape Babylon and gather in “holy places” with the saints before Babylon undergoes its great and last fall. No one goes down with the collective Babylonian ship so long as their are still lifeboats.

  21. “Loran, there are lots of examples of collective sin. You’re just not looking for them. Start with the Old Testament. Plenty of examples there. Even in modern times in the D&C. You are starting with your political world view first and then imposing it on the theological, which is causing your consternation.”

    Ancient Israelite culture and society were tribal, and therefore the Lord dealt with them in terms they could best understand, often in terms of tribal wholes (large kinship groups) but we must understand that much that obtained under the Mosaic law would not be relevant either to peoples living within pre-Mosaic Israel or for us today and the same problem still remains: the concept of “collective” sin, if taken seriously, dismantles the entire plan of salvation and fundamental LDS soteriology at its very core by making God an essentially lawless autocrat who ascribes sin to individuals who have given their entire “heart, might, mind and strength” to living the gospel but who then find themselves circling the drain with the wicked when the wicked in any given community form a majority mass. God says one thing, but then does very much another.

    au contraire mon frère, it is not I who have first imposed my political (I would say, in my own case, philosophical) or personal ideological shibboleths on LDS theology, but a quick trip to the mirror would soon reveal the origins of your own arguments here.

    And the D&C contains no collective sin/salvation. When, for example, the saints were driven out of Missouri and persecuted due to a preponderance of unfaithfulness among the saints generally, the faithful saints, being part of a community of church members and mixed in with them, were persecuted and driven as well, not because they partook, in some metaphysical, collective sense, of the sins of the collective or sin qua sin with the unfaithful saints, but simply because they were “Mormons” and a part of that identifiable group. The saints were the victims of a pogram, and pograms are collective. The faithful saints were still faithful, regardless of what was going on around them in the larger LDS group, and would be judged by the Lord on an individual basis upon that criteria: their individual faithfulness, while each of the unfaithful saints at that time would be – and were – judged based upon their individual sins. The faithful were caught up within and subject to the chastisement of the Lord together as a group, but that has nothing to do with the internal spiritual status or state of being of each individual member of that group.

    The GROUP was driven and persecuted, in any case, as a group, which, ironically, shows that it was the persecutors of the saints who determined to see them as a collective (much like racial bigots see blacks, not as individuals, but as a lumpen identity group, one of which is just like another).

    True collectivism is for social insects, not God’s children

  22. And, by the way, this essay’s author presuming to upbraid the church for “pride” is quite the howler. Read the entire piece carefully, and you will soon see why.

  23. Loran, I see that your comments respond to me, largely–though it’s almost like you mistook this comment section for one on some LDS Libertarian forum. Regardless, I see you can explain away scripture just fine, but your theoretical examples misapply the concept discussed here and so deserve no retort.

  24. Leonard R says:

    Loran – and yet here in the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord says:

    “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually—.”

    Seems the Lord is perfectly content to judge the Church collectively.

    He also seems able to not only be pleased with us collectively, but also to Coventry us collectively, as He di does in section 84, v. 55:

    “Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.”

  25. ( this comment is a light humorous response)

    I’m only a few paragraphs in but I’ve already found a glaring example of why you’ll never be able to speak in general conference. You refer to your husband as a sweetheart not Eternal companion or in your case beloved companion. ( just pointing out terminology differences, not at all throwing stones at your marital position.)

    Just another example of how we are not like them. I have a wife, a friend and a lover, apparently those three are absolutely banned as General Authority spouses.

  26. “Loran – and yet here in the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord says:

    “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually—.”

    Seems the Lord is perfectly content to judge the Church collectively.”

    But of course, and as you must known, this use of the term “collectively” is only to indicate the Lord’s view of the church in an overall or general sense, not each individual within it, as the Lord himself makes clear in the phrase you manged to leave out of your quote where he states “speaking unto the church collectively and not individually.” This is, obviously, “the Church” in a broad, holistic sense as a community (and there is a vast difference between a community and a collective), and claims nothing about the spiritual state or status of any given individual member within that community.

    “He also seems able to not only be pleased with us collectively, but also to Coventry us collectively, as He di does in section 84, v. 55:

    “Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.”

    And yet again, if “the whole church” is under condemnation as a totality, then “the church” as a whole, not itself being any particular individual within it, may be under some kind of general sanction while the fact remains that the righteous individuals within it remain favored and blessed of the Lord. That salvation and exaltation are, at their foundation, ultimately individual matters conditioned by individual agency, free will and the individual choices that flow from them, is core LDS doctrine that is not only taught clearly in the scriptures, but forms a consistent body of doctrine and counsel as taught by the Lord’s servants in our day throughout this dispensation. There has been no change or variance in this teaching.

