Guest Stand: The Compassion Deception


“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien As to be hated needs but to be seen; Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

― Alexander Pope

Often members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) are confronted by the label of intolerance. LDS faithful are often condemned for a perceived lack of compassion toward lifestyles contrary to the LDS belief system. This confrontation is the “compassion deception”.

To be compassionate is to feel for someone, to suffer with them, show sympathy, pity and mercy for another. Cultivating this sense of compassion and kindness for all beings is noble and great.  We love the sinner and hate the sin. But showing over-tolerance on social issues can make us devoid of moral convictions.

Society proclaims “all roads lead to heaven.” People say, “Do your best,” “Be honest,” and “Be sincere—and you will make it to heaven.” But Christ told us, “… wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction and many there be which go in there at.  Because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life and few there be that find it.” Matthew 7: 13-14

There are two roads in life. One is broad and lacks faith, convictions and morals. The wide road is the easy, popular, careless way. It is the way of the crowd, the way of the majority, the way of the world. The broadminded and tolerant of this world are held captive by the road of lusts, appetites and sins.

The popular, tolerant attitude toward the gospel of Christ is like a man going to watch a sporting event and cheering for both sides. It is impossible for a person who has no loyalty to a particular team to really get into the game.

According to Jesus Christ, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon … no man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24). One of the sins of our world is the sin of broad-mindedness. We need more people who will step out and say unashamedly, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15).

Loving people is good. Cultivating a sense of compassion and kindness for all beings sounds noble and great. We love the sinner and hate the sin.  “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” Genesis 4:7

Often when we affirm our principles, we are intimidated, marginalized, and ridiculed. But when we become spectators and sit on the sidelines of society, what once was bad is now good, and what was once good is now bad.

LDS people have an innate concern for those who suffer, but this compassion can lead to embracing normally objectionable ideas and actions. An overwhelming love for those mired in transgression can become a trap. Tolerance and acceptance help sin creep into society as normal behavior.

Some common traps include overly empathizing with same-sex attracted people, staying with abusive mates, or befriending addicts. Spiritually healthy LDS people with strong belief systems recognize each situation is also a precarious situation—“For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.” D&C 1:31.

Strong firm convictions mean each of us must take a stand against sin.  Christ is not asking us to be politically correct.  He is asking us to stand firm for our beliefs.

Knowing the definitions and differences between empathy, compassion, and sympathy help us delineate and avoid these traps.

Empathy is feeling with someone such as, “I feel your disappointment.”

Sympathy is the act of feeling for someone such as, “I am sorry you are hurting.”

Compassion is a caring concern for another’s suffering from a slightly greater distance and often includes a desire to help or fix the problem. The only real solution to sin is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christ was tolerant toward the sinner but intolerant toward the evil which enslaved him. To the adulteress he said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). He forgave her because he loved her; but he condemned her sin.

If Christ walked the earth today, He would not be politically correct. He would call for repentance without acceptance. He would not be all inclusive. Christ would speak hard truths—“But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Mosiah 3:12.

The media would probably label Christ a bigot or self-righteous and un-accepting of others but forgiveness is not acceptance.

And if we don’t take a stand, who will?

Liz MerrellAuthor Liz Merrell is a grant writer in California.  She is the mother of four adult children  and the grandmother of two perfect and beautiful grandchildren, ages 3 and 7. She graduated from BYU in journalism  in 1980. Liz is active in both her LDS Ward and her community.  She is currently teaching the 12 and 13-year-old Sunday School class and has served on the Foster Care Citizen’s Review Board, the Community Development Block Grant Funding (CDBG) Board, and on a cultural arts commission.  Liz worked part-time in philanthropy while raising her children.

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16 thoughts on “Guest Stand: The Compassion Deception

    1. bronwyn griffin

      the saviour sat walked ate taught and sought out the sinner. I believe when we LDS truly understand how to LOVE others as the saviour did more people will join this church. When there is a THEM and US… and when we understand being the 99 going after the “1” we will know how to embrace the sinner and their choices will not be able to have power over us…… as did the saviour

  1. Shawnee

    I can see where you are going with this but I disagree with the overall tone of how you say it. While we do not have to accept or condone the actions of someone else, we are asked to love thy neighbor as thyself. I think this also includes “befriending addicts”. We all sin, as soon as we start placing our sins against someone else’s and feeling like we are better than another one of God’s children, we are not following that second great commandment. Judge not, lest he be judged.

    1. Elizabeth Merrell

      Thank you so much for your point. However, my thought is to illustrate the difference between forgiveness/repentance and acceptance. Everyone should be treated with kindness and respect no matter what their personal beliefs. I can respect you without agreeing with you. Even on this point.

