In a recent meeting with a counselor in the stake presidency, he asked us all to tell him how we run our families so well. While I appreciate the compliment, I don’t think I’m alone in thinking I do a lot of things wrong, as well as some things right. I didn’t like the implication of the question, which seemed to me that we are all perfect. I responded that I’m a sinner.
I talked with a friend, a former stake president, (who happened to be in the meeting I attended), and he didn’t seem to like the phrase “I’m a sinner.” Do you have something to confess? I told him I don’t always hold family home evening, we don’t always have family prayers every night, and I don’t always say nice things. I fall short of the ideals we are all supposed to live. In short, I’m a sinner.
It seems to me that this is a phrase common to Born-Again Christians, but Mormons like to constantly strive for perfection, and don’t like to focus on being a bunch of sinners. Are you a sinner? Are you comfortable calling yourself a sinner? Do we have a problem with pride when we don’t like to call ourselves sinners? Should “I’m a sinner” be reserved only for “major” sins?
Sin isn’t unchecked boxes on the LDS checklist, sin is the degree to which we are misconnected or misaligned with God.
I’m with you, I’m a sinner, too. Joseph Smith seem to say it all the time. Plus, one of his greatest fears (I think he got it from the BOM and Moroni in those annual PPIs) was the self-righteousness of the Saints.
Mormon culture doesn’t like “I’m a sinner” because, while correct, it seems to ignore all the things that Mormons do to try to stop being sinners. We want to focus on the progress, the idea that repentance creates someone better. “I’m a sinner” sounds to Mormons like one is either hopeless or has given up on trying. You can tell Mormons you’re “no more than the dust of the earth” and have scriptural support for that too, but they won’t like or agree with that either. Mormon optimism.
I like thinking of myself as a sinner. To not do so seems hugely egotistical as if I can make it independent of Christ (or my fellow man). Also, just admitting I’m a sinner takes the pressure off to not be one (to be perfect).
1) I love Kendrick Lamar — great song lyrics choice, whether intentional or not.
2) I really have to agree with Howard. I mean, I’m all for Christians (and if Mormons want the title, y’all should follow suit) admitting they are sinners(because theologically according to Christianity, all have fallen short…), but if your list of sins includes things like not always holding family home evening or not always having family prayers, then that to me is a fairly superficial understanding of sin. If you don’t think you have major sins (so the only thing you can get at is “not always saying nice things” or “not holding family home evening with perfect attendance,” then I think that has a lot of implications.
I mean, I feel like there could be a post about that: is Mormonism just a religion full of people who think think the only thing keeping them away from being perfect is “not holding family home evening with perfect attendance”??? is that supposed to be relatable to most people?
Let me put it another way: if the only family problems you have is about not doing family home evening or not praying together always, then it’s an entirely appropriate question to ask how you run your family so well.
This post I think highlights two very mormon things: no one wants to be labeled a sinner, however, every mormon I know would take being labeled a sinner over being labelled perfect. While I agree that the phrase sinner has a stronger connotation than it appears to for my non-denominational Christian pals, I also think that we as a culture are bad at accepting compliments and admitting when we do things well. I guess in the quest for perfection reasonably good just doesn’t feel good enough.
Andrew, your point is well taken, but the immediate responses given in the class were “We hold family home evening, family prayer, do things together with our wives, date night”, etc. I was trying to say, “yeah, I’m not perfect. I don’t do those things like I should.” But I’m not going to start listing my major sins in front of a class, so I did the safe ones that were specifically mentioned in class. I’m not about to start airing my really dirty laundry in class, nor on the internet, so yes, the things I listed are rather superficial, but superficial for a reason–mainly to get a conversation started. My SP friend seemed genuinely concerned that I was going to admit to something major. I wasn’t about to do that, but let him know that he doesn’t need to worry about me committing adultery, robbing banks, abusing my family, etc. I’ve got problems–I’m sure many here on this blog can list my sins better than I can. But I do try to do better, and I don’t mind admitting I’m a sinner, even if I’m so chicken I’ll only admit to superficial ones. Don’t forget I’m a Sabbath breaker too, which I admitted to in this post, all the while bragging about the good I did while breaking the Sabbath.
I guess the real question is this: we all know we’re sinners. Why do we (Mormons) have a hard time admitting it?
