Latter-Day Morality

Bored in Vernal Mormon 30 Comments

Avatar-BiVYou may not be aware of this if you grew up Mormon, but the LDS definition of morality is rather different than that which is generally accepted. Morality is very easily defined to Mormons — it means not having sex. That’s all. End of discussion. Immorality means having sex. That’s what we teach our teenagers, and that is the definition we carry with us from our church meetings into our daily lives.

Today I’d like to talk about some of the nuances to the word “morality.” The meanings that we don’t get in Mutual or Seminary or Sunday School. For purposes of this discussion, I would prefer to define “morality” as a system of ideas of right and wrong conduct.

We Mormons like to think of ourselves as a moral people. We accept the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament, Jesus’ behavioral standards as described in the New Testament, additional ideals and clarification from the Book of Mormon, and random precepts such as the Word of Wisdom health code from the D&C. We even have our own rules of behavior that come from continuing revelation and church tradition. But out of all of these standards of morality, there are some in which we are truly invested, and some to which we merely give lip service.

As one indicator of standards of morality, let’s look at what we teach our children and youth. The standard of conduct that we hit the hardest is of course sexual purity before marriage. We do this to the extent that even the word morality has become synonymous with sexual behavior, as noted above. We reinforce this teaching with related cautions about masturbation for YM and dress standards for YW. I have been dismayed by the amount of emphasis dress standards receives in the Young Women’s program. This counsel eclipses all other religious instruction, including teaching of the Savior and the Restoration. Modesty in dress for girls is taught during YW classes, midweek activities, Standards Nights, Seminary, Sunday School, over the pulpit, at Stake dances, Girls Camp, EFY. Indeed, there is scarcely a church activity a YW can attend where she is not warned that she must appear dressed modestly. If her clothing is not appropriate, she is subject to being sent home to try again. The message is firm and unmistakable. Dress standards must not be violated. Here again the very word “modesty” has been coopted to mean only a particular pattern of dress for girls and women.

Additionally, sermonizing abounds in our youth programs on the importance of obedience to the Word of Wisdom. Due to this emphasis the youth of the Church would sooner steal a car, cheat on an exam, or spread vicious rumors about a peer than take a sip of coffee.

The emphasis on the remainder of the wide spectrum of right and wrong behavior is virtually ignored among Latter-Day Saints. To illustrate this point, fill in the blank of the following sentence:

Our Mormon youth are known for never ________________.

One might say that our youth would never drink alcohol, or smoke a cigarette. One might fill in the blank with “never sleep with a boy/girlfriend.” But would you even think of filling in the blank as follows:?

Our Mormon youth would never skip classes at school.
Our Mormon youth would never haze their fellow students.
Our Mormon youth would never tell a lie.
Our Mormon youth would never steal.

As a convert who attended evangelical Christian services, I can tell you that in other churches, these standards of moral conduct are given great emphasis. If you have grown up in the LDS church, it is likely that you consider loss of sexual purity and Word of Wisdom adherance as grievous sins. It is possible that you would add murder to this list, with the exception of those you kill while in the military. Other transgressions would be appraised as less important on the moral continuum.

Is there not a morality that is based on the other commands of God found in the scriptures? Is there not a morality that is concerned with practices that minimize the harms that people suffer? Promoting people living together in peace and harmony? Morality that requires charitable action for good? Overcoming selfish vices? What about a morality based on respect for the planet on which we live and the myriad creatures who live upon it?

I hope we can begin to consider the vast implications of religious morality. Morality within the Church should be more than simply refraining from sex. This wider morality should be discussed at least as often as the length of skirts. It should help us formulate ethical theories for personal conduct.

Comments

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Comments 30

  1. It is irnonic to note that, in a somewhat controversial talk which has been used as a standard for correlation, J. Reuben Clark Jr. attacked this type of teaching. He writes that: ‘These students fully sense the hollowness of teachings which would make the Gospel plan a mere system of ethics, they know that Christ’s teachings are in the highest degree ethical, but they also know they are more than this. They will see that ethics relate primarily to the doing of this life, and that to make of the Gospel a mere system of ethics is to confess a lack of faith, if not a disbelief, in the hereafter.’

