Massive Teaching Fail

WARNING: Brief sexual content.  Rated PG-13.


I’m extremely disturbed by a thread over at fMh.  A single 30-year-old woman named “Am” wrote in, agonizing over the fact that she recently experienced an inadvertent orgasm while exercising.  Dear fMh, do I need to see the bishop for this? she asks.

I’m sorry.  But what the hell?

First of all, if it were me, I’d be like, “Yessssss! Freebie!” 😉

But beyond my initial tongue-in-cheek reaction, I’ve got to say…my heart broke for her.

The idea that a grown woman should wonder if she has to drag herself to the bishop’s office to confess something so personal (not to mention trivial!) in order to gain a sense of “absolution” is nothing short of tragic.  I’m actually sitting here with tears in my eyes because I think it reflects so poorly on our faith community that she feels the need to ask this question at all!

In a later comment, “Am” explains why the question is so important to her:

“It is crystal clear to me that my confidence in prayer is directly proportional to the extent of my obedience to His commandmants. I want to be able to kneel before him knowing that I qualify for every blessing that He has for me; that I deserve what I am asking for in prayer.”

Can I just ask…how does this happen?

How do people get to be 30 years old and honestly think they have to “earn” what they get?   Or that a loving God will withhold needed blessings if you struggle with a commandment or a private weakness?  Or that somehow you can’t approach the mercy seat of Christ and lay your sins at His feet until you’ve mastered them?  That you can only go to Him with confidence once you’re “worthy”?

How can such an obviously earnest, active member of the church MISunderstand the gospel so completely?

There is only one explanation:

Massive. Teaching. Fail.

FAIL, Mormons!  Fail!

When it comes to teaching the gospel of Christ–and by that I mean the message of hope and grace in Him who was crucified for the sins of all mankind–we pretty much suck.

I know, I know, I blog about this all the time.  And I’m sorry if you’re bored already.  But there are times this actually keeps me up at night, as I worry about family, friends, and ward members who may be suffering needlessly from a mistaken understanding of how salvation works and what grace really means.

I often wonder what we can do as members of the church to help people find peace and hope in Christ.  Does anyone have any ideas on how we can prevent this kind of thing from happening?

About Katie L

A doubter by nature, a believer by grace.

Posted on June 23, 2009, in Mental Health, Mormonism, Thoughts on God and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. Was she TRYING for this outcome? I doubt it. But I won’t go there….LOL

    This bothers me a lot, too. My solution? Aspire to teaching callings and teach grace until people know what you’re going to say before you say it. (tongue in cheek, BTW)

    I may be accused of preaching grace too heavily, but, you know what? Everyone already knows the “Do’s and don’ts” of the LDS doctrine. So I think it’s good to remind people with the proverbial “2×4 between the eyes” that at the end of the day, as long as you sincerely believe in Christ’s grace and try to follow Christ’s perfect example, YOU’RE SAVED! AND YOU ARE SAVED RIGHT NOW. As in, existing day to day in a saved condition. “Guiltless,” “blameless,” “in Christ,” “perfect in Christ,” “justified,” “under grace,” “retaining a remission of your sins,” whatever you want to call it (for present purposes I’ll ignore the “falling from grace” possibility, which IMO takes willful refusal to live a Christ-like life).

    Brigham Young, John Widtsoe, David O. McKay, and Dallin H. Oaks talked about “present salvation.” Ether taught that “whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God (Ether 12:4).So I think I’m in pretty good company when I teach this view of salvation.

    And FTR, I never get tired of discussing grace. It’s a truly incomprehensible aspect of the atonement, IMO. Yet contemplating grace brings so much joy and peace!

  2. Parenthetically, I do think DC 130:20-21 causes some confusion. What I think she missed is how grace fits into the obedience/blessings tandem.

  3. Good Heavens! Are you serious?

    Of course believing in Grace brings joy and peace. It is a very lovely and convenient thing to believe in. But it IS NOT taught in the Mormon religion. I don’t know where you people are finding this Grace within LDS scriptures or wherever, but you are sorely mistaken. I do not say this to cause anger or sadness in others, I say it because it is true. If you believe in something, and believe it with your whole heart and soul, then don’t substitute false doctrine (i.e. Grace) to make yourself happier at the end of your day.

