Why being a “Guardian of Virtue” is a terrible metaphor

I know it has been a couple of weeks, but I only just now read the talk given by President Elaine Dalton of the General Young Women’s Presidency in their annual meeting. The talk boils down to an admonition to be chaste and virtuous, both of which are good things. So, I am not here today to tell you the message of the talk is bad; I am here today to tell you that the way in which that message is conveyed is bad, distorting the message itself.

It is because she uses the term “Guardian” and the verb guard throughout the talk to describe what young women (and, I assume, young men (and, I assume, older folk)) should do with their virtue. To guard is to prevent theft or escape. That’s pretty much it. So, our young folk are being told, via this metaphor, that they have a finite amount of virtue and that they can only lose it. That doesn’t strike me as helpful.

If we really mean something aside from sexual virginity by “virtue,” as has been asserted on occasion (see the comments here, for instance), then it should be a positive virtue. It should be something that we can accumulate over the course of our life. Over time, we become kind, selfless, humble, faithful, etc. President Dalton refers to the two white dresses worn by a young woman, one in her infancy, the other on her wedding day. This makes it appear that you are given all the virtue you get when you are born; the remainder of your life is a war of attrition that results in either the loss of that God-given virtue or its maintenance (against all odds).

President Dalton argues, again and again, that Young Women must guard their virtue. She never argues that they must increase in virtue. Guardianship is, essentially, static. Consider the guardians of the youth who planned the ill-fated trek up from Draper to Salt Lake, mentioned in the talk. While they mapped out the route and provided water, they also refrained from intervening in the lives of their girls. Therefore, some of the girls appear to have been unprepared. As they developed blisters bad enough to prevent walking, these guardians seem (in the story) to have stood by and watched. I doubt that is what happened exactly (I’m sure President Dalton altered the story slightly to make her point). But it does demonstrate how the stories and words President Dalton uses prevent her essential message from coming through.

I think that it is good to be chaste and to be virtuous. I think it provides confidence, clarity, and peace. President Dalton refers to these effects elsewhere in her talk. But rather than giving young women something to do (aside from hikes), she instead gives them one thing to not do. It just doesn’t seem very productive.

Comments

  1. ECS wrote about a slightly different aspect of this talk here. I didn’t read all the comments there, so it is possible that someone said what I said already. If so, I’m sorry. If nothing else, ECS takes the talk as saying young women are active and young men are passive, which is, at least, a new take.

  2. I definitely agree with the idea that we should be encouraging our young women to accumulate virtue. After all, we are encouraged to seek after virtuous things. Does that not imply that our virtue would increase? Virtue is not virginity. You don’t just get one shot at it, or even necessarily have to “lose” it at all.

    When they added virtue to the YW values, they insisted that it involves so much more than chastity. Show us (not just YW, but all of us) how we can attain and develop the other types of virtue. We already know the basics of how to guard a certain virtue which can be lost. Which leads me to another point: Once a young woman has “lost” (given away, rather) her virginity, can she not regain her chastity through repentance and righteous living?

  3. huh. when I heard the talk live I came out with the impression that virtue the concept and ideal was being attacked and that YW have an obligation to gaurd that. To show that virtue is not weakness or immaturity or living in a cave…to show that virtue is strength and power and righteousness. I liked the idea of gaurdian because protector is normally a boy thing.

    I didn’t sense it as virtue=chastity. maybe I should reread the talk and see if this is still how I get it.

  4. I’m just wondering why this wasn’t used as a visual.

    http://www.guildportal.com/Guild.aspx?GuildID=232724&TabID=1959714

  5. Chasity is a subset of virtue you can add to both but you cannot add to innocence.

  6. I disliked the talks on virtue when I was in YW, mostly because I was taught that also to be a guardian of virtue, but specifically that I was the guardian of the virtue of the YM. And I felt emphatically that I was not. That I was responsible for my own choices and they theirs.

    But on the subject, the other thing I disliked about virtue talks as a YW were the visuals (chewed up gum, cockroaches in ice cream, etc.) that emphasized that if you messed up and made out with a boy (to say nothing of sleeping with one!), you were done. Finished. No good. Ruined forever.

    Apart from seeming laughably Victorian, such teaching methods completely negated the Atonement and its power to help one repent, turn again to God from whatever mistakes you make, great or small, and that after true repentance, God remembers your sin no more.

    Virtue should be taught (as foo4luv said) as something that increases when diligently sought, and that virtue is not a one-strike-and-you’re-out concept.