    I agree therefore that we have lost our way a little (perhaps a lot) in emphasising outward behaviours rather than principles upon which godly relationships are built.

    btw, I was going to challenge the idea that morality is solely sexual in the LDS Church, when I remembered this:

    http://www.amazon.com/Morality-ebook/dp/B002NOGEG0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=A7B2F8DUJ88VZ&s=books&qid=1278587071&sr=8-1

    Apparently I need to be careful about judging the ‘Church’ by my own inclinations.

  2. Agree completely. I have just watched a program about an Australian high Court Judge who just retired. He was described as a very moral man able to understand the moral position to take. He was also head of the law reform commission (which recommends changes to political leaders). He involved himself in issues where injustices needed to be addressed outside his work. He has been open about his monogamous homosexuality for the last 20 years and took his partner to public functions. 30 years ago his sexuality would be an issue but not the last 15 or 20 years.

    Some of the issues that Churches consider moral issues here are, a living wage (to allow working class families to live), justice for poor, justice for refugees, justice for indigenous people, abuse of power/wealth, abuse of women, war, using the environment sustainably, racial and sexual discrimination,and many others. Sexual behaviour is an indication more of judgement than morality.

    I think, in Australia, most young people will get some moral education at school, but it’s a joke that very religious people get the moral traing elsewhere.

    Perhaps part of the problem is that we seem to like things to be black and white, most moral issues have shades of grey.

    Are the rates of pre marriage pregnancy lower in LDS population areas than other religious areas, and amoral areas, with all this emphasis on the evils of SEX? Are there problems for healthy sex lives after marriage when it suddenly becomes moral/OK?

  3. Ahh. In the late 60s, early 70s, the Church did some statistical work with the members. They discovered that for the youth, in terms of how they rated the commandments, the word of wisdom came #1, the law of chastity came #14, or (as I remember, it has been a while, over twenty years, since I looked at the numbers), last.

    That is what they had learned from the focus of sacrament talks (used to be a Word of Wisdom talk almost once a month) and materials. There has been a conscious effort to shift that since then.

    Though the Word of Wisdom remains a very important cultural marker for the LDS.

  4. BiV,
    “Additionally, sermonizing abounds in our youth programs on the importance of obedience to the Word of Wisdom. Due to this emphasis the youth of the Church would sooner steal a car, cheat on an exam, or spread vicious rumors about a peer than take a sip of coffee.”

    Unless the youth have changed significantly in the 15 or 20 years since I was one (or the 4 years since I taught them), this is wildly exaggerated.

    Like you, I dislike the nearly-exclusive focus on the no-sexual-relations portion of morality in church, and the excessive time (apparently) that dress standards take up in YW. But I don’t buy your assertion that LDS believe that “morality” solely means “no out-of-wedlock sex.” Even if that’s all that’s taught in Church (and I don’t think that it is), assuming that members of the Church only develop knowledge by being taught something in Church mischaracterizes the way people I know learn and interact with the world. What we learn for three-ish hours on Sundays certainly plays into our worldview and our definitions, but I don’t buy its exclusivity.

    Nonetheless, I would like more focus on morality writ broadly, and on modesty as a virtue rather than a clothing choice.

  5. Most youth – even outside the church – know that stealing, cheating on an exam or lying is wrong. But having sex or drinking is totally okay in the world today. That’s why we need to focus on chastity and Word of Wisdom when teaching youth.
    Then again, stating “morality=sexual purity” is not something I like, because morality is so much more.

    And sometimes we might talk about a little bit too much of WoW, or at least in a wrong way. I remember when I was younger and I saw a man – he was a memeber, came to church almost regularly – smoking a cigarette. I was shocked. Suddenly the way I was thinking about him had changed. He was a filthy sinner. (And I don’t live in a country with lots of members around me.) Yes, he sinned, but there are worse sins that he could have done, for example lying. God can’t lie, it is an eternal principle. WoW is for this time. Israelites didn’t eat pork, we do; Jesus drank wine (my opinion is there was alcohol in it), we don’t. These things changes. Of course WoW is important, I am not saying that. But sometimes it feels like that in our minds having a cup of coffee would be as bad as comitting adultery.

