SALT LAKE CITY — An old belief harbored by some that suicide automatically leads to a permanent place in hell is "totally false" and shames people with suicidal thoughts, an LDS Church apostle said in a video released Monday.
The statement was made by Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in one of eight videos on suicide prevention released Monday by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on suicide.lds.org.
"There's an old sectarian notion that suicide is a sin and that someone who commits suicide is banished to hell forever. That is totally false," Elder Renlund said. "I believe the vast majority of cases will find that these individuals have lived heroic lives and that that suicide will not be a defining characteristic of their eternities."
The videos encouraged members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to reach out to, listen to and love those considering suicide. One of the videos featured Princess Shisso, who survived a suicide attempt.
"To call someone who is attempting suicide selfish is really not OK because there are other things that they are struggling with," Shisso said. "They didn’t wake up one morning and say, 'Oh, I want to attempt suicide.' No, it's a state of being. Just because we can't see what someone is thinking or going through doesn't mean that they don't need help. To someone who is struggling, I would definitely say, 'Please reach out.' There’s always someone there who is willing to listen."
Elder Renlund, who has assignment from church leaders to be involved with the issue of suicide, said everyone knows someone who has had suicidal thoughts or who has attempted or died by suicide.
"We know from all the statistics out there that someone in the ward is hurting," he said. "Someone is having suicidal thoughts in your ward. And as we come together as families, as churches, in a community, we can do better than we're doing now."
He is featured in four of the videos, giving advice to LDS Church members about how to help others.
"What we need to do as a church is to reach out in love and caring for those who have suicidal thoughts, who have attempted suicide, who feel marginalized in any way," he said. "We need to reach out with love and understanding. You do that in concert with health-care professionals, and with ecclesiastical leaders, with friend and family support."
Sister Carol F. McConkie, who served in the Young Women general presidency of the church until April 2018, appeared in two videos. She, like others involved in the presidencies of LDS auxiliares, was involved in the church's ongoing "Suicide Prevention Working Group.
She said it can be shocking to learn someone is contemplating hurting themselves.
"And in that moment you really don’t know what to say," she said. "And yet at that same time you’ve got to pull yourself together and seek the Spirit of the Lord to guide you, to help you feel what he would say, to help you express love for that person and the assurance that you are there for them. … We’re walking this (path) together, and we have a covenant responsibility to look out for one another."
A trained physician, Elder Renlund said it is completely safe to ask someone if they're having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming themselves. He suggested taking a friend or loved one's hand and looking them in the eye when asking, then taking adequate time to listen. If they have, he suggested helping them seek professional help.
The final video featured the father of a college student who died by suicide.
Elder Renlund's statement appeared to build on a landmark article about the effects of suicide published in the official church magazine Ensign in 1987 by then-Elder M. Russell Ballard, who today is the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve.
LDS leaders long have taught that suicide is a sin because it takes a life God created, but they have distinguished between those fully rational and those who no longer fully understand what they are doing.
President Ballard called suicide a "very grievous sin" in his 1987 article, but he also said that he felt "that judgment for sin is not always as cut-and-dried as some of us seem to think."
He comforted those who had lost loved ones to suicide by saying that judgment is God's and that only He knows all the details.
"I feel that the Lord also recognizes differences in intent and circumstances," he wrote. "Was the person who took his life mentally ill? Was he or she so deeply depressed as to be unbalanced or otherwise emotionally disturbed? Was the suicide a tragic, pitiful call for help that went unheeded too long or progressed faster than the victim intended? Did he or she somehow not understand the seriousness of the act? Was he or she suffering from a chemical imbalance that led to despair and a loss of self-control?"
He said only God could judge a person’s mindset: "The Lord will not judge the person who commits that sin strictly by the act itself. The Lord will look at that person’s circumstances and the degree of his accountability at the time of the act."
He pointed to a statement by church founder Joseph Smith that God will judge wisely, caringly, rightly and "not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men."
Elder Renlund and Sister McConkie also discussed the grieving process. He said sadness, anger and regret are common.
"This is not your fault," he said. "This is not an indictment of your parenting. Saying 'how could my child have done this' is also not very helpful, because even you as the loving parent don't know enough to judge, and that judging is a completely unhelpful thing. Leave that to God."
He said loved ones will be able to progress in the Spirit world.
Sister McConkie said her sister lost a teenaged granddaughter to suicide, a girl who had lived a good life and was a bright light. She said her family believed that Heavenly Father has a plan for that girl and that blessings are available for her.
She said they are taking comfort and hope in their belief of future blessings through "the redemptive power of the Atonement to heal all that isn't right in this life, to correct all that isn't fair in this life."
The church gave $150,000 to Utah suicide prevention fund in April.