Relationality and Reconciliation

In the LDS Church’s Gospel Essays section it notes, “Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, everyone will be redeemed from the effects of the Fall. We will be resurrected…In addition to redeeming us from the universal effects of the Fall, the Savior can redeem us from our own sins. In our fallen state, we sin and distance ourselves from the Lord, bringing spiritual death upon ourselves.”[1] Language like this, which feels emblematic of the majority of the Church’s language about the Atonement of Jesus Christ, centers (nearly exclusively, it seems to me) on how the Atonement helps individuals, you and me, overcome spiritual and physical death: that is to say, it focuses on how to reconcile schisms in humankind’s relationship with God.[2]

However, this vision of reconciliation, while critically important, seems incomplete.  Though it may be true that a human-God schism is one result of sin that does need to be reconciled, it is equally true that sin does not only affect the relationship between the sinner and God.  With rare exceptions, sin also has real-world and lasting impacts on other people.[3] And many times, sin creates victims,[4] with sinners being the perpetrators of that victimization. So, though it may be true the “natural man” is an “enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19), the natural man also hurts other people. German Reformed theologian Jurgen Moltmann frames it thusly: “the victims of injustice and violence are not the determining subjects of their actions; they are made the objects of the action from the outside… Their souls are traumatized by what is done to them against their will.”[5] If eternal life is “a continuation and sacralization of human relationships in an eternal sphere” and if “salvation is a communal enterprise,”[6] then the eternal healing of human-human schisms must be at least as important as healing the human-God schism.

And yet, because the human-God schism dominates official discussion of eternal reconciliation, considerably more time seems to be spent exploring the responsibility the sinner bears in healing a breach of relationality with God[7] than is spent on the responsibility of the sinners (the perpetrators) to heal the breach of relationality with other people (the victims). [8] To the extent there is discussion of/to victims, it seems largely focused on the victims’ responsibility to forgive the sinner.[9] This approach often gives short shrift to the responsibilities of the perpetrators to heal human-human schisms their actions have caused. It also implicitly prioritizes the human-God relationship over the human-human relationship.[10] 

And though victims need to forgive those who wronged them (it is, after all a commandment to do so), there is certainly more in the Atonement of Jesus Christ for victims then a charge to forgive and oblique references to divine help in doing so.[11] Failing to equally address both the import of eternal human-human relationality and the impact of sin on it (i.e., the perpetrator-victim schism) cuts short conversations on healing human-human schisms and how that is accomplished—conversations which are sorely needed. In fact, when one really internalizes the theological import of relationality among people, it seems responsible to ask ourselves: how can we increase discussion about healing human-human schisms, including specifically the steps sinners must take relative to those who have been harmed, and in what ways we can improve our support to those who have been victimized? Here are three brief suggestions:

First: Increase teaching on the importance of human-human relationality—Every aspect of the LDS Church’s doctrine is colored by the importance of human-human relations, from the creation to the Atonement of Jesus Christ, from embodiment to salvation, from priesthood to exaltation. We should do more to intentionally reinforce that human-human relationality is just as much a part of exaltation as human-God relationality. And we should continue to emphasize that this relationality includes the family unit, but also extends well beyond it. Relatedly, we can increase instruction and discussion relative to the critical need to reconcile human-human schisms, and specifically the importance of hearing, believing, and supporting victims.

Second: Prioritize relationality over individual piety— In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that human reconciliation, instigated by the perpetrator, should precede even required religious observance (Matthew 5:23-24).[12] Said more directly: in the eternal scheme of things, relationality might matter more than religious orthodoxy. More regularly exploring the implications of this notion in church and other meetings, and increased focus on the way in which this approach might be enacted “in real life,” could result in positive outcomes for the victims and the perpetrators of sin.

Third: Broaden our view of the sacrament—Alma observes that Jesus suffered “pains and afflictions… of every kind” (Alma 7:11). Each week, the sacrament demonstrates, in ritual form, this dimension of Jesus mission.[13] As sacrament trays make their way through the congregation, we see the tokens of one who suffered at the hands of others being brought to the lives of those who are suffering now; thereby individuals who may be suffering alone, are immediately brought into a community. This community building (i.e., relationality) is a first step to healing. But this is not all. The perpetrator and the victim may very well partake of the same sacramental elements (maybe even in the same Ward), and thus the sacrament enacts a proleptic vision of a healed community and, eventually, reconciliation.[14] All that to say, sacrament is more than just a place to think about the reconciliation of human-God schisms, we should more explicitly teach it is a place where human-human schisms can also begin repair.

Too many have been hurt. We have a solid foundation in healing the human-God schism. Now it is time to redouble our efforts to acknowledge and try to heal the human-human schisms caused by sin. This seems to be among the most important activities in which followers of Jesus may be called to accomplish in our day-and-age.

[1] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Gospel Topics: The Fall of Adam and Eve.”  Available at: Cf. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Doctrinal Study: Atonement of Jesus Christ.” Available at: For the purpose of this essay, I am eliding discussion about atonement theory writ large and, specifically, what sin is and what the results of it are. Rather, I am simply accepting this statement as written. See also, see fn 4.