  6. Sam B, it may just be my experience, but I know plenty of youth who are 100% Seminary attenders and who would never break the Word of Wisdom; but who regularly cheat on exams, get caught shoplifting (one while going through the process of submitting papers for a mission!) or joyride in neighbors’ cars. It may be true that “most youth…know that stealing, cheating on an exam or lying is wrong,” but when these things are barely mentioned at Church or at home, they don’t seem as important as the others.

    I’m always going back and forth in my mind about whether I think “a sin is a sin” because all sin keeps us from God, or whether some sins are worse than others. (What do you think?) If some sins are more heinous, and sexual impurity is one of the worse ones, it may be justified to spend more time preaching about it. But not to the point that sex is completely equated with morality. I hate that the very word has been diluted in our LDS culture.

  7. All sin keeps us from God. But with some sins repentance is much harder, and if so, I think those sins are worse than others.

  8. What we have here is an euphemism. There are some things we wish to communicate regarding proper conduct, but we don’t want to be vulgar or salacious or provocative in doing so, so we use vaguely general terms like “morality.” It has nothing to do with a lack of more general understanding of what morality is, and in fact depends on the opposite. It isn’t all that particular to Latter-day Saints, either, though perhaps a few decades out of date. Here, for example is the opening of a 1977 Time magazine article, “The Sexes: The New Morality”

    After at least a decade of the famous Sexual Revolution, it is often assumed that most Americans have entered a state known as the New Morality. It is a condition in which pleasure is the principle, living in sin is no sin, and more or less anything, between consenting adults, goes.

    There is another common euphemism in that quote: “living in sin.” Yes, we know that cohabitation is not the only sinful thing a person might do.

  9. Bored, I think that some kids lose sight. There has been a lot of analysis and a lot of concern, especially because there seems to be a bandwidth limit on what the Church as an entity can transmit vs. what kids should learn from their parents.

    So, there is a focus on

    (a) cultural markers. If you have them, it is easier to remain and be a part of the culture. If you don’t, you alienate yourself from group identity and norming (to the extent it is a good thing). Loss of markers is often a harbinger of worse problems (e.g. if your child started smoking, abandoning the WoW marker, it would likely have a penumbra of problems).

    (b) chastity. Unchaste behavior is a major barrier to the spirit and it often creates a number of issues (those who begin engaging in sex tend to find it difficult to go back to a state where they are not)(it creates a different peer group)(it creates disconnects in communication where kids start hiding major portions of their lives).

    (c) preparing for adult life/missionary service. That is a bundle of activities, not necessarily easily taught, or always related (missionary service is a rite of passage into adulthood for LDS males, much like the priesthood has become a puberty rite for LDS males).

    But charity, honesty, hard work. I used to summarize for my daughter: “Heather, what is important?” “To love others, work hard, tell the truth.” A simple mission statement. I worry about the current mission statements used for the young men and young women (though we repeat the Aaronic Priesthood one every Sunday in Priesthood meeting, it doesn’t scan and is too expansive for mission statement retention in a normal organization).

    How do we go beyond this to:

    (a) This is what hard work means.
    (b) This is what it means to love others as Christ would love them.
    (c) This is what honesty means (and I remember hearing and teaching a lot of lessons on integrity).

    I’m not sure how we make it penetrate. You know the saying “Kids these days” — “darn, they are just like kids have always been.”

  10. Some of the issues that Churches consider moral issues here are, a living wage (to allow working class families to live), justice for poor, justice for refugees, justice for indigenous people, abuse of power/wealth, abuse of women, war, using the environment sustainably, racial and sexual discrimination,and many others.

    In other words, the things you can slough off on your government, and feel satisfied that you’ve satisfied your duty to morality by voting the right way, without having to inconvenience your own personal self, or restrain any of your natural impulses.