  7. I also got that virtue as an ideal was under attack and young women need to protect the ideal by being examples of it (similar to what britt k said in #3), but I have to say I’m not convinced that sexual purity isn’t the primary focus. (Note: by “sexual purity” I don’t mean virginity or simple abstention from sexual intercourse.) Sexual purity is awesome and all, but I wish they would come out and say that, if that is what they mean, instead of dancing around it and giving the impression that sexual purity is synonymous with goodness. Sexual purity increases your goodness and your moral strength. Really, it’s impossible to criticize the message of the talk because a) no doubt the intended message is good, but b) the language is vague enough that you can interpret it whatever way you are inclined to. Actually, he vagueness of the language is what leads me to believe they’re talking primarily about sexual purity and not goodness in general because no one in the church feels the need to be vague when talking about honesty or kindness or testimony.

  8. “I am not here today to tell you the message of the talk is bad; I am here today to tell you that the way in which that message is conveyed is bad…”

    I agree and I agree with C. Chastity, modesty and pornography messages by the church often function in a way similar to cognitive behavioral therapy and they are repeatedly layered into the psyche for years and further reinforced by church culture. They are very effective often producing desirable results but they can also subconsciously produce undesirable results such as creating inhibitions and attenuating female sexuality an issue that can play out for years after marriage and by creating unnecessary guilt and shame. The key to avoiding this is to simply present the case for or against nonjudgmentally explaining the consequences without misstating or exaggerating the penalties in other words follow Joseph’s example; teach them correct principles and they govern themselves. This avoids abridgement of agency by subconscious programming. While chastity requirements appear to conform well to scripture modesty requirements seem to equal not triggering lust in males. While we are prohibited from lusting we are not prohibited from intense sexual desire this should be encouraged not attenuated.

    Elaine Dalton’s talk contained misstatement of facts “Being a guardian of virtue means you will never text words or images to young men that may cause them to lose the Spirit, lose their priesthood power, or lose their virtue.” she shouldn’t have sent it but how can a text cause these results and why should the young woman be responsible for them? Or consider Boyd K. Packer’s talk “In our day the dreadful influence of pornography is like unto a plague sweeping across the world, infecting one here and one there, relentlessly trying to invade every home, most frequently through the husband and father. The effect of this plague can be, unfortunately often is, spiritually fatal.” Often is spiritually fatal? What is he talking about? Is anything actually spiritually fatal? Is the case for or against so weak that we must resort to these misstatement of facts and exaggerations?

  9. Nice analysis, John! So given her use of this metaphor, it seems clear that in President Dalton’s mind, “virtue” equals virginity and nothing more. Well maybe chastity more generally, but certainly not anything outside a sexual realm.

  10. Watch for the new LDS-inspirational album, “Guardians of Virtue.”

    It will be recorded by Afterglow.

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    When I hear that expression I think of Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.

  12. [If we really mean something aside from sexual virginity by “virtue,” as has been asserted on occasion (see the comments here, for instance), then it should be a positive virtue. ]

    Sister Dalton made very clear that “Virtue is a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards. It INCLUDES chastity and [moral] purity.” (Emphasis added). In other words, it also includes other aspects.

    I think your criticism is misplaced. Sister Dalton never says that virtue cannot be increased. Of course, with sexual purity, once one is pure, one cannot “increase” in sexual purity. But, as Sister Dalton noted, sexual purity is only one aspect of virtue, and I think that was the aspect she was focusing on. However, Sister Dalton was not saying that there aren’t other aspects of “virtue” which can be increased.

  13. #12 – Sam, fwiw, I think there is widespread misunderstanding of “sexual purity” in the Church – and in the world, at large. I agree with the comments that mention the need to stop using the classic “used goods / “stolen virtue” analogies, since I think we never will be able to address this topic properly if we continue to hold onto them.

    If we are going to use the term “guardian of virtue” I think it is absolutel imperative that we don’t talk directly about chastity alone. If chastity is the main focus, the former images will be the default in the vast majority of those who hear the talk, no matter the subtle disclaimers.

    I agree that Sister Dalton mentioned chastity and purity as only part of virtue, but until a leader talks explicitly in General Conference about the other aspects of virtue and makes it clear that they are every bit as central and important to virtue as chastity – until that time, the membership is going to equate virtue with chastity. It’s been the message too long to change with relatively subtle wording like “includes” – as accurate and important as that wording is.

  14. Respectfully, I disagree with your limited definition of “to guard,” John. Guarding isn’t necessarily against an all-or-nothingness; guarding protects against weakening or wearing away or gradual loss — incremental stages — of qualities that likewise can be strengthened and increased and multiplied.

    We guard against damage to crops by weeding and spraying, not because a finite crop is going to be gathered or lost but because the quality of the crop, as well as its extent, can be greatly affected by weeds and bugs and birds. Ditto for the quality of life when we guard against laziness, or sickness, or crumbling of social infrastructure. There isn’t a finite amount of prosperity or health or wholesomeness in life — it all can be increased or decreased, seemingly infinitely, according to how well we guard against conditions that would weaken it and encourage conditions that would strengthen it.