  2. John Deighton

    Hi Liz, well done I agree and appreciate your words, they needed to be heard. It’s become so apparent in our modern societies, media especially how values have been corrupted and become normalised. I was reading how there are petitions now that Disney’s latest Star Wars Movie include Gay characters and for Disney to state that Elsa from Frozen is Gay… such a political agenda if ever!
    The only constructive critical comment I felt I ought to add was when you said to not “befriending addicts” – this felt awkward as surely the Saviour would reach out to those in need and certainly their are addicts that sincerely need our help and friendship – ‘LDS Addiction Recovery Program’ is a good example of this effort. I guess you might have mean ‘addicts’ who have no desire or intention of changing their ways, ‘from such turn away’, worth clarifying maybe? Well done 🙂

    1. Josh

      I think you make a great point about befriending addicts, but I think I see Liz’s meaning. I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but I’ll call it like I see it.

      I know teenagers who state to their parents that they’re befriending someone who drinks, smokes, and engages in recreational sex and other dangerous and sinful activity. The word “befriending” could bring about at least two different reactions. First, the parent might be very happy that their child is exhibiting Christlike behavior. Second, the parent might have a sinking feeling in their gut and realize that their child is about to take a long and dangerous road of learning all the hard lessons of like through experiencing addiction for themselves. In short, some people do not understand what Christian “befriending” looks like in practice and they start down a path that eventually robs them of their own virtue and freedom.

      It all depends on what “befriending” means. One person might “befriend” by becoming their best friend and engaging in all their activities with them. Even if they don’t immediately succumb, many eventually do. Another person might “befriend” by being sincerely nice to someone, encouraging them to give up their sinful behavior, and making invitations to faith-building activities and behaviors.

  3. DarlaG

    Liz, I do appreciate your thoughts, and agree with your general intent. But I believe John & Shawnee have a point- maybe it was just an issue of tone or a point in need of clarification. We absolutely need to reach out to others, to befriend those who may be friendless or without good examples. The key, I would say, would be that as we reach out to others, we need to lift them up to Christ, instead of being brought down in our thoughts, actions, or attitudes to a worldly standard of tolerance or acceptance. We are counseled to never give up on people; sometimes that can only be accomplished through prayer, but often we can get our hands dirty with out it also soiling our souls.

    John, I had not heard about Elsa or Star Wars, but I am not banging my head on my desk. Thank you! 😉

  4. Josh

    If Christ were on the Earth today, “the media would probably label [him] a bigot or self-righteous and un-accepting of others . . .”

    I agree.

    Why? Christ would condemn murder, homosexuality, fornication, pornography, adultery, lying, stealing, selfishness, bearing false witness, idol worship, laziness, indifference, lukewarm discipleship, guile, corruption, haughtiness, and pride. All of us would be tempted to be offended, because all of us are guilty in one way or another of something. All of us who do not love Him would be offended by Christ. It was so during His mortal ministry and it is so today.

    Christ was never accepting of sin, nor will He ever be. He loves us too much to do that. He condemns sin to let us know what to leave alone. He inspires righteousness to let us know what to aspire to and what He can help us become.

    If we want to help, we have to be very clear about what sin is. That should not be done with self-superiority, but it must be done by disciples of Christ. I can’t think of anything more loving than to invite others to come unto Christ. Throughout history, Jesus Christ, true prophets, apostles, and disciples have done so by pointing out in very clear terms what sin is without apologizing for it and then inviting others with grace into the welcoming arms of the Savior.

    Great post. I love the content and the crystal-clear tone.