    Those things may be admirable, and make good political sense, but Caesar isn’t God, and I observe that the churches that go down this path, quickly turn from churches into mere bureaucracies.

    I have mixed feelings about the OP. On the one hand, I do think the Church may emphasize sexual morality at the expense of “weightier matters of the law.” I sure do see plenty of meanness and pride among young Mormons, even chaste ones. And being horribly Islamophobic, I have an inherent uneasiness with religions that place so much emphasis on sexual purity, and I sometimes think that we (like some Muslims) go too far in obsessing over “modesty.” (If you don’t have to wear garments, there is nothing wrong with a sundress or regular (i.e., non-dorky, past-the-knee-length) shorts.)

    On the other hand, the Church is up against a cultural consensus that consent is the only measure of sexual morality. That dogma is attractive enough, and outwardly convincing enough, that perhaps you can’t do to much to counter it. (Although I would like to see a bit more “why” in the counterargument, and not so much simply “God said so;” appeals to mere authority give lusty young people an incentive to question the basis for the authority, and Church history gives such people plenty of openings.)

    “Mormon” divorce rates are, I understand, pretty much average — lower than the Protestants’, higher than the Catholics’. On the other hand, Mormon temple marriage divorce rates are, I understand, ludicrously low. Maybe we are doing something right.

    A loving covenant marriage is (in Mormon teaching) the Holy Grail of the human experience. There is powerful evidence that premarital sex increases the likelihood that your marriage will fail. A person who sleeps around before marriage is tearing chunks out of the resilience of his future marriage. He is destroying something worthy. That, I believe, is the main reason why these things are wrong.

  11. When we consider the fact and one in every four LDS girls will be sexually assaulted (Utah’s statistics are some of the highest in the nation), the Church’s sometimes harsh emphasis on sexual purity is particuarly troubling. I volunteered for some time with the Salt Lake City Rape Recovery Center and discovered a startling number of our young women are being raped and horrifically abused.

    When we teach that when a young women loses her virtue it is as serious as being murdered, we reopen the wounds of many young women who have been sexually abused and cause unnecessary suffering. Of course, we need to teach about the importance of sexual purity, but we also need to teach about the healing power of the Atonement, especially in instances of sexual abuse. We need to teach the young men and men in the Church that rape and sexual abuse are never acceptable and that these sins cause great suffering. We also need to teach survivors of sexual abuse that they are not responsible for the bad choices of others. (Many survivors blame themselves, making recovery particularly difficult.)

    In my opinion, we need to spend more time in the Church teaching the virtues of pure love, respect, kindness, patience, honesty, humility, and forgiveness. We need to teach our members how to love themselves, a concept that is seriously neglected in the Church. We teach a lot about nurturing others but seldom teach our members how to nurture themselves.

  12. Carol, can I ask how you would teach that.

    I ask because though I agree that morality does equate to chastity in an LDS context and there is a heavy emphasis upon certain ideas like the WoW and Chastity, there is also a strong bias toward the types of virtues you mention.

    http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=59cf5f74db46c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=81357befabc20110VgnVCM100000176f620a____

    This is the contents page for the YM manual. The WoW is mentioned once just like the virtues of respect, honour, forgiveness, respect and others. Admittedly there are a few lessons on chastity (or related subjects) but this is not overwhelming nor I suspect from my brief review that the messages are overly harsh (in the manual). What would you like to see done differently?

  13. #11:

    “One in four” is dubious.

    http://community.post-gazette.com/blogs/radicalmiddle/archive/2009/12/10/the-myth-that-will-not-die.aspx

    From 2006-2008, the total number of on-campus forcible sex offenses reported to University of Pittsburgh Police was four (two in 2007, and one each in 2006 and 2008). Off-campus incidents produced five more. During that three-year span, Pitt students reported a total of 19 forcible sex offenses either to university officials or to Pittsburgh City Police.

    If the One-in-Four Myth were correct, during that three-year span, the roughly 14,500 women enrolled at Pitt should have suffered 2,417 forcible sex offenses. They reported 28. They should have averaged 806.7 per year. They reported an average of 9.3.