“I’m an improver” is Mormon speak for “I’m a sinner”.
It is hard to strive for perfection, if one does not acknowledge that he sins.
I heard it best from a radio personality that said he sits in a chair on the cliff of total immorality and sometimes likes to lean back on 2 legs. He said he went to church to gain what he needed to pull him back from the edge. That’s me. I’m a sinner. I try to do better everyday, and everyday I slip up.
I think like you said that a subset of Christians call themselves sinners much more than Mormons call ourselves sinners. My impression is that having everyone call herself a sinner goes along with a grace-focused framing of salvation, and we Mormons are much more works-focused, so like several other people have already said, we talk more about what we can do than about grace. So we don’t call ourselves sinners.
Perhaps there is some benefit to confessing to being a sinner, certainly it counters hubris and humbles one but it can also create problems for example it can be taken too far: false modesty or self flagellation isn’t healthy or helpful also confessing to “sins” that aren’t sins will not help one close the distance between themselves and God because the effort totally misses the mark!
MH-I think you make a good point. The Book of Mormon, our top book of scripture, includes Nephi’s admission he is a sinner.
17 …O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
18 I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.
19 And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.
Let’s quit being so hard on ourselves–look how we are weighting ourselves down and our children down with being “laiden with sin”. Let’s take a paradigm shift here and give ourselves breathing room and credit for what is right in our lives and the lives of our families instead of what is wrong!
I have always been drawn to the first chapter in Bruce Hafen’s book The Broken Heart wherein he states: …scriptures may use the term sin with different meanings in different contexts. For a further example of sin’s various meanings, we have already see that Adam and Eve’s original sin was not a classic sin in the sense of an evil, knowing rebellion against God. Moreover, the ancient languages from which the Bible was translated used many terms with a variety of meanings that were all translated as sin in English language translations.
For instance, Bible scholars have established that our Old Testament uses the English word sin to translate Hebrew phrases that should more precisely have been interpreted as “missing the right point” or as describing “those who had lost their way” or those who “even with the best intentions were in difficulty”. Similarly, our Old Testament at times uses sin to describe what in Hebrew could be either willful rebellion or unintentional error that is misguided but not unconditionally negligent or culpable. Indeed using terms we might call sin in English, some original Old Testament writers actually ascribe man’s shortcomings to the terrifying and tormenting thought that man cannot attain to God by his own striving because God withholds from him the ability to do so.
He further states that the Christian view of sin cannot be found in the classical Greek language. In the Greek conception, guilt and sin cover everything from crime to harmless faults, not only the moral actions but also intellectual and artistic failings. In Greek literature, guilt and suffering frequently flowed from man’s ignorance, some of which was believed to be inherent in the mortal condition and some of which could be overcome with education. Yet for the Greeks to become guilty and to suffer in consequence is simply to come to a deeper understanding of the world. He further states it is by no means clear that the atonement would apply to all these usages of the word sin, but it applies to many of them……….
Also, I cannot come to it right now–but it may be in his book or just look up perfection meaning–it is not flawless–it is whole and complete.
I’m going to get on a bit of a soapbox here, so please forgive me. I just feel I have to offer some thoughts that will take a bit of length to express (really, they require more than this, but perhaps another day).
I think a key to understanding sin is to get past our misunderstanding of Jesus’ comment to Peter as recorded in Matthew 16:19: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
In LDS parlance, we interpret this to be the sealing power being given to Peter. I do not believe that to be so. This binding and loosing has to do with law-making – specifically spiritual laws. In second temple Palistine, the leaders had the ability to make something unlawful (bind) or to make something lawful (loose). This is a well-attested concept and, by the use of such edicts, the leaders were able to bind and loose on earth. They believed, by virtue of their position, that heaven then ratified those edicts and thus things became unlawful (bound) or lawful (loosed) in heaven as well. You can see some of the background of this in Jesus’ comment to the Pharisees as recorded in Matthew 23:4:
“For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”
The Pharisees, by the simple act of using their fingers, could loose a burden (make something lawful), so Jesus is here castigating them for adding unnecessary requirements upon people.
