Elder Bednar’s Saturday morning talk was about chastity. Let me start by saying I’m a believer in chastity. I believe that premarital sex creates a lot of hassle, at minimum, and generally speaking I’m against hassle. It can result in much worse than hassle in its worst cases – eroded self esteem, teen pregnancy (that I oppose even in married form), STDs, and bad patterns for future relationships. I believe that extramarital sex (infidelity) destroys families, irreparably harms children, and is very human and very selfish.
E. Bednar’s talk centers on divine nature and destiny. He talks about the necessity of physical experience – not specifically mentioning sex as one of those experiences.
In the school of mortality, we experience tenderness, love, kindness, happiness, sorrow, disappointment, pain, and even the challenges of physical limitations in ways that prepare us for eternity.
He then goes on to talk about the complementary nature of men and women in this experience.
The man and the woman are intended to learn from, strengthen, bless, complete, and perfect each other.
I’m not a fan of the 1/2 + 1/2 = 1 argument of gender essentialism implied by the word “complete,” but I’m going to let it roll. I do agree that spouses perfect each other in providing external input on behavior and support for growth.
Next, E. Bednar talks about the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth (just returning from India it occurs to me some places are fairly “plenished” already, but the intermountain west still has a lot of open space to fill I guess). He speaks of the “authorized channel” (marital procreation) through which spirits enter mortality, and the need to protect this sacred channel. From this point forward, the talk refers to sex as the “power of procreation” and details proper uses for this and improper uses for this.
Since the church is not anti-birth control (I checked the CHI – we aren’t), and I’ll go out on a limb and say that most people committing adultery or having premarital sex aren’t trying to make a baby, this talk seems best understood if we assume that by “procreative power,” E. Bednar really means “having sex.” If he really means “procreative power” (sex that results in baby-making), then this talk implies that only sex to make babies is permitted, which makes me sad for any who believe that, but it is not the church’s position and is likely an imprecise word choice.
Up to this point, E. Bednar has talked about the complementary nature of men and women in creating life. His next point, though, refers only to males creating with no mention of females:
Our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son are creators and have entrusted each of us with a portion of their creative power.
I must admit I nearly did a spit take on that one as I fully expected him to refer to our Heavenly Parents as an example. After all, this talk is specifically talking about sexual creation. I’m kind of speechless about this remark, but again, I’ll assume it was just a missed opportunity to refer to Heavenly Parents.
Lest the “sex for procreation only” crowd think that E. Bednar is justifying such a joyless stance, this statement clarifies somewhat (emphasis mine):
Such relations are not merely a curiosity to be explored, an appetite to be satisfied, or a type of recreation or entertainment to be pursued selfishly. They are not a conquest to be achieved or simply an act to be performed. Rather, they are in mortality one of the ultimate expressions of our divine nature and potential and a way of strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife.
Although one could argue that sex within marriage should at times be recreational entertainment (cheaper than movie night, for example), or at times simply an act to be performed, the above statement does not support the idea that sex is only to be used for procreation which some have inferred from the talk (and indeed which could have been clearer).
Next, the talk veers into “natural man is an enemy to God” territory. E. Bednar admirably makes sure to address his remarks to both men and women in admonishing them to be men [and women] of Christ, “temperate and restrained” as well as “benevolent and selfless.” He frequently uses the term “bridling passions,” although he does not expound on the analogy. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, I had a lot of occasion to ride horses (and smell pig manure – lucky me!). Horses are powerful animals. They need regular exercise. Bridling a horse helps you guide its direction, but the horse is still an awesome force to be reckoned with. Bridling it doesn’t mean castrating it and forcing it to do pony rides in the hot sun until you eventually send it to the glue factory. You are taking that horse somewhere if it’s bridled; it can sit in the stall unbridled all the live long day. Bridling is for taking it out on gallops. King Benjamin’s speech against the natural man is tough to square with the idea of bridled passions as the emphasis seems on bridling with no acknowledgement of the passions themselves as having a worthwhile purpose. However, in this case, both analogies (natural man and bridled passions) are left without elaboration. They seem to be simply standard Mormon cliches associated with chastity. There is a reference to Satan’s ironically use of our physical bodies to tempt us to spoil what the body-less adversary covets.
The talk concludes by reminding us of the blessings that come from chaste behavior and a caution to repent if one has been unchaste. E. Bednar refers to the Savior as the Great Physician and bishops as a spiritual physician’s assistant authorized to help with healing and repentance. The analogy makes it clear that bishops are not the ones who forgive, only who help to diagnose and dole out medications. Of course, I’ve been to the doctor a few times, and physician’s assistants all have a variety of bedside manners. Some are great; some are terrible. It’s a crapshoot. That’s one reason so many people turn to WebMD nowadays.
E. Bednar concludes by cautioning us not to be taken in by fads, popularity or public opinion polls that trivialize procreative power.
As with all talks on chastity, I am left to wonder whether it’s possible to speak to such a broad audience without specifying life situations. Clearly, married people’s sexual behavior should bear little resemblance to that of singles or the divorced. Without that clarification or distinction, people can take a message that is worded broadly and assume it is more restrictive than it needs to be.
The talk is no Barry White album, nor does it intend to be; don’t expect any Mormon baby booms in nine months.