    Over a four-year period, those numbers result in a rate of One-in-Three-Hundred-Ninety-Two. Which, by my math, is just a wee bit higher than One-in-Four.

    Even if you accept the extreme, oft-repeated claim that as many as 95% of sexual assaults go unreported — and I don’t, because the facts don’t bear it out; more on that in a future installment of this series — you still get a total of 560 (not 2,417), an average of 186 per year (not 806), and an overall rate of One-in-Nineteen. Which is, by my math, just a tad higher than One-in-Four.

    And still almost five times higher than the rate of victimization for all violent crimes in Detroit in 2006.

    Make up your own mind whether I’m an apologist for rape, or just skeptical of propaganda.

  14. A number of years ago I asked our young men and young women what topics they’d like to have in youth firesides (Bishop’s Youth Discussions). One young woman didn’t miss a beat and said, “Anything but the law of chastity!” Her point was not that she wanted to rebel, but that they had heard that message loud and clear and all too often, and they wanted to hear something else.

    I agree that the “common knowledge” that it’s wrong to cheat on tests or cut class is not so common anymore among many of our youth. And even less common is the knowledge that Christlike living calls us to be inclusive, not exclusive, to have true charity.

    That said, there are still quite a few great youth out there — they must be learning their lessons somewhere.

  15. I was just talking about this with a non-LDS friend the other day in discussing what the Church calls a “moral issue” worthy of political involvement. Sex and drugs. And occasionally gambling. Once it was military (MX Missiles).

    But now the YW have a new Value – “virtue” – so perhaps we’ll start seeing a shift away from exclusive use of “moral” to include “virtue”. Which still has the same problem: Virtue, like Moral, is much broader, deeper and significant than non-approved sexual actions. But because there seems to be a problem with the three-letter s word, the euphemisms “moral” and “virtue” are co-opted and their definitions are narrowed within the LDS culture.

  16. This UT Dept of Health site seems to be more or less in line with BIV’s assertion: http://health.utah.gov/vipp/rapeSexualAssault/overview.html

    The opening paragraph tells us:

    Rape is the only violent crime in Utah that occurs at a higher rate than the rest of the nation. One in three Utah women will experience some type of sexual assault in their lifetime and one in eight will be raped. In 2008, Utah’s reported rape rate was 63.7 per 100,000 females compared to the U.S. rate of 57.4 per 100,000 females. However, the majority of rapes (88.2%) are never reported to law enforcement, indicating that sexual violence in Utah is grossly underestimated.

    Given that much of this does go unreported, and probably more among the LDS population that has an unhappy tradition of shaming victims until very recently, the best anyone can do is speculate guided by existing statistics. In any cae, I think UT Dept of Health reports are a reasonable way to approach this sensitive topic.

  17. I think the OP has overstated the logical equivalence between sex and morality, for reasons others have well stated. Beyond that, I very much like the point that we need to discuss a breadth of non-sexual matters under the guidelines of the functional morality we need to be teaching, no matter how we semantically play with the words.

    Having not been in the youth program for some time (I think they’re a little scared of my perceived apostasy, like I’m going to be teaching Adam-God Theory or something), I can’t speak to the relative emphasis on other issues of morality, nor have I a clue how those would compare to their emphasis in other denominations. I don’t think they are nearly popular enough across our society — cheating at college is far, far too common, and that needs to be addressed in very clear terms. The only morality we seem to have in the greater society is “do what you want to do, and don’t get caught.”

    Good points.

  18. I think since Carol volunteered at a Rape Crisis Center she would have accurate statistics. It not surprising that in even in this day and age women are still to scared to report the rape because they are afraid of the consequences which follow. Many having to deal with attitudes that women ask for it, etc.

    I think maybe these are things that we can teach our youth. Our young boys should learn from their Dads and their Moms what is appropriate behavior on a date. I think Dads play an important role here, specifically with their daughters because it’s not always what you say as much as what you do. For instance, Dads how many of you take your daughter out on a ,”date,” she can learn from you as to what is appropriate behavior. And the same goes for Sons. I know one family who had date nights with their kids to practice appropriate behavior with them and then reinforced with attitude changes. I think this may sound dumb to some, but I don’t think so.

