Institutional Repentance

June 1, 2011 | 44 comments

Kent’s post on community responsibility brings to mind the question of whether and how a community can repent. Do the first principles and ordinance of the gospel apply to the church as a whole? The church exemplifies faith through its teachings, and I can see the entire church organization as reflective of the ordinances of baptism and confirmation. But what about repentance?

I’m not aware of any instances where the church as an institution has worked through a repentance-like process (acknowledging an institutional error, accepting responsibility for it, apologizing, and then working toward restitution), but that doesn’t mean such examples don’t exist. The church’s approach to change is more one of institutional change-of-focus. We tend toward letting disfavored teachings fade away into the forgotten tomes of history.

Does repentance work the same for an organization as it does for an individual? In some ways it doesn’t make sense to even talk about institutional repentance, since we view repentance as part of an individual’s relationship with God. We don’t generally think of the church as having a soul, or needing forgiveness from God, but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. While the church may not be corporeally resurrected in the last day, the saints who constitute it will be. There is one strain of belief suggesting that church will itself transform to become the kingdom of God. I see a parallel between that transformation and the individual transformation of resurrection, so, in some sense, I think it’s useful to consider the church as having an eternal soul.

The other consideration with repentance is the perceived fallibility or infallibility of church leaders. We teach that our leaders are normal human beings, capable of error. However, the lack of an institutional repentance process may contribute to the common perception among church members that leaders are effectively inerrant.

Does the church repent, either as a whole or at a local level? If so, what does it look like, and how has it affected you?

44 Responses to Institutional Repentance

  1. ji on June 1, 2011 at 10:34 am

    No, the Church cannot repent, nor should it. Individual members can and should repent of their individual sins (such as calling their Church to repentance). But an organization cannot sin, and therefore cannot repent.

    Members of the Church who disagree with current or past practices of the Church need to deal with their disagreement, but the Church does not need to repent.

    The President of the Church is not responsible for the actions of his predecessors, just as a bishop or a primary teacher is not responsible for the actions of their predecessors. The past president was released by the proper authority (the Lord Jesus Christ). The new president takes up the mantle and magnifies his calling, upheld by the confidence, prayer, and faith of the Church. He cannot repent for the alleged sins of his predecessors, nor should he.

    “We tend toward letting disfavored teachings fade away into the forgotten tomes of history.” That’s right — that’s as it should be.

  2. Eric Russell on June 1, 2011 at 10:36 am

    “I see a parallel between that transformation and the individual transformation of resurrection, so, in some sense, I think it’s useful to consider the church as having an eternal soul.”

    This is a bizarre statement, Dane. One might as well say, there’s a parellel between lighting your house with a lightbulb and lighting your mind with the scriptures, therefore it’s useful to consider the scriptures as being an electrical device.

  3. Dane Laverty on June 1, 2011 at 11:06 am

    ji, I disagree with your assertion that “The President of the Church is not responsible for the actions of his predecessors”. The church and its president inherit the legacy of their predecessors, both the good and the bad. It’s not reasonable that the prophet (or anyone else) could receive the benefits of his predecessors’ work without also claiming some responsibility for the problems as well. To put it another way, suppose that my father owns a beautiful Alpine estate but that he’s also deeply in debt. When he dies, I can’t claim to inherit his estate without also accept his debt. When we lay claim to a lineage or line of authority, we inherit responsibility for the fulness of that line, and not just the parts we like.

    Eric, I’ll give you that that analogy might be a bizarre stretch. I’m not as confident in that analogy as I am in the one of the indebted inheritor that I used here.

  4. Ardis E. Parshall on June 1, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Institutions cannot repent; the currently popular notion that they can and should is a bizarre and trendy bit of nonsense.

    An institution like a church might need to change its practices, and if so ought to make it clear (repeatedly, if necessary) that a practice has changed, but that is not repentance. The LDS church ought to do a better job of clarifying its past and present teachings on race, for instance, to stamp out lingering/resurgent and often underground misunderstandings. The Catholic church needs to continue its efforts to protect children from predatory officials, making it clear that they do not tolerate abuse, will not assist an abuser in escaping punishment, and will do what is within their power to aid victims. But neither institution can or should repent — that’s a meaningless exercise, although I know some church have in fact claimed to have repented of past political or moral stands. Institutions don’t have souls.

