In defense of sin

When I signed on to be a guest blogger, I didn’t anticipate writing a post like this one. But several comments on earlier posts have pushed me to say a few words in behalf of sin, . . . or at least of sinfulness, . . . or at least of recognizing the pervasive reality of sinfulness.

More specifically, in response to the question of what it is essential to believe in order to count oneself a Christian and a Latter-day Saint, several commenters recently suggested that the answer might be simply: love. Loving God and loving our neighbor. This is surely an appealing position. After all, people disagree about lots of things, but no one is against love. (Or at least hardly anyone. Nietzsche, maybe? And Satan, obviously.) And, the scriptures clearly teach that God is love, and that the two great commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor. Might it be that, as the song says, “Love is all you need”?

The suggestion reminds me of a talk I heard last year by a Catholic scholar whom I admire tremendously. She is properly concerned about how the Christian message can be made more accessible and appealing, especially to younger generations. (Younger than me, anyway, which will include most of the people on this planet.) And she suggested that Christians need to emphasize the positive, joyous aspects of the faith, and to back off from presenting the restrictive, burdensome aspects. I’m not sure I got it right, but I understood her to suggest that we need to stop talking about sin.

I can partly agree, just as I can agree with the commenters’ assertion that love is central to the Gospel message. I’ve heard some wonderful talks about how God loves us no matter how humble or sinful we are; I’ve even tried to give that message myself on any number of occasions. And I acknowledge that I myself often fail to reflect or project the joyfulness of the Good News. (That was one of my resolutions for this year: try to be less gloomy and a bit more joyful.)

But stop talking about sin? Would that be wise?

G. K. Chesterton quipped that original sin is “the only part of Christian theology that can really be proved.” Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wouldn’t put the point in terms of “original sin.” But we have our own ways of making a similar point. “The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be forever and ever, unless . . . ,” and so forth. This is not exactly a cheerful theme, perhaps. But it is an essential one, I think, for more than one reason.

First, the human propensity to sinfulness– to pride, selfishness, dishonesty including self-deception– is simply a fact, and if we try to overlook that fact we will be left with a greatly impoverished understanding of the human condition. We will not understand why people do what they do– why we ourselves do and say and feel what we do. We might, for example, try to explain all of human behavior in terms of something like the rational pursuit of self-interest. Which is real enough, no doubt– and I myself sincerely appreciate the contributions of the economists– but rational self-interest falls well short of capturing either the depravity or the majesty of our kind.

Even more importantly, if we limit ourselves to affirming that God is love and that we should love God and our neighbor, we will fail to understand the nature and extent of God’s love; and we will fail properly to love our neighbor. It’s ironic, maybe, but if we focus exclusively on love, I fear we will fail to understand and appreciate what love really is.

With respect to God, the main point of His coming to earth, or sending His only begotten Son to earth, was precisely to redeem us from our sins. Without acknowledging our sinfulness, we will thus fail to appreciate the reason for– and the depth and reach of– the Atonement, in which God’s love for us was manifest. Just as I won’t appreciate the value of medicine unless I acknowledge the reality of disease, I likewise won’t appreciate the love that God manifest in the Atonement unless I recognize the pervasiveness of sin.

And with respect to our neighbor, a single-minded focus on loving others is likely to lead us to suppose that we are required to love people as they are (which is true) and thus that we need to affirm and support them in continuing to be what they currently are or think they are (which can be a disastrous mistake).

Ancient pagans recognized failure and foolishness, and also shame– cowardice, intemperance, and so forth. Christianity presented the idea of sin. One major scholar, Kyle Harper, describes the change from pagan to Christian sexual morality as one From Shame to Sin (which is the title of Harper’s book on the subject). This was not a welcome notion: it was one reason why Christians were often resented and rejected; and it is still a reason why in an age that is anxious to affirm everyone in whatever they conceive their identity to be (“I’m okay; you’re okay”), Christianity provokes suspicion and hostility today. But the Christian recognition of sin is also a reason why Christians from Paul to Pascal have offered more searching and profound interpretations of the human condition than pagan or secular thinkers have been able to provide.

It may be true that younger people today– and older people, and almost all of us– do not especially enjoy hearing about sin. Sin is a suspect and unwelcome concept in contemporary culture. Banishing the concept, of course, does not eliminate the fact. And, ironically, condemnation– ascriptions of hatefulness that themselves often exude hatefulness– is as pervasive as in any time I can remember. And forgiveness is in scarce supply: how often do we hear of some politician or athlete or media personality who is vilified or sometimes “cancelled” because of some incorrect expression, sometimes made inadvertently, or sometimes made years ago. I suspect that without acknowledging sin, we cannot really appreciate the meaning and necessity of forgiveness.