  19. BiV,
    I do think there is a difference in degree of sin. All sin does separate us from God, and as such is bad, but it seems to make sense that some actions are worse than others. Murder is worse than coffee-drinking by a baptized member of the Church, which, in turn, is worse than jaywalking (I hope). But I don’t have a formalized, internally-consistent taxonomy of sin; mostly it’s just a holistic feeling that I don’t really think about much, and I’m not up for the effort of trying to work it out.

    Back to the OP, though: even supposing that, in the minds of some members, morality = not having sex, I’m blown away by your assertion that there are members who would sooner steal a car than drink a sip of coffee. If you say you know (of) such people, I don’t have any reason to doubt you, but do you think that, had they only had the “Stealing Cars is Wrong” SS lesson, they wouldn’t have stolen that car? Because it seems to me that, if they’re up for stealing cars, a SS lesson won’t make a whole lot of difference.

  20. A couple of thoughts. First, defining morality as sexual virtue is not uniquely LDS; it’s the third in the list of definitions on dictionary.com, and “morality” has been used to mean virtue by a broad number of groups outside of Mormonism (the Moral Majority of the 1970s comes to mind). The second thought I had was that growing up in the church, but outside of Utah, the “morality” that was taught did reach beyond the sexual – we discussed honesty, not cheating on tests, etc, with what I considered sufficient clarity; there was also a lot of emphasis on being a good example of our religion to others, so standards were high, but we had a lot of new or less active members, so judgment levels about outsiders were low.

    So perhaps there is an issue when kids are being raised in an area where the majority of their peers are also LDS. I can think of a few things that are likely to happen in that situation: 1) tribalism takes the place of morality (insiders are OK, outsiders are a threat), 2) the only way to differentiate yourself as a teen is to rebel against the standards. If you are in the minority and being celibate makes you unique, that’s quite different than being in a celibate majority and wanting to stand out as your own person. There was a study that showed this to be the case with celibacy pledges in the south – where teens had many abstinent peers, they were more likely to break celibacy pledges. Where they were unique for their abstinence, they were more likely to remain celibate.

  21. “one in eight will be raped….In 2008, Utah’s reported rape rate was 63.7 per 100,000 females compared to the U.S. rate of 57.4 per 100,000 females. However, the majority of rapes (88.2%) are never reported to law enforcement”

    Those numbers can’t be reconciled. Either the “one in eight” statistic is wrong, or the 88.2% non-reporting rate is wrong. Because if 63.7 rapes/100,000 women per year is the reported rate, and that amounts to just 12% of the actual rape total, then (assuming an 80-year lifespan), that works out to about a 43% chance of a woman being raped in her lifetime. Just under one in two, in other words, not one in eight. And that’s actual forcible rape, not all types of sexual assault. Does that seem a bit high?

    Have half the women here been forcibly raped? If not, why the disparity between our sample, and the telephone-survey sample one the Utah Dept. of Health compiled?

    I believe rape in Utah is more widespread than the Happy Valley boosters would like to think it is, but not as widespread as some feminists would have it.

  22. “For instance, Dads how many of you take your daughter out on a ,”date,” she can learn from you as to what is appropriate behavior.”

    That’s a great idea. In my case, it’s not just a teaching moment — it’s the only chance my daughter and I get to have Italian food, thanks to the inexplicably pasta-hating rest of my family.

  23. “You may not be aware of this if you grew up Mormon, but the LDS definition of morality is rather different than that which is generally accepted. Morality is very easily defined to Mormons — it means not having sex. That’s all. End of discussion. Immorality means having sex. That’s what we teach our teenagers, and that is the definition we carry with us from our church meetings into our daily lives.”

