I’m quoting/sharing the writing of John Gustav-Wrathall.
Yesterday we had a great conversation in priesthood meeting on the subject of repentance. Brother Purcell taught the lesson, and he seemed a little bit worried about the fact that this was his first time teaching any lesson ever. (I love that the church puts us in those situations!)
He performed admirably by bringing some important questions to the table for us to discuss.
He read a quotation from President Russell M. Nelson to the effect that repentance was something he engaged in daily.
There was some interest in the idea of the prophet and president of the church having to engage in daily repentance. There was some speculation about the nature of sins that the prophet might need to repent of. There was a suggestion that they must be very small sins, things that most of us mere mortals commit every day without even realizing it.
Without suggesting that President Nelson is guilty of any such, I actually think prophets are capable of quite terrible sins. It’s actually a very scriptural notion that the greater the light and knowledge the greater the capacity for sin. But whether sins are great or small I think is not the point.￼
We tend to think of repentance as a specific act of atonement for a specific failure. And while specific acts of atonement are frequently necessary in our lives for specific blunders that we eventually recognize and come to regret, I have come to realize over the years that repentance is also a posture, a mode of approaching life, a way of being.
I think daily repentance is the recognition that we are dependent on God and that our perspective is limited, and we need to open our hearts every day to recognize what course corrections are needed.
I wonder if that is what President Nelson meant. I wonder if daily repentance means recognizing that life as a disciple of Jesus Christ requires humility, the daily ability to seek out and recognize wrongs in our lives and to seek to correct them, whether we find specific ones or not on any given day.￼￼
At this last general conference President Nelson challenged the members to seek reconciliation with anyone to whom we are not reconciled. What a beautiful challenge! What a possibility for greater peace in our individual lives and on our planet if we were all to take that seriously. What an opportunity for repentance!￼￼
Yesterday at home we read the first two chapters of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon.
These and following chapters are among my favorite.
King Benjamin is one of my favorite people in the Book of Mormon and his sermon is one of the greatest sermons ever preached.
And one of the great moments in that sermon is when he says to his people “I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind.”
I am grateful to have a prophet who is capable of this Benjamin-like recognition that he requires daily repentance just like the rest of us.
We are all in this together.
What do you think?
- Does President Nelson sin?
- Should a daily inventory and daily repentance be a part of how we live?
Steven this is so beautiful. Pres. Nelson is in charge of his own sins as far as I’m concerned, but for myself this is the path that I have chosen to tread. I hope every day for a clearer view of God’s will in my life and a more developed view of what I need to do to be part of that or not get in the way. There is so much that neither I nor anyone else can know given my culture and upbringing that needs to be corrected, and I am happy for any further light or knowledge that makes me an instrument of that divine will.
As a church, we are continually cheapening the meaning of words. This trend has been accelerating in recent years. Think of the following 3 words:
Revelation used to be a major event. Now it seems to mean everything that the prophet says. Think POX. Was its reversal also a revelation? Are Pres Nelson’s night inspirations really all revelations?
Translation used to have a well-defined meaning. Now apologists are trying to muddy the water to better match the historical realities of the “translations” of the BOM and BOA.
Now we have repentance. Didn’t it used to be making amends for major faux pas? Now we want to define it as daily nonviolent (hopefully) self-flagellation (Is this an oxymoron?). Living in the modern world is complicated enough without making repentance a daily event. Many Mormons are already suffering from the guilt of not being good enough. Daily repentance is going to exaggerate this problem, not help it. Enough with the guilt trips.
The Christian world calls it repentance. Other religions have different words for it. Non-believers even do it. The Idea is that we all make mistakes and harm others and we need to attempt to correct this behavior and say we are sorry.
None of this is unique to Mormonism but leave it to us (LDS) to codify it into a box checking exercise. Here’s the bottom line: acknowledge your faults and try to do better. If that’s what RMN is promoting, terrific. But most of us don’t need him or the Church to tell us what to do or how to do it. We know the challenge.