    I can see your point, but only when I unnaturally limit my view to the magical, medieval image of a dragon guarding a treasure in a zero-sum game of dice and cards. When I use my natural view to see mothers and doctors as guardians of health, and policemen and firemen as guardians of public safety, and teachers and astronauts as guardians of the future — which is, frankly, my natural view, the way I tend to see life — then “guardians of virtue” is a normal, natural, positive metaphor, an image of protective caution and watchfulness over a valuable, integrated part of life.

  15. and what Ardis said.

    I don’t have a problem with the phrase “guardians of virtue” in and of itself. I just want it applied expansively, rather than narrowly, if we use it.

  16. I agree that the definition of guard in the originial post is too limited.

    A definition of “guard” is “the act or duty of protecting or defending.” That definition does not preclude getting more of something while also being on guard. I can guard my money even while I accumulate more of it. A themepark can guard its borders even while allowing more people in. And a person can guard their virtue even even while they are actively gaining more.

  17. Thomas Parkin says:

    How, I wonder, does one expand one’s chastity? If we could get a good answer to this, we would move closer, methinks, to an understanding of what chastity actually is; and, understanding, have a deeper personal affinity for it. I’m not going to satisfy myself with my own throw-away answers.

  18. Thomas Parkin says:

    “That definition does not preclude getting more of something while also being on guard.”

    I agree that it does not. But, this metaphor pretty much defines righteousness for many Mormons. Being righteous means not doing, and by not doing, not besmirching. The infinitely applicable metaphor is the man with one talent, who does a great job guarding his talent.

  19. How, I wonder, does one expand one’s chastity?

    How does one expand one’s faith, or health, or peace, or priesthood, or benevolence? Those qualities aren’t a measurable substance that you can get more of. You can, however, learn to appreciate them, recognize their power, draw more of their power into your life, develop your understanding of them, cherish them more. I agree with all those who say that virtue is more than chastity, an appreciation for chastity, a realization of how and why it is valued by God, and a strengthening of your moral confidence because you know you are chaste, is an expansion of the principle.

    … for many Mormons. Being righteous means not doing …

    Does fasting mean not eating? Does keeping the Word of Wisdom mean not smoking? Does keeping the Sabbath Day holy mean not mowing your lawn? Well, yeah, maybe, but if that’s all it means, it doesn’t mean diddly squat.

  20. I think a friendly reading, a productive reading, comes out like Ardis Parshall’s reading.

  21. Trying to decide whether virtue=chastity or whether one can or cannot add to this virtue does make my head hurt. I keep thinking back to my early morning seminary teacher using the “mashed up cake” object lesson to teach us about viritue, which was basically defined as chastity. It gave me the creeps back then, although I admit we had a good laugh about it on numerous occasions later on (try mashing up a piece of cake and handing it to someone–they’ll either think you are a psychopath or else will laugh out loud). Sister Dalton has definitely made promotion of virtue the keystone of her ministry. That’s a good thing. But I would like to see an expanded notion of virtue emphasized. My general impression of all the YW presidency’s talks on virtue since the new presidency was installed is that virtue mostly is equated to sexual purity and chastity, yet I see virtue as a very expansive concept.

  22. Thomas Parkin says:

    “How does one expand one’s faith, or health, or peace, or priesthood, or benevolence? Those qualities aren’t a measurable substance that you can get more of.”

    I’m not sure I agree, Ardis. It is easy to imagine being more faithful, having more health or more peace. I do not think it is easy to imagine having more chastity, because it is defined – and it is defined, I can quote it – by a restriction. To answer “are you chaste?”, yes, or no. But, I’m not sure it means diddly squat. :)

  23. “How, I wonder, does one expand one’s chastity?”
    A prostitute joins the church.

  24. Latter-day Guy says:

    Re: 21, You’ve gotta love the “damaged goods” model of human sexuality. I will always remember the horror I felt when my grandmother said, “Well, nobody wants a piece of bread that’s had all the butter licked off.” God love her, but that’s a nauseating metaphor.

  25. You know, back in the day the man who had his way with the maiden was considered the worst of libertines. Surely the woman was shamed–but the man was held in the utmost contempt. Nowadays one would think that our free thinking feminists would not be opposed to women sharing — or at least being complicit — in the transgression. But no, all we hear is a lot of shouting about not being responsible for other people’s actions.

    And then, of course, there’s the whole christian notion of being thy brother’s keeper. But that’s a different argument, I suppose…

  26. Latter-day Guy says:

    Back in what day, Jack? Care to support your argument with something other than bald assertion?