  5. Sal from Wyoming

    Like others, I agree with most of what you say, but sorry, yes there is a but. Christ did not forgive the adulator at that time. As you said he did in the article. But did the Lord forgive the woman?” (The Miracle of Forgiveness [1969], 165).
    “Could he forgive her? There seems to be no evidence of forgiveness. His command to her was, ‘Go, and sin no more.’ He was directing the sinful woman to go her way, abandon her evil life, commit no more sin, transform her life. He was saying, Go, woman, and start your repentance; and he was indicating to her the beginning step—to abandon her transgressions” . . . “He was saying Go, woman, and start your repentance; and he was indicating to her the beginning step—to abandon her transgressions”
    (Miracle of Forgiveness, 165).
    According to The New Testament Seminary teacher’s manual
    “the woman had not had time or opportunity to repent totally. When her repentance was complete, she could receive forgiveness from the Savior. For now, Jesus judged her action as sin, but He did not condemn her.”
    The manual asked “What principle about how to follow the Savior’s example do you learn from this account?” (Answers should include: We can follow the Savior’s example by choosing not to condemn those who have sinned.)
    Also from the manual Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught “In this context, the word condemn apparently refers to the final judgment.” Elder Oaks further explained that Jesus did not condone the woman’s sin, but He was allowing her time to repent and acknowledging that her final judgment would come later: “The Lord obviously did not justify the woman’s sin. He simply told her that He did not condemn her—that is, He would not pass final judgment on her at that time. This interpretation is confirmed by what He then said to the Pharisees: ‘Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man’ (John 8:15). The woman taken in adultery was granted time to repent, time that would have been denied by those who wanted to stone her” (“‘Judge Not’ and Judging,” Ensign, Aug. 1999, 8).
    The Joseph Smith Translation makes clear that the adulterous woman did follow the Savior’s counsel and reform her life: “And the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name” (Joseph Smith Translation, John 8:11 [in John 8:11, footnote c]).
    So you are right we are not to condemn the sinner, we need to be compassionate,
    I too, was kind of wondering about the wording of the sentence, in your article “Some common traps include overly empathizing with same-sex attracted people, staying with abusive mates, or befriending addicts.” Same-sex ‘attracted’ people have not necessarily sinned. Several of the General , including Dallin H. Oaks have stated emphatically that same gender attraction is NOT a sin. It is the behavior. Befriending and truly empathizing with someone of same gender attraction may be what helps that person not to engage in the behavior. On the other hand I do agree a person should not stay with abusive mates, the behavior is already a problem and having worked as a sexual assault and family violence advocate, I have seen the sad results of staying with an abusive partner because the victim believes he/she can help them. Being compassionate does not mean putting your life in danger. I absolutely believe an abusive person can “go and sin no more” but they definitely need to prove it before the victims put themselves in harms way. When it comes to drug addicts that is a hard thing. Most of the time they have to hit rock bottom before they see the need to change. Parents have had to ask a child to leave because they will steal to get their drugs, and if they become verbally or physically abusive to parents and/or siblings it would not be a good situation. At the same time befriending them can be the way back for them. They obviously need help and compassion but not if it is risking your safety.

  6. Lauren

    I like how you distinguish that our goal is to align ourselves with the Gospel of Christ. I think care needs to be taken so that while we are working to feel out our compassion and service to those who do not share our beliefs and goals we also seek to see them as their whole selves and not just break them into segments of black and white. People all have their weaknesses and their strengths. Often we judge those with what we consider “more egregious and foreign sins than mine” with Pharisaical double standards. I think we all have to be discerning about the beliefs and actions of those we bring into our lives, but I think it is just as important not to lump people with this or that sin into stereotypes that can blind our discernment to the ways we can successfully communicate with, show compassion to, and ultimately love them. Educating ourselves about how others see their sins may sound counter productive, but where it seems Christ had a natural gift for disarming and reaching those in need because of their sins, that is a gift most of us have to work much harder to be worthy of, let alone weild successfully.

  7. Donna

    I am just asking the following question out of true curiosity and looking for others opinions, not to stir up controversy. Would an active, Temple attending LDS member be breaking covenants or condoning sin if they attended the same sex wedding of a family member? I cannot find any direct examples from the Brethren on this precise topic. And of course, there is no such ritual (SS marriage) in the Scriptures.

    1. Jesse

      My brother is gay and engaged. My parents discussed his engagement with their stake president, who encouraged them to love both their son and his fiance, and to attend their wedding. He also encouraged them to invite members of their ward to attend as well, and said he would also go if his schedule permitted. He said that particularly at this time my brother needs to know he is loved by member of the Church.

      When talking with her bishop, my sister (who is also a temple worker) was told to love her brother and his fiance. To make sure they know they will always be loved and welcome. Our family will continue to show love and reflect the divine love of the Savior while we live the gospel. That is the core of the gospel.

      President Uchdorf recently said: “During the Savior’s ministry, [many] of His day disapproved of Jesus spending time with people they had labeled ‘sinners.’ Perhaps to them it looked like He was tolerating or even condoning sinful behavior. Perhaps they believed that the best way to help sinners repent was by condemning, ridiculing, and shaming them.” After discerning their thoughts, He told the parable of the lost sheep.

      Last year, Elder Rasband said: “I want to reiterate that the Savior is the perfect example of reaching out in love and support. His interest in others was always motivated by a pure love for them. Sometimes we approach relationships with the intent to change the other person. We follow our Savior best when we base our relationships on principles of love.

      [Some are struggling] to understand and love family members who are gay. I commend you for seeking to follow the Savior’s example and pray for His love and understanding. You will be blessed in your efforts to treat your family members with fairness and kindness.”

      In politics and religion, I think it is best when we positively promote our beliefs while actively showing love for all others, rather than attacking what others believe. It is easy to say we love others, but as President Uchdorf points out in the September issue of the Ensign we must follow that love with action. We must show love to those we say we love. We must make space in our lives for them, as Sister Marriot taught in this past general conference.

      If you are still not sure then I suggest you talk with your stake president.

  8. Darrel R. Thompson

    We cannot lift up another from sin unless we stand on higher ground. Best be sure, and even then, well meaning people are pulled down into the pit with the sinner far too often. MWS articles such as this are of value to all genders and people, I appreciate the concise explanation of “the compassion” trap of Liz here.

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