  5. Ardis E. Parshall on June 1, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Dane, when I celebrate some event in church history, I am in a sense aligning myself with that event: “Isn’t it great to be associated with a people who [fill in the blank].” But in no sense am I claiming anything like “I am personally wonderful because some Latter-day Saint did [fill in the blank]” or “Give me personal credit and honor for [fill in the blank].”

    I’ve also posted about unhappy events or grievous happenings, and have mourned that my people so badly missed the mark in those cases. But I am not personally responsible for the actions of my grandparents and resist any implication that I am.

    That’s why your “receiving the benefits” and “accepting the responsibility” doesn’t work for me as a claim that a current leader can be held accountable for a past leader’s actions. I don’t see any current leader’s celebration of, say, the pioneer experience as claiming any credit whatsoever to the modern church or its members. All credit goes to the people of the past. All blame should, too.

  6. Mike S on June 1, 2011 at 11:36 am

    I don’t think that the Church will ever “repent” per se. When a current president of the Church starts saying that a prior president was “wrong”, it necessarily implies that some of the things that the current president is doing are also very likely wrong.

    In an organization that suggests strict obedience to anything the current prophet says (ie. Follow the prophet, he knows the way…) suggesting that prophets are sometimes just stating their opinions as men can be undermining.

    If someone thinks this doesn’t happen, look at the simple non-doctrinal issue of the number of earrings someone has. President Hinckley, like most people of his generation, didn’t think women should have more than one pair and didn’t think they were “manly” on men, whatever “manly” means. It was presented as simple opinion – nothing more or less. This was elevated by Elder Bednar a few years later into a perfect grounds for a man to break off an engagement with a “lovely woman” because she wouldn’t remove a second set of earrings. This opinion has been elevated to de facto doctrinal status in many areas of the church today.

    Given the lack of formal, canonized, “Thus saith the Lord…” revelation in the Church anymore, this is how changes are made – various statements are made, they get repeated and amplified, and turn into de facto doctrine. If, however, the current leadership pointed out mistakes of previous leaders, this method of leading the church would lose its effectiveness.

  7. Eric Russell on June 1, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    “It was presented as simple opinion – nothing more or less.”

    Mike, you’re mistaken on earrings. It was presented as an official position of the church.

  8. CatherineWO on June 1, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Perhaps “repent” is not the best word to use (though I would argue that in a metaphorical sense, an organization, particularly a church, does have a soul). There is precedence for leaders of an organization to “apologize” for behaviors of past leaders and/or members. I believe Pres. Hinckley did that with the Mountain Meadows incident. I agree that individuals are not responsible for past individuals’ actions, but I think it’s good form for an organization to acknowledge past wrongs and try to make restitution where possible.

  9. Howard on June 1, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    It depends on what you mean by repentance we tend to think of it rather simply as a way to correct sin but it is much more than that to the extent it transcends will power it is psychotherapy for the soul and as such a pathway to enlightenment in the way of say Alma’s changed heart. I view the gospel as a series of metaphorical paradigm stair steps as we learn the new pieces we leave old ones behind for instance I see NT law superseding OT law. In my view people are becoming more enlightened psychologically and spiritually more self aware and aware of others thus our increased sensitivity to racial issues. Most today find it difficult to understand the biases of their grandparents generation and before. But when it comes to the church our Salt Lake leaders are three generations older than today’s young people creating a potential self awareness creditability gap unrecognized by the older group. So how does the church move forward as the unconscious biases of it’s leaders are uncovered and resolved? Wasn’t BRM repenting for the church when he said Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more. Unfortunately he left out “and we’re sorry”.

  10. Dane Laverty on June 1, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Ardis, to put my thoughts in other words, when a person assumes an office, the default position is that of the predecessor. On the issues Pres. Monson hasn’t addressed, we assume he is just continuing the policies and practices of Pres. Hinckley. And for those Pres. Hinckley didn’t address, we assume and extension from Pres. Hunter, and so on. We don’t ask Pres. Monson, “Are you going to continue the missionary program? How about the welfare program?” Even though he didn’t institute those programs, we assume he will be continuing them until we hear otherwise. Silence implies continued approval, which creates misunderstanding on issues such as, as you mention, race.

