The Institutionally Unforgivable?

Aaron R. aka Ricoaccountability, adultery, baptism, Charity, christ, christianity, church, Discrimination, excommunication, Leaders, Mormon, Mormons, repentance, righteousness, testimony 31 Comments

The message of the Gospel of Christ could be encapsulated in a few adjectives, such as: love (Charity), repentance, forgiveness and service.  But how should we forgive?  Should we follow the example of God, who promises his saints that when they repent he will remember those sins no more (D&C 58:42).  The Church as an institution does not seem to think so as it seems to have a pretty good memory when it comes to the sins of its members.  Is this consistent with the Gospel message?

The reason I highlight this is because there are certain callings within the Church that make it impossible, or at least very unlikely, for you to have if you have been involved in certain activities.  I am sure that these people do not seek for these types of callings.  I highlight this as an apparent ‘inconsistency’ between scripture and practice.  For example, over the years there has been some flip-flopping on the issue of Divorce and being a Bishop.  It seems that with current levels of divorce so high that the Church can no longer not have those people as possible candidates, when in the past they have made that restriction.

Any records of Church disciplinary councils are kept at Church headquarters (they are destroyed after a short-time in the local areas) presumably so that callings that need to be ratified by the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve can check to see if there are any issues.  Further if an individual commits some sins then these become annotated permantly on your membership record.  An example here is being involved in child abuse or pornography.  This means that you cannot have callings with children.

How far then does forgiveness go?

Are there cases when this type of policy is justifiable?  If so which?

If we believe in true repentance why does the Church need to check their past, presumably because they want to see if they are likely to do something again in the future?  Is this faulty reasoning?

Comments 31

  1. There is no conflict. Nobody will be denied salvation based on whether they were ever a senior companion or a zone leader or a Bishop, etc. When the church announced “raising the bar” for becoming a full-time missionary it didn’t mean that they were condemning unqualified candidates to outer darkness.

    In today’s world, the church would be extremely foolish to ignore someone’s past and put them in a position where a relapse could destroy the church legally and/or financially. It’s not the church’s fault that MY behavior could be a liability to the church and, therefore, I can’t be a Bishop. Of course, these policies can change. Half the heroes of the Book of Mormon wouldn’t be qualified to be full-time missionaries today.

  2. I understand why this is a troubling issue. I have thought that in some stakes, the requirements for missionary service have sometimes been too rigidly enforced. However, with sins that involve a victim — particularly when the victim is a child — I think that these procedures are just a concession we have to make when living in a fallen world. If our ability to receive revelation were flawless, perhaps things would be different, but for the time being, I understand this issue for the sake of saving others life-long suffering.

  3. I agree with Latter-day Guy that the practical reasons for keeping this information in certain cases are compelling, especially to limit the church’s liability and to protect possible future victims.

    However, from a spiritual, doctrinal perspective…

    Why would we expect the institution to forgive and forget when that is not what the D&C teaches that God will do?

    The statement in D&C 58:42 applies to those who have forsaken (never repeated) those sins. For those who are repeat offenders, it all comes back to haunt them:

    “And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.” (D&C 82:7)

    So, I am not surprised that the Church does not expunge these records because it doesn’t believe God will either. Since we are natural man and are doomed to repeat them, let’s keep them on file as evidence, if needed.

    After becoming an evangelical Christian after more than 4 decades in the LDS Church, this doctrine–in hindsight–is a most devastating and depressing condition and is counter to the Grace of Jesus Christ (Jeremiah 31:34; Isaiah 43:25; Ephesians 2:8-10 to quote a few).

    We will never be perfect here on earth. But rather than count that against us, God has imputed His righteousness to His believers through the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24-28). By faith we are justified and thus freed to do good works without fear that if we stumble our works were all for naught.

    Bottom line: Faith save us and gets us to heaven. Works determine our rewards in heaven. A lack of perfect works does not disqualify us.

    I know this is nothing new to those who frequent the bloggernacle but even an EV feels compelled to bear testimony once in a while.