[2] Interestingly, German theologian Jurgen Moltmann argues that this focus results from the Reformed tradition’s reading of Pauline texts. See “Then and Now” Theology Today, Vol 69 No 1 (2017). Pg 13.  Given the strongly protestant influence that is present the LDS Church’s approach to “atonement,” it is not surprising that this perspective continues to resonate throughout the church.

[3] While the focus here is on human-human schisms, it is also no doubt true that sin results in a human-Gaia schism that also needs reconciliation.

[4] I realize using the language of “victims” can be polarizing, particularly when seen through the lens “victimhood culture.” To be exceptionally clear: I am using the word the word “victim” in this essay consistent with the Jurgen Moltmann’s use of the word in “We believe in the forgiveness of sins, but who justifies the victim?” in Comfortable Words: Essays in Honor of Paul F. M. Zahl. Ed. by John D. Koch, Todd H. W. Brewer. Wipf & Stock, 2013. Ch. 11, pp. 125-130.

[5] Moltmann, Jurgen. “The Unfinished Reformation.” Theology Today, Vol 69 No 1 (2017). Pg 16.  This essay relies heavily on Moltmann who most clearly articulates the need for Christian theology for victims.

[6] Terryl Givens. Wrestling the Angel. 2015. Oxford University Press. Pg 268, 272.

[7] See, for instance, Richard G. Scott, “To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse,” General Conference, April 2008, Scott has a section entitled, To the Perpetrator which his focuses almost exclusively on healing the human-God schism. Of repairing the human-human schism, he only notes, “Show your desire to heal the anguish that you have caused others” and asserts that going through priesthood-leadership guidance repentance “will also bring relief to the abused and their families.” 

[8] Another example of a similar approach is Elder Kevin R. Duncan’s 1992 General Conference address, “The Healing Ointment of Forgiveness.” Though Duncan acknowledges that victimization can occur, the focus of the discussion is on the victim forgiving the perpetrator. There is no discussion of the perpetrator’s responsibility to make amends.  

[9] See, for instance, Holland, Jeffrey R. “The Ministry of Reconciliation.” October 2018 General Conference. Available at: Here, Holland uses language that is, I think, representative of much church discourse on this topic: “Surely each of us could cite an endless array of old scars and sorrows and painful memories that this very moment still corrode the peace in someone’s heart or family or neighborhood…. Please don’t give precious space in your soul to them any longer…. forgiving and forsaking offenses, old or new, is central to the grandeur of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” In that same talk, Elder Holland alludes to the fact that the perpetrator should do something by quoting the scriptural charge to “Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to [him/her], and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you” (12:23-24)—but that all that is offered by way of addressing the human-human/perpetrator-victim schism.

[10] The Church contains one aspect of human-human reconciliation that is not present in other religious traditions: work for the dead. The Church teaches that “[the dead] without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect” (D&C128:15) and that the Earth would be “utterly wasted” (D&C 2:3) if generations are not bound together.  The doctrine that past, present, and future generations—who are temporally separated—can be brought together through proxy ordinances performed in the temple is part-and-parcel of the notion of reconciliation.  Human-human relationality is fractured by our temporal existence and temple work overcomes these fractures. Because the Church teaches that priesthood authority can bypasses restrictions of time and place, long-distant relatives from other parts of the world can be, quite literally, connected (i.e. reconciled) with families here-and-now.  It is no wonder that the beauty and power of this process is central to worship in the Church.  This aspect of reconciliation falls outside the scope of this discussion since the human-human reconciliation temple work affords does not speak to resolving the perpetrator-victim schism, but nonetheless deserved mentioning.

[11] Moltmann powerfully observes, “God does not only put the sinners right; he first of all creates justice for those who suffer violence.” See Moltmann, Jurgen. “The Unfinished Reformation.” Theology Today, Vol 69 No 1 (2017). Pg 18. Emphasis added.

[12] Blount, Brian et al. True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary. Fortress Press, 2007. Pg. 92.

[13] Elder Neal L. Anderson noted that phrase ‘renewing our baptismal covenant’ is “not found in the scriptures.” He says this focus “is not inappropriate… but it is not something that is used in the scriptures, and it can’t be the keynote of what we say about the sacrament. See, Neal L. Anderson, April 2015 General Conference Leadership Training Meeting, quoted in Terryl Givens. Feeding the Flock. Oxford University Press. 2017. Pg 204.

[14] For a thoughtful discussion of the way in which the sacrament can work toward community, in the face of victimization, see Gutierrez, Gustavo. A Theology of Liberation. Orbis Books. 1988. 148-150.


  1. A Disciple says:

    Fantastic message I will be reading again. Thank you.

  2. Amen and amen.

    This focus only on the sinner’s relationship to God is very damaging to the victim of sin because it is the church screaming in their face that they do not matter to God or the church. I know. It is why I will never return to the Mormon church. My father sexually abused me, and all the church cared about was first getting him excommunicated, then loving him back into the church and HIS relationship with God and him knowing he was loved by God.

