Chapter 17: Keeping the Law of Chastity
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, (2014), 217–28
During 2015, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.
Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson
God has established the standard of chastity for His children.
In this dispensation the Lord reiterated the commandment given at Sinai when He said, “Thou shalt not … commit adultery, … nor do anything like unto it” (D&C 59:6, emphasis added). 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.
It’s interesting how Benson had to use a passage from D&C to make his point when he had a number of places he could have utilized in the Bible. Committing adultery is against the 10 Commandments as well as a number of passages in the Bible; true Christians do believe that sex outside of marriage is sinful. Paul explains how “porneia,” or sexual immorality, is a sin against one’s own body. For example, I recommend 1 Corinthians 6 and 7 for more information on this topic.
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. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Jacob tells us that the Lord delights in the chastity of His children (see Jacob 2:28). 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” (Moroni 9:9).
Again, with so many biblical passages he could use, Benson sticks with extrabiblical (though scripture for Mormons) sources. He cites Jacob 2:28. Now, mind you, I don’t have a problem with the morals of this verse, which interestingly enough explains how the “Lord God delight(s)in the chastity of women” (with no mention made of men). In context, this verse is talking about polygamy, which is the only mention of this practice in the entire Book of Mormon. Verses 23-24 say,
23 But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son. 24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.
David and Solomon have often been cited for why polygamy was allowed in Mormonism (officially until 1890), yet here they are condemned for this practice. Then, verse 27 says,
27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none.
Following verse 28, God explains how the people’s land will be cursed if they are not obedient. If God intended polygamy to be a normal biblical practice, the only reason would be would be to “raise up seed unto me” according to verse 30. In context, polygamy is the centerpiece of this passage. For all the possible places Benson could have quoted, it is curious why he chose this verse. I also wonder why Joseph Smith didn’t understand this idea as a third of his polygamous wives were married to living husbands.
As a side note, Doctrine and Covenants 132:37-39 says God gave many wives and concubines to David and Solomon, which was said to be counted for righteousness and for which they were not credited with sin. If these are both considered authoritative scriptures, why the discrepancy?
The plaguing sin of this generation is sexual immorality.
The plaguing sin of this generation is sexual immorality. This, the Prophet Joseph said, would be the source of more temptations, more buffetings, and more difficulties for the elders of Israel than any other.
Don’t get me wrong. I too am against sexual immorality (Greek “proneia.”) Yet I really do wish Joseph Smith would have listened to his own instruction. In addition to his first wife Emma, he took on 33 additional wives. A third of these wives were teenagers as young as 14 and another third were married to living husbands. (For more information, check out www.Josephswives.com).This is morally wrong, whether it was done by a “prophet of God” or, say, by a sexual predator. There is no doubt in my mind that Smith engaged in sexual immorality.
Sexual immorality is a viper that is striking not only in the world, but in the Church today. Not to admit it is to be dangerously complacent or is like putting one’s head in the sand. 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. I know the laws of the land do not consider unchastity as serious as God does, nor punish as severely as God does, but that does not change its abominableness. In the eyes of God there is but one moral standard for men and women. In the eyes of God chastity will never be out of date. …
While Smith demonizes the “sexually immoral,” the Latter-day Saint ought to be very careful. How many Latter-day Saints will suggest that they are faithful and not “sexually immoral”? How many could even have pride realizing how clean they think they are? Though Benson later quotes this passage, his readers may very easily forget Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:27-28:
You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
In other words, lust is “adultery.” Someone might say it’s not as serious as going all the way with another man’s wife. I suppose it could be argued that kissing another man’s wife is not as serious as petting or, God forbid, sexual intercourse. But aren’t all of these things wrong? Yes, I agree that the consequences can be more severe that further a person takes it, but I think someone shouldn’t put themselves on a pedestal for supposedly remaining “morally clean” when, at the heart, this is an issue everyone has dealt with and probably struggled.
No sin is causing the loss of the Spirit of the Lord among our people more today than sexual promiscuity. It is causing our people to stumble, damning their growth, darkening their spiritual powers, and making them subject to other sins.