  4. Qualifcation for leadership positions and forgiveness of sins are 2 separate things in my book.

    Someone committing sexual sins with children (as aweful as that is) can be forgiven by the Lord and the church. I still don’t want that person as my son’s scoutmaster. Not because I’m holding a grudge, just the risk outweigh the need. There is no need for anyone to be in a calling of one kind or another, and the risks are based on judgement based on past performance.

    That’s not un-Christ-like, that is just reality. Give that person a calling as ward missionary or activity chairperson and all will be well.

  5. Membership records need be annotated to keep predators away from the innocent. If the Church knew that a certain member had abused children in the past and this same member moved to a new City/State/etc. and was then called by an “unsuspecting” bishop to serve in the primary or boy scouts, the Church would be liable.

  6. I agree, if there were child victims involved, those members should NEVER have callings that would put them alone with children, or anything even close to it. It’s not about forgiveness in that case, it is about protecting the children, and it’s a fact that some (not all, of course) of these offenders will unfortunately repeat their offenses. If it’s just plain porn (or any other) addiction, I don’t think it falls in this category. For example, I would have no problem with a bishop who was an addict, as long as he had been sober for 5-10 years – he could probably offer a lot of insight and help to members.

  7. You could probably take scriptural examples from The Book Of Mormon to provide examples of times the church or people of God had to do things to protect themselves against others, despite the preachings of love and forgiveness.
    1. Nephites went to war to protect themselves
    2. Examples of Lamanites being required to enter into a covenant or be put to death
    3. Korihor is revealed as a fraud, but left to his own designs to be trampled

    We can forgive others seven times seventy…but I can’t forget what dangers you might pose to my family if the risks are high enough.

    Hopefully we don’t get preoccupied with it, but you have to be practical or you are just being stupid.

  8. On the one hand it is interesting that a Church which hangs so much on revelation, feels like revelation needs a ton of help. On the other hand, I think the Church would be foolish to place a former child molester in a position of trust with children. I might ask, is it possible for a person to be fully forgiven of their sins, baed on their intentions and sincerity, even before they are fully recovered. If the answer is yes, then the question posed in the post is misleading by conflating recovery, and therefore propensity for relapse, with forgiveness.

  9. Those are all nouns. Schoolhouse Rock can show the difference, if you add “idea, or stuff” to the list of “person, place or thing” as things named by nouns. Your examples are all ideas.

    Rafiki taught the limits of this principle when he smacked Simba in the head with his stick, and then pointed out that this was in the past and, according to Simba’s philosophy that the past didn’t matter, wasn’t important. Simba learned the lesson in time to block getting whacked in the head again.

    Repentance is near impossible to see from the outside in a reliable fashion. Someone can show all the outward signs of penitence just by putting on a really convincing show, with no real change having taken place. John C. Bennett might be a very good example of this from Church History. Or he might be a good example of revocable repentance — I’m very sorry right now, but, in a week or two, I can fall back into my pride and decide that I really wasn’t all that wrong before. The thing that denies the power of the atonement is not in remembering what someone has done in the past — it is in failing to use the atonement to make deep changes and to stay on that path.

    However, this policy approach has its problems — it only identifies those who have been caught, and creates a false sense of security that belies the existence of those who have not yet been caught, and those who never will. Everybody who commits a given sin has a first time, and that first time may well happen after they are put into a position of trust.

    Build an institution out of fallible mortals, and you get a fallible mortal institution, even if it is directed by men inspired by God. It will need checks and balances that will not be required when it is replaced by an infallible immortal institution.

  10. Heber13, you mention the BofM as an example. You forgot Alma the Younger. If he were here today in the modern church, he would never have a calling above YM president because of all the stuff on his “permanent record” at church headquarters.

  11. On the one hand it is interesting that a Church which hangs so much on revelation, feels like revelation needs a ton of help.