    My relationship with God was also damaged by the abuse because we are taught to see our Heavenly Father as loving us the same way our earthly father does, only perfectly. Well, my father’s love for me was all about what he wanted without even thinking about what was good for me. So, that was how I saw God.

    When I tried to talk to professional counselors about this breach in my relationship with God, they referred me to my clergy. When I tried to talk to my clergy (Mormon bishop) I got blamed and told I was worse than my father because I wasn’t forgiving. I got pushed away as if all there was to healing the damage was forgiveness. But anger at my father wasn’t the problem. How I saw my own worth was the problem. Forgiving my father was beside the point when as any child would, I blamed myself for the abuse, and telling me how horrible I was to not forgive only said that God did not care about me or the damage done to me, or the fact that I could not relate at all to a male God. Was terrified to allow a male to have power or authority over me, so I couldn’t stand male priesthood holders thinking I should listen to them and trust them, when they obviously did not care about the damage done to me.

    I have gradually healed the damage, more in spite of the church than from any help or love I got from the church. And I found that the church reopens all the wounds from the abuse with how it puts the sinner as more loved by God than his innocent victims and how in general women are less important than men=priesthood. I decided that the church was not true to me, as in the meaning of true as loyal and having my best interest as a value. If it isn’t true to me, who cares about it being true in any other sense of the word. I will never go back.

  3. Jeremy Spilsbury says:

    I couldn’t agree more, especially when you consider Christ’s teachings in Matthew 25 about the inextricable relationship between God and his children. To reconcile with our brother is to reconcile with God. We can’t separate the two.

    I also believe that the work of reconciling with our ancestors goes way beyond vicarious ordinances and crucially entails the even more challenging aspect of healing the intergenerational wounds caused by their sins or ignorance. This is the cry that I hear when I read from the Book of Mormon (Mormon 9:31). This necessarily begins with the very distressing work of confronting the parts of our history that we would rather not.

  4. Suzanne Hanna says:

    I would like to comment on the second suggestion. In working with victims, I have become concerned that faith communities often perpetrate secondary trauma, as our previous sister has suggested. In my opinion, victims should never be asked, or preached to about giving forgiveness. Worst of all is if a perpetrator asks for forgiveness from the victim, which only becomes a demand to give up one more thing that can be out of their control, that of timing for their own healing. How about asking forgiveness from God and allowing their own time in space, whether it be months, years, or centuries. In the wisdom of the universe, each person knows their own truth, and you should have support for claiming it. In addition, I think it is critical to remember that there is a social hierarchy among both perpetrators and potential healers. This is a very real thing, and can rob survivors of their sense of control. I believe restitution and reconciliation can come about through preserving a survivors right to control their body, mind and spirit for themselves. Just to emphasize again, If that means a total cut off from a perpetrator for months, years, or even centuries this is the right of all survivors in their healing process.

  5. This topic was also touched on by James Rasband during a BYU Speech Oct 2012, and his message has added a dimension to my faith in Jesus Christ.

  6. (OP) MDavid says:

    Anna: Thanks for having the courage to share your story. It’s heartbreaking. I am glad to hear that a movement toward healing is now also part of that story.

    Suzanne: Thank you for that important additional perspective. I couldn’t agree more. I am not someone who works with victims regularly, so I am always grateful when experts offer real-world advice and guidance. In my point #2, I wasn’t advocating for an particular course of action, but I think the guardrails you introduce are important to prevent #2 from being weaponized against the very people who are in need of protection.

  7. The poster Anna made a comment that I have seen in the LDS church far to often.

    The victim of a crime is made to feel like a sinner because they do not I”forgive” in the time frame some one in a leadership position belives they should.

    Scriptures and talks by GA are shoved at them repeatedly it is ugly and un-necessary and I have never experienced it until I joined this church.

    My story.

    I was a visiting teacher a few years a go to an older sister.

    I found out that she and her husband were in the middle of a huge problem with the ownership of their home.

    They had moved to our area for their health, had no family to help them and trusted their home teacher who was also in the High Council.

    This home teacer/High Council member along with another High Council member set up an illegal deal that included stealing out right $60,000 dollars from this elderly couple and then passing off a deal to them where they thought they had bought the house but they had not.

    Thes couple was not completly stupid and the deal did not pass the “Buyer Beware” test, they were flatly cheated out of their home.

    They spend $40,000 on a lawyer and took the two criminals to court, won and got their deed.

    But when several of us brought this ugly business to the attention of the Stake Presidency we were told we needed to “Forgive”.

    As time went by and we were more and more displeased that these two men were not released from their callings ( we found out this was not an isolated incident) the very unpleasant pressure to make us feel as though we had sinned by not forgiving was raised and rasied and raised.

    We did not steal the money or try to steal the house, I was just the visiting teacher giving support to the sister I was assigned to.

    But we were treated as though we had sinned more than the criminals who actually stole the money.

    Nothing was done, as far as we could see, to the actual criminals.