The very idea that a born-again believer could lose the Holy Spirit is not a biblical concept. Yes, sexual sin is serious, but to suggest that a person loses salvation over this sin…well, again, how should we judge the person who lusts. Does God draw a line in the sand that, until it’s crossed, you’re OK, but once it’s crossed, you’re damned? If so, then the logical question to ask Mr. Benson is how far can a person go in their “unchastity” and still remain on the moral side of the line. And why just sexual sin? Breaking any command of God is worthy of the punishment of eternal death (Rom. 6:23).
Moral purity is an eternal principle. The Spirit of God “cannot dwell in an unclean tabernacle” [see Helaman 4:24]. Purity is life-giving; impurity is deadly. God’s holy laws cannot be broken with impunity. Great nations have fallen when they became morally corrupt, because the sins of immorality left their people scarred and misshapen creatures who were unable to face the challenge of their times.
Suggesting that the Spirit of God “cannot dwell in an unclean tabernacle” means that God cannot forgive sin. For the Christian, such a thought is blasphemous. Otherwise there would be no reason to hold out any hope. To say salvation hinges on whether or not we are morally clean is to say nobody must have salvation. Did Ezra Taft Benson conquer his own sexuality along with any sinful struggles he might have had?
Unchastity is the most damning of all evils, while moral purity is one of the greatest bulwarks of successful homemaking. Happy and successful homes cannot be built on immorality.
Unbelief is the only thing that cannot be forgiven. John 12:48 says, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” Meanwhile, John 3:18 adds, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
Some would justify their immorality with the argument that restrictions against it are merely religious rules, rules that are meaningless because in reality there is no God. This you will recognize is merely an untruthful rationalization designed to justify one’s carnal appetite, lust, and passion. God’s law is irrevocable. It applies to all, whether they believe in God or not. Everyone is subject to its penalties, no matter how one tries to rationalize or ignore them.
Immorality … always brings with it attendant remorse. A person cannot indulge in promiscuous relations without suffering ill effects from it. He cannot do wrong and feel right—it is impossible. Anytime one breaks a law of God, he pays a penalty in heartache, in sadness, in remorse, in lack of self-respect, and he removes himself from contact with the Spirit of God.
I am trying to imagine how someone who struggles with sexual purity would read this chapter. Is Benson saying anything they haven’t already heard? Probably not. If I were in this class at the local chapel on September 13, 2015 (the day it was scheduled across the world) and I heard people making it appear they are beyond immorality, as if they too have somehow arrived because how horrible such sin is, I would think my countenance would hit the floor. “Am I the only one who struggles?” I can hear this person say to herself. “Will I be damned?” God offers hope and this is a true forgiveness of all sins. This forgiveness is not based on our personal morality or the ability to keep all the commandments…all the time, as Mormonism commands. Rather, it’s acknowledging that I am a sinner and am in desperate need of God’s grace.
I am reminded of Jesus’s parable in Luke 18:9-14, the story of the publican and the Pharisee. It reads:
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
How many Mormons who read this lesson will act like the Pharisee rather than the penitent publican? Notice Jesus’s words: only one man “went home justified before God.” And it wasn’t the Pharisee.
Benson is strong in his condemnation. He is short in his ability to describe a forgiving God, mainly because He did not know this type of God. While sexual immorality is wrong, it is not the scarlet lette, the one sin keeping us out of heaven. If you are a Latter-day Saint reading this, I hope you can see. For more on this, visit here.
Control your thoughts. No one steps into immorality in an instant. The first seeds of immorality are always sown in the mind. When we allow our thoughts to linger on lewd or immoral things, the first step on the road to immorality has been taken. I especially warn you against the evils of pornography. Again and again we hear from those caught in deep sin that often the first step on their road to transgression began with pornographic materials. The Savior taught that even when a man looks upon a woman to lust after her, or in other words, when he lets his thoughts begin to get out of control, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart (see Matt. 5:28; D&C 63:16).
I agree, sexual sin starts in the thought process. Pornography is also a scourge. So please don’t think “going all the way” is the only way to be sexually immoral. Even lusting in one’s heart is sin.
