Michael Ash in a Sunstone article entitled ‘The Sin “Next to Murder”’ has argued that Alma’s exhortation to his son Corianton (who had ran off with an woman of ill-repute), that ‘these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost’ (see Al 39:5), is not speaking about breaking the law of Chastity. Ash argues that Corianton’s sin is ‘causing the spiritual death of others’. Aside from this being an interesting article, it raises the question of what is spiritual murder?
Ash argues that we commit spiritual murder when we destroy the testimony of another person. He argues that our sins can do this and thus he believes Alma’s counsel to his son is to help him see the damage that he has caused, ‘for when [the Zoramites] saw your conduct they would not believe in my [Alma’s] words’ (see Al 39:11).
Ash argues that there two things people need to wary of, if they are to avoid committing this sin. First, our actions, like Corianton, can destroy the testimony of another. Second, is sharing information with people that might damage their faith, like ‘the stickier parts of early LDS Church history or scriptural difficulties’ . Now Ash also notes that the intent’s of our hearts are what is important when it comes to deciding who is guilty. So Richard Bushman is not guilty of spiritual murder, but presumably Fawn Brodie might be and the Tanners are certainly in trouble.
Yet, although I accept his interpretation of this passage of scripture I am not sure I can fully accept how he then goes on to define spiritual murder. For example, when are our motives ever directed by one factor? We are often influenced by a multiplicity of ideas whenever we do something. So I am not convinced that we ever wholly desire to do right or wrong.
Further, if the information shared is the same and true regardless of with what intention it is shared, why does this issue of sincerity become a factor at all. Maffly-Kipp, in another Sunstone article, has argued that issues around sincerity are part of a Protestant theological tradition that seeks to categorise people into the righteous and the unrighteous. This assumes that only the good or sincere can do Gods work, but the scriptures have examples of people who may not have been ‘righteous’ or ‘sincere’ but who nevertheless were used by God.
Is it possible that Fawn Brodie was directed by God to do what she did?
This question of spiritual murder also raises important questions about how this issue is dealt with within the Church, in relation to Church discipline. I recall Paul Toscano, when speaking to John Dehlin, asking at his Disciplinary Council that someone ‘show [him] the body count?’ He argues that he was excommunicated on the possibility that what he had written might damage people’s faith. Now although I would argue that it is difficult to prove that one person has destroyed the faith of another; it seems that the Church would never excommunicate someone because they could have killed someone in doing something dangerous. Then why are comfortable in excommunicating someone that might damage someone’s faith.
It seems to me we need to careful about how we use this concept, if it is to become something that is used in the Church (again).
How would you define spiritual murder?
Should it be necessary to prove spiritual murder before someone is excommunicated?
1. Michael R. Ash, The Sin “Next to Murder” in Sunstone, 2006, p. 34, 40.