I’m doing a lot more work at http://dewsfromheaven.wordpress.com than I am here right now, but this is also a good place for me to work on those topics (either in preparation or in further reflection). Here is a comment I made there, but with some edits and bolds and such to help me think through this more, and some further reflections on the family and Ranciere at the end.
I think you must be right, of course, that every teacher and leader in the Church doesn’t actually take on others’ sins. But I do think Jacob saw it that way, which really, really intrigues me.
I just did a search for “sins be upon” to see if there are other places in scripture that have this idea. There are! Sometimes it is about parents and children, sometimes it is about those who are leaders over a group of people. Here’s what I found (I left out all the ones about Christ, except one that connected His role to the fact that He had created men, making Him sort of parallel to a parent or guardian):
Jacob 1:19 And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day.
Jacob 3: 10 Wherefore, ye shall remember your children, how that ye have grieved their hearts because of the example that ye have set before them; and also, remember that ye may, because of your filthiness, bring your children unto destruction, and their sins be heaped upon your heads at the last day.
Mosiah 2: 27-28 Therefore, as I said unto you that I had served you, walking with a clear conscience before God, even so I at this time have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might be found blameless, and that your blood should not come upon me, when I shall stand to be judged of God of the things whereof he hath commanded me concerning you. I say unto you that I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God.
Mosiah 26: 23 For it is I that taketh upon me the sins of the world; for it is I that hath created them; and it is I that granteth unto him that believeth unto the end a place at my right hand.
Mosiah 29: 30 And I command you to do these things in the fear of the Lord; and I command you to do these things, and that ye have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads.
Mosiah 29: 31 For behold I say unto you, the sins of many people have been caused by the iniquities of their kings; therefore their iniquities are answered upon the heads of their kings.
D&C 68: 25 And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.
D&C 88: 81-82 Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor. Therefore, they are left without excuse, and their sins are upon their own heads.
Moses 6: 54 Hence came the saying abroad among the people, that the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world.
Moses 7: 37-38 But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer? But behold, these which thine eyes are upon shall perish in the floods;
Isaiah 6:5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
That last one I included because it seems that Isaiah is afraid not only of his own sins, but of the people’s sins. Does his purging include whatever responsibility he had as a priest for the people’s sins?
This reminds me of something in the temple, which I won’t type out at length of course. But when we become cleaned at a certain point, we are cleaned not just from our sins, but from the sins of the time in which we live, if I understand right. I can see other interpretations of the wording in the temple, but this is at least one possible interpretation and thus one possible connection to this theme.
What I’m seeing is that there are times when one person or small group (like parents!) is so connected with the teaching of “the people” (or “the kids”) that their influence could hinder a group who could otherwise be quite faithful. When we are put in that sort of position, then the weight of their sins can be actually though of as on us — unless we teach. When someone is taught, and then sins, their sins are on them. If they do not know that they are sinning, then their sins are on whoever was supposed to teach them. If no one was supposed to teach them, then they are simply “without law” and Christ has already suffered for them.
So I don’t think this applies to Sunday School teachers, but it does seem to apply to parents!
Joe and I have been thinking a lot about “family” recently. We are reading though everything we can find by Ranciere on the family. He isn’t a member of the Church and doesn’t have the same reasons for looking at the family. But in this case, that makes it all the more interesting. He is convinced that there are methods of teaching and methods of standing out against oppression in a society that can only happen, or happen best, in a family. The Ignorant Schoolmaster argues that a mom or dad is the ideal teacher because of how they can uniquely exercise their will but not their intelligence over their children. A family is also a place where the economics of capitalism can be thwarted: we don’t have to act in what is most beneficial monetarily to us as individuals, but we can jointly pursue truth without thought of power or reward. Anyway, this idea that the sins of the children could possibly be put on the heads of the parents points to me that the family is extremely ideal for teaching — not just ideal, but so perfect that God could say if we don’t take advantage of that, we’re in trouble! It seems to me that this sort of warning can only take place if the influence of the parents (or king, or high priest) is so great that they could cause the wrong sort of thing to happen if they don’t teach or set the right example. Apparently we have a huge opportunity to set things right for the next generation, and not just “I sorta help a little but they’ll pick up how to be right from Church” and/or “they’ve all got free agency so it’s not up to me anyway.” NO! 🙂