Moreover, even those who want to deny the unpleasant fact of sinfulness may still have a perhaps suppressed sense of the reality of sin. Christ and the Gospel, I believe, are the only ultimate remedy for that condition. So I think we would lose a great deal if a proper emphasis on love led us to eliminate the recognition of sinfulness as one of the central Gospel truths that is essential, not optional. Put it this way: the Gospel is a joyful thing, but we will not be able to appreciate its joyfulness unless we acknowledge the condition that the Gospel is a remedy for. Namely, sin.

22 comments for “In defense of sin

  1. I can see the point that if all the message was “all you have to do is love” that that would leave people not knowing that there are things in their life that they should be changing, and yet they are not. So we do need to talk about sin. I think the problem comes from either transforming that conversation into a us vs. them culture war, or only talking about a sin or two.
    I remember when it was on the ballot to legalize marijuana in my state. Local church leaders gave talks pretty much saying that if legalized it would be the death of us all. It’s been legal for a few years now, and we’re all still doing fine. Being informed about what’s right and what’s wrong is important, but beating the war drum about how terrible it is that other people sin is not.
    So I can see why some get fed up with the focus on abortion or gay marriage (one which isn’t even mentioned in scripture, and the other is barely mentioned), and want to correct the ship by saying that we should only focus on love. I think that those are calls to align the messages we receive with proportional time they were addressed in scriptures.

  2. “The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.”

    Hiding this beautiful truth under a bushel can only keep men in darkness, unable to find the strait and narrow. We cannot accept Jesus as our Christ until we recognize that we are nothing, and it is only through His mercy that we can avoid the lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever.

    When moved upon by the Holy Ghost we should employ the knife of truth, for the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center. It is better for the guilty to recognize the awful view of their own guilt and abominations now than approach the judgement bar with filthy, blood-stained garments.

    We should then show an increase of love toward him whom we have reproved, lest he esteem us to be his enemy; that he may know that our faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

    In other words, Alma 5 and Alma 7 are both wonderful approaches to preaching the gospel.

  3. Sin is something you do. If you understand that we are on earth to have joy, and the way we have joy is to love our fellow man. Loving may start out as something you do but it quickly becomes who you are, and then develops the side effect of no more disposition to do evil. Then you don’t worry about how others are sinning.
    This is what I am trying to describe when I say the esential is loving God by loving our fellows.

    For years the church has taught an obedience culture, all about doing lists of things. I believe that takes us in the wrong direction, particularly when it justifies discrimination, which is restricting love

  4. When you love your fellow man, you don’t want to do anything to hurt them, so you don’t sin against them. When you love yourself you don’t want to do anything that will harm yourself, so you don’t sin against yourself. When you love God, you don’t want to do anything to distance yourself from God, so you don’t want to sin. With enough genuine love, there is no sin, because people love God, each other, and themselves

    I have seen love end sin many times. I have never seen a case where someone being told how worthless and sinful they are has cause them to want to stop sinning. The best, the only way to get someone to stop sinning is give them a good reason. Shaming them for being sinful doesn’t seem to do that no matter what the shaming person seems to think. We have all been given the light of Christ and we know when we are doing wrong, but mostly we just don’t care because we feel worthless. The more shame that gets piled on, the more worthless the person feels and the less they care that they are sinning.

    The problem is not that people don’t know they are sinning, it is that they have no reason to care. Love fixes that and gives them a reason to care.

    All you need is love.

  5. Christ condescended to become our Savior and took our sins upon Himself, so that we could return to Him and the Father. We must repent of our sins to be able to claim all His blessings.

    The question is, how can we best repent. When others point their finger at us, pointing out oh-so-correctly what we are doing wrong? Or when others love us and support us and lift us, and infuse is with a desire to do better?

    Alma 5 and 7 are among the best scriptural guideposts on how we must react to sin. I also like Galatians 5:19-26, which describes the works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit. But I have always viewed these scriptures as checkpoints for us to evaluate ourselves, as we strive to repent and follow God more closely. I also like DC 121:39-46. Reproving betimes with sharpness when moved upon the Holy Ghost is a scriptural injunction, but it is immediately preceded by warnings against unrighteousness dominion, and instructions to show love unfeigned. It is immediately followed by instructions to have our bowels filled with charity. I think we distort reproving betimes with sharpness, when we ignore the immediate preceding and following verses.