Those who think clean thoughts do not do dirty deeds. 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. The old adage is still true that you sow thoughts and you reap acts, you sow acts and you reap habits, you sow habits and you reap a character, and your character determines your eternal destiny. “As a man thinketh, so is he.” (See Prov. 23:7.)
To say “your character determines your eternal destiny”…well, then everyone is in trouble because we all struggle with sin. The propensity we have is to go down the pathway of sin rather than do right. Paul also struggled. Nobody put it better than Paul in Romans 7:
7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead.9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.
13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Consider carefully the words of the prophet Alma to his errant son, Corianton, “Forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes.” (Alma 39:9.)
“The lusts of your eyes.” In our day, what does that expression mean?
Movies, television programs, and video recordings that are both suggestive and lewd.
Magazines and books that are obscene and pornographic.
We counsel you … not to pollute your minds with such degrading matter, for the mind through which this filth passes is never the same afterwards.
Be clean. Be virtuous in your thoughts and actions. Read good books. Never let your minds be subjected to pornography. … In the words of the Lord, “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion.” (D&C 121:45–46.)
While I obviously disagree with Benson’s conclusion that sexual sin can be the cause of a person losing his or her salvation, I concur that what we put into our minds has a powerful effect on who we are as people. With popular culture beckoning, we must understand that the old computer adage of GIGO (“Garbage In, Garbage Out”) still rings true today.
Through proper repentance, those who are entangled in sexual sin can become clean again.
There may be some for whom the counsel to prepare and prevent is too late. You may already be deeply entangled in serious sin. If this is the case, there is no choice now but to repair your lives and repent of your sins. To you I would suggest five important things you can do to come back to a state of moral purity. Flee immediately from any situation you are in that is either causing you to sin or that may cause you to sin. Plead with the Lord for the power to overcome. Let your priesthood leaders help you resolve the transgression and come back into full fellowship with the Lord. Drink from the divine fountain and fill your lives with positive sources of power. Remember that through proper repentance, you can become clean again.
For those who pay the price required by true repentance, the promise is sure. You can be clean again. The despair can be lifted. The sweet peace of forgiveness will flow into your lives. In this dispensation the Lord spoke with clarity when he said, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42).
Notice that Benson quotes D&C 58:42. I’m not sure why he didn’t add verse 43, which says, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” According to the Doctrine and Covenants, true repentance is forsaking sin. But what if that sin is lust? Then forsaking this sin is necessary as well. The problem with a works-righteousness religious system like Mormonism is that nobody is capable of attaining perfection. If you revert to the sins of old, your repentance of your former sins apparently didn’t stick and you must start all over again. Spencer Kimball likened this to sliding down a ladder and starting all over again. He wrote,
The transgressor must have reached a “point of no return,” to sin wherein there is not merely a renunciation but also a deep abhorrence of the sin–where the sin becomes most distasteful to him and where the desire or urge to sin is cleared out of his life (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pg. 355).
Who is able to do this?
There is no lasting happiness in immorality. There is no joy to be found in breaking the law of chastity. Just the opposite is true. There may be momentary pleasure. For a time it may seem like everything is wonderful. But quickly the relationship will sour. Guilt and shame set in. We become fearful that our sins will be discovered. We must sneak and hide, lie and cheat. Love begins to die. Bitterness, jealousy, anger, and even hate begin to grow. All of these are the natural results of sin and transgression.
On the other hand, when we obey the law of chastity and keep ourselves morally clean, we will experience the blessings of increased love and peace, greater trust and respect for our marital partners, deeper commitment to each other, and therefore a deep and significant sense of joy and happiness.
Sin certainly has a way to turn momentary pleasure into great despair. While I can agree with the standard of chastity before marriage and fidelity after, I think it was important for me in this chapter to explain how our salvation is not dependent on conquering sin once and for all. While Christians are called to a sanctified life, we must understand that life is a struggle and perfection will not be attained—no matter how hard we try—until eternity. We can only rely on the forgiveness that God has made available to those who truly believe and can claim the promise in 1 John 5:13: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
I know I have eternal life based not on my personal righteousness or keeping all the commandments, but solely on my position in Christ based on faith. As Romans 5:8 puts it, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Without this, I can have no hope.