    Two years later one was installed in the Stake Presidency.

    That did not go over well at all with the rank and file members of the stake but no one seemed to care about what we felt or what we wanted.

    Far to much emphasis is given to “forgiveness” and very little is put on Repentence.

    As the author of this blog pointed out, and some of the commenters agreed, this is so very wrong.

  8. Last Lemming says:

    I know that it is the height of uncoolness to suggest that Boyd K Packer might have gotten something right, but I think he did (perhaps unintentionally). His story of the mediator, with one notable twist, provides a simple way of making your point without minimizing the more traditional points. The twist that I am referring to is to think of the money-lender as the victim instead of as God the Father. (Packer never explicitly identifies the money-lender as the Father, but he clearly implies it.) By adding that twist, we can see that the mediator didn’t just heal the rift between the sinner and an offscreen God to whom the victim can appeal for justice, he also made the victim whole. Packer could just as easily had the mediator offer to do the sinner’s time in debtor’s prison for him but he didn’t. (The “he took my lickin’ for me” story that has also been repeated in General Conference goes down that route–wrongheadedly, IMO.)

    Another twist illustrates the importance of a particular brand of forgiveness. Say the money-lender refused the mediator’s offer, saying “I don’t want your money, I want HIS money. How else will he learn his lesson.” But he accepted the offer, which is a form of forgiveness in that he did not become obsessed with revenge. Now there are many other brands of forgiveness that you discuss in the OP that the story does not touch on and I don’t want to imply otherwise. But overall, I think my modified story provides a good way of integrating the healing of and forgiveness by victims into a familiar narrative.

  9. I also twisted BKP’s story to have the money lender be the victim who restitution was paid to, rather than paying the debt to God. That is restitution, which the church pays nothing but lip service to. The church is in the habit of letting mercy for the sinner rob justice for the sinner’s victim. Our own scriptures say that cannot happen, but we in the church only think of God as the injured party and the debt as punishment, then Jesus lets us sinners out of punishment and … what? leaves the victim injured and lying in the ditch at the side of the road? That might be an atonement between God and sinner, but it is mercy for the sinner robbing justice from the injured, and God doesn’t work that way. God insists on atonement between himself and all his children and if he allows mercy to rob justice, then God offends the already injured child, injuring them again by not caring about the injury. No, that injury has to be healed so the injured person can be reconciled to God, just as much as the sinner has to repent to be reconciled.

    Just a little while ago there was a blog here that talked about how a bunch of bad things happened and the writer was angry at God. The person who gets angry at God is just being normal because we are all taught that God can protect us from bad things. But what if on top of the bad stuff, God forgives the person who causes the bad stuff, but leaves us hurting? And often we spend most of our life hurting when it is something big, and it looks to us like the person was never punished. We just do not see justice in this life and we need to be reconciled to an unfair God by having fairness restored.

    So often when I used to hear stories at church about people who had forgiven, or the horrible sinners who refused to forgive and ruined their life even further, it was about an unintended slight or an accident. The “guilty” party was not really guilty. That isn’t even forgiveness. That is accepting that placing blame on an innocent person for a mistake or an accident does no one any good. This “forgiving” that isn’t even forgiving twists our understanding of what forgiveness really is.

    How about when someone knows they are doing irreparable harm and does it anyway? But I never once heard that kind of story at church. Forgiveness is turning it over to God for Justice, and we can’t do that unless we are taught that God will eventually provide justice, not just for the sinner, but for the sinner’s victim.

  10. Todd S says:

    Chloe, thank you for sharing that story. Yet another testament to the “Law of common consent” going down in flames. At this point, anyone’s objection is nothing more than an empty formality. The “Church” is NOT the corporate institution located in downtown Salt Lake city, it is “The People”, we are the body of Christ and as such, should be the natural checks and balances.

  11. You are very welcome Todd, I know many people have stories like it to tell.

    Anna’s was heartbreaking.

    She also mentioned the lack of understanding of Restitution which we also experienced when trying to help the older couple with their difficulties.

    We went to talk with both the Bishop of our ward and the Stake President.

    Neither seemed to understand the part Restitution played in Repentence.

    They also did not seem to understand that the Repentence was something the sinner needed to do and was for their benefit, it was not a punishment.

    The two men who took the money and tried to steal the property were great friends of the Stake President and he was not going to require them to pay anything back or to give up their church callings.

    The pressure from members was the only thing that made the man release these two crooks from their callings and as I wrote above one was called two years later as counselor in the Stake Presidency while we all were in lockdown and not allowed to attend Stake Conference in person.

    Things seem to be getting out of hand badly all over the church.

    We are finding out about the hidden massive amount of money.

    And how many dirty tricks went on to keep it a secret.

    Things are not well in the Church main office building in SLC and in many of our Stakes.

    Our church has a LOT of problems the leaders seem to be determinded to ignore for reasons I can do not understand.

    These problems are not going away, no matter how much the GAs ignore them or lie about them.

