Music and the Spoken Word: Nelson Mandela Reminds Us Saints Are Sinners Who Keep on Trying

Contributed By The Tabernacle Choir

  • 23 January 2019

Nelson Mandela taught that saints aren’t perfect, but they try to do the right thing again and again.

Editor’s note: The “spoken word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square broadcast. The following was given January 20, 2019.

Nelson Mandela spent nearly 27 years of his life in prison, from age 45 to age 71, for his efforts to end racial segregation in South Africa. Then, in what some people consider a modern miracle, Mandela became his country’s first black—and first democratically elected—president (see “Biography of Nelson Mandela” on But perhaps a greater miracle was his forgiveness of those who had imprisoned him.

Nelson Mandela’s rare combination of courage and kindness made him one of the world’s most beloved leaders and citizens. But Mandela remained modest and unassuming, often reminding people, “I am not a saint—unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying” (Baker Institute for Public Policy address, Rice University, Oct. 26, 1999).

What a profound statement!

Mandela’s words should reassure and encourage each of us. We all know that we aren’t perfect; we know we have room for much improvement. But if we just keep trying, we can change for the better. In that trying, our hearts begin to change and open to others. We become more accepting and generous, more loving and caring. And in the end, isn’t that what it means to be a saint?

As Nelson Mandela so clearly showed, saintliness is not just about improving ourselves. It’s about blessing the world around us. To do that, we certainly need to “keep on trying.” We need to recognize our shared humanity and treat all people with dignity and respect. We need to stand up not only for our own rights but also for the rights of others. We need to champion fairness and equality and oppose injustice and prejudice wherever we find it.

Because Nelson Mandela kept on trying, the world today is a better place than it was. But there is still room for improvement. And fair-minded, good-hearted people all around the world are still working to make a positive difference for others. Great leaders and citizens of the past and present know that human rights and human dignity are at the core of our shared humanity. They may not consider themselves saints, but they are, because they keep on trying—to love, to forgive, to welcome, and to embrace all the diverse and unique people of the world.

Tuning in

The Music and the Spoken Word broadcast is available on KSL-TV, KSL Radio 1160 AM/102.7 FM,, KSL X-stream, BYU-TV, BYU Radio, BYU-TV International, CBS Radio Network, Dish Network, DirecTV, SiriusXM Radio (Channel 143), and on the Tabernacle Choir’s website and YouTube channel.

The program is aired live on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on many of these outlets. Look up broadcast information by state and city at