    Luke 18:9-14 is the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. Christ is explicit that the Publican, who asked, God be merciful unto me a sinner, returned home justified rather than the commandment-keeping Pharisee.

    Much more repentance happens when others lift us up, act as our friends, include us, and give us hope and a desire to do better, rather than when others point out (oh, ever so helpfully!) what we are doing wrong.

    I have been a member of the Church for 45 years. We do much better as a people when we love others without question, even when they are doing wrong, rather than when we indulge our favorite hobby of confessing other people’s sins. When we do that, we become a circular firing squad.

  6. Encouraging righteousness is a loving act. Those who fail to encourage their neighbor to keep the first great commandment, love neither God nor their neighbor.

  7. Buddhists, who also have a very strong moral code, prefer to look at bad acts as unskillful behavior, as opposed to sin. In a nutshell, their thoughts go something like this: Whenever you want to perform a bodily act, you should reflect on it: “This bodily act I want to perform -would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful bodily act, with harmful consequences or painful results?” If, on reflection, you know that it would, then any bodily act of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do. But if on reflection you know that it would not cause affliction, it would be a skillful bodily act with happy consequences, happy results, then any bodily act of that sort is fit for you to do. This also applies to verbal acts and mental acts. Remember that craving and desiring are “endless becomings” and unskillful.

  8. Bryan:

    I agree that encouraging righteousness is a loving act. Those who fail to encourage their neighbor to love God love neither God nor their neighbor. Yes, that is true, too. I would add, by way of supporting your position, James 5:20, he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

    Again, how do best go about doing that? Christ warns us against being willing to help our neighbor pull the mote out of the neighbor’s eye, while failing to deal with the beam in our own eye. He tells us to first deal with the beam in our own eye, before bothering with our neighbor’s mote.

    Yes, SOMEONE has to denounce sin. For that,
    We have church leaders — prophets, apostles, stake presidents, bishops who can (and do) make calls to repentance, whether collectively or individually. Let them do the job, as they feel prompted. I feel I place myself in spiritual danger when I take the job on, myself.

    As for me, I see the effects of sin all around me, and in me. That is why I prefer Hosea 6:6 — I desired mercy and not sacrifice. We are all sinners, no matter how hard we try to follow Christ. That does NOT mean to not bother with trying to repent, but it is Christ’s atonement that makes up for the inadequacies of our own efforts. President Nelson needs the atonement as much as I do.

    I love St.Francis of Assisi’s admonition to always preach the Gospel, and use words when necessary.

  9. Taiwan Missionary:

    It is not just church leaders who are called to denounce sin, all priesthood holders have a duty “to warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ.” Upholding that duty does not put you in spiritual danger, neglecting it does. You are not a hypocrite for sharing the light and knowledge revealed to you, despite your imperfections.

  10. Bryan:

    Thank you. As I read your comments, I must confess (pun intended) that I sense a preoccupation with denouncing sin, that I can only characterize as GRIM, a sense of, well, SOMEONE has to do it, so I will. I do not feel the love of God in your statements. I do not feel the love of Christ, but more the stereotypical Old Testament God of wrath; I frankly smell the whiff of fanaticism. The pastor in the old classic movie Pollyanna comes to mind, as he denounces sin so much, that he does not have time to focus on the healing love of Christ in his sermons. It is my goal to be so swallowed up in the love of God, that I do not see the filthiness of the water in Father Lehi’s vision. (1Nephi 15:27) I Feel in your writing a sense of joyless duty that needs to focus on the negative. Where is the joy of Christ in your writing?

    I hope that my perceptions are inaccurate. If they are, I sincerely apologize, and hope that elsewhere, I will see you rhapsodize about the love of God. But here, I only see a sour doubling-down.

    I think it is time for the two of us to let others resume contributing to this comment thread; What I had hoped would be a useful discussion has turned into a bit of a Bible Bash, and our back-and-forth comments are dominating. I am sorry for my contribution to that. If you Want to have the final word, I will yield the floor.

  11. In the main post, I meant to emphasize the reality of sin and sinfulness, and the necessity of appreciating this reality in order to understand the reason for the Atonement, the joyfulness of the Gospel, and the possibility of forgiveness. I didn’t mean to be addressing the question of who should reprove whom for sin when. That can be a very difficult question, and it is surely one that we need to approach humbly, charitably, and while seeking the guidance of the Spirit.