  11. bbell on June 1, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Repentence is for individual people per my understanding of the scriptures. Does a organization also need baptism or an endowment? I ask this tongue in cheek because the answer is simply no they do not.

  12. Mike S on June 1, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Eric Russell:

    I’m perfectly willing to be corrected, but the earliest reference to this I have been able to find is a talk by President Hinckley in 2000. In the talk, he stated:

    May I mention earrings and rings placed in other parts of the body. These are not manly. They are not attractive. You young men look better without them, and I believe you will feel better without them. As for the young women, you do not need to drape rings up and down your ears. One modest pair of earrings is sufficient.

    You state that this was presented as an official position of the church. To me, this sounds like President Hinckley’s personal opinion where he thinks earrings are “not manly”, and where he thinks young men “look better without them”. Subsequent to this opinion, people have continued to expand it to make it into a de facto policy, but when initially presented, it sounds much more like an opinion as opposed to a revelation.

    Again, if you can find a reference that predates this where it is “presented as an official position of the church”, I’m willing to stand corrected.

  13. Suleiman on June 1, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Groups and instutions don’t have souls in a theological sense, but they are culpable and accountable under our legal system. As George Mason noted: “As nations can not be rewarded or punished in the next world they must be in this.”

    As a student of history, I have the obnoxious and illogical habit of looking for “karma” in history and scripture. Nations, groups and institutions can start down the wrong path and then “repent” and change course. Some, like Nazi Germany, have to forced into a more “just” path.

    Are nations, institutions and churches judged by the God? I believe they are, and I think several passages of scripture suggest this. And as a member of all three, I hope that repentance is available.

  14. Eric Russell on June 1, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    Also from a 2000 talk:

    We—the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve—have taken the position, and I quote, that “the Church discourages tattoos. It also discourages the piercing of the body for other than medical purposes, although it takes no position on the minimal piercing of the ears by women for one pair of earrings.”

    I’m not sure what he’s quoting (the handbook?), but whatever it is, this statement itself declares that the quoted portion represents the position of “the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve.”

  15. Mike S on June 1, 2011 at 3:23 pm


    Do you have a reference for that talk – I’d be interested in seeing it. As far as I have been able to tell, there is no official “policy” before President Hinckley expressed his opinion in October 2000.

    It is unofficial, but from 1974:

    The craze to pierce or not to pierce seems to occur and recur. I know of no pronouncement or stand that Church authorities have made in this regard. I recall with what disfavor I looked upon one of my granddaughters piercing her ears. … There are some people to whom the practice is repugnant and others who feel comfortable with it; so I would think the decision would be an individual one that each girl and her parents should reach together.

    In 1999, David Burton gave the following opinion, preceded by the disclaimer Questions of general interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.:

    Similarly, when individuals follow the body-defiling practices of multiple piercing and tattooing, they dull their spiritual sensitivity.

    Other than this, I cannot find any reference to piercings, etc. which predate President Hinckley’s statement in Oct 2000. Since that time, people have expanded this opinion into all sorts of policies, including that of high school students not being allowed to attend EFY for a week if they have multiple earrings.

    This is a digression, but merely to respond to your comment.

    My main point still stands. No one wants to contradict even the opinion of a prophet let alone something which was presented as official revelation. Because of this, I don’t see anyone in church leadership ever “apologizing” for a previous policy which was changed or wrong, as this would suggest that prophets are men who sometimes just present their opinion.

  16. Manuel on June 1, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    I am not sure if the word repentance is the best term to use for correcting an institutionalized wrongdoing. I usually think of the term rectification, but in the context of your metaphor of the Church having a soul (and I can see your point), I will embrace the term.

    My answer is an absolute yes. The Church (or any other institution that may have caused a wrongdoing per past erroneous official policies, doctrines, and/or practices) can and must repent. Or in other words, the church and any other organization can and must exercise rectification of pass practices, teachings, doctrines that were official and that are currently considered to be amiss.

