Confessing and Forsaking Institutional Sins
By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.
-Doctrine and Covenants 58:43
I believe this scripture applies to women as well as men. I also believe it applies to institutions. After all, some of the greatest sins of all time were committed by groups of people acting together through institutional power.
A great institutional sin committed against the members of my faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), occurred in the state of Missouri in 1838, when Missouri governor Lilburn W. Boggs ordered that “…the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace…” Boggs was certainly accountable for this atrocious misuse of power but he was not acting alone. He came into power through election by Missouri citizens, many of whom supported this unjust act.
In 1976, over a century later, Mormons were living in Missouri and enjoying the same civil protections as other Missouri citizens. Yet, they still felt the sting of the injustice inflicted on their predecessors through the extermination order of 1838. Recognizing the responsibility of the state of Missouri to confess and forsake this institutional sin, Missouri Governor Christopher Bond officially rescinded the extermination order and expressed “on behalf of all Missourians our deep regret for the injustice and undue suffering which was caused by this 1838 order.”
Two years later, in 1978, the LDS Church forsook an institutional sin of its own when it ended a racist policy that forbade priesthood ordination of men of African descent. The official declaration of the church at that time described the worthiness of men who had previously been denied priesthood ordination without actually apologizing to them for the many decades in which this injustice had existed.
Even today, the church statement on the matter does not confess that any institutional sin took place, but implies that God Himself withheld the priesthood from men of African descent until 1978.
This was not the first occasion in which the LDS Church forsook an institutional sin without confessing it. In 1890, the church officially ended the practice of polygamy, while carefully avoiding any implication that there was anything wrong with polygamy. More than 120 years later, the church statement on the matter claims that polygamy was implemented, “in obedience to direction from God.” The LDS Church reminds the public that contemporary polygamists are not members in good standing of the LDS Church without acknowledging that many of these people believe in polygamy because of teachings of the LDS Church that were never rescinded.
I have absolutely no authority in the LDS Church whatsoever. I cannot make any statements on its behalf. However, I am part of this institution. I am proud that I contribute to the good the LDS Church does in the world. I also feel responsibility for its unrepented institutional sins. The church has never officially confessed but I will. I am sorry that my church practiced polygamy in the 1800’s. I am sorry that its failure to renounce this disgusting doctrine has resulted in splinter groups that continue the practice, victimizing women and young men. I am sorry that my church made nonsensical rules basing priesthood ordination on race. I am sorry that its failure to ever apologize for such racism has made some members feel justified when they continue to cling to racist attitudes today. I confess these sins that my church has already forsaken.