Sin and Self-Loathing

I have seen several comments on various threads that connect the preaching against a sinful behavior from a church, to the self-loathing of a church member who engages in this behavior.  I feel that this connection and result are not necessary, and that more healthy responses from the believer are readily available.

First, it should be kept in mind that engaging in some sinful behavior does not make one unique.  It is universally known that Christianity teaches that all (other than Christ) have sinned.  And while all sins are not equally serious, the differences are of degree rather than of kind.  So to me, the real question is why do some believers respond to the gospel of repentance by humbly seeking to change their sinful natures (and retain a positive self-image), while others turn to self-loathing?

One answer to this question (usually given by those who are sympathetic to self-loathing) is that the church is being to harsh in how it preaches against the sinful behavior, or that it should not be preaching against the sinful behavior at all.  There is a difficult balance that churches must maintain – to teach that certain behaviors are sinful, yet to keep hope alive for the sinner.  To neglect either message would be to teach only a partial gospel.  Those who would criticize the church for teaching only of sin and guilt would do well to search for topics like forgiveness or atonement.  There are a wealth of articles, lessons, videos, etc., that could keep one busy for months.

The other part of the answer has to do with the hearers of the word.  The hearer who desires to come unto Christ, even when that means changing some desired behaviors will receive the word with gladness, and will give away their sins to know, and become like, Christ.  The hearer who self-identifies with their particular sins, and would prefer to remain in them rather than imitating Christ and following His teachings, will likely receive the word with resentment.

I realize that all of this is of course an over-simplification.  But that is what I am often about.  Yet if baffles me that those who profess to follow the gospel of repentance are offended when this very gospel recommends fundamental changes in behavior.

4 Responses to “Sin and Self-Loathing”

  1. 1 CJ August 15, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    One possible problem is the large variance in going among several priesthood leaders for the same problem. It causes some to wish they could choose a bishop like one carefully chooses a doctor. I’m familiar with both side of the issue, having served as bishop and in a stake presidency. I’ve seen marvelous caring counsel and care given and I’ve seen botched spiritual treatments as well.

  2. 2 Eric Nielson August 15, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    Thanks for the comment. I can only say that my experience is the exact opposite from yours. And I do not think that I am alone. Mormonism is often criticized for an emphasis on ‘sameness’. And that we all need to fit the same mold. I think maverick bishops are very rare, and with the available communication with other local church leaders, and sources like, such maverick bishops would never get much traction.

  3. 3 Andrew S August 16, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    While you point out that people should also look at LDS resources on forgiveness and atonement, do you think that Mormons don’t have a very different interpretation and theological understanding of forgiveness and atonement than, say, the average Evangelical Christian?

    I’m thinking of the different perspectives on grace in particular.

    But, yeah, I think the other issue is that the sins that people go into self loathing over are ones that are strongly felt to be central to identity (at least, per certain narratives). Combine this with the competing rhetoric vs folk understanding of actions vs inclination as sin)

  4. 4 Eric Nielson August 16, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    Yes, I do think there is a difference. Salvation by grace alone, or something in that neighborhood seems to much of an anything goes gospel for my taste. Mormonism does not teach an easy gospel in my view.

    In my view Christ wants us to self identify as his followers, not with our sins. And unfortunately I feel that there is ‘folk’ understanding on both sides.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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