17 July 2009

Mirage More Than Miracle

I recently re-read a quote from Spencer Kimball's book The Miracle of Forgiveness which was written when he was an apostle and thus spoke only for himself, not the Church. Elder Richard Scott of the Twelve called it a "masterly work" and President Ezra Taft Benson encouraged everyone to "read and re-read" it. Anecdotal evidence is that the paperbound version is still given out liberally by bishops throughout the Church to anyone who "struggles" with any of the sins the book decries. As such, Kimball's words take on a quasi-canonical and semi-official gloss, not the official Voice Of The Church but essentially so. However, most personal accounts I've heard indicate that the book had the same effect as pouring salt and lemon juice into an open wound.

Now, let me say right now that Pres. Kimball did many good things. He ended official Church racism, for which we should all be very grateful. But he wasn't infallible and sometimes he was--well, let's charitably say less than accurate.

Here's what Elder Kimball had to say about his gay brothers and sisters:

"All such deviations from normal, proper heterosexual relationships are not merely unnatural but wrong in the sight of God. Like adultery, incest, and bestiality they carried the death penalty under the Mosaic law. ... The law is less severe now, and so regrettably is the community's attitude to those grave sins -- another evidence of the deterioration of society. In some countries the act per se is not even illegal. This "liberalizing" process is reflected in the United States by communities of homosexuals in our larger cities who sponsor demonstrations and draw up petitions to this end, who are formally organized, and who even print their own perverted journals. All this is done in the open, to the detriment alike of impressionable minds, susceptible urges, and our national decency."

Condensed to its core point: Homosexuality is a "deviation" which is "wrong in the sight of God," and the "regrettable" shift of community attitudes away from the death penalty for it is a "deterioration of society." (The same chapter goes on to say that homosexuality is "curable", a claim which the Church itself has now backed away from.)

This means bishops throughout the Church continue as part of counseling and repentance processes to distribute and instruct the reading of a book which seems to advocate the death penalty for being or acting gay. And which also makes claims about "cures" which the Church itself now acknowledges "may" not be true. Yet these noxious statements continue to be handed out with a de facto imprimatur to the very most vulnerable and guilt-ridden of God's gay children who are seeking solace from a Church that claims to "love and honor" them "as sons and daughters of God" and says "they are welcome in the Church." (Pres. Hinckley, Oct. 1999 General Conference). Ah, okay. Anybody else scratching their head?

More zigzags from MoF and how they stack up against other authoritative sources:

Spencer Kimball: "We can hardly be too forceful in reminding people that they cannot sin and be forgiven and then sin again and again and expect repeated forgiveness."

Contrast Jesus Christ: "As often as my people repent I will forgive them their trespasses against me" (Mosiah 26:30).

Spencer Kimball: "Being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. . . He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal. . . [because] "the Lord demands perfection of us.'"

Contrast LDS Preparing for Exaltation Teacher's Manual: "We need to realize that perfection in this life is not expected or even possible." (Lesson 22, Striving for Perfection" page 122).

Anybody else starting to wonder what else in MoF might be a bit skewed?

Since emerging from my teens I've discovered there were lots of other impressionable, faithful young Mormons who like me were driven to the depths of despair by MoF. To me it seemed more like The Mirage of Forgiveness, something someone as obviously corrupt as I am (as far as the book's concerned) could never hope to attain. I have yet to encounter anything that threatened my testimony of the Atonement as much as Kimball's words.

Thankfully, I ran across this one final quote from Spencer Kimball himself:

“Sometimes I think I might have been a little too strong about some of the things I wrote in that book.” (Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, SLC: Deseret Book, 2005, 80.) Wistful reminiscing about a time when being gay was enough to get someone killed? Ya think?

So now I ignore the Wall Of Shelves Of Sermons For Profit in Deseret Book (when I go in at all, which is rarely), and I stick to the Scriptures, thank you very much. I prefer my living water straight and pure, not colored and sugary or flavored with artificial bitters.


A.J. said...

I really don't like that book. I think it helps to contribute to some of the depression and perfectionism we see in a lot of people at church. I much prefer the book Believing Christ.

Abelard Enigma said...

Personally, I've never read "The Miracle of Forgiveness". I don't really know why, I could just never get myself to sit down and read it. I knew about -that- chapter; so, perhaps subconsciously I rejected it, even though I was still in deep denial.

Grant Haws said...

I am not a fan of the book, and I have many mixed feelings about good ole Spencer himself.

When I read books like Miracle of Forgiveness and others from the "Profit" wall at Deseret Book, I constantly find myself wondering if I can be both Christian and Mormon. When you read quotes like these, it doesn't seem possible.

Bravone said...

Unfortunately many church leaders still recommend or require reading that book as part of the repentance process. Sticking with the scriptures and the most recent words of the prophets is my recommendation.

One of my religion teachers once counseled us to look to "the highest and latest." Good advice.

Troy said...

I hate Deseret Book for that very reason.

Sarah said...

Interesting insight. Thank you!

Joe Conflict said...

I read that book while a missionary and really disliked it. It was the most depressing "church" book I ever read, but of course it was on the "recommended" list for missionaries.