    This is the heart of the problem for those who have been sexually abused. Whenever you give a talk or teach a lesson that is based on the assumption that “immorality means having sex”, you must remember that there are boys and men, women and girls listening who have been sexually abused, often by someone they loved and trusted. The best LDS speaker on this subject in my opinion is Chieko Okasaki. In her book “Disciples,” she include a chapter entitled “Healing from Sexual Abuse: Eight Messages for Survivors, Family Members and Leaders” that is insightful and most helpful. You have find a transcript of her talk here http://www.byub.org/talks/Talk.aspx?id=1136.

    In this talk, she explains:

    “Fifth, those of you who are teachers and
    leaders have a special role in play in
    supporting a man or a woman who’s going
    through the aftermath of abuse. I would
    hope that every teacher in the Church will
    remember that in his or her classroom is
    almost certainly at least one person who has
    survived sexual abuse. With that person in
    mind, think of the stories you tell, the
    questions that you ask, and perhaps most
    importantly, the assumptions you make.
    Think of a seven-year-old girl whose father
    sexually abuses her. What does she feel
    when the Primary sings, “I’m so glad when
    my daddy comes home”? Think of a
    twelve-year-old boy who is physically and
    sexually abused by an uncle who is the stake
    patriarch. How does he deal with his
    confusion during a lesson which teaches that
    we should obey our priesthood leaders
    because they want what is best for us?
    Think of a woman whose husband beats and
    rapes her. What feelings go through her
    mind as a Relief Society teacher explains
    that it is the wife’s responsibility to maintain
    the spiritual atmosphere in the home and to
    support the priesthood? To these confused,
    despairing children and adults in pain, the
    teachers speak with the voice of the Church.
    Such messages have a great potential for
    increasing their pain and despair. Leaders
    play an especially important role. Parents
    and husbands, authority figures, and abusive
    authority figures may make it seem virtually
    impossible for someone who has been
    equally sexually abused to seek help from
    yet another authority figure. But I have had
    several survivors of sexual abuse tell me that
    the consistent concern of a priesthood
    leader, even when he did not fully
    understand the issue or what was happening,
    literally kept them from committing suicide.
    Blessings and respectful listening are very
    important. They validate to a survivor that
    he or she is not making it up and does not
    have to go through the healing process
    alone.”

  24. “On the other hand, Mormon temple marriage divorce rates are, I understand, ludicrously low. Maybe we are doing something right.”

    Thomas, I might be impressed with this fact if I hadn’t known an inordinate number of couples who had been married in the temple for decades who had terrible marriages. I don’t find the “success” rate (read: non-divorce rate) of temple marriages particularly compelling, because I think it’s at least as plausible (and that’s being generous in my opinion) that the reason they stay married is because it’s more religiously heinous and far more difficult to dissolve such a marriage. And if the rate of which you speak is simply counting the number of dissolved temple sealings, then many of those marriages are, in fact, failed and are simply not being captured by that particular metric.

    In any event, is the goal of a temple marriage to last a long time or to bring an added measure of happiness? I see no evidence of the latter, even if I was to concede the former. The non-member marriages that I’ve seen that have been true successes are every bit as happy as truly successful temple marriages. And, unfortunately, the temple marriages I’ve seen that are miserable, abusive or neglectful are also on par with what is taking place outside th church.

    Ultimately I think it all comes down to the individuals. In the church, out of the church, temple or non, a relationship is going to fail or succeed based on the people involved. The building where the ceremony was performed is of little consequence.

  25. #23

    Thanks for sharing that. It underscores some issues that I’ve had over time. And while I always had support from leaders, I know of others for whom shame and stigma were insurmountable and leadership was a little light on compassion.

    Overall, I agree with BiV’s main point. Morality is too focused on sexual misdemeanors and tends to stress other moral issues far less. It galled me to hear my father insist on how important being chaste was to our celestial family goals whilst periodically beating my mother to a pulp.

    Granted, that’s a pretty extreme example, but the point I think is that we tend not to make clear the impact of dishonesty or violence or a range of other moral issues quite as well or often as we do those that relate to sexual ‘sin’.