  12. Anna: thank you for sharing your personal and horrific story. We can all learn from it. I took your story in as a former bishop, as a white male priesthood-holder and I ask myself: “Lord, is it I?” have I caused further suffering by emphasizing forgiveness over justice? I am quite afraid to comment.

    Our church and our US-society have taken note of at least two current instances that call on the victim to forgive. One is the South African process of Truth and Reconciliation. I believe that this process was instituted by Nelson Mandela and that Desmond Tutu played an essential role. In it, victims were given a chance to publicly describe their suffering, and the perpetrators were required to give testimony. They had to describe what they did, and they had to request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. This was a governmental, not a religious, act. It was set up to help a nation heal. I think that it succeeded in some ways and failed in others. I believe that I have heard references to it in church. Perhaps in General Conference. I am not sure. I am not confident that a governmental process can replace the ministering needs of a victim. But having opportunity to described one’s suffering might help healing. To be giving the respect of being heard might help. Hearing the perpetrator publicly describe their actions and ask for some form of forgiveness from society (I am aware that forgiveness of the victim was not essential to the program.) may have helped healing in some instances.

    War-victims may never recover or may require decades to see their former enemies as worthy of forgiving treatment.

    I worry that my words may offend Anna. You see: I have not been the victim of a serious crime myself. When I go to church and hear about forgiving others I think about unkind things said by siblings, or unfair treatment at the hands of loving but sometimes stupid parents. I think about being the object of petty bullying in junior high school. I have no experience with the kind of injustice that Anne suffered. How dare I say anything?

    The second instance we hear about in church is that of forgiveness in the Amish Community towards someone who had murdered one of their own. Although this provided a beautiful example of community-healing and forgiveness we cannot be sure how individuals, especially those close to the violence, felt about the community pressure to forgive.

    I have long understood that we need to allow those who have lost loved ones to grieve and heal at their own rates. I think that for most (not all, based on stories that I sometimes hear) we allow others to take their time when healing from a death in the family. I don’t think that we hear it as often: that we also need to give others all the time they need to understand their victimhood, if that is possible, and to eventually forgive, again only if it is possible.

    Is it possible that in today’s church that Anna would be “handed off” to the Relief Society President? Would counseling with a woman rather than a man have helped? I am sure that there are plenty of “pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps kind of women as well as men in the church. Perhaps many women would be equally insensitive. I can’t say. But a female-authority may have helped Anna more than a male-authority could. My goal in helping Anna would NOT be to preserve her testimony of the church. It would be to help her find healing. To feel God’s love.

    It was good to read that Anna has found some healing. Thank you, Anna, for helping us try to understand and to do better.

  13. Todd S says:

    OP – Really enjoyed your analysis.

    If we change the plot to the story, we change everything that comes after. All the language, rituals, characters, practices all take on decidedly different conceptions if we view “The Fall” as catastrophic rather than ordained. And although, as Latter day saints, we reject the doctrine of “Orginal sin”, we almost immediately, without recognition, revert to our inherited Protestant language, which demonizes “The Fall”.

    When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change. This could not be more true than our conception of our fallen condition.

    Terryl Givens in his book, “All things new”, wrote “What we believe to be true of our deepest nature, and what we believe to be true of God’s nature, has real-world consequences. How we understand God, and the quality of their love, conditions our own ability to receive and reciprocate love. Conceptions of human sin and worthiness profoundly impact every relationship into which we enter.”

    Let me repeat that last sentence again, “Conceptions of human sin and worthiness profoundly impact every relationship into which we enter.”

    Our Latter-day saint theology is unique in the Christian world in our embrace of “Felix Culpa”, the “Fortunate fall”. However, the tendency is to speak of the effects of the fall exclusively as problematic. Sure, death and sin, carry considerable risk, sorrow, and grief, but they are also critical elements in our divine development.

    Sin and death are the gateway to Redemption and resurrection. The story of Adam and Eve, respectively our story, is the story of human development, from innocence, complete dependence; to rebellion, our teenage years, and our need to establish our own identity, our independence; to coming to understand our Godlike potential cannot be accomplished without divine assistance, our willingness to engage in covenant relationship, and have the humility to accept the gift of Christ’s Atonement, interdependence.

    In Moses 5:10-11 we read “Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life, I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God” (Moses 5:10). Eve’s words are the most poignant, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption”

    Eugene England articulates it this way, “The clear implication is that the process of estrangement and reconciliation, of sin and atonement, is not a flaw, an accidental thwarting of God’s plan, but an essential part of it, a necessary ingredient of man’s eternal realization of his possibilities as a child of God. Through this process, and apparently no other, he is able to reach the depths and thereby the heights of his soul’s capacity – to know fully his capacity for evil and to know the full freedom and strength of soul that come uniquely through being caught up in response to the “pure love of Christ.”
    Fall and Atonement are opposite sides of the same coin. One does not exist without the other, they are allies, complimentary opposites working together to help each of us reach our divine potential.

