Monday, March 2, 2009

The Law of Chastity

      Jesus Christ taught a number of “hard sayings” that cost him many followers. Perhaps the world today finds none of these a more difficult standard than the law of chastity. The Ten Commandments prohibited adultery (Exodus 20:14), but Jesus Christ required a stricter standard: even lustful thoughts are sinful! (Matt. 5:28)

      In our sex-saturated society, some claim that pornography, fornication, and other violations of the law of chastity are victimless crimes. They claim that birth control and “safe sex” make extramarital sex acceptable. Some even argue that pornography empowers women. They imagine that it is liberating to be addicted to pornography, that it is empowering for women to reduce themselves to sexual objects, that sexual licentiousness doesn't hurt anyone, and that old-fashioned ideas about abstinence and chastity are irrelevant to today's modern world.
      If anything, the law of chastity is more relevant to our world than it was to ancient societies, not less. In 2003, it was estimated that nearly a million Americans were living with HIV/AIDS. As many as 20% of Americans have been infected with a viral STD, and millions more have bacterial STDs such as syphilis and gonorrhea. Every year, an astounding 10% of American teenage girls become pregnant, and 30% of those pregnancies will end in abortion.
      Some hold that the answer is to be found in the availability of contraceptives and “safe sex” education, and indeed, these methods have reduced teenage pregnancy rates. However, they have not reduced sexual activity in adolescents, and may actually encourage it. Further, it is important to understand that there is no such thing as “safe sex.” According to the National Institutes of Health, condoms do not eliminate the risk of acquiring HIV and gonorrhea, and are even less effective at preventing genital herpes, trichomoniasis, and chlamydia. They offer no protection against human papillomavirus, one of the most common STDs in America, with 20 million currently infected. The World Health Organization has stated, “Apart from abstinence, no protective method is 100% effective.”
      The repercussions of sexual activity outside marriage are not limited to physical disease. Marriages are stronger and families are more stable when couples practice abstinence before marriage. In their book Should We Live Together? What Young Adults Need To Know About Cohabitation Before Marriage, David Popenoe and Barbara Whitehead present their findings that living together before marriage increases the risk of breaking up after marriage and the risk to women and children of abuse. Cohabitating couples report lower levels of happiness and wellbeing than married couples and are more accepting of divorce than married couples and singles living alone. Three-quarters of children born to cohabitating parents will see their parents split up before they reach age 16.
      Professor W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project reports, "Individuals who have more sexual partners prior to marriage are more likely to get divorced compared to those who do not. It’s something about forming a bond with someone that is then broken, and the way in which that may lead to a certain distrust of the opposite sex or a certain kind of loss of faith in relationships or in romance."
      The law of chastity provides the answers to these problems, but our sex-obsessed culture often dismisses such a standard as unrealistic. The fact is that marriages are more likely to succeed, families are more likely to remain stable, diseases are more likely to be avoided, and people are more likely to be happy under the law of chastity. It is not an unattainable standard when people understand what is at stake. The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches additional principles that help us understand the immense importance of the law of chastity:
      1) Mormon doctrine places unusual emphasis on the sacredness of the physical body, and consequently, special emphasis on the importance of chastity. Mainstream Christianity inherited from Gnosticism the idea that the physical body is corrupt. Gnostics longed for liberation from the confines of the material world. This somewhat obfuscated the greatest promise of Christianity—that of the physical resurrection of the body. Mormonism embraces the idea that the physical body is not something to be detested, but to be treasured as a gift from God. One of the primary purposes for which we come to this earth is to gain a physical body and to learn to exercise discipline and control over it (1 Cor. 9:27), so that we may be prepared for our resurrected bodies, “fashioned like unto his (Christ’s) glorious body” (Philip. 3:21).
      2) Sexual immorality is among the most serious of sins. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma chastised his son Corianton for sexual promiscuity: “Know ye not, my son, 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?” (Alma 39:5)
      3) The procreative power is sacred. It’s not just life that is sacred; the power to create it is also sacred. Arguing that fornication is acceptable if the risk of pregnancy is reduced with contraceptives does not change the fact that a sacred power is being abused, whether or not a child results.
      4) Because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a lay ministry, all members participate in the work of the Church, and all are held to the same moral standards. “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (Isaiah 52:11). There is no clergy that takes special vows or is held to a higher level of moral or spiritual dedication than the laity.
      People who believe these doctrinal principles are far more likely to uphold the high standards of sexual purity that Jesus Christ taught. A study conducted in the mid-1990s revealed that while 77% of teenage boys and 66% of teenage girls nationwide had had sex, the corresponding figures for the Mormon teenage population were only 10% and 17%.
      An LDS Church publication states, “Physical intimacy between husband and wife is beautiful and sacred. It is ordained of God for the creation of children and for the expression of love within marriage…Sometimes people try to convince themselves that sexual relations outside of marriage are acceptable if the participants love one another. This is not true. Breaking the law of chastity and encouraging someone else to do so is not an expression of love. People who love each other will never endanger one another’s happiness and safety in exchange for temporary personal pleasure. When people care for one another enough to keep the law of chastity, their love, trust, and commitment increase, resulting in greater happiness and unity. In contrast, relationships built on sexual immorality sour quickly” (True to the Faith, 29-30). The Doctrine and Covenants contains an additional, eerie prophecy: People who are sexually immoral and do not repent will deny the faith (D&C 63:16).
      Any discussion of the law of chastity should mention the possibility of repentance. Without at all downplaying the seriousness of the sin and the importance of obedience to God’s laws, it’s important to emphasize that repentance is possible, through the Atonement of Christ, for those who have made mistakes (Alma 42:21-29).

In summary
Question: Why does the Mormon Church teach its members such an unrealistic standard of sexual purity? What's wrong with extramarital sex, pornography, and other violations of the law of chastity?
Response: What is unrealistic is expecting to be able to form healthy relationships and happy families based on a lifestyle of sexual promiscuity. In addition to being a commandment from God, obeying the law of chastity helps avoid the social, emotional, and physical dangers of immorality.

David Popenoe and Whitehead, Barbara. Should We Live Together? What young adults need to know about cohabitation before marriage (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1999).

Guttmacher Institute: Facts on American Teens' Sexual and Reproductive Health

World Health Organization: Abstinence only 100% effective method

CIA World Factbook: 950,000 Americans with AIDS

1 comment:

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