    It appears to me, Cowboy, that you’ve fallen into the same misunderstanding as Oliver Cowdery who was told that “you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.” In other words, even then you’re entitled to revelation you’re still supposed to study things out and learn what you can before you ask the Lord. It appears that you’re being critical of church leadership when, in fact, their “due diligence” on these matters is exactly what the Lord has asked them to do.

  12. Post

    #1 – I agree but should not the Church practice what it preaches.

    #3 – The issue with the forsaken comment is that none of us have forsaken until we die or beyond. Forsaking it seems is a matter of the heart, but that is very difficult to judge.

    Joseph Smith might be another example of someone with a shady past that was led to do good things.

    I know that the matter with children is an easy one to latch onto, but no one has mentioned the divorced situation or that an adultery may have repented but not be allowed to serve in some positions. When I was called to be a Bishop, the first question I was asked was, have you ever been involved in a disciplinary council. I assume they had checked but he had to make sure that they had not missed anything. This I think was to see if there was anything that would be a problem for me serving.

    In addition, is there a consensus that abusing children is information rightly kept while other sins are unnecessary?

    Adam F – I amnot sure i agree, because using the same logic putting a ‘recovering’ sex addict in a situation where they will be emotionally intimate with lots of people (sometimes dependent people) is like putting a paedophile in nursery.

  13. The church has an outside way of managing past records at least through Scouts (where the chances are the highest of causing a problem). It’s called the Scouting Adult Application which performs a background check. Now this doesn’t stop those that were never caught, but then that wouldn’t affect the Church if the Church never knew.

    As far as other sins, ie, pornography, fornication, beer and cigarettes, if they want to make annotations for a few years (to keep former addicts from being places in responsible positions in the midst of a relapse), I’m fine with that. However, if there is no signs of repeat offenses, all notations should be expunged.

    As someone who “has a record,” I’m not certainly bothered if I could never be a bishop. I thing that whatever struggles I have in this life I have for a reason and if it disqualifies me to be a bishop, well then the principle of stewardship evens us out. To whom it is given the greater blessings requires greater responsibility, so I don’t think heaven will punish me for this in the end. However, I would like see what my notation says. I want to see what the bishop reads, because I would certainly be upset if it read former fornicator, DO NOT PLACE IN POSITIONS WITH YOUTH, or something like that.

  14. 13 — When I was a membership clerk, and we used MIS for Dos (not that many years ago), it showed up as “Please Contact Previous Bishop.” If someone was not in full fellowship, the date and nature of their membership status shows up at the bottom of the record as well, but that went away when they returned to full fellowship.

  15. Greg:

    I would invite you to go back and re-read section 9, and consider the circumstance in it’s entirety, ie, Oliver being required to “study it in his mind” the unfamiliar eqyptian characters before he seek the confirmation of the spirit. My point is, it is very easy to take that counsel in the D & C, as so many are apt to do, as a requirement from the Lord that we first exhaust secular means of knowledge before seeking his guidance in a revelation. So, if it is that simple, how was Oliver to do that in this case (and apparently what am I missing, given he and I apparently have so much in common). Remember, at the time there were no known experts who could translate the characters written in reformed egyptian. Charles Anthon is claimed to have certified Joseph’s translation according to Martin Harris, though we have no record of what exactly Anthon certified, ie, what passage of scripture. Anthon denies this. If that section of scripture is to have any logical meaning, then it is implying some level of concentration, spiritual meditation, etc, is necessary in order to recieve the revelation. This is still all very spiritual and revelatory. The notions of employing secular study first, make the Oliver Cowdrey translation story absurd.

    Given the above, it does not bode well for the Church when they defer to secular means of “detecting” worthiness, when a tauted strength/ability/Priesthood Key, granted to Bishops is the “power of discernment”.

  16. Its ironic that the justification for institutional records of past transgressions is protection of children. Ironic, because there is no background check system in the Church to do just that. Scouting’s background check is the only procedure that I am aware of that would detect a past criminal conviction. There is no equivalent procedure for teachers or other youth leaders. A past sin might keep you from becoming a bishop or stake president, but it won’t necessarily stop you from becoming a primary teacher.