    It’s critical that we have a better framing and understanding of the doctrine of the fall for us to cultivate more compassion for ourselves and a more loving outreach for our fellow mortal travelers as we each strive to meet challenges tomorrow that we failed at so miserably today. Ours is a doctrine founded and grounded in the process of transformation, not in a series of transactions met with arbitrary reward or punishment.

  14. Todd S says:

    A few good statements to reframe fall, sin, atonement.

    the Fall of Adam and Eve “has brought more benefit to us than harm” and that “sin is more fruitful than innocence.”
    St. Ambrose (AD 337–97),

    “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!”
    Part of Catholic Exultet in connection with lighting the paschal candle at Easter

    “We and all mankind are forever blessed because of Eve’s great courage and wisdom. By partaking of the fruit first, she did what needed to be done. Adam was wise enough to do likewise.”
    Russel M Nelson, October 1993

  15. The complaints could basically be summed up as: the church is not good at punishment and expects or assumes punishment, if deserved, will either be carried out by courts or God.

    Is that really a bug and not a feature?

    I realize it leaves accused rapists or swindlers, who were never charged in a situation where they can ultimately (or at least appear to) rejoin or remain the church with little repercussions.

    But I can’t help but assume the opposite scenario would be worse if the church acted to punish or ostracize accused aggressors without some kind of conviction. And where church courts do that, or would be pretty sad if the response was to forever shun and forsake the convicted.

    The flip side, of how the church helps victims is a difficult one, because in all of the cases cited about, it seems the victims or observers want justice to be done to the aggressor by the church as part of helping the victim. I’m not sure what that justice should be, what is it if the person hasn’t been convicted or has gone through some kind of process that conveys actual repentance (which, yes, can be faked)?

    I do think the church could always do more with any kind of emotional support and referring to counseling etc. But again it seems as if most people when these topics come up are focused on the accused and what should happen to them.

    Is a scarlet letter really what we’re looking for?

  16. Sute, you are misunderstanding. Most victims don’t care about punishment as much as they care about healing. But if they are left suffering, then seeing the perpetrator suffer feels fair. And too often our society leaves victims suffering and without help. And sometimes healing takes more than time, but requires help.

    I did not want punishment for my father. What does punishment accomplishment anyway? What I wanted was justice for me. Nothing to do with him. What would Justice be for me? It would have been a loving response from my church. That simple. I didn’t mind that my father was given love, except that I was blamed and pushed away and not given help I desperately needed. I had specific questions, like how does the atonement help me as the victim of sin, and what about my screwed up life? The response I got was that I was a horrible doubter to even have that question. But all I had even been taught. I got a lecture on how I was a sinner too and didn’t I want to be forgiven for my sins. No, that wasn’t my question. I was asking why I got stuck with terrible damage to my life, but still “owed” my father forgiveness. Didn’t he owe me instead of me owning him. The bishop just looked terribly confused. Then I repeated the problem, and only half getting it, the bishop conceded that he knew something was missing from the gospel as we had both been taught, but he didn’t know and refused to talk further on the subject.

    Think of the story of the Good Samaritan. He didn’t go chasing after the thieves to punish them. He helped the victim heal. If you are laying at the side of the road dying, you really don’t give a s*** about the offender being punished. You need help. Plain and simple. Help the victim of any crime or sin. That is better Justice than what we have in the US and in the church, where the justice system or bishops only care about criminal/sinner and abandon the victim. Where is victim justice?

  17. Anna, your case is a terrible tragedy that I’d be all to willing to help angels tie a millstone around your fathers neck for a send-off to sea. I’m sorry you’ve had to go through it.

    I’ve ready your post calling for victim justice, and short of a court conviction or destroying angel sent down there is no justice that ought to be given by the church and members against your father, right? The justice you’ve called for is a loving response. What does that look like precisely?

    Bishop weeping at hearing what happened and asking if he can refer you to counseling and asking various people to reach out compassionately to you(without disclosing anything)?

    If you went to the bishop and said you’re suffering from this and need help, that seems about the extent of it, with the obvious addition of referring the matter to law enforcement. But if you go further and say more needs to be done, what is it? I get the feeling from your words that you being told to find forgiveness in your heart was in response to some harsh feelings you justifiably had in the moment. I’d willingly share those with you in the anger of that affliction. But also point out that feeling can’t be something to dwell on if you want to get passed this tragedy. So feel angry now, but remind yourself that you need to let it go somehow at some point as well, otherwise it will consume you.

    I have all those feelings and more harsh ones….

    But here’s the ultimate truth. In the very midst of being mocked for sport, abused, falsely judged, tortured with glee, rejected by most of his own people who he did nothing but preach love, service, compassion, and provide many healing and miracles for…. Jesus said the simple words, Forgive them for they know not what they do.

    Do you think those driving nails and his hands and laughing about it didn’t know what they did? Could you drive a nail through a person’s hand and make jokes with your buddy’s about that while doing it? Could you or I forgive one who does such a thing to us?

    I say that is exactly the standard I try to apply to myself when I think of how to approach the otherwise inescapable tragedy of living. Those few words, set against the backdrop of Jesus’ mortal life were the greatest sermon in history.

