Not Letting the Past Haunt Us

by: Jeff Spector

May 31, 2013

32501_all_014_01-RepentenceAfter I joined the Church and adopted a new lifestyle more compatible with the Gospel, my Mom, who was not particularly happy that I joined the Church in the first place, used to love to remind me about my behaviors prior to joining. Not in an evil, spiteful way, but a gentle reminder. If the topic was about drinking alcohol and I made a comment about it, she would invariably say,

“Well, you used to drink.”

To which my reply always was,

“But I don’t, now.”

My family was never big drinkers to begin with, so I was always puzzled why that in particular bugged her so much.

“Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” (D&C 58:42)

The Lord is more forgiving of those who repent than we are of others and ourselves.  Some might say that they forgive, but not forget. Yet, the Lord says He does both, forgive and forget.

On the other hand, it seems prudent in some cases, to ere on the side of caution. Such as not leaving a young son or daughter with a sex offender newly released from prison. Forgiven? Possibly. Forgotten? Perhaps not such a good idea.

What about the horrendous acts in history like the Holocaust or what the US did to Native Americans? Hard to both forgive and forget. Yet, we are expected to.

“I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. (D&C 64:10)

There are those who seem to enjoy bringing up the past, whether it is an individual act, a historical event or an organization’s misdeed. For some, no matter how far we have come, they are there to remind us that something happened, usually not in the best light.

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” – Edmund Burke

They would use this notion to justify their bringing up of the past, as though nothing can change and, without the reminder, will at some point repeat.

However, people and institutions can and do change for the better. There are many examples of those, once on the wrong track, going on to lead exemplary lives, making great contributions to society. Organizations, once on the wrong side of some issues, realized their mistake and corrected it.  Should they be eternally condemned, having erred at one time?

When we reach the judgment bar, will our kind and loving Savior dredge up everything we ever did that was wrong? If we have truly repented, He tells us, no, He will not.

Then why do we did it to others? What can be gained?

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18 Responses to Not Letting the Past Haunt Us

  1. hawkgrrrl on May 31, 2013 at 7:35 AM

    Victor Frankl shared the story of people in Germany after the war. Some who had committed horrible war crimes were very diligently seeking to help others, devoting time to people in hospitals, being kind, etc. Others who had been victimized personally or lost loved ones became callous and cruel toward others, even toward strangers, feeling society owed them something for their suffering. While not all sufferers took this path, and not all war criminals became good, it was interesting that their view of the past seemed to guide their choices in the future.

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  2. Jeff Spector on May 31, 2013 at 7:44 AM


    Using your experiences to guide your future seems a highly appropriate use of those experiences, turning swords into plowshares. But, imagine what it would be like for those who changed their lives to help others being constantly reminded of what they did rather than on how they changed?

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  3. Howard on May 31, 2013 at 8:21 AM

    I think repentance is an important aspect to putting the past at rest. When a person or organization fails or refuses to repent and acknowledge the earlier error it is much more difficult to just move on and forget it. This is especially true with the church because what it purports to be doesn’t always square with it’s history.

    Your sex offender example shows us that repentance alone may not be enough to resolve the issue to the point of safety because being sorry does little to resolve the underlying compulsion. And even if the offender was innocent and victimized during their childhood by the formation of that compulsion they pose a threat to society.

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  4. Brian on May 31, 2013 at 8:51 AM

    We are human and get sanctimonious all the time. A reminder is good. We need them. I constantly ask, “How can anyone believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet? Don’t they know this, or don’t they know that….” My wife reminds me that I used to believe it. It makes me calm down. The reminders don’t bother me because she is right.

    The timeliness and the motive for the reminders obviously affect how they are received.

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  5. MH on May 31, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    I agree with Howard here. In regards to the LDS Church, they teach repentance, but that same concept of repentance doesn’t seem to apply to the organization. If they would apologize for the preisthood/temple ban, it would make it much easier to move on. But they haven’t apologized–the best they can come up with is “we don’t know.” If I hit you, and say “I don’t know why I did it”, that’s not apology. If they would apologize, then we can move on to other things. But organizations don’t act like people. It took the Catholic Church about 400 years to apologize for what they did to Galileo. I hope our church doesn’t wait that long.

    Armaund Mauss has written about Jeff’s approach of “selective forgetfulness” and has written that it is a “dubious idea”.