    As it happens, I was in DC a couple of weeks ago, and I visited the Lincoln Memorial, as I like to do when I’m there. On one wall of the Memorial are inscribed the words of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address– surely as profound a reflection as any political leader has ever given us. The address manages to blend a very searching awareness of sinfulness (of the sin of slavery), a charitable refusal to condemn the slaveholders (“. . . but let us judge not that we be not judged. . . ”), and a resolve to proceed with charity and forgiveness (“. . . with malice toward none; with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right . . .”). The address might serve as an example for us in these difficult matters.

  12. Bryan, let me give you a couple of examples of where your attitude goes wrong. My mother was told by her doctor that she could pay for some expensive pills, or drink one cup of coffee a day. Well, my family was poor and she didn’t have the luxury of expensive pills, so she drank coffee. She was however honest with her bishop and stake president while getting a temple recommend to she her child married in the temple. She told him that she had stopped the coffee for six months. So, while coming up with the extra money for a wedding, the family also had the expense of the pills. Well, the stake president felt a duty to convince her she should never go back on the coffee and drug her over the coals until she was in tears and promised what she knew she couldn’t keep. Well, that was the last temple recommend she ever got. In fact she withdrew so far from the church as to never go back. Was her “sin” really sin? Well, pres Kimball said that using tea or coffee for medical reason was OK if done carefully, but the bishop had never heard that, so he was insisting that she stop sinning. It wasn’t the coffee that cost her her testimony. It was lack of love and someone thinking he had a duty to preach against sin. That stake president didn’t realize his sin was bigger than hers. He had the beam in his own eye and couldn’t see it.

    Another example, I know a girl who is gay. Her mother followed Elder Oaks advice and kept preaching against sin and the daughter cut her parents out of her life. The girl knows what the church teaches and really doesn’t need to hear it over and over and over. She has made a choice. Her parents now have a choice. They can continue to tell her what she already knows or they can love her where she is. More preaching isn’t going to change things, only anger her, more. She has gotten angrier and angrier toward the church, and vows she will never be back because she sees active Mormons as judging her and very unloving. Let’s see, how did Elder Christofferson handle his brother? He continued to love him, and years later the brother came back to church. Love worked, eventually, preaching didn’t.

    Sure, we have a duty to let people know if they are sinning and they honestly don’t know it. But really, how often does that happen? Most of the time they know and your only choice is to love them or preach at them. And think about this, is telling people what they already know kind? It is like the question from the fat wife, “does this dress make me look fat?” You going to tell her what she already knows, or you going to love her?

  13. Well, I thought it was time for me to shut up, but Anna’s comment hit a nerve, so here I am again.

    My wife is an R.N., and in her day, was very good. Based on her medical knowledge, we always kept a bottle of coke syrup in the medicine cabinet, especially when our children were young: headaches, nausea, migraines, etc. The syrup was glorified caffeine. A spoonful of the stuff had more caffeine than a cup of coffee. Children liked it because it had sugar.

    Anna, I am assuming that your mother’s doctor had assessed that she medically required caffeine on a regular basis, hence a simple cup of coffee per day, to avoid an unaffordable medicine.

    The WOW is designed to improve life, not make it more difficult. I wish your mom had simply said “yes” when she was asked if she obeyed the WOW, because, based on your account, she was doing her best to live the spirit of the WOW, and it would have been better if she had not gotten into detailed explanations with a rigid leader, that wound up blowing up in her face.

    I like what Dallin Oaks has said: it is my job to teach you correct principles. It is your job to decide prayerfully if your circumstances are an acceptable exception to the general rule that I have set out. I would add to that, if you do so decide, then go ahead.

    Dallin Oaks has also cautioned against alienating family members who do not follow commandments. Pres. Oaks said that although we should let them know that we think what they are doing us wrong, we must then LOVE them and keep them close to us.

    I do not think the people in the example you raised who have a gay child properly followed Pres. Oaks’ counsel.

    Having followed your comments on T & S and W & T, it seems to me you have been in a particularly rigid circle of Church members. I am sorry for that, and can only suggest that you be careful in what you say to them — know your audience, and know that it is dangerous to be open with some people.