    It is difficult in most cases to speak of repentance/rectification in terms of a group, but in the case of the Church, when the main administrative bodies (First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve and Seventies) define official policies, doctrines and/or practices, it is not that complicated to rectify something that was or is amiss.

    Acknowledging an institutional error, accepting responsibility for it, apologizing, and then working toward restitution in as much as it can be done, is the only right thing to do when new understanding sheds light on something that was wrong. It is disturbing, reprehensible and hypocritical that some in this forum think otherwise. It is probably one of the most subtle yet vile perversions of progression I have ever witnessed, to argue that an institution can’t or shouldn’t reconsider past views and rectify them as much as they can if they find it necessary to do so. Their arguments are nonsensical and a blatant double standard of a basic principle, not only of our religious beliefs, but of civilization itself.

    The Church has publicly repudiated certain events and certain doctrines. For one, I believe the Church has publicly repudiated the Adam-God doctrine as taught by previous prophets. In that sense, this doctrine is no longer taught in the Church and is recognized to be a false teaching. There is not an option for a Sunday school teacher to teach this doctrine at church today. The church may have failed to acknowledge as openly as I would like to that the teaching was actually taught, but I believe leaders have acknowledged it enough.

    Bruce R. McConkie repudiated his own words and the words of previous leaders when he reiterated they (including himself) were wrong to have made certain authoritative statements regarding race, and openly admitted to have had limited knowledge on the matter when he made those statements. He rectified those particular statements when new light and knowledge were available to him regarding the issue. What is such a practice a problem? It is but the right thing to do.

    The problem with “letting disfavored teachings fade away into the forgotten tomes of history,” is that it never really happens completely and with today’s access to information it will happen less and less.

    Members of the church hold on to self serving false teachings (in my perception, they hold on to especially racist false teaching or ones that seem to favor a certain privileged elite group) and they use them subtly to create a passive aggressive hostile environment against others. The church enables this vile practices, since these members can pick and choose from the ocean of “forgotten” teachings that were never officially dismissed. I am absolutely convinced that such things cause pain and heartache more often than not, and are clearly not Christ-like. I have experienced constantly. The fact that disfavored teachings don’t get dismissed officially is the main enabling root cause for this un-Christian situation.

    People who deny the possibility of doctrinal rectification by the church (or repentance if you want to call it that) are probably those of the elite groups benefited by the prevalence of the “disfavored teachings,” or they somehow enjoy the oppression or heartache those teachings may cause others, or they simply don’t realize they are enablers of such things because they don’t bother to see beyond their comfort bubble. Whichever the case, they are part of a problem and not part of a solution.

    It is more comfortable to simply hide our wrongdoings and never mention them again, hoping that time will fade them. Who wouldn’t prefer that? Rectification takes a lot of humility and sacrifice. It takes being responsible and exercising true accountability. It is not easy, but I think it is the right thing to do, and the only way a community can truly progress toward becoming more like God.

  17. Eric Russell on June 1, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    It’s from President Hinckley’s talk in the Fall 2000 General Relief Society Meeting. In any case, I think most members understand the phrase, “We—the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve—have taken the position”, to mean something beyond personal opinion.

  18. Michael on June 1, 2011 at 4:40 pm


    You have spoken truthfully and wonderfully. I agree wholeheartedly with your words. They feel right and speak to institutional accountability. If an institution can have policies, doctrines, teachings and requirements for membership which negatively harm or cause suffering in the lives of its members, then rectification can certainly be required of it when those policies, doctrines, teachings and requirements are shown to be wrong in light of the Eternal Gospel.

    If we learn line upon line and precept upon precept as a Church (as contrasted with ready-made doctrine received by revelation from our Lord) then correcting past mistakes is wholly appropriate through all means at our disposal.

    How many faithful black members were denied the priesthood blessings in their families or the endowment and sealing ordinances during their lifetime unnecessarily because of our lack of light and knowledge and our lack of desire to gain that light and knowledge through our Prophets, Seers and Revelators? Why should the institution not accept responsibility for that suffering and rectify the pain caused?

  19. Michael on June 1, 2011 at 4:42 pm


    Shouldn’t President Hinckley presented it as the Lord’s Will if it was to be doctrine? Just presenting it as their position does not make it the Lord’s Will or part of the Eternal Gospel.

