…a short sermon for Sunday
Though I live at the northern tip of the Jell-O belt, I follow the news throughout Utah and Idaho. I have noticed that whenever there is some sort of community scandal, high profile crime, or mid-profile crime (okay, anything involving middle class Mormons) there is a tendency on comment boards to want to “throw the book” at the perpetrator. Maximum sentence! Throw away the key! Make an example! Crucify them! Even the innocuous story of David Archuleta choosing not to serve a mission garnered the harsh disapproval of many saints.
Now, we must keep in mind that such comments may not fairly represent the general reaction of the community, so we must be wary of making generalizations regarding LDS culture based on these comment boards (we all know what unsavory characters can inhabit internet discussion forums!). Furthermore, this tendency to want to lock people up in the stocks and begin spitting may be more a product of Puritan-rooted American culture, or even, simply, human nature.
However, my concern here is for LDS culture. If we are more judgmental than the rest, then we need to repent. If we are equally judgmental than the rest, then we need to repent. Is the tendency toward judgment and condemnation a by product of a community that upholds high moral standards? Perhaps, but only if the qualities of mercy and forgiveness and compassion are considered separate and distinct from the category of “high moral standards.” Unfortunately, I think that’s how it works. We think of high morality as things like not drinking, not swearing, no R movies, perfect chastity, perfect honesty, etc… I have no problem with this list, but what if “high propensity to forgive” or “high degree of mercy for others’ shortcomings” were also part of that list of high standards?
Obviously people need to be held accountable for crimes, and dangerous criminals need to be prevented from doing further harm. But most of the stone throwing has little to do with desire for justice and everything to do with lust for vengeance. And, by the way, this post has nothing to do with the tension between mercy and justice. The kind of angry condemnation I’m talking about has nothing in common with justice.
Satan has been called the great accuser, and it makes sense that this tendency to accuse and condemn is proportionate to our own sinful nature. We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. Do we really believe that or is it a nice throw away line, a half-hearted attempt at humility? H.G. Wells once said that “Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo.” When we see the sin in others, do we gawk in a combination of voyeurism and indignation as we see (with a tinge of jealousy) someone who actually carried out the very sins that we commit daily in our hearts? Do we look at the scandalous headlines and see our reflection staring back, and so turn in anger and disgust, denying ourselves and others the mercy of Christ? I think this is why repentance and forgiveness of others are so inseparably connected. The truly repentant will look upon the sins of others with compassion and desire to lift. Knowing that he or she is not without sin, the repenting soul will not be tempted to pick up the nearest stone.