Law of chastity
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The law of chastity is a moral code defined by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). According to the church, chastity means that "sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife." Therefore, abstinence from sexual relations before marriage, and complete fidelity to one's spouse during marriage, are required. As part of the law of chastity, the church teaches its members not only to abstain from adultery and fornication, but also to refrain from masturbation and to avoid sexually inappropriate thoughts. The law of chastity is taught to church members of all ages, and is especially emphasized to adolescents.
Within the LDS Church, chastity means more than abstinence from sex. It means to be morally clean in "thoughts, words, and actions." It also means sexual relations are only permitted between a husband and wife. The church teaches its members that "no one, male or female, is to have sexual relations before marriage. After marriage, sexual relations are permitted only with our spouse."
Mormons believe that sexuality between man and woman lawfully married is divinely appointed and has two purposes: to "multiply, and replenish the Earth" (Adam and Eve, and to strengthen the bond between man and woman that they might "become one flesh" ( ). A church handbook for leaders states that married couples should be made aware "that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a way of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife.") as commanded by God to
The church has made its views clear in many publications and in recent news releases that "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God". While opposing homosexual behavior, the church advises its leaders and members to reach out with understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender.
Sexual relations are deemed proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife. Any other sexual relations, including those between persons of the same gender, are sinful and undermine the divinely created institution of the family. The church accordingly affirms defining marriage as the legal and lawful union between a man and a woman.
An LDS Church publication targeted at youth states: "Before marriage, do not participate in passionate kissing, lie on top of another person, or touch the private, sacred parts of another person's body, with or without clothing. Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body.” Youth are taught in church classes that sexual relations are sacred, and they should avoid "fondling of bodies, one's own or that of others". Masturbation is "not condoned but is not considered homosexual".
The Book of Mormon teaches that sexual sins are "most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost" ( ). Church leaders have similarly emphasized its importance.
Apostle Spencer W. Kimball, in his book Miracle of Forgiveness, quoted Heber J. Grant as saying, "[t]here is no true Latter-day Saint who would not rather bury a son or daughter than to have him or her lose his or her chastity—realizing that chastity is of more value than anything else in all the world."
LDS Church president Ezra Taft Benson wrote:
|“||From the beginning of time, the Lord has set a clear and unmistakable standard of sexual purity. It always has been, it is now, and it always will be the same. That standard is the law of chastity. It is the same for all—for men and women, for old and young, for rich and poor. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Jacob tells us that the Lord delights in the chastity of His children (see ). Do you hear that, my brothers and sisters? The Lord is not just pleased when we are chaste; He delights in chastity. Mormon taught the same thing to his son Moroni when he wrote that chastity and virtue are 'most dear and precious above all things.' ( )||”|
Violation of the law of chastity may result in church discipline, including disfellowshipment or excommunication.
In endowment ceremony
Includes broader transgressions
Activities considered a violation of the law of chastity include both adultery and fornication as well as broader behavior. While serving as church president, Kimball taught that the law of chastity encompasses "all sexual relations outside marriage—petting, sex perversion, masturbation, and preoccupation with sex in one's thoughts and talking. Included are every hidden and secret sin and all unholy and impure thoughts and practices."
Victims of rape, incest, or sexual abuse are not guilty of sin and are not considered to have broken the law of chastity. However, they often feel that they have lost their virtue, which intensifies the feelings of shame and guilt experienced by many victims of rape. In the Book of Mormon, it states, "For behold, many of the daughters of the Lamanites have they taken prisoners; and after depriving them of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue". In a general conference address, Richard G. Scott explained, "The victim must do all in his or her power to stop the abuse. Most often, the victim is innocent because of being disabled by fear or the power or authority of the offender. At some point in time, however, the Lord may prompt a victim to recognize a degree of responsibility for abuse. Your priesthood leader will help assess your responsibility so that, if needed, it can be addressed."
In addition, members are taught to dress modestly, to control their thoughts, and to avoid pornography. Dressing immodestly is not a violation of the law of chastity, but "modesty promotes chastity". Members who are married are instructed to "be faithful to your spouse in thought, word, and action. Stay away from situations where temptation may develop."