    The reason that poor woman “AM” felt guilty is because from the first time she could comprehend sin, she was taught to suppress so many natural feelings (i.e. Sensations such as pride, jealousy, lust etc.) that OF COURSE she felt guilty! We (Mormons) are taught to NOT trust in the nature of our senses because they are sin (most of them) and as a result we (Mormons) never feel up to par in the scheme of things dealing with Christ, Heaven, Salvation etc.

    To top off the denial of our GOD given senses, we are given a very thick book of DON’T S and a strict thin line of DO’S.

    Am I really suppose to be convinced that somewhere in there Grace is taught?

    To the author of this blog post, I hope this answers your question: “How do people get to be 30 years old and honestly think they have to “earn” what they get?”

  4. Tom, it sounds like we both have a similar approach. I also tend to shout grace from the rooftops. I appreciate what you said about us being saved, right now, this very moment. If there’s anything I could get across to my LDS brothers and sisters, it’s that very message.

  5. Upset, I’m not sure I understand your perspective. Are you saying it’s a bad thing that “grace isn’t taught” in Mormonism, or is your point that grace is a false doctrine and I’m deceived for believing it?

    In either case, I can say this: the question of whether or not you can really make a solid case for grace within Mormonism is something I’ve struggled with and struggled with.

    In the end, I think there is a case to be made. Read some of the links tomchik pasted above. I’ll grant you that it’s not emphasized and in many cases it may not even be taught explicitly–to my eternal consternation–but it is there.

    It pains me deeply that such a central, core doctrine should be relegated to the “second tier” of LDS teaching. But to say that it is completely nonexistent is not accurate, IMHO.

  6. Upset, I think if you click on all the links I provided, you’ll find pretty good evidence for grace in the LDS scriptures. That said, I don’t skirt the fact that works are indeed important, for if we are unwilling to keep the commandments, then we are in essence forfeiting the privilege of Christ’s grace. However, being unwilling to keep the commandments is much different than making some mistakes sometimes even though we are trying. Note that the sacrament prayer says that we witness that we are willing…to keep the commandments.

    Also, Elder Christofferson puts grace in a very healthy perspective here. Also see this Ensign article.

    Also, don’t forget that Lehi taught that by the law (i.e. by keeping the commandments) no flesh is justified, then he goes on to say that redemption comes through the Messiah who is full of grace. Finally, he finishes the section by saying that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God “save it be through the merits, mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.

    So according to Lehi, it’s Christ’s merits and Christ’s grace that allow us to dwell with God.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to live the commandments perfectly. Absolutely we should, for that is Christ’s standard. But Christ’s grace grants us many blessings even though we are sinners, and by the law, we might not “deserve” a lot of what he gives us. But through his atonement and our covenant relationship with Him, we gain access to His grace which allows us to receive blessings that, in the absence of His grace, we wouldn’t “deserve.”

    I guess I’d sum it up by saying, in the context of DC 130:20-21, faith in Jesus Christ grants us a TON of blessings that we wouldn’t otherwise “deserve.”

    I think “Am” is on to something with the approaching God in prayer with confidence, but it doesn’t have to do with what we “deserve” per se, but rather knowing that we have done our absolute best. The DC talks about our confidence waxing strong in the presence of God. I believe that is the confidence we can have as we ask for blessings, but it’s not that we say, “Hey, God, I’ve done everything right, so grant me a blessing.” Rather we say, “Dear Father, I have done everything within in my power to keep all thy commandments, but I know I am still a sinner and I strive to repent daily. I know that in the scriptures we are promised this blessing for obedience. Wilt thou grant it to me?”

  7. Also, upset, be sure to read Elder Oaks’s article “Have you Been Saved,” linked in my original comment.

    And the reference for Lehi above is 2 Ne 2:5-8

  8. Another Ensign article on grace and salvation.

  9. psychochemiker

    Hi Katie,
    Tomchik linked me this post, so this is the first time I’ve visited your blog. Good post.

    Tomchik: thank you for the very scriptural listing of grace found within the LDS scriptures. My gut reaction while reading “upset’s” post was it was an uneducated Mormon (one who’d never read the standard works) or an ex-Mo dressing up to make LDS look stupid. But, one should always assume ignorance before malice.

  10. Yeah, I wondered if Upset was trolling to ruffle people’s feathers.

  11. I hereby deem upset a troll.

    In my experience, many Mormons do not really believe in and certainly do not teach grace. However, they are not unanimous within Mormonism: there have been Mormons who teach and believe grace, and since Believing Christ came out and became popular, I think that belief in grace is a growing trend in the Church.

