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Law of Chastity
- The physical relationship between a husband and a wife is ordained of God for the procreation of children and for the expression of love within a marriage: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).
The Gift of Procreation
Mormons believe that the ability to procreate is a gift from God, in fact one of God's greatest gifts. Mormons believe in a Plan of Salvation, in which God is the literal father of the spirits of all who dwell on earth. Men and women are co-creators with God in providing bodies for His spirit-children. God has established laws which govern the use of this sacred power. Satan, on the other hand, introduces thousands of ways to compromise, ruin, or corrupt the gift of procreation.
- As President Joseph F. Smith expressed it: "Sexual union is lawful in wedlock, and if participated in with right intent is honorable and sanctifying. But without the bonds of marriage, sexual indulgence is a debasing sin, abominable in the sight of Deity" (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., p. 309).
This quote from a Mormon prophet reveals much about the Mormon view of the physical body. Though Satan tempts man through his bodily appetites and passions, Mormons don't view the body as inherently corrupt or evil. Man's work on the earth is to learn to govern his bodily appetites and keep them within the bounds the Lord has set.
The Consequences of Sexual Sin
Commandments such as the Law of Chastity are not meant to afflict mankind, but to protect men and women from the myriad of woes that accompany the breaking of this law.
- As President Joseph Fielding Smith stated, "No more loathsome cancer disfigures the body and soul of society today than the frightful affliction of sexual sin. It vitiates the very fountains of life, and bequeaths its foul effects to the yet unborn as a legacy of death. It lurks in hamlet and city, in the mansion and in the hovel as a ravening beast in wait for prey; and it skulks through the land in blasphemous defiance of the laws of God and of man." (As quoted in Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4 vols., vol 3: 5-6, originally in the Improvement Era, vol. 20, p. 739.)
- Further: "Like many bodily diseases, sexual crime drags with itself a train of other ills. As the physical effects of drunkenness entail the deterioration of tissue, and disturbance of vital functions, and so render the body receptive of any distemper to which it may be exposed, and at the same time lower the powers of resistance even to fatal deficiency, so does unchastity expose the soul to divers spiritual maladies, and rob it of both resistance and recuperative ability. The adulterous generation of Christ's day were deaf to the voice of truth, and through their diseased state of mind and heart, sought after signs and preferred empty fable to the message of salvation (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., p.709).
These prophetic quotes are strongly worded. Those who keep the commandments of God receive the ability to see, to discern right from wrong, to perceive the real consequences of sin. People who live the Law of Chastity are aware that promiscuity breeds loneliness; sexuality kills romance; illicit sexual activity murders trust and breeds lies; pornography is addictive, sucks the life out of relationships, and encourages aberrant behavior; casual sex blunts emotions and causes physical and psychological disease; and adultery ruins families.
The Higher Law
Under the Law of Chastity, Mormons are held to Christ's higher law set out in the New Testament.
- Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
- But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matthew 5:27,28)
Mormons are encouraged to avoid all thoughts, intents, and actions that arouse passions leading to improper sexual conduct. They are commanded not to arouse any emotions that can only be expressed between a husband and wife. Behavior such as viewing pornography and engaging in masturbation are against the Law of Chastity. Mormons are told to learn to control their thoughts and not to arouse sexual feelings before or outside of marriage. Mormon youth are taught to avoid petting, passionate kissing, and improper touching. (See For the Strength of Youth.)
The Burden of Guilt
It is important to mention that, according to Mormonism, victims of rape, incest, or other sexual abuse are not guilty of sin, and they need to be helped to overcome the unwanted consequences of someone else's sin. The scriptures confirm these teachings. It is also important to note that sexual sins are various and do not all carry the same burden of seriousness and guilt:
- Sex immorality is made up of offenses against God of all kinds and degrees. All are evil and damning in their nature, with some, however, being much more so than others. "We are of the opinion there are more grades or degrees of sin associated with the improper relationship of the sexes than of any other wrongdoing of which we have knowledge." According to Elder McConkie, "They all involve a grave offense - the sin against chastity, but in numerous instances this sin is intensified by the breaking of sacred covenants, to which is sometimes added deceit, intimidation, or actual violence (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., p.708.)
Repentance for Sexual Sin
Repentance for sexual sin is difficult, because it is nearly impossible to make restitution. How does one restore stolen virtue? Nonetheless, through the atonement, the stain of immorality can be cleansed. Adultery is considered by Mormons to be a sin of great seriousness, following murder. Sexual sin is grievous when committed by a person who has full knowledge and understanding of the laws of God, especially those who have made temple covenants. Their level of accountability differs from one who has been misled by the false teachings of the world and who has not yet made sacred covenants, though they remain in serious violation of the law:
- "Much as all these sins are to be denounced and deplored, we can ourselves see a difference both in intent and consequence between the offense of a young couple, who, being betrothed, in an unguarded moment, without premeditation fall into sin, and that of the man, who having entered into holy places and made sacred covenants, plots to rob the wife of his neighbor of her virtue either by cunning or force and [who] accomplishes his vile intent." (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., p. 310.)
The Law of Chastity, a Practical Look
The practice of the Law of Chastity should have practical manifestations that are obvious in the society or culture in which the law is practiced. Of all the conservative Christian faiths, the LDS Church is the only one that has a tangible goal that is unattainable without keeping the Law of Chastity, and that is the opportunity to gain admittance to the temple, make covenants there, and indeed, be married there for eternity. When youth ask why they should live the Law of Chastity, it's more than helpful to parents to be able to answer with something more than, "because God said so."
A recent study published in the Journal of Reproductive Health shows that there is a practical and societal difference among the youth in conservative Christian cultures who are all taught to be chaste, or to practice sexual abstinance before marriage. The study collected the data on religiosity from Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscapes survey. In the United States the states that are profoundly Christian conservative also have the highest rates of teen pregnancy. Even when abortions and income were accounted for, the correlation between religiosity and teen pregnancy was still strong. The exception is Utah, which is about 60% Mormon. This is how the states ranked in religiousity and teenage pregnancy (2009):
Top 10 most conservatively religious states: 1. Mississippi 2. Alabama 3. South Carolina 4. Tennessee 5. Louisiana 6. Utah 7. Arkansas 8. North Carolina 9. Kentucky 10. Oklahoma
Top 10 states with highest teen birth rates: 1. Mississippi 2. New Mexico 3. Texas 4. Arkansas 5. Arizona 6. Oklahoma 7. Nevada 8. Tennessee 9. Kentucky 10. Georgia
Utah ranked sixth in religiousity, but 34th in teenage pregnancy. This surprising result makes Utah a real outlier. Qualification for eternal marriage in the temple is a real motivator for young people to keep the Law of Chastity. Support from the LDS Church with highly organized youth activities and service projects, and support from strong families well-educated in gospel principles also help youth to practice abstinence.