    God is apparently even less strict. He frequently sends children to the homes of known abusers.

  17. As someone who is divorced (a divorce, by the way, that I never expected nor wanted and that did not involve transgression on either part), I have had some idle interest in what offices (if any) I’m disqualified for — but I’m not terribly worried about it. As has already been noted above, ecclesiastical service has little to do with salvation and exaltation, and those are the things I’m focused on.

    I will note that all the way back in 1988 — just a few years after my divorce and subsequent remarriage — I found myself as 2nd counselor to a bishop who himself was divorced and remarried (Santa Cruz 2nd Ward, Santa Cruz CA Stake). So at least 20 years ago, there were divorced/remarried men serving as bishops — so it’s hardly a ‘new’ development due to recent divorce rates.

    Finally, as someone who has served twice in a bishopric (the 2nd time was several years ago back in Washington DC), I have no aspirations whatsoever to serve as a bishop, high counselor, stake presidency member, etc. I will cheerfully serve if called, but I’d much rather keep my head down and fill a less demanding position. ..bruce..

  18. God is apparently even less strict. He frequently sends children to the homes of known abusers.

    Yep. Just like He frequently kills, maims, starves, and inflicts excruciating diseases on children as well. Or do you think that the full effects of agency are somehow suspended within the Church and its membership? ..bruce..

  19. My dad has was divorced about thirty years ago. He was born and raised in the Church, and yet he has been in the Bishopric numerous times. He spent about five years as the Bishop. He also served in the Stake Presidency for a number of years. I’m not sure how much of a rule that is.

  20. I was told by my stake president that reinstated my full fellowship that I would have caution tape on my record (I didn’t know for how long). He said it wouldn’t preclude me from serving in any position in the Church, but that it would caution my future bishop. I don’t know how I feel about this, but I would like to at least say what this “caution tape” looks like.

  21. # 17 – Sorry. The back-and-forward on this issue has been going on for awhile, sometimes divorced bishops were allowed but at other times they were not. The timing of the issue seems to have stemmed from the 70’s, that is what I consider recent for the Church, sorry I should have been more clear.

    I should also note that with these situations one other factor is that these records are not always checked. For example in a ward I served in once there was a situation where I went to call someone to a calling and they told me that he was not allowed to. We then went and checked the membership record and saw the annotation.

    I should also point out that I do not think the divorced situation ever applied to counselors in Bishoprics or stake presidencies.

  22. I believe the practice of holding the records of disciplinary councils on file has very little to do with preventing an individual from receiving a calling, it is not about protection from sexual predators, although paedophilia has been carried out for hundreds of years it is only recently that awareness has reached fever pitch, if it was regarding that type of process then local records would not be destroyed and Criminal Records would be checked. it is not about stopping a divorced individual receiving a calling, as is shown in many cases, where divorced individuals become Bishops. Preventing someone serving a full-time Mission is different, they recommend that the individual is set to serve a mission locally and in some other capacity, they are still encouraged to serve missions of some sort – all this was done for was to prevent the repent before you serve culture that was developing.

    It is about providing the appropriate help if required to someone who has been disciplined, if the Lord dictates strong enough that person A should be Bishop then that is what will happen. the records help weigh up that decision and also provide additional support in that area if required. Ie, to ensure that they feel they have been forgiven, that they believe Christ, it the ward is experiencing difficulties that might conflict with the Bishops past the SP would emphasis that the mantle of Bishop has been placed on person A because it is the Lords will.

    Is this always the case do some misinterprite, this is very likely perhaps because they are still not confident in there own capacity to interpret the promptings of the spirit.

