“Worthiness” is a word that pops up quite often in LDS circles. It is as prominent as it is primarily because it is invoked when talking about ecclesiastical interviews, most often tied to temple recommends but also associated with the charge bishops receive to regularly interview the ward’s youth. And it also has taken hold in Mormon minds with regard to discussions of the sacrament–especially the practice of some who, by choice or bishop’s counsel, elect to not partake of this ordinance.
But is the term and concept of “worthiness” helpful, or does it too often lead to some having negative feelings about themselves that in no way reflect true gospel principles? For instance, we have all likely known people who equate failures to meet particular behavioral standards for entrance into the temple, and in Mormon parlance are therefore excluded for “worthiness” reasons, as meaning they are not worthy of God’s love. It’s a tie too many make. Similarly, some will think that having a difficult time battling to change something about themselves means that they shouldn’t partake of the sacrament, that by so doing after not having been more successful in showing God their determination to do better they might be “drinking damnation” to their souls (a poor understanding of I Corinthians 11:29). In this way, they then deny themselves a chance to be strengthened by their participation.
In this episode, Les Blake, Kerstin Koldewyn, and Matt Jones join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for an in-depth discussion of the “W-word” and how it affects Mormon lives. Are there better ways than “assessing worthiness” to think about the purposes of ecclesiastical interviews? How can we improve the settings in which LDS adults counsel and teach youth? How might we change our approach or language about these encounters that eliminates the sense of them being a “worthiness” check, or that could ever lead a person to a negative internalization about their status as–always and ever–“beloved”? What about the scriptures? When they speak of “unworthiness,” is it ever in the context of the Divine saying someone has so offended as to be unworthy of God’s love, aid, comfort? Furthermore, what do the scriptures say is the key criterion for deciding about partaking of the sacrament? Should a bishop or stake president ever suggest (or urge in even stronger terms) that someone not participate in this ordinance? How do concepts of “guilt” and “shame” play into our ideas about worthiness? Can we do better there, as well?
We hope you will listen to this episode and then share your thoughts and experiences below!
“The Dynamics of Guilt and Shame,” Mormon Matters 51, November 2011
James E. Faulconer, “Remembrance,” FARMS Review 19, no. 2 (2007): 71–87.