  27. #5 Howard,

    When live acting was d’rigur in the temples, I always loved having 80 year olds play the part of Adam and Eve. These people had lived their lives through the thick and thin and had become as innocent as Adam and Eve were in the Garden.

    Compared to the saucy individuals pictured in the film, innocence must come though the trials of life and the full confrontation of struggle and temptation. Which is how we return to our Heavenly Father: innocent, not ignorant.

  28. “How, I wonder, does one expand one’s chastity?”

    It can’t be done, if chastity is equated with virginity. It only can be done, imo, if we expand the definition of the word itself to include all the actual definitions that are standard.

    “Chaste” is defined in all of the following ways:

    1. refraining from sexual intercourse that is regarded as contrary to morality or religion; virtuous.
    2. virginal.
    3. not engaging in sexual relations; celibate.
    4. free from obscenity; decent: chaste conversation.
    5. undefiled or stainless: chaste, white snow.
    6. pure in style; not excessively ornamented; simple.

    I have no problem teaching chastity in the Church, but I think we almost never do that. We tend to teach only the first three defintions, which all say the same thing.

    If we only talk in depth about virtue in the same way, we really aren’t talking about being perfectly (wholely, fully, completely) virtuous.

  29. #25, Jack: What have you been smokin?

  30. Miss Otis Regrets says:

    “Defender if Italian Virginity” = Heath Ledger (as Thatcher) in the movie A Knight’s Tale (2001). Virginity yes, but chastity – NO.

    Go go go Chaucer!

  31. So, can you have a vital romp in the hay with your beloved spouse and still be “chaste”, still virtuous?

    What is with the equation of sex and dirt and degradation? This is what I like about the Church, even God does it. Can this act be bad, somehow a loss of some idea of purity? Why is the worst swear word the word for the sex act? What is with us anyway? Why is self-pleasure turned into self-abuse? Why do we fear women who can sexually destroy a man’s soul? (Der Blaue Engel, zum Beispiel)

    There seems to be an unconscious desire to keep sex special. All the above are manifestations of that desire seem to be aimed at not loosing ourselves in an ocean of sexuality. Even the F-word can be viewed as a reaction formation to make sex filthy so that we can be repelled.

    If you come to terms with the above, then the delicious romp with a loving partner will be chaste and virtuous.

  32. Melyngoch says:

    “Nowadays one would think that our free thinking feminists would not be opposed to women sharing — or at least being complicit — in the transgression. But no, all we hear is a lot of shouting about not being responsible for other people’s actions.”

    Jack, you seem to be conflating rape consensual sex. I know no feminists who feel that they are not complicit in a consensual sexual act. And while there are a number of cultures, both historical and current, that tend to hold women responsible for being raped, most of them don’t “hold the man in contempt.”

    But back to the OP, part of the problem this illuminates for me is the difficulty of working with ill-defined terms. On the one hand, using “guardian” loosely doesn’t bother me, since it’s being used metaphorically anyhow, so a certain free play of signifiers is part of the point. But the trouble with the word “virtue” is that really, it means so much that it ends up meaning practically nothing at all, but we go on using it as if it refers to something fairly specific and concrete — the coveted object at the center of our (well, YW’s) guarding duties. Am I guarding my virginity, my chastity, my manly strength (etymologically, ‘virtue’ comes from the Latin word for ‘man’) or my general state of having moral qualities?

  33. Concerned at the possibility that I am misreading President Dalton, I have gone back through her talk. Here are some observations and relevant pull-quotes:

    “I pray that the Spirit will witness to your hearts your divine identity and your eternal responsibility. You are the hope of Israel. You are elect and royal daughters of our loving Heavenly Father.”

    Here she begins by referring to one’s initial status as a daughter of God and one’s responsibility (no statement of what that responsibility is exactly). Women’s status is tied to pre-mortal events.

    ” As she entered the room, I wished with all my heart that every young woman could envision that moment and strive to always be worthy to make and keep sacred covenants and receive the ordinances of the temple in preparation to enjoy the blessings of exaltation.”

    Hopes that young women will keep themselves worthy to make and keep covenant and receive temple ordinances (especially marriage/sealing). This could or could not be a reference to sexual purity; it’s ambiguous.

    “the bride said with tears in her eyes, “I see all those who will follow after us.” She saw her future family—her posterity. I know that she understood again in that moment how important it is to believe in being chaste and virtuous.”

    An emphasis on being chaste and virtuous. Possibly a reference to having children born in the covenant? So possibly a reference to the woman’s sexual purity as the definition of virtue. However, it could also be a reference to teaching future generations virtue (whatever that is).