    Can we learn from it? Will we follow it when he literally asks us to pick up our cross and come follow him?

    It’s a shame our church eschews the cross, because that’s what it means to truly be a Christian you ask me.

  18. (OP) MDavid says:

    Sute: I think you’ve hit on a point I was trying to make (albeit you came to it from a different angle and maybe even unintentionally). You ask “what does it look like?” And the honest answer (in the general sense, of course–Anna and others can speak to their own specific contexts) from my own experience at least is: “As a church, we don’t really know. Because the reality is that justice for the victim is simply not a thing we talk about, think about, teach about, or use as a guiding principle with anywhere near same amount of energy that we invest in talking about, thinking about, teaching about, or using as a guiding principles the idea of forgiveness for the sinner.” That’s the issue with which I was grappling in this post. However, suggesting that if we don’t (or can’t) say “forgive them for they know not what they do” we’re not truly Christian, can be reasonably viewed as a form of victim blaming. I’m NOT suggesting that is your intent (far from it, in fact; your other comments suggest otherwise), but it does demonstrate how deeply engrained some of these scripts are and how careful we need to be when we deploy them.
    Buried in FN 11, I quote Moltmann: “God does not only put the sinners right; he first of all creates justice for those who suffer violence.” I love the idea that God’s first act is to create justice for the effected (this doesn’t mean retribution for Moltmann). And only after that does God focus on the perpetrator of violence. I wonder what it would be like if our reconciliation language. teaching, and actions followed this pattern? What if we always put the victim first, and sinner second?

  19. Todd S says:

    OP, you said, “As sacrament trays make their way through the congregation, we see the tokens of one who suffered at the hands of others being brought to the lives of those who are suffering now; thereby individuals who may be suffering alone, are immediately brought into a community. This community building (i.e., relationality) is a first step to healing.”

    Your expression of this weekly ordinance is really beautiful. You add language to an essay I wrote a couple months ago titled, “A Meditation on, Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father which in heaven is perfect”

    The Sacrament is not a prize to be won, it’s an invitation to be part of the body of Christ, it’s something to be given and received. And our capacity to become like him is predicated on our receiving his Grace. We don’t invite people to this sacred communal meal because they have risen to some arbitrary level of personal purity.

    Performed in this way, our Sunday ritual becomes more a way to signify to fellow saints the story we want them to believe about us. It’s a story that projects the parts of me that are worthy of praise and obsesses and suppresses the weakness that contains the greatest sealing power.

    If partaking of the Sacrament begins with the idea that I am good, then the whole ordinance carry’s the danger of using it to signify our own worthiness to one another. In short, we have already lost the infinite nature of Christ’s sacrifice by reducing it to a medicine only available to those who first prove they are worthy. This is backwards, and furthermore obscures our focus during the sacrament, centering it first on fixing my flaws as a way to deserve his infinite love. Additionally, if I am consumed with my own flaws and sins, what is stopping me from fixating on the darkness in others?

    We invite them because we love them, and we have agreed, by way of covenant, to share life’s weakness, to bare each other’s imperfections, and to care for even the least of these.

    The Sacrament is the practice of breathing, it’s the practice of receiving his love, inhaling that power and then reflecting it back into the world, exhaling that mercy without counting the cost.

  20. Mike Sanders says:

    I think that the comments really explore what is missing from the article. If the atonement fixes what is beyond an individual’s power to fix, what does this look like from the perspective of the atonement healing the victims of another’s sins?

    Honestly, as much as we squirm away from it, I think that the power of the atonement in this case is to decouple the healing for the victim from whatever remorse or restitution can be offered by the sinner.

    How marvelous this is, healing is available to all, and not dependent on another’s actions. Unfortunately, it is a rather bitter pill at times to accept that the sinner’s redemption does not require sign off from the victim of the sin.

    Jesus is pretty explicit about this in the parable of the debtors. Other parables address the somewhat unpalatable truth that the sinner can be accepted back. This is addressed in both the parable of the Prodigal Son and the Parable of the workers in the vineyard.

    Others have expressed their concern that the sinner is sought and enjoined to return. Yet isn’t this the message of the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son?

    I suppose, I would like to hear more concrete proposals about how the atonement can heal victims of sin and how we can help such victims.

    I mean, is this a situation where the answer to healing really is forgiveness, but we aren’t allowed to say so because it feels like victim blaming?

  21. Jeremy Spilsbury says:

    I think the atonement is ultimately about reconciliation with God and each other. I don’t know if Christ’s eternal act of at-one-ment can be fully realized absent complete reconciliation. Is that always attainable in this life? That is for each to decide, but I can’t imagine that eventual reconciliation between victim and perpetrator would not be the intended culmination of Christ’s atoning sacrifice because I believe that eternal life is better understood as a quality of relationship, not a reward for being righteous. Talking about forgiveness in terms of what one should do to be “righteous” might be misleading.

  22. >>Honestly, as much as we squirm away from it, I think that the power of the atonement in this case is to decouple the healing for the victim from whatever remorse or restitution can be offered by the sinner.