In the context of Jesus’ time, there were two aspects of the Law: 1) Torah, given by God to Moses; and 2) Oral, or Rabbinical law, as given by the Pharisees and leaders (there is more to this, but I am simplifying for brevity’s sake). Jesus is here calling into question the oral law, something he routinely broke (no healing on the Sabbath, no eating from the fields, etc.).
So, how does that help us understand sin? Well, if we can separate the commandments of men from the commandments of God, I think we gain insight into what is a sin. God cares about our hearts – our intentions. He wants us to love him and love others as we do ourselves (notice that, hidden in that commandment, is the assumption that you are to also love yourself). He doesn’t care so much about keeping perfectly a set of laws. As Paul so eloquently taught multiple times, the Law cannot save and only stands as a witness of our failure to adhere to its requirements. Jesus steps in and makes us whole, despite our failures. All we must do is ask for him to do so.
I’ll close with this comment by Jesus to a Pharisee who objected to Jesus eating with sinners. Keep in mind that to offer sacrifice was the most important aspect of the Jewish Law. It was so important that, during the siege of Jerusalem by Roman soldiers in 70 CE, sacrifices were continued at the temple until the very end. This requirement was about as serious as it could get for Jews. Here is what Jesus said to the Pharisee (as recorded in Matthew 9:10-13):
“And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
I think this highlights a larger issue with LDS discourse as a whole. If anyone’s answer to “why is your family on the right track?” is “we do LDS checklist things,” that is missing the mark (pun intended. Yes, i will just go as far as to say that considering LDS checklist items as what you need to be “good” is sinful itself.)
I can totally accept not wanting to share major sins (or feeling comfortable doing such) in such an environment.
This gets to your overall question. Mormons have a tough time accepting they are sinners because there is just a fundamentally different perspective about the ubiquity of sin and the acceptance of one’s state as a sinner than is emphasized in traditional Christianity. So you don’t even feel comfortable to talk about the depths of sin in a Mormon community (neither you to tell it or your stake president to hear it) because Mormonism really isn’t “about that.” It’s about being almost perfect (but not quite!), rather than being totally damnable (but extremely grateful that God gives mercy instead of what we all deserve)
I like Andrew’s latest comment. I’ll piggyback on his comment and say that, IMHO, the reason why Mormons have a hard time admitting they’re sinners is because of the rhetoric involving the restoration of the church. Mormons are taught, from a very early age, that they are special because their church is special. There is a kind of arrogance in how we talk about this and it makes it hard to admit that we (as Mormon individuals) are just as sin-prone and sinful as the rest of humanity. The whole “we’re the only true church” rhetoric trickles down, I think, to an individual level. If you believe (as many Mormons mistakenly do) that you are destined for the celestial kingdom and anyone who’s not a Mormon isn’t, I can certainly see how the paradox of sinfulness (i.e. “I’m a sinner and not that special, no, wait, I’m also a Mormon and therefore special”) could cause clouded judgement when one is conducting an examination of one’s own behavior. My .02.
To take what Brother Sky said just a step further, if the only things that really distinguish you from your fellow Christians are little checklist items like FHE and abstaining from coffee, then those must be the things that really matter in regards to salvation for Mormons. We develop this incorrect assumption that Mormons must be already pretty perfect at all the big stuff, so all that’s left to discuss is the little stuff. In our culture where we have made it an act of bravery to admit that once you went to the store on Sunday (but you learned your lesson!), no wonder we get squirmy around the concept of sin.
I’ve been studying as of late the difference between the ideas of “sin” and “transgression”.
In some ways…not having FHE, family prayer, scripture study…those things we’ve been commanded to do but we fail to do might be called transgressions as we violate the law or command. However, if they are not inherently “evil” things…they might not technically be sin.
To fail at keeping every law, and declaring yourself a “sinner” may be a harsh way to put it…and may be something that others react to and not feel right about, if they are thinking sins need to be repented of, or confessions made, because they are evil acts.
But…as I study…to be honest…I get caught up in some of these semantics. I’m not sure if it matters to transgress or sin…both are not doing what we should and we need weekly repentance.
I need more study. Perhaps I need others smarter than me to explain to me…because some things (like drinking tea) seem to be violations of the laws, but I honestly in my heart don’t think God cares that much because they aren’t evil. But some sins are really keeping us from being closer to God, and there is real evil in the world we cannot gloss over as “just imperfections we all have”.