  26. #24 — “if the rate of which you speak is simply counting the number of dissolved temple sealings, then many of those marriages are, in fact, failed and are simply not being captured by that particular metric.” Fair point. In fact, I don’t know what metric is used — i.e., whether it’s “cancellations of sealings” being counted, vs. civil divorces associated with temple marriages. The latter would seem to be harder to keep track of, and institutions seeking to promote their agenda tend not to be particularly rigorous with their statistics. (See, e.g., #21.)

    That said, I do think temple marriages, overall, tend to “bring an added measure of happiness,” as well as marital longevity. More precisely, I believe the former can be a function of the latter. In most states, marriage has gone from being a more solemn contract than other contracts, to a far less serious contract — one that, unlike a cell-phone contract, you can rescind at any time at your sole discretion. The contingency and uncertainty introduced by this regime — the fact that there’s always an easy escape valve via the no-fault divorce court — can make its presence felt, and may lead to unhappiness: You may work less hard at maintaining a marriage, when you have less incentive to do so.

    Back to the OP, one of the reasons there may be such emphasis on sexual sin, is that (at least in my circles) we seem to be doing pretty well on the other major sin-categories. Now granted I live outside the Utah MLM/scam culture, but around here, even Mormon businessmen have pretty good reputations for honesty. Ditto LDS teenagers with cheating, downloading pirated music, etc. Plenty of them do, but the fact that any of them don’t, sets them apart from the general culture.

    Sexuality, though — that one’s harder to rein in. Passion can blast right through the ego, in a way that (say) the temptation to cheat on a test doesn’t. The latter is more or less a conscious decision; the former is more like a reflex that, if there hasn’t been some deep-seated conditioning against it, will go through Seminary lessons on chastity like a whale through a net. That’s why Morality/Virtue = No Sex gets beaten to death.

  27. BiV: you give voice to something that concerned me on my mission in the 80’s. As a convert, I was shocked at how many of the elders throught morality rested soley on virginity, and how a significant minority of them were some of the most selfish and domineering (bully-type) people I’ve ever met. The selfish bully elders appeared to me to be among the most un-Christian people I’ve met. It really worried and confused me how such selfish bullies could claim to be Christ-like. It was a schock to me to see elders “switch on” and “switch off” depending on whether local members or investigators were around.

    Thanks for letting me know that I’m not the only one to observe your premise.

    Hopefully, the “raise the bar” goes a long way to address this. I’ve heard that it’s not just sexual purity that’s the focus of raise-the-bar. Hot-heads who lose their temper and bullies are among those who are being screened, and hopefully worked with so as to overcome those negative personality traits.

    Thomas: if you count childhood sexual abuse, the 43% of women being raped sounds about right. The breakdown by race is very skewed though. It’s probably closer to 25% for caucasians, and 75% or higher for African-Americans and Hispanics, with the majority of sexual assault/abuse occuring prior to age 18. So Carol’s figure of 25% for Utah is about right.

    For the victims who never reported, it’s a very delicate process to get them to talk about it. Such revelations usually come forward in the treatment of secondary problems that relate to the post-traumatic stress disorder that usually results from the unhealed emotional/spiritual wounds. Self-desctructive behaviors such as promiscuity, excessive eating (morbid obesity), and illicit drug use are often signs of the unhealed emotional wounds of sexuasl assault/abuse.

  28. On euphemisms, as John Mansfield mentioned: I was once part of an Elders’ quorum in which group discussions very often, as a sort of local custom, used overindulgence in ice cream as an example of sin. Although I don’t know what others thought, to me it seemed completely obvious that the ice cream represented sex. Not for one moment did I consider it possible that anyone would regard gluttony as more than a minor indiscretion. The ice cream served the purpose of letting the elders talk about their own experience of…well…lust, without risk of unseemliness.

    I have nothing substantive to contribute concerning rates of sexual assault, but I can make one technical point about Thomas’s calculation arriving at 43%. I concur with the arithmetic, but the interpretation is not quite right. The result arrived at is an average of 0.43 rapes per lifetime. This is not the same as a lifetime 43% chance of being a rape victim, because some women are victimized more than once. As previous comments have more or less indicated, it is plausible that the proportion of multiple victims is rather high.

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