    “Your Heavenly Father loves you and wants you to be happy. The way to do this is to “walk in the paths of virtue” and “cleave unto [your] covenants.” ”

    This is an admonition, but it isn’t specific. It could refer to anything virtuous. Perhaps the meaning of virtue is to make and keep covenants?

    “Young women, in a world ever growing in moral pollution, tolerance of evil, exploitation of women, and distortion of roles, you must stand guard of yourself, your family, and all those with whom you associate. You must be guardians of virtue.”

    Okay, this makes it seem like she is talking about young women against the world. Whatever virtue is, you can maintain it in others and yourself through your actions. It still seems to me like it is something that can only be lost or maintained. There is no talk of it being increased or revived here.

    “What is virtue and what is a guardian? “Virtue is a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards. It includes chastity and [moral] purity.””

    It’s well and good to say that by virtue you mean something other than just chastity and moral/sexual purity. Would you mind elaborating on what else that might be?

    “And what is a guardian? A guardian is someone who protects, shields, and defends.”

    This again seems like I read it right in the OP. She is defining guardian primarily as a guard (more bodyguard than prison guard, but still…). So, whatever virtue is, it must be defended, protected, shielded. It is under attack and can be lost/stolen.

    “Thus, as a guardian of virtue, you will protect, shield, and defend moral purity because the power to create mortal life is a sacred and exalted power and must be safeguarded until you are married.”

    So, she’s talking about sex here. I am assuming that we should be virtuous, chaste, and morally pure even after marriage, so by couching it in these terms, she is very directly tying virtue to maintaining pre-marital sexual virginity. This sacred power must be guarded (by the guardian) until marriage. After that, I guess the assault is over? Nah, it probably enters a new phase.

    “Virtue is a requirement to have the companionship and guidance of the Holy Ghost. You will need that guidance in order to successfully navigate the world in which you live.”

    True, but not a definition of what virtue is.

    “Being virtuous is a requirement to enter the temple. And it is a requirement to be worthy to stand in the Savior’s presence. You are preparing now for that time. Personal Progress and the standards found in For the Strength of Youth are important. Living the principles found in each booklet will strengthen and help you become “more fit for the kingdom.””

    Okay. Now we are getting somewhere. Virtue is doing whatever it says in the Personal Progress booklet and the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. If you want specifics, go there. Not terribly helpful, but that is probably as close to a definition as we’ll get. So let’s redefine virtue as “being obedient to prophetic counsel on moral and social issues (and not having sex until you are married in the temple).”

    “Your personal training has begun with your daily personal prayers, your daily reading of the Book of Mormon, and your working on Personal Progress.”

    Therefore, this isn’t actually training for virtue, it is being virtuous. Good for you blister-bound sisters of the Cedar Hills sixth ward!

    “Along this journey to the temple there were fathers, mothers, family members, and priesthood leaders acting as guardians. Their job was to ensure that everyone was safe and protected from danger. They made sure each young woman stayed well hydrated and had enough nourishment to maintain her stamina. There were aid stations provided by their priesthood leaders, with places to rest and to drink water. Young women, your fathers, your mothers, your bishops, and so many others will be your guardians as you walk your path to the temple. They will call out cautions and direct your course, and should you become injured or hurt or get off course, they will help you.”

    Other people can guard your virtue, presumably by making you aware of commandments that you ought to be obedient to and helping in the repentance process when you lose virtue. Again with only the losing…

    “The temple walk is a metaphor for your life. Parents and priesthood leaders stood guard along the route. They provided support and aid. Young women guarded and encouraged each other. Young men admired the strength, commitment, and stamina of the young women. Brothers carried sisters who had been injured. Families rejoiced with their daughters as they ended their walk at the temple and took them safely home”

    Honestly, I’m not sure what this passage says about virtue or guardianship. Everyone is guarding each other, except the young men who are standing by admiring the young women. Something in that seems not right, but I can’t put my finger on it right now. I guess young men don’t guard virtue until marriage.

    “In order to stay on the path to the temple, you must guard your personal virtue and the virtue of others with whom you associate. Why? Mormon taught in the Book of Mormon that virtue and chastity are “most dear and precious above all things.””

    And we’re back to this creepy vibe. Guarding your personal virtue? Especially in the pseudo-Victorian euphemisms of modern Church discourse, this is creepy. And Mormon is talking about women getting raped. Certainly, we all should do what we can to prevent rape. I don’t know that it is, or should be, the special domain of women, but whatever. We’ve really just come back to virtue being sexual virginity here (especially because we don’t believe someone loses their sexual purity in rape).

