High Standards, Mercy, and Forgiveness

…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.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris Henrichsen

    “jealousy with a halo”

    Nice.

    It seems that a key element of pride is the desire to see ourselves as better than others. So, it is no so much about being moral or righteous, but about appearing more righteous than others. Who wants to be rich if nobody is poor? Who wants to go to heaven if nobody goes to hell.

  • Geri

    Thank you for your article. I am LDS and when I read the judgements that were being heaped upon David Archuleta by supposed good LDS people I was heartbroken. It is no wonder that people of other faiths have such a hard time with Mormons. I will admit to being a hugh Archuleta fan. What most people in the church don’t know is that 30 of Davids fans have had the missionary discussions and have joined the church. I met a women a year ago at a concert and she asked me all kinds of questions. So I sent the missionaries to her and she was baptised in September. We told David of her decision at a concert in July. And he was so excited for her. He had told her in April at another concert not to quit reading the Book of Mormon just because she didn’t understand it. That with continuous reading the Lord would help her understand what she needed to know. So maybe that is why I have such a hard time that they judge him so harshly. Because I know he is being a missionary now.
    Sorry I wrote so much on here. But I guess I just thought you would understand. Have a Great Day!

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jacob J

    But most of the stone throwing has little to do with desire for justice and everything to do with lust for vengeance.

    I am not really familiar with the comment boards you refer to, so my question is an honest one coming from ignorance (I didn’t even know Archuleta had declined to serve a mission, for example). How are you able to tell that the stone throwing is based on a lust for vengeance?

  • Sheldon Lawrence

    Chris, yes, the spirit of competition is at the heart of it. As contradictory as it seems, there is a kind of spiritual competition. If you haven’t read C.S. Lewis’s chapter on pride in Mere Christianity, do it.

    Geri, thanks for the anecdotes on good ole David. I haven’t followed his career much, but he just came up to Rexburg and seems like a good kid.

    Jacob, It’s just a generalization from observation…no empirical evidence. Just watch a handful of movies, including Disney, and see how many plots center on the need to see the bad guys get completely humiliated in the end. Isn’t it human nature to want to see people get exactly what they got coming to them, and then a little bit more for good measure? Vengeance is great fun–has been since Seneca and earlier–and the bloodier the better, but that’s actually a different topic.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jacob J

    Sure, I agree. We should be forgiving.

  • Ethan

    So true. I also think that we tend to keep the most thorough lists of petty grievances of those who are the closest to us. C.S. Lewis said that one of Satan’s tricks is to get us to feel a sort of armchair charity for people across the world while we simmer in constant unforgiveness and irritability towards those who we know the best–namely our own family. Small infractions, or imagined misdeeds, often meet with bitter vindictiveness, at least inwardly, from a spouse, sibling, child, or parent. The stranger on the street would be more forgiving. That’s tragic.

  • Ripe for Destruction

    I never honk at people when driving, which sometimes makes my wife crazy.

    My explanation is that I only honk (or let the bird fly) at someone who is doing something that I never did. Since, when I was young, I made virtually every bone-headed mistake possible while behind the wheel, almost everyone is safe from my wrath.

    Same goes with being judgmental. I’ve made so many mistakes in my life, I think it’s better if I keep my mouth shut and save my poison pen for my diary.


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