    With my best wishes,

    Taiwan Missionary

  14. Anna, it seems like there were a lot of other options in your mother’s story. She could have told her doctor that she didn’t drink coffee for religious reasons and asked him to recommend something else. Caffeine is available in many forms. She could have sought the advice of her bishop. She could have tried Mountain Dew. Rather than showing that she had no other choice, the story suggests it was created by someone who is not a reliable witness to the events described. The story as such doesn’t really tell us anything about sin or what the church should be doing.

    Likewise, people who set aside the law of chastity often treat the mere mention of the commandment as endless preaching. Who else should tell your friend that her choices are not in accordance with the law of chastity if not her own family? Should it come from the bishop? The prophet? Often the only thing people will accept is not just silence about their choices, but approval. And the church cannot give that. What’s the point of going to church and never having to confront the possibility that you might be sinning?

  15. C Keen, you prove to me that I am correct. It is love that works to correct sin, not self righteous jerks telling people they are sinning. You jumped right to judging another person. See, love would have considered that maybe she had thought and prayed about this. What you failed to consider is that it was not the caffeine, but the diuretic properties of coffee. Coffee does not equal no doze pills. And you must have never noticed that coffee drinkers run to the restroom more than average. But I see you are of the same self righteous unloving mentality as her Stake Prez. “There is always a way to follow God’s commands and if you think you are an exception, then that is your biggest sin.” The world is not as black or white as you pretend. And you and that arrogant SP neither one have the education of that LDS doctor who told her that coffee would do the same as the pills. Oh, didn’t dawn on you that the doc could have been LDS and actually know what he was talking about and understand about the WoW? See, you are too busy thinking you are more righteous and that you would have found a way to consider that maybe the stake prez was the one who had not thought long and hard about what he was doing. You didn’t know all the facts when you judged someone. People never do. That is why only love works. Read your D&C 121.

  16. Anna, the caffeine is the diuretic. Mountain Dew will make you pee, too. I’m not sure that doctor really knew what he was talking about. Or maybe getting your mother to drink coffee was precisely the point.

  17. C. Keen, yes caffeine is *one* of the diuretics in coffee. I trust the doctor knew more what he was talking about than I am going to trust a self righteous internet stranger. And my mother being diabetic, the sugar in soda would not be good and you are obviously too young to remember a world before decent artificial sweetener. Think 1950s.

    A few days ago I ran across a statement by pres Kimball that said that coffee and tea are acceptable for medical use under a doctor’s care. So, it seems that the doctor was not attempting to lead anyone down to hell, but following the true spirit of the WoW, according to this first presidency statement, which is to use things with wisdom. The church’s most recent statement on WoW says that MJ is alright under a doctor’s supervision. If MJ under a doctor’s care is alright, then logically so should coffee be.

    Taiwan Missionary, yes, I believe I have seen more than my share of unrighteous dominion. And I grew up in Provo, UT, which I think is about the most rigid, self righteous, mixing up their politics with their religion place in all of the Mormon world. The other thing is that it has left me highly reactive to unrighteous dominion. Kind of a viscous cycle where a scar tissue forms from one injury and that area is a hard lump that those prone to unrighteous dominion just can’t seem to leave alone. Sort of like the pattern that abused wives get into, where the abusers know they can get away with it because this person has no self esteem and yet has a prickly hard exterior. That prickly exterior is something abusers think they need to fix. So, more of that kind of experience attracts more abusers, and it keeps reopening the wound and it leaves more scar tissue. Like for example, a bishop yelling at me for not trusting him when he had done nothing but become bishop to earn my trust. Yeah, like yelling at me is going to work. So, anyway, I try to share my experience so that others can learn that love unfeigned is the best way to #1 find out if people really are sinning. #2 get them to change.

  18. Taiwan Missionary: That you seek to correct me is an indication that you have more faith in the power of correction than you explicitly acknowledge.

    It is the “love is all you need” crowd that lacks the joy of Christ, confusing the gospel with 20th century, secular pop-philosophy. The joy of Christ is that, by the grace of God, we can repent, progress, and be saved. There is no Christian joy without Christ. Man cannot embrace Jesus as Christ without recognizing his fallen nature.

    Finally, don’t confuse my comments for “a preoccupation with denouncing sin.” My comments are sincere, but topical. I don’t spend my day telling others the myriad ways in which they sin. Nor do I pretend that we can appreciate God’s grace without acknowledging sin and its wages.

    SDS: Thank you for the OP and comment. I, too, am less concerned with who is called to the watchtower than with the attempts to dilute the gospel of Christ to the golden rule. You make the case better than I can.