The church has stated its view that a person having same-gender attraction is not sinful and no one should be blamed for it, and that LGBT members can have a good standing in the church. LGBT members of the church are expected to obey the same laws as heterosexual members, including controlling thoughts and not arousing sexual feelings outside of marriage. However, the church actively opposes the extension of the traditional definition of marriage to also include same-sex couples. In 2007, the church produced "God Loveth His Children", a pamphlet whose stated purpose is to help LGBT members, which was followed by a website "Mormons and Gays" dedicated to the topic of homosexuality in December 2012. In October 2016, the church updated the website, including changing the name to "Mormon and Gay."
D. Michael Quinn has stated that Kimball, the church's 12th president, did not believe that an individual could be homosexual, asserting that only a person's actions were homosexual. George L. Mitton and Rhett S. James believe this a distortion of LDS history.
On various occasions church leaders have taught that members should not masturbate as part of obedience to the law of chastity. The 1990 edition of the church's youth guidelines pamphlet states that the "Lord specifically forbids ... masturbation" with the later two editions alluding to it with statements forbidding anything that "arouses" any sexual feelings or emotions in one's "own body". Apostle Spencer W. Kimball, who later served as church president, warned of the "possible damages" and "dangers" of this "common indescretion" on various occasions calling it a "reprehensible sin" that grows "with every exercise". He wrote several paragraphs mentioning it in his book, The Miracle of Forgiveness, stating that ancient and modern prophets "condemn masturbation" and that it shows "slavery to the flesh". He further stated that before receiving temple endowments or serving an LDS mission that this "weakness" and "habit" should be abandoned.
In the April 1975 general conference meeting for men in the church, Vaughn J. Featherstone stated that the "urge" to masturbate "does not have to be satisfied" and that we should not "have a problem with masturbation". In a 1990 address, Featherstone also told LDS Church therapists that masturbation was "serious" and against church standards and that it would cause the Holy Ghost to withdraw from someone. He further stated that, while serving as a mission president, almost 80% of his missionaries did not masturbate for the 1.5 to 2 years they were under his direction.
The first recorded mention of masturbation by a general church leader was in 1952 by apostle J. Reuben Clark, who stated that those who teach that "self-pollution" (a now obsolete euphemism for masturbation) is non-sinful are as bad as "the teachers who prostitute the sex urge". Tad R. Callister used a similar phrase in a 2013 speech at BYU-Idaho that God "condemns self-abuse".
Other mentions include a 1966 address at BYU, in which apostle Delbert L. Stapley told students to avoid "perversions" like masturbation. A 1970 missionary guide included a section written by apostle Mark E. Petersen called "Steps to Overcome Masturbation". The guide, reprinted in a 1973 church packet, recommended exercise, keeping a Book of Mormon held in hand at night, limiting time in the bathroom, and praying for help to overcome masturbation. Since 1985 the church has provided a manual for parents to use in discussing sexuality with their children. The manual includes statements that "prophets have condemned [masturbation] as a sin" and "perversion of the body's passions" that causes one to "become carnal".
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie spoke strongly against masturbation in the 1958 version of his book Mormon Doctrine, saying it was "condemned by divine edict" and among the "chief means" the devil uses "leading souls to hell". He also stated when psychiatrists tell their patients experiencing a serious "guilt complex" from masturbation that it is "not an evil" this keeps the patient from complying with the law of chastity and becoming clean, which would lead to "mental and spiritual peace" that helps one overcome mental disorders.
One of the lengthiest public discussions of masturbation by an apostle was Boyd K. Packer's October 1976 general conference address "To Young Men Only" in which he uses a "little factory" euphemism to discuss male reproductive organs and warns young men not to tamper with the factory lest it speed up and become a guilt- and depression-inducing habit that is not easy to resist. He gives vigorous exercise as a method to help control thoughts and break the habit of masturbation since it is a "transgression" that is "not pleasing to the Lord". The talk was printed as a pamphlet and widely distributed by the church from 1980 to 2016.
- Beliefs and practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Modesty: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
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