    This is a really good, on-topic observation Victim healing *has* to be uncoupled from offender repentance because victim healing is important utterly independent of the offender.

    If I was abused, does my pain only matter in the context of my abuser’s sinfulness? NO!!! My pain matters all by itself because I am a child of God.

    If I was abused, and my abuser repents, does that heal my pain? NO!!! My pain can only be healed as *I* am healed, because *I* was the “god[ess] in embryo” who suffered.

    If I was abused, and my abuser repents/never repents, will my healing come from recognizing the offender’s position, power and/or authority as legitimate and acting as if nothing is wrong (what I think we most often mean by “forgiveness”)? NO!!!!!!!!

    The process of healing and, paraphrasing Desmond Tutu, the definition of forgiveness, *is* the slow and difficult and three-steps-forward-two-steps-back process of gaining physical, financial, emotional, and psychological freedom, independence, and disentanglement from the offender‘s actions.

    And what the OP and most of the commenters are saying is that in the church, we don’t help with that process well. We too often, as in Mike Sanders’ comment, take that gem of offender / victim disentanglement and pivot straight to the offender’s absolution, leaving victims alone, in pain, in the dust.

    In the parable of the Good Samaritan, maybe that’s why the priest and Levite left the injured man on the side of the road—they were in a hurry to get to the disciplinary councils for the guys who beat him.

  23. Sure, it is hard to answer the question of what could the church have done to help me heal, because the church just does not see that as the job of the church. There were times I honestly wished I had done something like comment adultery so that my bishop would *see me.* I was nothing to the church. I was not even a person in my own right.

    Sure, I could give you a long list of the things I needed to heal, but they all boil down to I needed to matter. But I was supposed to be just fine and was critical for not being just fine. I was told that getting counseling was wallowing in it. I was told I was selfish to even be hurting. They did so many things wrong that I have a hard time even imagining what they could have done right. There were questions I had about God, about how the gospel applied to me, about why as a girl I didn’t matter to God.

    Some of what I needed from the church is addressed in feminist blogs, and ALL women need it changed. The sexual abuse just amplified these common problems of women/girls being seen as auxiliaries, less important than men. There are problematic ways that modesty and chastity are taught that teach females to blame themselves for men’s behavior. I needed to know that God values females as much as males and the church was the biggest problem in that. See, by teaching me that I was responsible for my father’s choices, the church also sinned against me. By then failing to teach any difference in God’s eyes between rape and sexual sin (see hundreds of discussions in feminist blogs about chewed gum and mangled wedding cake lessons) the church compounded the damage my father did. Then when I needed healing, the church just told me that my father was the only one they cared about.

    So, how could the church have helped? The question is almost too big to answer, but the place to start is treating women like they are children of God and realizing that the sinned against are injured and may need MORE help in healing than sinners need in repenting and that those innocent sinned against are also “lost lambs” that the good shepherd cares about. Morn with those who morn. Love.

    You want one concrete example of what the church needs to do to help the victims instead of just helping the sinner? Mandatory reporting of abuse. But no, the church fights that because all it cares about is the sinner repenting, but doesn’t comprehend that the abuser taking the legal consequences is part of repenting.

  24. Mike Sanders says:

    Anna, thank you for your response. You have a good list of the ways that things were done incorrectly, and I hope that is not the common experience, and regardless, I hope that things are and will be handled better in the future.

    I have what I think are legitimate reasons to be opposed to the idea of mandatory reporting by clergy as a matter of law, but don’t have the same objections as a matter of instructional policy. For what it is worth, I’ve been involved in more than one call to the church hotline, and in all cases was instructed to contact DFPS. Anecdotal I know, but that’s my experience.

    An injured victim of another’s sins should absolutely be numbered among the lost sheep who should be searched for and cared for.

    Do you have a suggestion for helping victims through the atonement of Christ?

  25. Kristine says:

    Anna is right. Until women are as important to the functioning of the Church as men who hold the Melchizedek priesthood, those priesthood holders will always be the institutional priority.

  26. MDearest says:

    I love to read/listen to Anna on these related topics because she is correct and because she speaks plainly. She is a good advocate for victims because she thoroughly understands what is needed by victims to heal and recover.

    Applying the atonement for victims to heal from the abusive effects of another person’s sinful choices is a private matter between the victim and the Lord. It isn’t really possible for someone external to that relationship to facilitate, other than to remind the victim that they are beloved by the Lord, and to ratify their innocence from sin. It’s possible to do more damage with clumsy probing or insensitive preaching. That’s why a trained counselor is necessary, who can appropriately assess the victim’s feelings and guide them in healing and recovery. A far better approach for an ecclesiastical leader may be to take action to ensure the safety of the victim, — that they feel safe and supported for whatever period of time necessary to heal, remembering that it’s an ongoing process that may never fully resolve for them, even if they are able to appreciate the healing balm of the atonement. And because of the institutional imbalance reiterated by Kristine, a bishop’s ability to help may be limited.

    Anna may have further wisdom to add to my thoughts, which I welcome.

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