    I invite you then, as I did Brian (a challenge he has declined) to explain for us how one’s spiritual or moral status before God can be determined by a collective, such that a righteous person within a generally wicked group can be adjudged as condemned and guilty as in some sense organically connected to a unitary collective, and therefore partaking of its general evil (as one part of a cell is bathed in the same protoplasm as every other part), and reciprocally, how a wicked or apostate member can partake of the blessings of the church and gospel, and be judged as righteous due to his mere association with the saints as a body, while individually breaking his/her covenants and transgressing various commandments, even in severe ways.

  27. “Loran, I see that your comments respond to me, largely–though it’s almost like you mistook this comment section for one on some LDS Libertarian forum. Regardless, I see you can explain away scripture just fine, but your theoretical examples misapply the concept discussed here and so
    deserve no retort.”

    I went back and read my posts and see no libertarian political content therein. I also see that you have no intention of substantively engaging the arguments and points I made, which is fine, as that’s your prerogative. However, that approach doesn’t do you much justice as to intellectual credibility in any marketplace of ideas.

  28. “I’m only a few paragraphs in but I’ve already found a glaring example of why you’ll never be able to speak in general conference. You refer to your husband as a sweetheart not Eternal companion or in your case beloved companion. ( just pointing out terminology differences, not at all throwing stones at your marital position.)

    Just another example of how we are not like them. I have a wife, a friend and a lover, apparently those three are absolutely banned as General Authority spouses.”

    Why some insist on throwing poop from the cage at the curious onlookers this way is quite beyond me.

    This kind of attitude, however, is quite pronounced throughout the social media NOMsphere. That’s part of what makes it, of course, what it is.

  29. The Other Chad says:

    Loran, related to your 99%-wicked ward, aren’t there other choices for which you will be held responsible? An individual cannot be judged by the actions of the community — only by his acceptance or rejection of the wrong actions of the 99%. Hence, whistleblowers. You will stand alone with your advocate and defend your decision to join or not join the 99% — and your decision to call out or not call out their actions. Like the OP.

  30. Fascinating discussion going on here, prompted by a rather startling display of hubris. The OP has taken a few negative experiences and interpretations – and I agree with her, they are negative – and extrapolated it onto the ‘body of Christ’ as a whole, which thing strikes me as rather presumptuous. We lay members of the Church see through a glass darkly and should take great caution when counseling the leadership to apologize for past “sins of the collective,” as if our personal interpretation entitles us to some moral high ground (something something mote and beam something something).

    In demanding that current leadership apologize for these supposedly collective sins, I’m reminded irrepressibly of a discussion from the Bourne Ultimatum: “You know as well as I do decisions made in real-time are never perfect. Don’t second-guess an operation from an armchair.” A public apology, no matter how seemingly cathartic, will not bring the relief that the pained expect it will. More importantly, the true healing emanating from the Master Healer requires no external, third-party launching point or action. Andy Dufresne had it right: salvation lay (and will lie) within.

  31. Bensen, that scene showed how the person making that claim completely botched it, while more insightful people were shut down. In fact, a more insightful women. Hubris yourself. Care to explain how you know how a wronged person mentioned in the OP will feel with an apology?

  32. I fully agree the scene isn’t a perfect fit when seen through the contextual lens of the film. I mentioned it for several reasons, not least because I think it’s a foolhardy errand to believe the leadership of a global organization should think, act, and respond as we think we would. Their view of the big picture and worldwide tapestry includes variables we know nothing about, and t’would do us well to see the glass as half full instead of half empty when judging them.

    A careful reading of my original comment shows that I didn’t claim to know how someone wronged would feel with an apology – I simply pointed out there’s a high likelihood that the apology wouldn’t be enough. It’s clear that the OP believes there is much to apologize for, and that an initial offering would just be the beginning of atoning for the collective sin. Therein lies the problem, in my humblest of views: it is Christ who offers us full and unconditional healing if we let Him. A formal apology from a leader – especially one not guilty of the original offense – is not a prerequisite for internal peace and healing. It is, indirectly, a hardening of one’s heart and misapplication of doctrine to hold the sins of one person over the head of another, simply by virtue of a shared office. (Alma 34 addresses this in the first dozen or so verses.)

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of this myself. Plenty of grievances, and Festivus doesn’t come nearly often enough. Then again, I didn’t piously pen a public post on how amazingly sackcloth-and-ashes MY General Conference talk would be. I’m just the peanut gallery.

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