Sin means so many things in scripture that it is hard to define what separates us from God. But as Roger Hansen noted, there are problems if we slip into too much individualism. Perhaps it is best to envision our status or condition communally. We are ALL guilty in that we have all come short. In our materialistic and narcissistic age, we need to continually remember that. Nearly weekly we gather to engage in a bit of ritualistic cannibalism as a community. We drink the blood and eat the flesh of our Lord. Our lives are not enough. We all have to take upon ourselves someone else’s name, and internalize someone else’s essence, mission and life. We all should be united as the body of Christ. That is not merely a guilt trip, it removes all questions of status and personal value. It is the point we start from. It is only when we separate ourselves from this truth, that we are part of the body of Christ, that self-flagellation and the negative guilt trips begin. Hatred of the self is limited when the self and community are “at-one” with Christ.
Yet there are things which separate us. Which means that we are not yet the body of Christ. One fracture is valuing people based upon things that God does not recognize (race, socioeconomic status, etc.). Still another is jealousy. Another is creating divisions in the church by overemphasizing a temporary hierarchy (I’m thinking of Elder vs. High Priest distinctions, but the gender issues could be applied here as well). I am sure we can think of others. But y’all likely get my point. Repentance is best viewed communally. That is where the biggest problems exist. We have a long ways to go.
Thank you Roger Hansen. I was just reading this thinking, I am so overwhelmed with life right now, I really don’t have the time or energy to sit and think about repentance everyday. Seems like a luxury that someone that didn’t have to worry about the basics of life would be able to do.
Roger Hansen and Old Man are absolutely correct that there are problems if we slip into too much individualism when considering repentance. That is the very root of the problem.
No Church, institution, or group can exist in an orderly fashion if the rules are up to the interpretation and whim of each member. Rules cannot change and morph according to how each individual feels at a given moment.
And that is the basis for the schism in the modern Church. Younger members say that they can decide what doctrine is and thus decide whether they need to repent. They engage in wanton sexuality and blatant violation of the Word of Wisdom and decide that there is no need for repentance at all.
Things cannot continue as they are. Those who fill their lives with the pursuit of Irish nachos, German beer, and illicit liaisons at the local honky tonk should repent. The rules apply to everyone, including them.
JCS: Yes, I agree people shouldn’t make up their own commandments. There isn’t a damn thing wrong with Irish Nachos.
Irish nachos? Honky tonks? JCS for the post of the day.
I think that rather than saying we need to repent every day, I think saying we need to constantly be open and looking for ways we can improve is less self hateful. Repenting has too many negative connotations, and some of our prophets really made it worse, like the nightmare book The Miracle of Forgiveness. That book made repentance sound terrible, and it should be a happy thing of finding out how I can be more Christ like. Let’s just get away from the word “repentance” because too many Christians have made it into 1001 ways to beat yourself up. I don’t like the groveling before God that president Kimble called for. Heavenly Mother does not need us to grovel and I just reject the LDS concept of a Heavenly Father that wants us to spend a year groveling and begging for forgiveness. “Gee! I really screwed up. What do I have to do to fix the damage?” Is all God requires. God’s love for us is unconditional and he loves us most when we just screwed up and that is when we most need love. But our LDS prophets prove they do not Know God when they talk about a Holy Ghost that deserts us after 10:00 at night and God who turns his back on us when we make a mistake. “Repentance “ should be a happy discovery of a better way of doing things, not crying, misery and groveling. Repentance should be discovering that God loves us even in our imperfections and that his love will carry us through our very worst screw ups.
In the church, I was always taught that sin is disobedience to God’s will, in other words breaking the commandments. The problem is that the Commandments often boil down to arbitrary cultural taboos decided by some guy in a suit or vestigial leftovers from the ancients that have little to nothing to do with ethics or morality. There’s nothing immoral about drinking coffee (though whether the beans are ethically sourced gets thorny) but driving a person to shame and suicide through anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is absolutely immoral. The commandments are off in La La land when it comes to actual right and wrong.
I’m trying to teach my son ethics and empathy. I don’t want him learning about sin in anything other than a hypothetical/academic sense. Hopefully he can avoid the crippling shame that his mom and I dealt with growing up as TBMs.
Something else I’ve been learning about in the past few years is just how blinding privilege can be. There have been huge stretches of my life where I wasn’t even aware of how much I was hurting other people because of my white, male, cishetero privilege. It takes work and humility to identify the ways we contribute to societal problems. I’m still working on it and likely always will be.
