The Unauthorized Investigator's Guide to
The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints

Lesson 3

Mormon Guilt

The repentance process that the missionaries describe can be broken down into the following steps (Mormons often do this, approaching repentance as a recipe):

  1. Admit to God you did something wrong.
  2. Feel sorry about it.
  3. Ask God to forgive you.
  4. Do all you can to correct the problems your actions may have caused.
  5. Turn away from the sin and donít do it anymore.

I believe one of the most important things that each of us needs to do in life is search deeply in our souls for our true values, and then go through a "change of heart" and align our thoughts, feelings, and actions with those values. The process of repentance described here is similar to this, but I do have a serious misgiving with the way that Mormons define repentance.

Feeling guilty is an intrinsic part of the repentance process they describe (step 2 in the above list). There is some disagreement with how guilty we should feel, but most sources imply that we canít be forgiven until weíve suffered enough guilt over a particular misdeed. Spencer W. Kimball was president of the church for several years. His book The Miracle of Forgiveness is considered a classic in Mormon literature (although I know a few faithful Mormons who disagree with it so passionately that they wonít allow it in their homes). 90% of the book is designed to instill the credulous reader with the most bleak and intense feelings of guilt imaginable. For example, chapter 5 is called "The Sin Next to Murder". That chapter starts out:

THERE ARE SINS WHICH ARE SO SERIOUS THAT WE know of no forgiveness for them. These we will discuss in greater detail in a later chapter. There are also sins which approach the unforgivable ones in seriousness but seem to come in the category of the forgivable. These are the diabolical crimes of sexual impurity. In varied form they run from aberrations involving self-abuse, sex stimulation, and self-pollution to abhorrent and unnatural practices involving others. Whether named or unnamed in scriptures or the spoken word, any sexual act or practice which is "unnatural" or unauthorized is a sin. (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.61 emphasis on the word "seem" added)

The implications here are grave. A couple having sex a few days before their wedding is a sin next to murderóa sin so grave that although it seems forgivable, weíre not sure.

I believe that feeling guilt and forgiving yourself are mutually exclusive feelings. I believe in changing your heart and in improving yourself. But I donít believe that accentuating and dwelling upon feelings of guilt facilitates the process. In fact, it hinders it. An essential attitude of the enlightened human being is one of forgiveness. You cannot feel guilt and forgiveness at the same time.

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If you have a question or would like to discuss these topics, I suggest that you go to a Mormon-related bulletin board (here are some recommendations). If you'd like to contact me with comments or feedback, you may send an email to