The Miracle of Forgiveness Chapter 5 reviewed by Stephen Livings

Here we are then, once again ready to delve into the murky world of sin. We are really starting to get to the nitty gritty now, since this chapter is entitled: ‘The Sin Next to Murder’.

The first sentence in this chapter states: “There are sins which are so serious that we know of no forgiveness for them.” It is a shame that Kimball’s ‘we’ knows of no forgiveness for certain sins, because Christians know that it is possible, through Christ, to be forgiven of all sin and unrighteousness: “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:7-9)
This chapter focuses on sins of ‘impurity’ or of a sexual nature. Not a lot appears to be permitted: “Whether named or unnamed in scriptures or the spoken word, any sexual act or practice which is “unnatural” or unauthorized is a sin.” I wonder how many Mormons are left to wonder whether their sexual behaviour is ‘authorised’ or not; and for that matter, ‘authorised’ by whom, since it appears there are many things that are not written or spoken about that aren’t ‘authorised’. How confusing. It is a shame that a chapter dealing with ‘sexual sins’ doesn’t first start with our being created intentionally with sexual desires and capabilities that God sees as an integral part of our human nature. How-ever, this should perhaps not come as a surprise since in Mormonism, Adam and Eve would not have been able to have children until they partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Hence the connection between sex and sinfulness.

In Mormonism, sexual sin always seems to be a category apart. What I mean by this is that we do not see Mormons talk about other sins with the same force of language used for sexual sin. For example, here we have Kimball using the following words: “repugnant… uncleanness… filth… as filthy as hell’s cesspools… abominable above all sins… obnoxious” Sex outside marriage is put on a near parallel to murder in Kimball’s eyes. In writing to someone who had apparently had sex outside, or before, marriage and then sought Kimball’s help, he said: “Your sin is the most serious thing you could have done in your youth this side of murder.”

The language in this chapter is highly-charged at points, and at others I find it downright scandalous. Kimball quotes David O. McKay, “Please, young folk, preserve your virtue even if you lose your lives.” Kimball then quotes Heber J. Grant as saying that those who lose their chastity are indulging in things which “are worse than death itself. There is no true Latter-day Saint who would not rather bury a son or a daughter than to have him or her lose his or her chastity-realizing that chastity is of more value than anything else in all the world.” Really? Chastity is of more value than life itself? Where is the notion of forgiveness or redemption if one might as well die to avoid an unchaste act? Is this a Christ-like way to teach people? Is this a humane way for a man of power and influence to speak to parents of teenagers and young people, as well as to the young people themselves? Can one imagine the potential layers of guilt and damage to self-esteem, when such talk is accepted as literal truth?

Kimball lists some of the ills that he perceives as the consequences for those who “engage in premarital sexual experience” : ‘Broken homes, illegitimacy, venereal diseases, and emotional disturbances connected with such developments’. These are certainly serious problems and are often a direct result of premarital sex. However, acknowledging that these sad conditions are real does not necessarily have to lead to the suggestion that losing one’s chastity is worse than death!

A little further on we see two words which, growing up in the UK, I only ever heard or read within the LDS context: ‘necking’ and ‘petting’. I always guessed that these must mean ‘snogging’ and ‘inappropriate touching’ or something. ‘Necking and petting’ felt like something of an obsession of the church leadership when I was growing up as a Mormon. Kimball here states that they can lead to fornication, pregnancy and abortions, which he calls ‘ugly sins’. Pregnancy is an ugly sin? Really? Kimball goes on to explain: “Almost like twins, “petting” and especially “heavy petting” and fornication are alike.” With this euphemistic talk, you won’t be surprised that through my teen years I was pretty fearful of the opposite sex and what it might do to me to show any kind of affection to girls that I liked.