  20. Jacob M on June 1, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    “Members of the church hold on to self serving false teachings (in my perception, they hold on to especially racist false teaching or ones that seem to favor a certain privileged elite group) and they use them subtly to create a passive aggressive hostile environment against others. The church enables this vile practices, since these members can pick and choose from the ocean of “forgotten” teachings that were never officially dismissed. I am absolutely convinced that such things cause pain and heartache more often than not, and are clearly not Christ-like. I have experienced constantly. The fact that disfavored teachings don’t get dismissed officially is the main enabling root cause for this un-Christian situation.”

    I’d like to feel sorry for your experiences, but first I think I need you to specify what you are talking about here. Otherwise I am fully legitimized in thinking that you are way overstating some of the problems in the church.

  21. Manuel on June 1, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Jacob M,

    I don’t want you to feel sorry for my experiences and I don’t care to write a plethora of experiences I have shared in numerous times elsewhere in the nacle and give way to endless ramifications and threadjacks that will most likely end up in bitter exchanges.

    Your skepticism is indicative of either how little you have bothered to listen to others (minorities especially), how little you have reached out to those outside your privileged group, or how little trust others have in you that nobody has shared such experiences with you.

    I am not surprised by your reaction. I invite you to simply listen. Pick a book every now and then such as Black and Mormon by Darron Smith, or research the works of Margaret Young.

    Minimizing problems in the church is not rare, it is a cultural common practice. The “all is well in Zion” mantra is a false one, and one of choice of those who prefer not to bother themselves sharing the burdens of others.

  22. Eric Russell on June 1, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    I never suggested otherwise, Michael.

  23. Jacob M on June 1, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Thanks, Manuel, in your lack of prejudice in discerning my history and my motivations behind my question. ;) As a matter of fact, I’ve read quite a bit on the nacle and I don’t remember these “plethora of experiences” of which you refer to. And I am most certainly not saying that there are no problems in the church. I do have a problem with your claiming that the “church enables these vile practices”, particularly since I don’t know which “vile practices” you refer to. It seems that you are referring to prejudices of members towards minorities, but I can’t say for sure because you haven’t explained. If it is, I can think of numerous instances where Apostles and Presidents of the Church have spoken that such prejudice is wrong. If so, then what more does the *institution* of the church have to do to not be responsible for the actions of some of it’s members?

  24. Bob on June 1, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    @ Manuel: I believe they are called “zombie doctrines”.They walk around half dead. I agree, if the church does not kill them_ the Church takes ownership of them.
    @ bbell: I believe JS felt the earth was alive. Some have stated the flood was it’s baptism, and receiving it’s Glory is it’s endowment.

  25. Manuel on June 1, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    Jacob M,

    You’re welcome. And I am not only referring to prejudices against minorities, although they are the easier to spot. They are so blatant that I can only assume you are being sarcastic when you say you “don’t know” which practices I am referring to.

    I guess here is a small example:

    President Hinkley, although having spoken in numerous times against racism, declined to repudiate the “Negro Question” declaration of 1949 (by the First Presidency under George A. Smith) which states the following:

    “The attitude of the Church with reference to the Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.”

    Therefore, the position of the Church sees as if it is “we teach that we should not be racist, but we have never been wrong in our positions regarding race, therefore we aren’t teaching anything new since we have always been right.”

    Hum, if you don’t see the problem with that, well, any further attempt to explain will be futile. You validate my point. You are the embodiment of why it is so critical and why we are in dire need of rectifying past un-Christian doctrines. People live so much in them they “cannot see them.”

  26. Mr Q&A on June 1, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    “I suppose most mortals employ some exaggeration and a little of what someone called “innocent after-mindedness.” But does this mean we condone deliberate and important misrepresentations of fact in a circumstance in which they are clearly intended to be believed and relied upon? Never! Lying is sinful, as it has always been, and there is no exempt category for so-called “lying for the Lord.” Lying is simply outside the range of permitted or condoned conduct by Latter-day Saints—members or leaders.” Dallin H. Oaks BYU 1993

    Church Leadership repents, you just need to look in the right place

  27. Jacob M on June 1, 2011 at 6:49 pm


    “Bruce R. McConkie repudiated his own words and the words of previous leaders when he reiterated they (including himself) were wrong to have made certain authoritative statements regarding race, and openly admitted to have had limited knowledge on the matter when he made those statements.”

