Your Friday Firestorm #29

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)



  1. Latter-day Saints are not alone in believing that God can define what sin is and proscribe that behavior. Nor are they alone in believing that He has declared that sexual sin is among the most grievous of sins. The idea also flows particularly well from LDS core beliefs about the actual importance of following God’s and Christ’s commandments, agency, and accountability.

    What we learn from the scriptures is that, for whatever reason, it is actually offensive to God to commit sexual sin. It is a difficlt doctrine for people to accept — the idea that we are responsible avoiding certain behaviors that God has given counsel on, which includes taming instinctive urges and desires and only using them within the bounds the Lord has set — but it is part of becoming beings who would be comfortable living in the presence of God.

  2. After studying the issue in relative depth, I’m still not at all sure what I’d have to do to deny the Holy Ghost. Surely it has to be more than sin while knowing the spirit is telling me to do otherwise. (And please don’t respond with an apochryphal story from Bruce R. McConkie about how he was told when made an apostle that he now had the ability to deny the Holy Ghost.)

    But more importantly, I think that Rick Astley actually would have had an okay career if he’d been making songs before the advent of video.

  3. Isn’t it possible to read some of the context into the statement? As in, it’s more greivous for a missionary representing the church to lead potential converts astray through by chasing after harlots than it would be for a couple of teenagers in the back seat of their car in some Zarahemlah parking lot to get a little carried away. Or am I being too lawyerly?

  4. I’ve had difficulty considering premarital or (not as much) extramarital sex as coming third to murder or denying the Holy Ghost on sin’s yardstick. For example, child molestation, torture, rape, long-term imprisonment of the innocent– these seem to me to be greater moral infractions and, again, it’s hard for me to reason that it’s just because I’m a temporal being I don’t see how it places so high. Maybe it’s because unsanctioned sex is so prevalent and I’ve had friends who’ve done it. Maybe it’s because I went to college in the 80’s so I’m jaded to those kinds of videos. Or maybe it’s just because I never dated Isabel.

  5. But David (#3),
    child molestation and rape are sexual sins. We recoil in horror at the idea of child abuse, that children can be starving, or tortured, or orphaned. We require licensing to fish, and yet, anyone can become a parent. At least marriage does. The drives are strong, people are human, suffering happens, the atonement is real, but it is very misguided to think that immorality is not at the root of much suffering in the world. It seems to me the consequence and the fact that we are playing with the very fountains of life that cause the seriousness.

    Of course, we have science that has severed the link between gratifying our drives, which can be awfully strong, and creating life. Will this actually make our marriages stronger and families more stable or provide children with better homes?

  6. I do have to say I don’t think God holds an absolute rank list for every sin we can perform. In the end, all harm ourselves or someone else, thus the reason they are sinful.

  7. David T. (4),

    I agree with you- I think this was Alma having a Brigham Young moment. I’m sorry, but there is no way that a couple of young people sowing their wild oats are sinning worse than someone who is scamming the elderly out of their savings, exploiting children for labor, or conducting human trafficking.
    Even Alma overreached on occasion, and we should not teach this as doctrine.

  8. Dan # 7, I think that large masses of horny teenagers (and adults) will rejoice at your opinion but it still leaves the issue open as to what God thinks about engaging in sexual relations outside of the marriage relationship.

  9. Dan, let me retreat a little from my irony in comment # 8. On re-reading your comment #7 you are not saying that sexual relations outside of marriage is not sin but just that, contrary to the words of the Book of Mormon, sexual sin does not rank just below murder and denying the Holy Ghost in its degree of offensiveness to God. I presume you still believe it is sin but just that it ranks much lower on the scale?

  10. What things might be reasonable expectations of sin the average Joe/Jane would be likely to commit? Of all of which I can think right now, sexual sins (messing with the most closely divine powers we have been given) seem right for a place among the top few. (#4 – This would include at least two on your “more serious” list and, in some cases, three.)

    It’s also important to note that perfectly acceptable definitions of “abominable” include “corrupt” and “abhorrent” and “disgusting”, etc. If we hold certain things to be central to our liberties and responsibilities and theological foundations, then anything that abridges or alters or violates those standards will be within the bounds of “high level abomination”.

    Finally, if the result of sin should be considered in allocating a level of abomination, the potential wreckage of family life (that can be seen throughout our modern society) also argues for placing sexual sin high on the list of abominations.

  11. Doc (6),

    I don’t think God holds an absolute rank list for every sin we can perform.

    Maybe true, but Alma presented this teaching that way. I think he was personally bent out of shape over Corianton’s behavior, and he overreached in an effort to impress upon him the severity of his problem.

  12. One more thing: A command should not be judged by the most benign breaking of it. Two teenagers making out in the backseat of a car without the girl getting pregnant can’t be the basis for the discussion. The objectification of women and the dehumanizing effects of prostitution are a much better standard – which is much more in line with rape and child molestation – and the actual scriptural account in question. Just as the Word of Wisdom should be judged by the drunk who beats his wife and children and keeps them in poverty over the occasional social drinker, the Law of Chastity should not be judged by teenagers in a car.