    Unless i’m mistaken no where would it say that person a who has committed this can’t serve in a,b or c

  23. I’m not sure that I have much of a problem with whether or not the information on Church records has any impact on the types of calling’s one can recieve. They are Church callings, and the Church has a right to extend the various callings to whoever they choose. I also think that it would be irresponsible for the Church, or any organization that places un-related adults in positions of youth leadership, to not keep track of the known sex offenders, or serious drug users, in order to ensure those individuals are not given private access to children. I know specifically of a case where a hardcore meth addict was made primary teacher. The individual claimed to have had the addiction “purged” through the atonement, and this spiritual explanation satisfied the Bishop, too much. I don’t know that any harm was imposed, and fortunately that individual quickly fell into innactivity, and what do you know, drug use too. I just can’t help but feel however, that that Bishop lucked out.

    Taking the the above into consideration, or any reasonable corallary that I may have overlooked, I am troubled by the fact that the Church keeps a dossier on the general membership, that really provides no “rights to information”. It seems very unreasonable that I could not request a copy of my file for example. What good could possibly come from this type of policy?

  24. Not quite at the level of concern that’s been expressed above but men that are divorced and not remarried can’t be temple workers. Plus if you have a beard or mustache you can’t be a temple or veil worker.

  25. GBSmith said

    “men that are divorced and not remarried can’t be temple workers”

    Is this a recent policy because 4 years ago I was a divorced, single temple worker.

  26. I need help here….
    In November 2006 I was dis-fellowshipped for having sexual relations with my “ex”(non-member) fiancé. After breaking up with her shortly after, I started putting my life back together and stayed in the church working through the repentance program.
    I was re-instated after a year (December 2007) and received the Melchezadick Priesthood shortly after. Since then I was called as the YSA Steak Leader and felt spiritually stronger than I’ve ever been.
    In February 2008 I met my girlfirned for the first time at a YSA activity. We got to know each other and have been dating for about 4 months now. We’ve been talking about getting married and possibly setting a date. We planned to get engaged at the end of this year (December 2009) and to get married in the Temple in December 2010.
    Unfortunately as attracted to each other as we are, our affections to each other boarder sexual impurity. It got to the stage where I went and spoke to my Bishop about the situation. I asked for his advice. I know myself and didn’t want to cross the line again! His recommendation was that we get married ASAP. Her being only 19 years old and a full time student makes it a bit difficult to get by her parents to get married any sooner that planned!
    Needless to say, as we spent more and more time together and grew closer and closer to each other we stepped over the line and had sex before marriage over the past weekend! We both know we have done some extremely and seriously wrong. I know what the consequences are for first time offenders, like my girlfriend in this case. That is why I’ve recommended that she goes to her bishop ASAP and try sort things out now. As for me… what will happen to me?? I’ve messed up before, and to escalate the matter I’ve got the melchezadick Priesthood this time round!?!?!
    The only thing sure at this stage is that we still love each other sooooooooo much and want to be together forever! She’s even willing to get a civil marriage for now! My question is: 1.) What will my disciplinary outcome be?? 2.) Will Temple marriage “ever” be an option for us if we stayed together??
    If I can’t take this girl to the Temple, I could never take her hand in marriage as she deserves nothing less! This would mean the end of line for me… I can’t see myself without her! Why does something so special and sweet have to become so complicated so quicly?!?!?!? I love this true Church and believe in it with all my heart! I can’t explain why I’ve messed up again! It happened so quickly! I don’t want to be thrown out! feel like I’m dying inside!!!
    For what it’s worth I’ve made an appointment to see my Bishop on Tuesday evening at his home. Till then I’m going crazy with fear of what’s going to happen with me and most of all us being broken apart!
    South Africa

  27. Regarding your question 1: There is no definate outline of what will happen, it depends upon you and your Priesthood leaders. 2). Yes, it might take a while depending upon what happens with your Bishops, but you can always get there eventually. They cannot break you up, that is your decision. I hope that you find the peace you are looking for.

  28. YSA-25 – bear in mind, too, that at minimum, you can be married civilly and be temple married after a year, if your repentance process is complete. Fidelity through a lifetime of marriage is a better indication of your commitment than an indiscretion before marriage, especially since you are still committed. Too often, young people are willing to throw away the relationship, blaming their partner for the indiscretion.

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