    Shouldn’t that have been enough for people to drop their folkloric beliefs about race? If someone still clings to old beliefs that have since been invalidated, isn’t that the fault of the individual and not the institution?

  28. Manuel on June 1, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Jacob M,

    Ah, you are not fully acknowledging the audacity of McConkie. After having repudiated his words about blacks never being able to get the priesthood in this lifetime, he had the audacity to publish a new edition of his abominable book ironically titled “Mormon Doctrine.” The edition removed the notion that blacks would not get the priesthood in this life but reiterated all the folk garbage, including an interesting (and disgusting) section which claims God has a caste system for His children. Therefore, he repented of some but not all of the misinformation he fervently shared (and profited from).

  29. Bob on June 1, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    @jacob M.
    “Shouldn’t that have been enough for people to drop their folkloric beliefs about race?”
    1) Mckonkie was one man_ where were the rest?
    2) Did Mckonkie end his printing of “Mormon Docrine”?

  30. Manuel on June 1, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Therefore, to answer your second question. Yes, it would be the individual’s fault if the Church would officially dismiss and repudiate those teachings through the proper venue. But the church has not done so, therefore, we still have a lot of members teaching garbage left and right. McConkie accepts full responsibility for his book, but the title of the book and his status in the Church cannot be that easily divorced from what members will perceive as “an apostle taught it.” Therefore, I firmly believe it is not solely the fault of the members if they still hold on to the folk teachings, but I believe the Church bears responsibility since they have done a poor job at clarifying and dismissing or repudiating the teachings.

  31. Latter-day Guy on June 1, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    Leaving aside the issue of Mormon Doctrine, there are plenty of teachings about pre-mortal valiance and how it relates to race from other authoritative sources (talks in GC and the like). The way the Church has dealt with the issue has been pretty shrewd though. The consistent official line has been to allow the 1978 lifting of the priesthood ban to “speak for itself.” Thus allowing members to either accept or reject past teachings about race and the pre-mortal existence as they like. Older generations, who remember such doctrines being taught officially, need not face the troubling implications that an official repudiation would present. Younger generations, not having lived hearing such teachings presented as capital-D Doctrine, are free to let the issue alone altogether.

    I beleive that in the PBS Mormons documentary, Elder Holland said that such folklore should not be perpetuated, but that statement, both because of its wording and the venue in which it was presented, certainly is not binding.

    There is a similar recontextualization of past teachings and practices relating to the issue of homosexuality. The Church has stopped publishing the pamphlet To The One, in which then-Elder Packer taught that homosexual attraction was the result of selfishness and would be “routinely” cured, by getting gay people to be less selfish. Similarly in the (I think) 2006 interview with Elders Oaks and Wickman, we find the following:

    We are sometimes asked about whether marriage is a remedy for these feelings that we have been talking about. [A]pparently some had believed it to be a remedy, and perhaps that some Church leaders had even counseled marriage as the remedy for these feelings…” [emphasis mine].

    Here, words like “apparently,” “some,”
    “perhaps,” and “even,” are used to soften the fact that the official Church position since the time of Spencer W. Kimball was pretty much “Get married and it’ll go away.” In more recent years, that has changed somewhat (and will continue to change, I suspect). But the fact remains that this change is occuring without any kind of “Hey, we really did give this counsel, and no, it really didn’t work out so well.”

  32. anon on June 1, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    It may be true that institutions can’t repent, but their leaders can apologize. For the spouses and children left in the wreckage when the prior counsel on how to “cure” homosexuality became so obviously and desperately wrong as to force the church to abandon its error, an apology would be pretty meaningful.

  33. Kent Larsen on June 1, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    I tend to think that institutions can and should repent, although the quality of their repentance is not the same as the repentance of individuals, since they don’t have souls as individuals do.

