Monday, August 19, 2013

Some Things That Are Lovely in Concept Are Repugnant in Pracitce

A friend and I were talking once about another denomination's worship service he attended, and the following is the heart of our conversation:

My friend said:

I went to a special noon-hour service at a local church. At one point, the pastor had all attendants approach the front area and kneel. He then went around, placing his hands on each head, saying, "By the commandment of Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins." It was very different from what I'm used to as a lifelong Mormon, and as I watched it happen to several others I had mixed feelings. Then those words were uttered to me, and I felt God's love at that very moment. 

My response was:

That sounds like a very sincere and affirming service - but it is an example of a religious tradition I simply can't accept personally (the feeling of love which accompanied it, notwithstanding). I understand and don't question that someone with a repentant heart can feel the Spirit in that situation testifying of God's love, but the practice itself is one I instinctively question - and I don't like it after considering it. All of us have something about Mormon culture that bothers us, and this is something about that other culture that bothers me.

1) I don't like the idea that a mortal can forgive sins someone commits against someone else. Someone who has not been harmed in a real way has no business, in my opinion, saying they forgive someone. To me, that cheapens the real, often deep, pain sin can cause in the victim's life. Forgiveness, I believe, carries with it the assumption of harm in some way - and only the harmed have the right to forgive.

2) I don't like the idea that someone who often has no idea what sins someone has committed can say, "I forgive your sins." What if there was a congregant who was sexually abusing his children? What if there was someone who refused to pay child support? What if there was someone who was physically abusing his or her spouse? What if there was a habitual adulterer? What if the person simply was not repentant in any way? 
3) I really do believe in the concept and principle of repentance as one of the core aspects of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and such a practice, in theory, destroys that need. At least in Catholicism, there is a foundation of confession; in the case you described, there doesn't seem to be any "condition" on the forgiveness - and that is really, really "wrong" to me.

In summary, I get it that it can be a wonderful experience for someone who is humble and has a broken heart and contrite spirit, and I get it that it might be considered symbolic in that tradition - but it might not, and, taken literally, I really don't like a mortal forgiving sins about which he doesn't know and for which the sinner doesn't have a repentant heart.