    “What can each of you do to be a guardian of virtue? It starts with believing you can make a difference. It starts with making a commitment”

    Okay, virtue is bigger than your decisions about sex because it involves making a difference in the wider world. Let’s commit to that.

    ” When I was a young woman, I learned that some decisions need to be made only once. I wrote my list of things I would always do and things I would never do in a small tablet. It included things like obeying the Word of Wisdom, praying daily, paying my tithing, and committing to never miss church.”

    Actually, no. You are not being encouraged to defend or guard virtue in a wider sense. You are being encouraged to keep the basic personal commandments that everyone is encouraged to do. Guarding virtue is about guarding your virtue, not virtue generally.

    “Being a guardian of virtue means you will always be modest not only in your dress but also in your speech, your actions, and your use of social media. Being a guardian of virtue means you will never text words or images to young men that may cause them to lose the Spirit, lose their priesthood power, or lose their virtue. It means that you understand the importance of chastity because you also understand that your body is a temple and that the sacred powers of procreation are not to be tampered with before marriage. You understand that you possess a sacred power that involves the holy responsibility of bringing other spirits to earth to receive a body in which to house their eternal spirit. This power involves another sacred soul. You are a guardian of something “more precious than rubies.” 8 Be faithful. Be obedient. Prepare now so that you may qualify to receive all the blessings that await you in the Lord’s holy temples.”

    Very specifically, being virtuous means maintaining sexual purity.

    “Never hesitate to teach them that they are royal daughters of God and that their value is not based on their sensual appeal. And let them see your belief modeled correctly and consistently in your own personal attitude and appearance.”

    Mothers, remember that your daughters’ value comes from their pre-mortal associations. So do yours.

    ” As you guard your virtue and purity, you will be given strength.”

    Gah!

    “As you keep the covenants you have made, the Holy Ghost will guide and guard you. You will be surrounded by heavenly hosts of angels.”

    The Holy Ghost and angels will guard you (and, I guess, your virtue).

    “As guardians of virtue, you will want to seek the Savior in His holy house.”

    This seems like a side-effect, not a definition.

    “I testify that God lives and that His Beloved Son, our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, lives and because of the redeeming and enabling power of His infinite Atonement, each of you will be guided and guarded on your path to the temple and back into Their presence.”

    Here is guarding again. I really don’t know what it is referring to here, because we’ll all get trials. Maybe she is referring to the promise that we won’t be tempted more than we are able to bear.

    So, having read through it again, I feel like virtue is best defined as “sexual purity (especially virginity before marriage) and keeping all the other commandments, whatever they may be.” And I still feel like the guard metaphor sets it up as something to be lost if not adequately protected (by yourself or by those around you). She really doesn’t seem to be issuing a call to do anything new or more (like setting up anti-cussing clubs or some such). So, I think the opening post stands. You are, of course, free to disagree.

    I’ll respond to individual comments where necessary in the next comment.

  34. Howard,
    “Chasity is a subset of virtue you can add to both but you cannot add to innocence.”

    I don’t understand what you mean at all.

    madhousewive,
    I agree with your reading, but I think President Dalton is quite specific about sexual purity (and virginity) in places.

    Ardis,
    I would be more inclined to agree with your definition of “guardians of virtue” if President Dalton ever mentioned something specific to do in the wider world and if she ever mentioned threats to virtue that weren’t sexual in nature. The police and doctors guard justice and health by doing things (arresting criminals and vaccinating children). Young women are encouraged to guard virtue in this talk by keeping on keeping on (and, specifically, maintaining personal sexual purity). While I agree that the metaphor could (and should) be used in your wider sense, I get very little sense of it being used that way in this case.

    I will say that, in response to your criticism and the subsequent re-read, I will no longer argue that she is saying “Imprison your virtue!” in spite of the fact that I was unduly proud of that formulation.

    Mike RM,
    I would love for President Dalton to talk about how to increase in virtue. Could you point out where she does?

    Ardis (again),
    “How does one expand one’s faith, or health, or peace, or priesthood, or benevolence?”

    Prayer and struggle is my guess. I don’t disagree with your larger point. I just wish we engaged in more prayer and struggle.

    Mr. Greenwood,
    As ever, I am glad to receive your advice regarding what would constitute a more productive discussion.

    Jack,
    If you are looking for validation for ogling or some such, you’ve come to the wrong place. Sorry.

    Thanks everybody for your comments.

  35. #34 John C.
    Virtue includes chastity but it’s broader you can lose or gain both but you can only lose innocence.

  36. how are you defining innocence?

  37. #36 naive

  38. Why is that desirable?

  39. StillConfused says:

    I wish that the church could come up with a healthier way of encouraging abstinence without resorting to so many of these charged terms. I see so many women who marry and have issues because the “badness” has been so ingrained in their minds.