    I know I was a grace-shouter when I was a Mormon. However, my frustration over the subject, and my growing dissatisfaction with what I perceived as a significant gulf between the majority-taught Mormon position on a number of issues, and the Christianity expressed in the New Testament was the major impetus that led to me questioning the faith and ultimately leaving.

  12. PC, thank you for stopping by! And I’m glad you even liked my post!! 😉

    Yes, I wondered if Upset was a troll too…but I dunno. If s/he was trolling, it was a pretty mild. I got the sense s/he’s a disaffected or ex Mormon who is upset with the legalism within the church. I could be wrong, though. Upset, please feel free to let us know a bit more about your position.

    Kullervo, your comment about many Mormons not really believing/teaching grace rings unfortunately true in my experience as well. The lack of understanding on this point is one of my primary concerns with Mormonism and Mormon culture. I believe a solid case can be made for grace within Mormonism–so I always try to make it–but there are moments it feels like an uphill battle.

  13. She’d only need to see the Bishop if her physical reactions were connected to an actual sin which requires a Church disciplinary response. The list of those is marvelously short, and Bishops are not repeat not father confessors.

    “Grace” is in fact taught in Mormonism, but I think in a lot of cases it’s presumed in the curriculum that people already understand it and what it is. That plus a healthy dose of not wanting to sound like a Protestant complete the package.

    Generally speaking, the GA’s have no problem teaching grace and insisting on it. Locally, YMMV. Around here, it’s difficult to get my teenagers, who think themselves immortal in the first place, to understand grace, because they don’t understand death.

  14. Okay, this is something I don’t understand and hopefully someone here can enlighten me. Why is it considered appropriate in the LDS church for a 30-yr-old single woman to talk to her male bishop about a sexual issue? I do not understand this. Who made this policy?

    Maybe it’s because of my upbringing in evangelical churches where male pastors counseling women has always been strongly discouraged. The principle of older women counseling younger women (Titus 2:3-5) seems more biblical and practical.

    Does anyone know if there’s a scriptural precedence behind this policy or where it comes from? Why don’t the Relief Society Presidents counsel the young woman with their personal issues?

  15. rrperkin (is this Rob?), my husband says the same thing. He believes it’s assumed that we already know about grace, and so the works-oriented teachings we receive have more to do with helping us grow in the Spirit and become sanctified.

    I have to say, that is not my experience or perception at all, and I tend to think that the fact that grace is “assumed” is damaging. I’m curious what your experience has been?

  16. Jessica…well, you know how I feel about this issue as we’ve corresponded previously on it. I think it’s mortifying at best and borderline abusive at worst to have men inquiring after or checking into the sexual lives of adolescent girls and grown women. If there must be such institutional checks, I think it is far more compassionate and appropriate to have women counsel with women. And I think there needs to be comprehensive training about how to counsel someone through sexual issues regardless of whether the counseling is handled by a man or a woman. These are vital issues, and you can really screw people up if you handle them incorrectly.

    Having said that, here is the doctrinal reasoning as I understand it for why “Am” felt she might need to approach the bishop.

    1)–Bishops and branch presidents are considered shepherds of their flocks and “judges in Israel.”

    2)–Serious sins which can affect the membership status of a Latter-day Saint must be confessed to the bishop or branch president so he can determine (per his “judge in Israel” role) what should be done as an official response to the sin.

    3)–Sexual sins are considered grave enough that they can be grounds for church disciplinary action.

    4)–Therefore, sexual sins must be confessed to bishops.

    There is a great deal of ambiguity surrounding which sins are “bad” enough that you have to go to the bishop to resolve them. When I was growing up, some opted only to go if they actually had intercourse; others felt the need to confess to more minor infractions such as inappropriate touching, overly passionate kissing, or masturbation.

    Obviously, in the case of “Am,” an inadvertent orgasm could not be considered a sin by even the most conservative definition. But my experience is that some devout LDS develop almost a pathology around sexuality and feel tremendously guilty for what would otherwise be considered normal sexual feelings and responses. I’m not sure, but that might be the case with “Am.”

  17. Yes, it’s Rob. Apparently the wordpress blog thingy is actually using my Gmail login or something.

    My experience varies from ward to ward (I’ve lived in more than 15, including mission wards and BYU wards), and I’ve seen Bishops and other leaders call for specific behaviors at need. It has also depended on the attention I was paying to specific matters over other specific matters.

    The teaching curriculum itself balances Grace-Atonement (as someone in Jack’s tradition might put it) with other points of interest.