    I discussed this somewhat recently at:

  34. Dane on June 2, 2011 at 12:42 am

    Sorry about that Kent, I had read your post and I guess it must have stuck in my subconscious. I’d forgotten about it when I wrote this; I didn’t mean to plagiarize you here :)

  35. Kent Larsen on June 2, 2011 at 4:50 am

    Not a problem. I think we had different takes on the issue at least.

    I won’t at all be surprised if we catch someone taking one position on my post and a different position here!!

  36. Manuel on June 2, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Re 33:

    As I was reading the other post, several things came to my mind.

    I am a medical device quality assurance engineer. My job is to apply mathematical and statistical principles to make sure manufacturing processes yield medical devices that are safe and will function properly when used by the final consumer according to appropriate instructions per application. The company that I work for specializes in blood monitoring systems and a variety of prosthetic heart valves.

    You can rest assured, that if a person or a group of people (especially management) in our institution implements a procedure or a practice, or begins to perpetuate a culture that results in harm, injury or increased risk to our final customers (doctors and patients), we would be held accountable for it. And the institution will end up having to rectify the defective practice, and most likely make some type of restitution effor for any injuries caused.

    This will come directly from the company’s profits, which will translate in:
    -lowered bonuses for employees,
    -some managers being fired,
    -some corrective actions being implemented (some procedures being modified),
    -an officially published recall of the defective product and,
    -the stock of the company going down in the market, thus also providing financial losses to stakeholders,
    -decresed perception of quality by the public.

    Individuals may or may not be held accountable (hopefully they will), but the institution will be made to “repent” if you may.

    A very noticeable recent event of the effects of institutional negligence is BP’s Deepwater Horizon Spill, which cost the lives of 11 employees, the livelihood of thousands and irreversible damage to the Gulf of Mexico and miles of coastlines in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Florida.

    Unfortunatelly, I haven’t heard of any specific BP officials being held accountable for an outdated and almost inexistent emergency response strategy and evidence that the greed and faulty decision making of the company’s management led to the disaster. Nevertheless, I would think we all agree this “institution” must be held accountable for the damage they caused.

    It is clear to me, without a speckle of doubt, that institutions MUST be held accountable for the resulting effects of poor decisions and for the perpetuation of questionable behaviors. Whether the damages are physical, economical, spiritual, emotional, or belong to any other area.

    Can anyone imagine if these institutions decided to just not do anything about the damages they caused and simply change their procedures internally (quietly if you may) and hope that nobody will criticize them or demand anything further from them. Should everyone look the other way in unison and let the issue sink to the depths of history? I don’t think so.

    I am even going to go further and suggest that institutions can “sin” and therefore can “repent” accepting the metaphor of institutions having a “soul.”

    My reasoning relies on the evidence of the power of group mentality. I don’t want to create a ramification, but it is my educated opinion individuals behave differently when influenced by a group mentality. That’s why riots and lynching mobs happen, individuals have a reduced sense of accountability when acting in a group. In a sense, the “group” does take a personality of its own, it becomes its own “beast.”

    It seems critical to me, that groups or institutions that instruct or influence people to behave in a certain way through a system of teaching or indoctrination coming from a leader or counsel of leaders, MUST be held accountable for how individuals acting under their guidance and instruction behave. It is irrational to completely separate the institution from the individual when this is the case.

  37. ji on June 2, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no responsibility for my actions — none. I am responsible for my actions. I choose to be a member, and I choose to sustain the Church and its leaders. I am not responsible for the Church’s actions; the Church is not responsible for my actions.

    (no. 36): “It seems critical to me, that groups or institutions that instruct or influence people to behave in a certain way through a system of teaching or indoctrination coming from a leader or counsel of leaders, MUST be held accountable for how individuals acting under their guidance and instruction behave.” No. Individuals are responsible for their own behavior. But even if yes, then accountable to whom? Certainly not the likes of people who post here.

    Here, I am speaking of the Church as an institution, in light of the original posting. I am not speaking of corporations who operate as persons in a legal sense. Regardless, the Church is not a corporation.

  38. Manuel on June 2, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    It doesn’t matter if the church is a corporation or not. By the same token, AlQaeda and Osama Bin Laden should not be held accountable for anything then, since Osama himself never perpetrated any terrorist attacks and since individuals choose to belong to AlQaeda. That’s major BS.