  40. Innocence (naive) includes virginity it is where we begin and it is something we love about children.

  41. 40 Sweet Lord. Edit or delete that.

  42. Howard,
    If you are talking about Garden of Eden type innocence, that ends at age 8. Considering the relatively late age at which we hope and expect our young women to lose their virginity (in comparison to surrounding teenagerhood), I certainly hope they wouldn’t be naive at the time they are married.

    Of course, I don’t consider sex any married sort a fall from grace, so I may not really have the sense of what you really mean.

  43. Huh? I’m not talking about sin or being innocent before the law I’m talking about gaining experience which is done over time.

  44. If Virginity is so vital__why is it not a commandment? “Thou Shall Be A Virgin At Marrage”? I am not condoning sex before marriage, but it seems to be rated very high as a sin, and__to some__ an unforgivable one.
    I am also uncomfortable with Sister Dalton’s overuse, (IMO), of a view of God needing ‘Temple Virgins’.

  45. Views on sexual purity, chastity, virtue, etc. within church culture and doctrine are complex and sometimes hard to bear. President Packer’s talk in the Saturday afternoon session of conference a few days ago once again referenced sex outside of heterosexual marriage as a sin exceeded in seriousness only by the shedding of innocent blood and denying the Holy Ghost. This notion–call it a doctrine because it’s in the scriptures–obviously colors our views. I get it, but I also find it a confusing and very hard doctrine. The vast majority of humans are very powerfully wired to want sex once they hit adolescence and beyond. But in comparison, sins such as (a) violently beating someone for the sake of revenge or intimidation, (b) robbing a widow of her life savings, or (c) permanently injuring someone’s reputation, may rank lesser on the doctrinal scale of serious, but it seems to me very few humans are wired to inherently want to do these things. We are given a very powerful natural desire as part of our physical existence, yet taught that exercising it under any circumstance except one particular one–which may be out of reach of many people–is just a notch below the unpardonable and nearly unpardonable sins.

  46. Being confident about being chaste and virtuous in every aspect of your life allows others, gives permission to others, to do the same.

    When you dress modestly despite the way others dress you are allowing your peers a choice they would not otherwise have. You are acting as a guardian of virtue. I thought Sis Dalton was referring to virtue as a principle.

    Given that being virtuous is under heavy attack from all angles I thought this a reasonably timely message. Remaining a virgin until you marry in the temple isn’t just about you. By doing it you show others that it works and that virtue brings satisfaction and comfort, you guard the virtue of others be extending to them the ability to choose.

    Without your example they would only have the worldly message that sex is to be had as soon and as often as possible, and with as many partners as possible.

    While growing up I had a virtuous friend. I didn’t want to marry this friend, but their example of virtue showed me that other people thought being virtuous mattered. It gave me strength to hold on when I felt troubled or weak, knowing that someone else was holding on for me.

    Looking back now that I am sealed I am nothing but grateful.

    So there you go, I think she was talking about virtue the principle, as well as personally and that’s why what we should be guarding. Virtue, as in virtue generally. How do we do that? By remaining chaste and being virtuous.

  47. Gareth,
    That is great. However, you are reinforcing that virtue = sexual purity. Which really isn’t problematic, unless one insists that virtue is something else (or something more).

  48. ‘I agree that Sister Dalton mentioned chastity and purity as only part of virtue, but until a leader talks explicitly in General Conference about the other aspects of virtue and makes it clear that they are every bit as central and important to virtue as chastity – until that time, the membership is going to equate virtue with chastity. It’s been the message too long to change with relatively subtle wording like “includes” – as accurate and important as that wording is.’

    Ray #13, FTW.

  49. What I find amusing is how over-the-wall serious people take these conference talks. Cut Sister Dalton some slack. This is not the voice of God uttering perfect timeless truths down from Mt Sinai. The speakers at conference are much like my kind, wise, concerned grandparents who generally gave more or less useful advice.

    For comparison, one of my grandparents told me when I left on my mission that “we don’t need any more Japs in this family.” This was in reference to a cousin who served a mission in Hong Kong and had recently married a woman of Chinese descent. This grandparent had 3 sons and 3 son-in-laws who served in WWII and one was terribly afflicted with PTSD in consequence of participating heroically in the invasion of Guadacanal. This grandparent was past 70 years old when interracial marriage finally became legal in Utah. So I interpreted the advice to mean that I should think hard before marriage to someone with a drastically different background and culture. No arguments about Japanese versus Chinese, or cultural changes, or being in love.