    But simply put, don’t forget that each week we hear the words, “always remember Him”, in a pair of long sentences which teach that grace produces right behavior.

  18. Katherine! This ol’ blog of yours is becoming quite popular eh? Glad to see healthy discussion going on in your ‘blogsphere’ 🙂

  19. Since turning 18 I have always taught grace and atonement in addition to obedience, in every lesson I’ve given in the church. But I’ll admit, that I learned quite a bit more about it after my mission from Brother robinson personally. Before, when I was 18, everything I knew came directly from the NT and the BoM. I was never, EVER, “corrected” for teaching grace, either in my BYU ward where I served in the Elder’s Quorum Presidency, in the MTC, in the Mission Home as Mission Secretary, as a member of numerous classes, as a gospel Doctrine teacher for over a year, or as Executive Secretary. Not once. I’m not denying Kullervo his experience, but I am saying his experience flies in the face of my own.

  20. PC, I didn’t get from Kullervo’s comment that he was ever “corrected” for teaching grace. I think he said simply that many Mormons don’t teach it and don’t believe/understand it.

    I’ve never been corrected for teaching grace either. But it’s not uncommon for me to be the only one who brings it up.

  21. Glad to see healthy discussion going on in your ‘blogsphere’ 🙂

    Thanks Todd.

  22. PC, I didn’t get from Kullervo’s comment that he was ever “corrected” for teaching grace. I think he said simply that many Mormons don’t teach it and don’t believe/understand it.

    I was never corrected for teaching grace. Quite the opposite: I usually found myself as the one guy in the room bringing up grace and the sufficiency of Jesus Christ’s atonement when everyone else was talking about what was essentially a works-based or limited-atonement gospel (not that they used those terms: one of the big weaknesses in Mormon discourse in my opinion is the lack of sufficient theological terminology–Mormons can’t effectively discuss theological specifics because they lack the vocabulary to do so, but the only way to get the vocabulary would be to import it from outside, which they are unlikely to do for Restoration reasons, or develop it from scratch through the process of vigorous theological debate, which the Church basically does not allow). Anyway, my point is that I was usually the one doing the correcting, not the other way around.

  23. And I think there needs to be comprehensive training about how to counsel someone through sexual issues regardless of whether the counseling is handled by a man or a woman. These are vital issues, and you can really screw people up if you handle them incorrectly.

    Amen. A lack of pastoral training–especially in a church where the leadership wields a great amount of power–is a real problem for me. It is institutional things like that that make me certain I would not go back to the Church, even as a cultural or liberal Mormon, and I definitely wouldn;t want my kids raised inside the organization.

  24. One of the big weaknesses in Mormon discourse in my opinion is the lack of sufficient theological terminology

    Yes!! This is one of my biggest frustrations as well! When I first began to confront some of my questions, I told one of my best friends that there was nothing more frustrating to me than the fact that LDS vocabulary lacks specificity and preciseness. Words mean things, and without the right words, we end up “talking around” issues a lot but never landing squarely on them. I’ve imported a ton of vocabulary from the reading I’ve done outside church sources, which I try to use when I teach or comment in church, but it would be nice if we all had more unity in this regard.

    Regarding lack of pastoral training. You know, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I think one of the unique strengths of the church is the lay clergy system. (Not that I don’t have “holy envy” for people who get to go to church and hear a trained speaker deliver a powerful sermon every week. Because I do.) But the way people are willing to volunteer is inspirational to me, and I think LDS are able to grow through their callings in a way that is profound and unique.

    Having said that, I really think there needs to be more training from professionals, especially as it pertains to sexuality. I’ve heard (and sadly experienced) stories that border on the spiritually abusive (NOT sexually abusive, though those horror stories exist too). I tend to think it wouldn’t happen as much with proper training.

  25. Eh, I question how much voluntariness there really is the Mormon lay clergy system. First, you don’t really volunteer, you get called, and there’s enormous institutional pressure to accept callings and serve in them until you are released.

    Other Churches have extensive volunteer ministries too, alongside the professional Clergy–some so extensive that nearly every active congregant is involved in something. But it’s truly voluntary: people get to serve where they want to, where their strengths are, or where they feel God calling them. And it winds up working really well. And honestly, it’s a lot more in line with what the Bible says about callings.

