3 Nephi 18:22-35 — LeGrand Baker — how to judge other people’s sins

3 Nephi 18:22-35 

22 And behold, ye shall meet together oft; and ye shall not forbid any man from coming unto you when ye shall meet together, but suffer them that they may come unto you and forbid them not;
23 But ye shall pray for them, and shall not cast them out; and if it so be that they come unto you oft ye shall pray for them unto the Father, in my name.
24 Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed.
25 And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me, that ye might feel and see; even so shall ye do unto the world; and whosoever breaketh this commandment suffereth himself to be led into temptation.
26 And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words, he turned his eyes again upon the disciples whom he had chosen, and said unto them:
27 Behold verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you another commandment, and then I must go unto my Father that I may fulfil other commandments which he hath given me.
28 And now behold, this is the commandment which I give unto you, that ye shall not suffer any one knowingly to partake of my flesh and blood unworthily, when ye shall minister it;
29 For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul; therefore if ye know that a man is unworthy to eat and drink of my flesh and blood ye shall forbid him.
30 Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out from among you, but ye shall minister unto him and shall pray for him unto the Father, in my name; and if it so be that he repenteth and is baptized in my name, then shall ye receive him, and shall minister unto him of my flesh and blood.
31 But if he repent not he shall not be numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people, for behold I know my sheep, and they are numbered.
32 Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.
33 Therefore, keep these sayings which I have commanded you that ye come not under condemnation; for wo unto him whom the Father condemneth.
34 And I give you these commandments because of the disputations which have been among you. And blessed are ye if ye have no disputations among you.
35 And now I go unto the Father, because it is expedient that I should go unto the Father for your sakes.

The message here is about discriminating against people whom we perceive to be sinners and therefore we justify ourselves for shunning them because they are “unsaveable.” The key to the problem is in its conclusion:

34 And I give you these commandments because of the disputations which have been among you. And blessed are ye if ye have no disputations among you.

The disputations seem to have been about whether people who consider themselves to be especially good should have to tolerate the association of sinners— the unworthy “lower sorts.”

Shakespeare focuses on this same issue in a conversation where Hamlet tells Polonius to treat the traveling players with dignity. Polonius replies:
.           My lord, I will use them according to their desert.
.     To which Hamlet exclaimed:
.           God’s bodykins, man, much better: use every man after his desert,
.                     and who should escape whipping?
.           Use them after your own honour and dignity: the less they deserve,
.                     the more merit is in your bounty (Hamlet. Act 2, Scene 2).

There are two kinds of sins: The most important are those that damage a person’s eternal Self. They are the sins that God defines. But those are often the most difficult for other people to see and judge.

The other kind of sins are those that are defined, established, and enforced by culture. They have nothing to do with the soul but everything to do with the social perceptions of “sinfulness. Those are the easiest for others to see and they are also the one’s that divide people between “us” and “others.” It’s like Minnie Pearl once observed,

In spite of everything I’ve just told you, it seems that folks in the Switch are no more perfect than anyone else, they just have a clearer understanding of how other people sin. {1}

Because we don’t know their circumstances, we do not understand and our standard for judging someone else’s sinfulness or their excellence is an illusion at best. For some people the standards they impose upon others may best be described by the long-since worn out: “do as I say, not as I do.” Thus we somehow think it reasonable to put a burden on others that we are not willing or able to carry ourselves.

Perhaps even more frequently the person we fancy we see in our own mirror is the standard of excellence by which one can rightly judge the actions and motives of others. We judge our enemies (real or imagined) according to their response to our needs (whether our needs real or imagined). When we do that, compassion tends not to be a very high priority in the criteria upon which we base our judgments.

In the Church there are minimal standards of worthiness. They are minimal because they are necessarily limited to things that are observable and measurable. Sometimes the rules get in the way of compassion. That presents a dichotomy that is described beautifully by this story. It is told by a dear friend of mine. It is a true story whose punch line illustrates the problem very well. I have heard my friend tell it several times, and always with the same poignant message. I asked him to write it so I could share it with you. He wrote:

A family story handed down to me by my father:

Ninety years ago a bishop could approach the president of the church directly with his concerns.

The bishop approached the president with the intent to resign since he didn’t want to sit in judgment on two of his ward members.

Bishop:
“I know, President, that what they have done really requires that a church court be held. But I really don’t want to sit in judgment on them. They have been so faithful in the past and such a support to me as their bishop. Could someone else handle this affair?”

President:
“Bishop, you don’t need to handle this. There are always plenty of people willing to sit in judgment on others.”

In today’s scripture, the Savior said there had been “disputations” among the people—probably not just about how to enforce the standards, but also about which standards to enforce.

That tends to be true in the Church we belong to as well. For example, when I was a boy caffeine was taught by many to be against the Word of Wisdom. They judged other people accordingly. They were a bit disgruntled that the Church was not explicit about that, because without explicit directions local leaders could not enforce what they believed was “that part of the Word of Wisdom”. (The Church is explicit now; the Handbook of Instructions clearly says caffeine is not against the Word of Wisdom.). Then as now, hot drinks (tea and coffee) were forbidden and that was enforceable because they were easily defined. However, cold soft drinks that contained caffeine was a different matter altogether. There are more things in tea and coffee than just caffeine, but the caffeine was the easiest to talk about so that was what they focused on. It gave credence to this joke that made the rounds: “If you are in Utah, how can you tell a Mormon from a non-Mormon —- By the temperature of their caffeine!”

The point is, it was the people who didn’t drink Coke who defined Coke as a sin. In the small town where I grew up, it was convenient to judge others accordingly because one could easily discover who did and who didn’t buy Coke. Those who watched also judged, but their definition of sin was based only on their personal opinion of what a sin ought to be.

The church is like an egg. It has two distinct parts within its shell. It is not complete without both parts but they function differently. The center is the priesthood whose function is to perform and validate covenants and ordinances. Around that core is an organization whose purpose is to uplift each individual person, and provide both organized and casual opportunities for friends to associate and work together. If the notion of “church” can be discussed separately from priesthood powers and responsibilities, then one could argue that the “church” is—and is intended to be—the core of our personal and community sociality. For those who enjoy that association, church membership satisfies many of their most basic needs. However, personalities also come into play. I suspect that a lot more people leave the church because their social needs are not met than leave because they don’t like the doctrine.

If that is true, then the salvation of both the wayward and active members of the Church is largely contingent upon one’s open willingness to accept other people as friends, and to “judge not that ye be not judged.” To the degree that is true, then the Savior’s instructions in these verses are simply an elaboration on the first two “great commandments”: to love the Lord and to love his children.

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FOOTNOTE

{1} Kevin Kenworthy, The Best Jokes Minnie Pearl Ever Told, p. 63.

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