  39. Manuel on June 2, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    “Certainly not the likes of people who post here.”

    If the people who post here have suffered negatively thanks to the guidance, indoctrination or teachings of the church, then yes. The church is DEFINITELY accountable to them. All of God’s children are important, not just the ones you think they are.

  40. Bob on June 2, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    @Ji: Read the classic Mormon book: ” The Angel and the Beehive” to see how much of the Church is both an institution and a corporation. (Armand L. Mauss).

    @ Manuel: At times, I was called upon fill the “empty chair” in court to be the voice for a large California corpoation in defending it’s bad behavior. And YOU ARE called to defend your actions_(not fun).

  41. Latter-day Guy on June 3, 2011 at 7:19 am

    Regardless, the Church is not a corporation.

    True. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” is actually a trademark owned by the Corporation of the President of the Church.

  42. Kent Larsen on June 3, 2011 at 8:53 am

    Manuel (36), thanks, I largely agree with your perspective.

    JI (37), I’m not sure that I can agree that the Church has no responsibility for your actions. If the Church tells you to do something that you wouldn’t otherwise do, and you do it, who gets the credit?

    I’m quite willing to give the Church credit for those good things that I do that they tell me to. Like you, JI, I hesitate to make the Church itself responsible for bad things that I do — but mainly because the Church doesn’t tell me to do bad things.

    But if an institution tells me to do something that I shouldn’t, and I do it, there could be a degree of responsibility on the institution, at least as far as I relied on the institution to steer me right.

  43. Sam Bhagwat on June 4, 2011 at 12:16 am

    I wrote an article in Dialogue last year partly dealing with this, so I’m going to quote myself:

    In “Good Literature for a Chosen People,” Eugene England notes that we see ourselves, like Israel, as a chosen people – but don’t always realize the implications.

    Brother England details what he calls “the Amos strategy”: a prophet who, at the height of the chosen people’s self-satisfied judgment of others, turns the judgment of God on them. Brother England gives as an example a sermon by President Spencer W. Kimball, which uses this strategy to rebuke the Saints for having absorbed the surrounding culture’s materialism and militarism.

    [In the] Amos view, . . . being chosen means being the ones known and taught by the Lord and, thus, the ones most responsible to keep his commandments and be punished if one does not.
    It does not mean being better than others, by definition more righteous and blessed. It does not even mean knowing the correct forms of worship and having special priesthood power to perform them as the core of one’s religion.

    The Lord makes this painfully clear by saying, through Amos, ‘I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.’”

    So, why didn’t I take up the post-Mormon narrative? At least partly because embarrassing stories look different through the definitely-Mormon lenses I found in Dialogue.

    If pride and ease in Zion led the Morin brothers [formers members describing past experiences] to look down on their neighbors; if [Margaret Young's] racist seminary teacher certain of his righteousness was really just saying he had ‘received, and need[ed] no more’; if it is because we think ‘chosen’ means ‘more righteous and blessed’, that we jump to circulate falsely attributed stories about being generals in the war in heaven, we must ask ourselves a question.

    Are we willing to own up to our failures to keep the Lord’s commandments? I mean not just each of us individually, but we as a people?

    Certainly–as in personal repentance–there is a balance between refusing to admit wrongdoing, and going overboard. On one the one hand, it is hard to change practices if you refuse to admit fault. On the other hand, it’s possible to get so wrapped up in admitting fault that you refuse to acknowledge and benefit from your strengths.

    It’s a hard balance to keep, and I don’t know where it is personally — let alone institutionally. But I do know that the collective, self-examining repentance involved is fundamental to Mormonism. And, though we may not speak in terms of collective repentance, we understand both why and how we must do it.

    In the October 2008 general conference, after recalling the failure of early Saints to establish Zion in Missouri, D. Todd Christofferson cautioned us against judging them too harshly, because

    we should look to ourselves to see if we are doing any better. ‘The Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them’ (Moses 7:18). If we would establish Zion in our homes, branches, wards, and stakes, we must rise to this standard.

  44. Sam Bhagwat on June 4, 2011 at 12:20 am


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