Priesthood/Relief Society Lesson 17: “Keeping the Law of Chastity”
Approximately Scheduled Teaching Date: Sunday, September 6, 2015
This lesson contains the following statements:
“The Church has no double standard of morality. The moral code of heaven for both men and women is complete chastity before marriage and full fidelity after marriage.” (p. 219)
“In the category of crimes, only murder and denying the Holy Ghost come ahead of illicit sexual relations, which we call fornication when it involves an unmarried person, or the graver sin of adultery when it involves one who is married.” (p. 220)
“Unchastity is the most damning of all evils….” (p. 220)
“God’s law is irrevocable.” (p. 221)
“You are not only responsible before God for your acts but also for controlling your thoughts. So live that you would not blush with shame if your thoughts and acts could be flashed on a screen in your church.” (p. 222)
“There is no temptation placed before you which you cannot shun. Do not allow yourself to get in positions where it is easy to fall. Listen to the promptings of the Spirit. If you are engaged in things where you do not feel you can pray and ask the Lord’s blessings on what you are doing, then you are engaged in the wrong kind of activity.” (p. 223)
“A reason for virtue—which includes personal chastity, clean thoughts and practices, and integrity—is that we must have the Spirit and the power of God in our lives to do God’s work. Without that power and influence we are no better off than individuals in other organizations.” (p. 227)
The statement regarding the Church having no double standard for morality is entirely compatible with LGBT members who choose to live the standard of chastity. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in 1997, President Gordon B. Hinckley elaborated on this in the context of LGBT status in the Church. He said:
“Now, we have gays in the church. Good people. We take no action against such people—provided they don’t become involved in transgression, sexual transgression. If they do, we do with them exactly what we’d do with heterosexuals who transgress. We have a very strong moral teaching concerning abstinence before marriage and total fidelity following marriage. And, regardless of whether they’re heterosexuals or otherwise, if they step over that line there are certain sanctions, certain penalties that are imposed.”—President Gordon B. Hinckley, Musings of the Main Mormon, San Francisco Chronicle, April 13, 1997
This statement gives consistency between gay and straight standards. Therefore, handholding, hugging, kissing, dancing, and any other activity condoned between a single man and woman should be equally accepted between two men or two women. Of course, cultural bias often follows rather than leads, and “chastity” may cover many more gay behaviors than straight ones in the minds of some individuals, but the position of the Church is consistent, based on this statement by a president of the Church.
President Benson’s statement that “only murder and the denying of the Holy Ghost come ahead of illicit sexual relations,” appears on the same page as, “Unchastity is the most damning of all evils….” Since murder and the denying of the Holy Ghost are also evils, and they come ahead of illicit sexual relations, there appears at first glance a contradiction. However, the statements are taken from different events and talks, which shows the importance of understanding the context of any statements regarding chastity, morality, or any other such topic.
While God’s law is irrevocable, we are the only Church that is “true and living,” (D&C 1:30), and we believe God “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God,” (Article of Faith 9). There are many great and important “things” that have changed over the years. These may have been held back until the world was ready, or the church was ready, or we had learned other lessons first out of necessity, or other reason based on the wisdom of the Lord. For example, LGBT members see many parallels with Blacks who experienced social, cultural, and doctrinal stigma within and without the Church prior to 1978. In addition, previous Church presidents have made the following statements regarding monogamy:
“Since the founding of the Roman Empire monogamy has prevailed more extensively than in times previous to that. The founders of that ancient empire were robbers and women stealers, and made laws favoring monogamy in consequence of the scarcity of women among them, and hence this monogamic system which now prevails throughout Christendom, and which had been so fruitful a source of prostitution and whoredom throughout all the Christian monogamic cities of the Old and New World, until rottenness and decay are at the root of their institutions both national and religious.”—Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, p. 128
“…the one-wife system not only degenerates the human family, both physically and intellectually, but it is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality; it is a lure to temptation, and has always proved a curse to a people.”—John Taylor, Millennial Star, Vol. 15, p. 227
Despite these statements and others by prophets and presidents of the Church, the Church issued The Manifesto in 1890 and eventually subjected those who entered into polygamy to excommunication.
In a Church which teaches that the Lord may reveal His will at any time, all members should be cautious in using absolutes and extremes such as “never-changing,” “irrevocable,” etc.
The last three quotes regarding thoughts and temptation can be especially troublesome to LGBT members who may deal not only with moral temptation in general, but also the added weight of sexual orientation. In a world where we all fall short of the mark and need to repent repeatedly, it is doubtful that any member, even the holiest mortal of all, would welcome his private thoughts and acts displayed at church for all to see.
The big question is for you to determine how you will apply this law within your life and your situation. What matters is that you work it out between you and the Lord.
All members, gay and straight, should learn the current, accurate, and official positions of the Church regarding sexual orientation at mormonsandgays.org. Merely referring people to the site is not enough. Detailed training at the site and a desire to understand through the Spirit will help tear down walls, build bridges, and seek to edify until all have come to a unity of the faith.