So when someone says RMN needs to repent daily, they’re right. The problem is RMN will likely never understand the ways in which he’s actually hurting people in the church because of his immense privilege and ironclad belief in his own prophethood. He and DHO might be lost causes though I would love to be proven wrong.
I think daily repentance is a bad idea. While it is good to figure out what you may have done wrong and how to do better at different aspects of life, having confidence and self-assurance is incredibly important as well. Daily repentance suggests a sort of anxiety-ridden excessive self-questioning which can lead to low self-esteem and excessive adherence to cultural norms. The idea of daily repentance also suggests that one has certain knowledge of right and wrong on a daily basis. The fact of the matter is that there exists a large amount of gray area on questions of right and wrong and most of us in our daily actions inhabit that gray area. Understanding what a right or wrong action is can take considerable time and thought. It doesn’t just happen on a day-by-day basis.
Does Pres. Nelson sin? Yes. A more important question might be how. For what I gather from the general attitudes among believing Mormons is that while it is OK to acknowledge that the dear leaders do indeed err and sin, how dare we dwell on how they might have sinned or call some action or statement on their part morally wrong and incorrect. Even more so, how dare we call patterns of behavior on their part wrong. The cultural expectation of how to treat the leaders is twofold: 1) in the context of critics, you are supposed to say, “give the leaders a break, not everyone is perfect, you non-believers and ex-Mormons are expecting them to be perfect and holding them to ridiculously high standards, the church is perfect, but the people aren’t.” 2) Among other believers, you are to treat the leaders as infallibles and not express open disagreement with what they say. In disagreements in class discussions at church, quoting a church leader should be interpreted as effectively ending the disagreement and it is immoral for the party expressing disagreement to persist in such disagreement (they should pray about it and if they must speak further on the matter after praying about it they must report that the answer to that prayer confirmed what the leader said or that they didn’t receive an answer yet, but will remain silent on your disagreement until that answer comes). You are not to question whether something they said was inspired by God or not. You should just assume (Muhlestein-style) that it was. In essence on the question of leaders sinning, the prevailing interpretation among believers is based on a doublethink.
I think my favorite thoughts on repentance come from Alma (Alma 42, if you’d like), where he seems to shift the idea from an action (persons repenting) to a state of being (persons who are penitent). The difference might be subtle, but I see a difference between someone “repenting” as an action, and someone who has become penitent — humble enough to truly seek God’s will, has the discernment skills (maybe the hardest part) to know when he is deceived by his own wishes and when he is receiving divine knowledge, and the willingness when he knows God’s will to try to bring himself in line with it.
One key element of this is being humble enough to truly seek God’s will. One of the problems I see in the racist Priesthood/temple policies of the past towards those of African descent is that we as a people (including the top Church leadership) become so certain that we “knew” God’s will for these people that it seems we weren’t even humble enough to ask if we truly understood God’s will. How do we do better at retaining enough humility to question our own beliefs?
Daily inventory is a part of most twelve step programs. For an example see https://sobrietyfreedom.com/step-10-daily-inventory/
Lives of Unforgetting approaches repentance from the Greek which means change and growth —a process.
“The Greek verb tense for epitelesei here is aorist—meaning that it conveys ongoing activity, rather than a one-time, transactional activity. This idea—that God is constantly at work within us, changing us—is such an important idea that Paul opens a letter to the church in Philippi speaking of it and giving thanks for it.”
I appreciate the feedback and comments and regret anyone who was made to feel overwhelmed or burdened rather than seeing repentance as freedom to change and live more fully, growing each day.
I failed in my framing of the original author’s essay which the discussion followed up with a great deal of hope.
Whoever put the John Charity program together needs to remove any reference to Irish “food.” So far as I know, Irish “food” (much less “cuisine”) is a system-crashing oxymoron & at some pt W&T will be a smoking ruin.
“I think daily repentance is the recognition that we are dependent on God and that our perspective is limited, and we need to open our hearts every day to recognize what course corrections are needed.”
This is a fantastic perspective. It seems to me to be something that should be at the foundation of my life.