    The second cherished organizational myth is related to the first: the myth of history as time-filtered–the organizational equivalent of the old adage that “time heals all wounds”–and similarly dubious ideas. Â This myth is typically accompanied by an organizational posture of benign and selective forgetfulness. Â Thus, if the church progresses in a continuous, linear path by divine guidance, then contemporary realities and understandings replace those from the past, which will eventually be forgotten. Â Obsolete ideas and practices simply don’t count any more, even if they originated as divine revelations. Â Where discrepancies appear between the present and the past, there is no point in reminding ourselves about the past. Â Especially if an event in the past is embarrassing, then recalling it and dwelling on it, even if only to repudiate it, merely confuses the matter. Â Such negative thinking has no place in the Lord’s kingdom. Â If harm has resulted from earlier ways of thinking, then everyone involved should forgive everyone else and get on with construction a better future. Â Apologies or ringing declarations of disavowal should not be necessary, since few peoples or individuals have histories free of offenses against others, and thus few are in a position to demand apologies. Â With time, memories of these offenses will fade automatically, and we will all be better for it. Â Meanwhile, if we have not made the requisite changes, let’s not stir up useless and uncomfortable old memories.

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  6. Douglas on May 31, 2013 at 11:42 PM

    MH, it’s arrogant to presume that the LDS leadership should “apologize” or otherwise behave in a manner over the PH situation that’s to your liking. If you’re that bugged about it, by all means resign and either join a faith that better meets your standards or start one of your own. I’m satisfied for myself that prior to and subsequent to the PH revelation that the Church was being guided by the Lord and need not explain itself.
    We should in general leave the past there where it belongs but there are some things that are so serious that they can’t just be entirely ‘erased’ via baptism. Take Jeff’s sex offender example. Even assuming such a person is eligible for baptism, would it wrong to annotate thus his/her membership records? Do we not have a duty to safeguard the innocent? Hopefully it’d be a situation that could be tactfully handled. After all, “be ye WISE as serpents, but HARMLESS as doves”.

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  7. dba.brotherp on June 1, 2013 at 6:22 AM

    The problem that organizations have is that they are constantly forming new relationships with individuals. If the organization is not upfront with past “sins”, the new relationship may suffer once the past is revealed. To the individual, this is not bringing up a past “sins” because the individual just found out about it. But to the organization, it may feel like the past is bringing brought up again.

    The best thing for the organization is to be upfront with the past and ask for forgiveness when they wrong others. Most people want to forgive (you see forgiveness played out all the time in politics.) The organization needs to have *faith* that forgiveness is possible.

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  8. annegb5298 on June 1, 2013 at 10:17 AM

    Perhaps your mother was trying to understand your choice rather than judging you. I recently took a road trip and visited several different relatives who are not LDS. They were quite curious about different aspects of my faith. Especially the ones who’d been up front and center when I got drunk out of my gourd. :)

    I think fear is at the root of many of our dysfunctional behaviors and dwelling on the past certainly brings out fear. Are we doomed to repeat our mistakes or to be the victim when others repeat their mistakes? Maybe, at least to some extent.

    As I age (I’m going to let my hair go to its natural white and change that picture because I looked like that 10 years ago), I’m more and more relaxed about our human foibles. Even my own.

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  9. Jeff Spector on June 1, 2013 at 2:00 PM


    “Perhaps your mother was trying to understand your choice rather than judging you.”

    Don’t think so, but maybe. That wasn’t the only comment she made. OTOH, my Dad did finally come out and ask me once why I converted. he didn’t care that much for the answer.

    It was kind of like, “Why did you do this to us?”

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  10. dba.brotherp on June 1, 2013 at 7:41 PM

    Hi Douglas,

    I think your response to MH is a bit harsh. The Church is for everyone! The revelation that President Kimball received only addressed dropping the ban NOT why it was initiated in the first place. The *Church* said they did not know when and why the ban started. If God initiated the ban, logic would suggest that the Church would have said that the ban was from God but instead the Church said “we don’t know.”

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  11. Douglas on June 1, 2013 at 9:03 PM

    #10 – by definition, it was. Read D&C 1:38. We (myself included) tend to get into bad habits of steadying the ark or presuming to counsel our God.
    It doesn’t help on the PH situation some of the useless speculations as to why. See above. Well-meaning,but sometimes ‘IDK’ is the best approach. Mine own speculations (what I jocularly refer to as “The Gospel according to Doug”) would be as likely to lead the flock astray as any, therefore, if there’s a need to say anything at all, I qualify that it’s mine own opinion and has no more weigh than anyone elses, and that revelation trumps all.

