Welcome back to the Video Vault. It’s been a minute. We dive in this week to the hilariously titled BYU film The Guilty. This 1978 dramatization of an unwed mother returning home for testimony meeting is said to be based on a story given by Marion D. Hanks, but I could not find the original source material. Noted actor Gordon Jump is featured as the woman’s father.
The camera pans a meetinghouse full of members preparing to worship. They sing “How Firm a Foundation,” and we cut outside to see Brother and Sister Tippets parking their car and hurrying in to the meeting. After a bit of a delay, Donna gets out and slowly walks to the building, tugging her coat around her obvious pregnancy. Donna eventually goes in and sits with her parents.
The singing wraps up—there is a bass that is seriously laying it DOWN!—and the bishop stands up to conduct the meeting. It’s Fast and Testimony meeting and he invites people to share their joys and sorrows so they can all grow stronger together. He says people should say WHATEVER is in their hearts. Um….no. People saying whatever they want leads to an odd but possibly entertaining sacrament meeting.
A young father stands to announce the birth of his first child. Next, a woman named Elsa Brown talks about the freedom she enjoys after immigrating to the United States to live with her son and his wife after her husband died.
Donna stands up in the back. She is tearful and struggles to speak but eventually begins.
“I am standing here to say I need you. I mean that very much.”
She says she could have stayed away but decided to come home to have her baby. She acknowledges her mistakes and realizes many people may not have a good impression of her. Donna says that if God can eventually forgive her then all she asks is for the people in this ward to try. She also implores them not to lay any blame on her parents. The camera shifts to them as they speak and they look uncomfortable.
“God loves me and loves you. I pray we can love each other—amen.” She sits down and is embraced by her mother.
Another woman stands and says “we are being critical like she has leprosy, but it could be any of us.” She quotes Isaiah and reminds us how scarlet sins can be white as snow. She looks at Donna and says “I am the one who needs to repent more than you…I wasn’t a friend when you needed one.”
The bishop stands up and shares his testimony–breaking protocol! He says Donna has placed a list of sinners on the wall of the church but has only put her name on it. He feels culpable. He didn’t follow up with Donna after she took a job in the city and he didn’t connect her with members of the church who could help her. The bishop says if he had performed his duties better maybe Donna would not be in that situation. Well…maybe. He thanks Donna for reminding them of the need to show love to those who need it.
Another brother stands up testifies of his love for the Bishop and admits he did not take care. He has known Donna and her family for years but neither he nor his wife ever checked on her when they were nearby. Each proposed visit would take place “next time” and never materialize. He says we are dependent on one another for love and forgiveness.
“My name belongs on that list of sinners more than anyone else. If I can help it won’t stay there long.” He takes a seat.
The camera pans across the congregation and Donna’s Father stands. He begins in a rather harsh manner.
“Donna got herself messed up, and got herself into trouble. It’s like the whole world came apart. Her mom wanted her to come home, but I didn’t want her to ever come home, but she did. I kept saying to her. Do you know what you are doing to me and your mother? Not once did I think about what she was going through.”
He concludes by saying he loves his daughter and appreciates the congregation hearing him out.
We pan across the meeting again and an older brother stands up and in a sonorous voice speaks of living in this town for all but 5 years of his life. (Is this the mega bass we heard earlier?). In a somewhat didactic “talk-i-mony” he reminds the congregation of the words of Paul to care for each other.
“When one member suffers all suffer, when one member is honored, all rejoice. Let us all rejoice here today in that newfound love and concern for each other. May it remain with us always. Amen”
As the congregation sings “I Need Thee Every Hour” we focus on each person who shared a testimony, ending on Donna.
Although it could benefit from a better title, The Guilty takes an honest look at the need of a ward family to support all of its members with love an understanding. That is a quality we definitely need in today’s divisive climate.