Let me quote a paragraph from this chapter in its entirety:

“All those who have slipped into the disgraceful and most reprehensible habit of transgressing through petting should immediately change their lives, their habits, and their thought patterns, repent sorely in “sackcloth and ashes,” and by confession get so far as possible a clearance from the Lord and the leaders of his Church so that a measure of peace may accompany them through their lives. To those who have been properly taught and who have properly appraised the evils and have restrained and protected themselves from these foul acts, God bless them and help them to continue their virginity and cleanness, that they may never have the remorse and anguish which has or will come to their brothers and sisters who have indulged.” (italics added)

I have emphasised here some of the words I object to. As I said earlier, I do not see such emotive language used elsewhere in LDS teaching of sin. Why is it that an individual’s actions or sins, especially sexual ones, need to be ‘confessed’ to church leaders? We seek forgiveness of the Lord, not man. Numerous are the accounts of the damage done by these interactions. The fact that these may only lead ‘so far as possible a clearance from the Lord and the leaders of his Church’ smacks of arrogance and abuse of power.

Kimball moves on to deal with adultery and displays a stunning lack of understanding of the Bible. He refers to the incident when Jesus was presented with the woman caught in adultery. He explains that those who brought the woman to Jesus were convicted by their consciences when Jesus spoke to them, as they knew they were ‘unfit to appear as either accusers of judges’. But Kimball doesn’t dwell on why these people were unfit to do this. Jesus said, ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ They were unfit to judge because none was without sin. That is the lesson Jesus taught the would-be judges, yet in this chapter, Kimball has only just put leaders of his church in the position of accuser and judge despite their sinfulness. How can he not see the parallel? Kimball refers to Jesus saying, ‘Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more.’ In Kimball’s view, Jesus did not forgive the woman here. His view is that, “Even Christ cannot forgive one in sin. The woman had neither time nor opportunity to repent totally. When her preparation and repentance there complete she could hope for forgiveness, but not before then.” How ridiculous. Kimball is missing many key points here. Firstly, Jesus said: ‘Neither do I condemn thee’. If your sins have not led you to be condemned then those sins are not standing against you. If Jesus had said that he did condemn her, then that would have meant that he did indeed hold her sins against her. The fact that he said the opposite meant that he had forgiven her. Secondly, Kimball said that Christ cannot forgive one in sin. This begs the question, when does one require forgiveness then? If I have wronged a close friend, colleague or family member, then it is only by them forgiving me that I am absolved of that wrong-doing. This is the doing of that other party, not me as the wrong-doer. It is due to my wrong actions that forgiveness is necessary. Thirdly, who is Spencer Kimball to declare when and in what circumstances Jesus can and cannot forgive sins? Jesus can speak for himself on this matter. Just look at Matthew 9 for a good example: “And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house.”
Kimball then moves on to give a ‘warning to working wives’. He claims: “A word of warning is in order about wives going out to work. They leave their husbands each day and work often in the presence of other men where they are exposed to flirtations, displays of interest and affection, and confidences all in a situation freed from family concerns and thus inducing the relaxation in which romantic attractions can develop. This setup can be fraught with danger to the home.” I would love to hear Lynn Wilder’s take on these words!

Continuing the topic of adultery, Spencer Kimball uses D & C 132 to show condemnation for unfaithful-ness in marriage. I have always found it strange that this chapter condemns those already married entering into another relationship, yet this is exactly what Joseph Smith did when he entered into polyandrous relationships. D & C says: “If a man receiveth a wife in the new and everlasting covenant, and if she be with another man, and I have not appointed unto her by the holy anointing she hath commit-ted
adultery and shall be destroyed. If she be not in the new and everlasting covenant, and she be with another man, she has committed adultery.” Information regarding these polyandrous relationships can found here: http://www.josephsmithspolygamy.com/JSPolyandry/MASTERSexualPolyandry.html

Kimball, is of course, right in many of his general comments about the dangers of adultery and about the wisdom of avoiding temptations. I find no disagreement with those aspects of this chapter.

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