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  12. Mormon Heretic on June 1, 2013 at 11:24 PM

    Douglas, I wouldn’t expect a white caveman such as yourself to have the least inkling what it is like to be a black Mormon. Walk in their shoes for a while and then tell me an apology isn’t in order. Why don’t you “resign [this website] and either join a[nother website] that better meets your standards or start one of your own”? (That has to be one of your dumber comments–though it’s hard to pick because you are so full of dumb comments.)

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  13. Hedgehog on June 2, 2013 at 2:04 AM

    On the sex-offender example, one ward I was in had a new convert who bearing his testimony mentioned he had recently been released from prison where he’d been serving a sentence for abusing his daughter, for which he had turned himself in. And expressed gratitude for the atonement. Everyone who was present no doubt noted this information, and I believe his records had been annotated with this fact anyway. He was treated cordially otherwise. Roll on a few years, and people move in and out of the ward, new converts etc. A single sister complained no-one had told her of this information, and the guy had been making moves to court her (she had several young daughters). Well, people did say something to her as soon as they knew he’d started visiting her. But should every new ward member be issued with a warning as to who in the ward they should be wary of, and if so who should issue that warning? It’s a tricky balance I think.

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  14. Hedgehog on June 2, 2013 at 2:10 AM

    The bits of the past that haunt me are when I finally work out what something was actually about. I can be very socially clueless sometimes, and it can takes years to process events and conversations. So that some other event or conversation later, or something I read will trigger a memory, and I’ll realise ‘so that was what that was about’, see what an idiot I made of myself, and toes curl in embarassment!

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  15. dba.brotherp on June 2, 2013 at 7:11 AM

    Douglas, I think I understand where you are coming from. You believe that the ban was from God because it was instituted by the Church (see D&C 1:38). But if the Church says, “It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church…” (see the Church’s statement on Feb 29, 2012) I am puzzled on how the ban can be from God since it appears the Church doesn’t know quite know if the ban was from God.

    I was just thinking, maybe this is why the Church has not issued official apologies on some matters because the Church itself doesn’t know if those controversial items were from God or man.

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  16. Howard on June 2, 2013 at 7:40 AM

    …the Church itself doesn’t know if those controversial items were from God or man. Kind of problematic for an organization that claims continuing revelation with 15 prophets, seers and revelators to guide it. Isn’t it?

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  17. Jeff Spector on June 2, 2013 at 10:26 AM

    I do think it puts members in the difficult position of knowing what is from God and what is from the mind of men. It all comes does to faith and trust. So, in speaking of the PH ban, the honest answer seems to be they don’t know exactly why it was instituted and that it appears to lack any doctrinal basis.

    But, my point is, when is it time to move on? Continually bringing it up as a basis for why a person of color might not want to join the Church is the same as telling an immigrant not to come to the US because their people might have been mistreated at an earlier time in our history.

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  18. Mormon Heretic on June 2, 2013 at 5:20 PM

    “when is it time to move on?”

    The short answer is “After an apology and proper repentance has taken place.” The current stance of “We don’t know” is just untenable. There have been lots of explanations given in the past. The Washington Post wanted to know why the ban existed, and BYU Religion professor (you’d think he might be one who knew) gave the traditional explanation stemming from the Book of Abraham. Well, the Church the next day said that explanation was wrong–so we can throw out that idea.

    Bruce R. McConkie said it was a result of choices made in the pre-mortal life, but the same Washington Post article said “That view has fallen out of favor in recent decades.”

    The simplest definition is that Mormons adopted the racist attitudes of contemporary Americans of pre-Civil War America, and blamed it on God. If God is “no respector of persons”, then how could God endorse blatant discrimination of the sealing ordinance against blacks? The two questions are simply incongruent, and there is no way to reconcile these conflicting scriptural ideas. It’s much simpler to say that previous leaders, while well-intentioned, made a mistake. At that point it will be time to move on. Like I said, I hope the church doesn’t wait 400 years to do this. It would do much better to get the issue behind us, instead of waiting for another Randy Bott situation to arise, because it will rear its ugly head until it is properly repudiated.

    Look, I don’t know any Americans that say that racism in America is good. All Americans look back on the Civil War period with disdain. But we can say that Thomas Jefferson was wrong with regards to his comments on slavery. Why can’t we do the same with Brigham Young? Are we too immature (and tell people they should resign the church if they disagree)? I mean it’s just silly.

    Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers made a gay slur in post-game comments yesterday, then today apologized. He didn’t wait 30 years, he waited less than 24 hours. Maybe the Church should talk to Roy and ask him how to do it properly. Then the issue will go away, and it will be time to move on.

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