I just don’t usually say much in church settings, because I just feel I have so many imperfections I keep them to myself and don’t tell others. God knows I ‘m working on them.
Sin, in the mormon church, is not easily discussed or openly accepted to discuss…because D&C 1:31 For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance;
The reaction of the former Stake President in your experience is common, I think. It’s why I keep my thoughts to myself. I think it is why many sit in church with guilt from a passive aggressive culture where we all know we are all sinners, but…don’t know how to talk about it.
I continue to study the topic. I’m not satisfied with my initial approach of defining the difference between sin and transgression. I’m not sure that matters. The subject goes deeper.
If you believe (as many Mormons mistakenly do) that you are destined for the celestial kingdom and anyone who’s not a Mormon isn’t,
I’m interested as to why you say mistakingly. If what you say is true, then there is no need to preach the gospel which people will either accept or reject.
Mormons don’t think of themselves as sinners- in the face of many Biblical passages to the contrary.
Orangganjil above hits a home run with Matt9:10-
Since Mormons are not that big of sinners, they really don’t have much need for a Savior as pointed out in Matt 9
This why we don’t emphasis Jesus either. We don’t need Him that much. Maybe as a back-up plan fir the weak and less worthy.
We are busy proving our worthiness which is what the Stake President’s question was about that originated this discussion.
Just reading some of these blogs from the past. I have a different take on this whole sin issue. First, I’ve come to see that the church and its leaders are overly focused on ‘obedience’ for its own sake. One’s motive and focus have everything to do with the quality of life and how we do things. Doing things out of duty feels different than doing things out of internal motivation; for its own sake (love). Love is the reason for obedience but my 30 years of experience in the church not only taught me the laws but also impacted me as a person. Assuming they have good intentions for imposing their many rules, they might want to bring an outward mindset (i.e., seeing members as people, not objects to be controlled) into their leadership philosophy. Currently, I see an inward mindset (i.e., selfish focus; see members as things). I’m talking about senior leadership here.
Intention and impact matter – a lot! Leaders didn’t start caring about the attitudes and intentions of members until people started leading in large numbers. The reactive changes to feedback systems now seek to understand why people leave. They ‘care’ because they are seeing numbers that affect their retention goals. They might start to adopt a learning organization model which would require humility. From all the stories I’ve read about, humility is quite scarce in these old guys who somehow believe their titles are more important than member experiences. BYU’s Religious Studies Dept. could really help them. Dan Judd, the dean of this dept. has published research regarding legalism, grace, and mental health. Other scholars from different departments have also studied the effects of grace. Now that people can speak for themselves in this Internet age, the bureaucratic elite looks quite ignorant speaking on their behalf. Members who experience legalism don’t feel grace. Grace has a positive influence on mental health; legalism precludes experiencing grace. I always felt the dry, mechanistic, rule-driven culture truncated from the heart of the gospel – Grace. I know, it’s given lip service but it’s not the core of LDS teachings; obedience, authority, and rewards/punishment are at the core. I won’t be gaslit for my observations and experiences. Why is it that scholars and folks outside the church structure provide the knowledge and encouragement of grace and not the 15 little gods at the top?
The focus on ‘follow the prophet’ and not ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’ makes all the difference in why we obey and how we see sin. The former creates a performance-based mindset, gives credit to followers, and makes one’s worth conditional on behaviors. The latter focuses on gratitude, on receiving God’s love more than church approval, and on changing one’s heart from the inside out, not based on threats in scripture, handbooks, or from pulpits. It’s a shift from ‘have to’ (forced compliance) to ‘what to’ (freely chosen; volitional). Seeing Christ as the only way makes all the difference in perspective on sin. From rules, sin, and punishment in order to earn salvation – to grace, love, an internal motivation to live well, and love with purpose.
Legalism breeds fear and anxiety for many; its objective is obedience and control. Grace brings hope and health. Its objective is releasing the bondage of fear, and providing hope, and room for growth (which requires risks and mistakes). Grace is liberating and causes individuals to obey from a changed heart/attitude. Legalism is selfish, and controlling, and reduces people to behaviors that comply with a system for their social status and internal sense of worth.
Thank goodness for revelations of truth that come from outside the prophets, seers, and revelators who don’t seem to reveal the realities that lead to better health through dependence on God alone and not an institution.