    Yes, I realize that you can make an argument that not having control over your calling makes it a growing experience, forcing you to learn and grow from what may be a challenging assignment. But just think of the road that that reasoning leads down: any amount of coercion, force, and lack of personal freedom can be justified in terms of a learning experience. I think it’s poppycock.

    Honestly, I believe Mormons think lay clergy is great because 1. it’s all they really know, and 2. they talk about and teach about how great it is until they all believe it. It didn’t take me much looking around outside of the Church to realize how much more functional a congregation can be with professional clergy, for so many reasons.

  26. Oh, something I forgot to add: this is not top say that there aren’t plenty of great Mormon bishops out there. I have known some amazing spiritual leaders insise Mormonism (the best one I knew, to bring it back to the topic at hand, was particularly smart because he knew when to hand people over to counseling professionals), and there are plenty of douchebags who are professional clergymen in other Churches. Professional training is not a guarantee of competence or care (the same as with doctors, lawyers, teachers, any kind of trained professional), but it means there are standards, and there is at least minimal training in the stuff they’re going to be handling.

  27. The whole “male leaders interviewing female congregants on sex” thing has always stuck in my craw, too. Then again, us evangelicals have Mark Driscoll counseling his female congregants to offer their husbands oral sex, strip for their husbands and have sex with the lights on, which is as bad as any of the horror stories I’ve heard about LDS bishops. (And people wonder why I don’t like Driscoll…)

    I’ve always admired the LDS lay clergy, but Kullervo is correct that evangelical churches often have significant volunteer ministries as well, and I do get tired of Mormons who lambast Protestants for “priestcraft” just because our trained ministers get paid. The ones who aren’t aware that top leaders in the LDS church get paid are especially fun; enter in a bunch of equivocating on “stipends” v. “salaries” and “it’s okay to get paid if it’s your full-time job.” Well DUH. That’s why Protestant ministers are paid.

  28. The problem with an unpaid Bishop is that being a Bishop is a massively demanding calling, and on top of it, the Bishop has to support his family by working a real job. This means that when you need the Bishop for soemthing–when a congregant needs pastoral care–they are forcing the bishop to cut corners elsewhere: job or family.

    Yeah, yeah, it’s so sweet that Bishops sacrifice so much. Woo-woo, clapclapclap. It really is laudable, but there is no reason for it. When a Catholic calls his priest, or a Protestant calls his minister, he does so knowing that he is not burdening the clergy: ministering to congregants is the clergyman’s job, and his chosen life’s work. It’s what they want to be doing, and its what they get paid to do. They are there to help you.

    Mormon bishops? Not so much.

  29. Well, what can I say? I see pros and cons to both systems. Never having been a member of a Protestant congregation, though, it’s impossible for me to say which I’d like better.

    Jack, that is a creepy thing for Mark Driscoll to say…mostly because you and I both know God hates oral sex. 😉

    Acutally…and not that I don’t completely trust you, my friend…but is that link a reliable source for information? It sounded as though the post’s author had an admitted bias against Driscoll. Perhaps he took the Driscoll quote out of context?

    And by the way, I don’t know the first thing about Mark Driscoll, except that you don’t like him–even though you and Brian went there for Easter–and my hairdresser thinks his theology is good.

  30. One of the big weaknesses in Mormon discourse in my opinion is the lack of sufficient theological terminology

    Isn’t it like that everywhere? I have visited many, many different types of churches and it is always the same. There are a few who have studied and thought about theological issues and most who have not. It is a matter of interest and time. I don’t see it as a weakness, but as a reflection of reaching people where they are.

    On the other hand, Kullervo seem to always be complaining about my theologically heavy discourse (no one has ever accused me of lacking enough theological terminology). But Kullervo it seems to me that you have a double standard here — or a damned if you do, damned if you don’t approach to this issue. Maybe I’m wrong, but that is how it appears to me.

    Isn’t the response to Am’s question simply: “No, you don’t have to talk to a bishop about that. And where ever did you get the idea that you had to?”

  31. Good gods Blake, will you just go away? Don’t you have other people to bother?

  32. Having stopped here before going further, I’m wondering about this, too.

    I don’t profess to know anything about how Mormons approach God and/or the Bible, but if by the rules of your church that there are things for women and thing for men, why shouldn’t there be female Elders who are more equipped to handle answering a question like this than male Elders?

  33. Because women can’t hold the priesthood.

  34. Yeah, Kullervo pretty much nailed it. Men hold the priesthood which is required for them to hold positions of authority. All potential disciplinary issues must be dealt with through the bishop, who is always male.

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