    Anna: That individuals err in applying correct principles is not a good argument for adopting false principles.

  19. Anna:

    Agree with you that love unfeigned is the best, if not the only, way to get people to feel safe enough to confront, on their own volition, the fact of their sinful behavior; and to give them the courage to change such behavior. Christ beautifully showed the way, when He was confronted by the woman caught in the very act of adultery, and dragged by others before Him to see how He would deal with her. His reply of, let him who is without sin cast the first stone, convicted the accusers In their hearts, who melted away. He then asked the woman who accused her, and she said, no one, Lord. And then His reply, neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more. I personally interpret her referring to Christ as Lord as an indication that she acknowledged His authority to judge her.

    I have friends in the Church who have had hurtful experiences similar to yours. I was myself confronted at the age of 26 by my Stake President, who accused me of immoral behavior. He was very surprised when I not only told him that he was wrong, but that I bit back and bit hard. He hastily backtracked.

    Shouldn’t be this way, but sometimes you have to have a thick hide to survive being in the Church. We all have our different personalities and ways of dealing with issues; I have found that the best way for me, not necessarily very Christian, is to quote scripture and general Church leaders, to refute incorrect assertions of local leaders when they try to bludgeon me into accepting their own views as Gospel. Two issues that formed that somewhat combative spirit in me were John Birch Society partisans who tried to hijack the Church—and me— in the 70s and 80s, and evolution.

    As we cling to the iron rod of Father Lehi’s dream, and press forward through the mists of darkness, we experience the joy of Jesus Christ. I am blessed right now with a Bishop and a Stake President who are not only good men, but humane disciples of Christ, as well, and they make my journey much easier, and have shown me that the Church is so often a joyous environment. As to leaders who have disappointed in the past (thank you, Todd Christofferson, for acknowledging that) I try to remember that they tried to do their best, and that I must have charity. If they showed unrighteousness dominion, then we are under no Obligation to return for extra helpings (thank you, Jeffrey Holland). I have a daughter in that situation, and her decision was to stay away from Church to avoid the abusive behavior. I support her, hoping that some day she will feel safe enough to return.

    I wish you well on your journey, and have always enjoyed your thoughts and perspectives, even if I don’t always agree with them. You refer to a prickly hard exterior. I find that much easier and more HONEST and more rewarding to deal with than the smooth polished surface of an Uriah Heep.

    Look forward to future exchanges.


    Taiwan Missionary

  20. Thanks, all, for some heartfelt comments and some wise advice. The comments have gone in a direction I didn’t exactly anticipate, and that’s fine. On what has become the main thread, here’s my experience. I used to be quite critical of church leaders, especially local leaders– bishops and stake presidents. I wasn’t publicly critical, but I would often express criticisms to a few close friends or family.

    Then (to my own and everyone’s surprise) I got called to a position in which I had to work very closely with the bishop. And I could see close-up that he was very, very human, and that he sometimes said things and gave advice that might have been misguided, and sometimes hurtful. I could also see that he was a good man who had not sought the calling of bishop, who accepted the calling because he thought it was the right thing to do, who spent hours upon hours every week trying to help ward members, sacrificing his own preferences and desires trying to serve the Lord and the ward. He was often subjected to criticism from ward members, and sometimes they were probably right; but what they couldn’t see was that the bishop had to deal not only with their particular question or problem but with a thousand other matters as well. If it had been possible to take each problem one-by-one, carefully reflect and pray about it, and then give advice, he might sometimes have done some things differently; but he didn’t have that luxury. After five years he was pretty much worn down and worn out, but I believe his efforts blessed the lives of many people, including mine. (I worry that he doesn’t realize how much good he did.)

    So now if a bishop does something that seems questionable, I don’t necessarily assume that he is right; but I try very hard to withhold criticism and understand what he is trying to do. It’s not that bishops or stake presidents don’t make mistakes. And we don’t always have to agree with them. But I believe that if we’re humble and faithful, the Lord does work through them to help us.

  21. “Who else should tell your friend that her choices are not in accordance with the law of chastity if not her own family?”

    Absolutely. I don’t think the argument is that its’ wrong for parents to teach principles to their children. But once the child is grown and already has an understanding of the law of chastity, then what is the point of her family pointing out her ‘sin’? If she is already aware and either doesn’t agree or doesn’t care, how does it help HER to have them reminder her again and again and again?

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