    Another example was when a grandparent told me to “alway keep a nickel between your knees when you are with a girl.” I confess that I never kept an actual nickel between any lower extremities. But I found the echo of that statement to be useful and memorable when I found (or rather put) myself in situations where the temptation was strong to defile a woman. I did not wonder why a penny or a dime might be better and a quarter worse. Or which side (or edge) to keep against which knee. Or whether foreign coins would work.

    I remember Bruce R. McKonkie at the height of his influence in the church thundering down from the pulpit in one of those old tabernacles. He shouted that the Black man would never ever have the Priesthood. He shook his finger and stated that if we ever saw a Black man at the sacrament table he gave it as a sign to us that we would knoooow the church was in deeeep apostasy! The youth of ages 16-19 in my ward now include 3 White guys and 2 Black guys. You do the math on how often we see the sign in my ward given by Elder McKonkie.

    The sad thing is that every time it happens I remember the thunder in the tabernacle and have to remind myself that he was wrong and even admitted it later. (Or perhaps the ward is way out of order, but for reasons that have nothing to do with Priesthood qualifications). Part of life is that about half of what we are told as youth proves to be useless later on and there is nothing we can do about it except learn how to think and change. Do Elder McKonkie’s numerous mistakes invalidate everything else he said that was correct and uplifting? I hope not or we are all doomed. Because he did more good and was a far better man than I am.

  50. Ken:

    You know there might be a bit of a difference between the seriousness of a couple of 20 something year olds jumping each other in the back seat of their Pontiac a few days before their marriage and this guy in the papers recently convicted of raping 9 little girls, suspected of many more.

    What about shedding guilty blood? Which is worse, paying the prostitute for sex or killing her later for giving you HIV?

  51. C. (#6) and Latter-day Guy (#24): I agree with you both about the horrible chastity metaphors, but for me, one interesting experience sticks out. It was a larger group meeting, and the speaker not only made the chewing gum comparison but provided a visual display of the slobbery object of the lesson.

    As the talk concluded, the bishop could not jump out of his seat fast enough to dismissively thank the speaker for the thoughtful words, then immediately spend the next 10 minutes explaining why it was a horrible—or at best incomplete—analogy; unlike a used and undesirable piece of chewed gum, he said, repentance makes it possible for every one of us to be like new: the gum in a slightly better analogy wouldn’t just be smashed back into a stick-like shape, but would become as if it had never been chewed.

    Even at the time I thought, “Good for him,” for not presenting the same black-and-white, one-kiss-and-you’re-done view of sexual cleanliness so many other leaders had given, but instead emphasizing the role of repentance in our ongoing goal of being “virtuous.”

  52. I endured Stake Conference, difficult for someone who has no interest in the theology of the Church & always found that meeting particularly boring. But I decided to not be a dick and go since all my inlaws seemed like they would appreciate it. (Sacrifice! Pioneers catching cholera! Trial by fire!)

    The awesome-sucky part was a specific prediction of the Second Coming (possible for us, likely for our children, and definitely for our grandchildren, which I guess puts it at 2045 or so :) ). The sucky-sucky part was this hammering of YW and virtue and modesty blah blah.

    Look, I’m sure every parent fears some teenage schmo taking advantage of his/her daughter. It’s good and healthy to have some voices telling girls they don’t have to put out. But the same tired yarns? “Modest prom dresses are hard to find, so sew some hideous sleeves on instead of wearing something more mature.” “Don’t date before 16… because we said so!!” “At 18 be ready to be a wife and mother.” “Embrace your ‘freak’ status.”

    It was patronizing, boring, and made me want to go have sex just to rebel, and I’m not even a teen girl. This s*** is way worse than a decade ago.. I swear it used to be known that teenagers have other interests besides sex: leadership, forgiveness, gaining knowledge, how to prepare for college, interesting films, spiritual peace, hell, PALM SUNDAY, but no, they get something out of a Victorian temperance pamphlet.

    Bring on the rambling, doctrinally inaccurate prophecies. At least that will make the non-Mormon visitors pay attention! :)

    Also, please rehearse your choirs. No a cappella for you.

  53. I wish the LDS higher-ups would freak out over sexting not because their son might see some T&A but because both son and neighbor’s daughter COULD WIND UP IN JAIL ON CHILD PORN CHARGES. Good article on that in NY Times recently (incident was in Lacey, WA). Priorities, peeps!

  54. porter Rockwell says:

    Dalton makes sense– I am a journalist– a prevailing principle that our lawyer taught me when we were talking about libel- basically this:
    You are not really responsible for the words you write (say) you are responsible for the message you send.

    So bottom line.. in fact the boys are fully responsible for their little dirty thoughts.. but the girls are also responsible for the messages they choose to send. In the end the only one making legitimate judgment is Christ– good luck justifying the spandex to the big boss.

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