  13. john f. (9),

    That is my position. Sexual sin is definitely severe sin for a number of reasons, including loss of the Spirit, potential for addiction, and how it can endanger the vulnerable in society. There are all kinds of reasons why it is bad, but I stand by my contention:

    there is no way that a couple of young people sowing their wild oats are sinning worse than someone who is scamming the elderly out of their savings, exploiting children for labor, or conducting human trafficking.

    There are so many things people do in modern times that are worse than sexual sin among young people. I know a lot of people who were sexually active in their youth who were/are essentially decent people, and there are a lot of people in and out of the Church who may not have chastity problems, but who commit far more severe sins in exploiting vulnerable people.

  14. Ray (#12),

    See, I can wrap my reasoning around that kind of interpretation. It’s the absolutism I get tripped up on.

  15. Amen Ray.

    LOC violations are serious serious business. The results of which often in many cases pass down for generations.

    I am witnessing LOC violations in the 60’s and 70’s in my extended family have a large impact on relatives today in 2007.

    Of course as with all sin the Atonement can bring healing and forgiveness.

  16. I think Ray is on to something here in # 12.There are certainly different severities of the same sin, which certainly puts bilking the elderly out of their savings at a higher level than pilfering grapes from the produce stand at Safeway. However, one can lead to another more serious version of the same sin if not corrected.

    The objectification of women (or men, for that matter) is a serious issue. We also don’t know all the details of Corianton’s personal situation, other than he was a missionary at the time, which carries extra weight. We also don’t know, even though it’s mentioned that he was young, if he was married or not, since we have so little mention of wives or marriage in the BoM. Certainly, a married missionary cavorting with Isabel is even more serious. So we can’t just assume two teenagers in the heat of infatuation, but have to consider the sin as a category.

  17. Isn’t it time for religions to get real about human sexuality? What is a sexual sin? In the case of Corianton and Isabel, he was of fooling around with her rather than doing his duty preaching the Gospel. Is the sin the sex or not fulfilling his duties? Is sexual sin sex itself or the abuse of sexual activity? How much sexual perversion comes from trying to deny your sexuality rather than being oversexed? What about using sex as an expression of power rather than love? These questions are endless until we deal with the reality of being God’s creations and what that means spiritually and temporally.

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    My friend, Mike Ash, had an interesting take on this passage in “The Sin ‘Next to Murder’: An Alternative Interpretation,” Sunstone (November 2006), available here. Reading the passage in context, in his view the “sin next to murder” is not sexual sin, the way it traditionally is taken by Latter-day Saints, but basically “murdering” faith. (It’s been a while since I read it, so take my one-line synonpsis with a grain of salt.)

  19. If we could just get back to Rick Astley’s pants for a second…. Now, there’s sin for you.

  20. Kevin, thanks for the link. I guess my own thought weren’t as original as I thought. (They never are.) I see this as a perfectly valid, and perhaps even more persuasive, interpretation of this scripture.

  21. #17 – I have never read a statement from the Church that denies human sexuality. The latest statements on homosexuality explicitly recognize it.

  22. #19 – Would that be an example of what Kevin is addressing in #18 – the murder of our faith in good taste?

  23. Any thoughts on Jeffrey R. Holland’s “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments”, and how it might apply to the current topic?
    One point he emphasizes is that God is particularly concerned with how his children enter and leave this earth. Procreation is God’s gift to us, thus making us partners in the ‘entering’ process. He affirms Alma’s ranking and claims that the violation of God’s specific guidelines for sex is severe because we are disregarding something that is apparently so eternally important to God.
    He covers the three points referred to in the title of the talk:
    1) The doctrine of the soul (i.e the body/spirit combined- sex is not just physical)
    2) The symbolism of union, becoming one in body = becoming one in marriage, spirit, eternal/earthly goals, etc
    3) The “sacrament” of sexual union. In other words sex is not just between the 2 people, but God is also present and involved (according to Elder Holland).
    Any thoughts?

  24. Hugh Nibley has suggested that Isabel is actually a kedesha or cult prostitute. In short he argues that the Mulekites brought this tradition over from the Phoenicians. This is why many men go after her, the cult that is.

    This would certainly change the reading as to combining idolatry.

  25. “Brigham Young moment!” Haha, I feel kinda bad for laughing at that, because I love Brother Brigham, but the context is a good one, and the point is well-taken. I like it.

  26. The Mike Ash article is outstanding. Brother Ash is not downplaying sexual sin, but I think he expertly accounts for the message of the remainder of Alma’s sermon and the metaphorical uses of “heart” and “harlot” that we often see in the scriptures.

  27. You know I think one of the major issues of sexual sin is the risk/potential for children. I think nearly every one of us is born with an innate love and protection for children and innocents.

    Sexual behavior outside the bounds of marriage really comes with the risk of bringing an innocent child of God into the world in conditions that are likely to bring misery and into the world.

    There is certainly more to it than that. It’s not like birth control makes pre-marital sex ok. There’s the whole natural man, controlling our impulses issue too.

    But if you were to ask me why pre/extra marital sex is such an abomination as compared to gluttony, smoking, etc my first response is the destruction of the family.

  28. Ray in #12, if it’s true that a commandment should not be judged by the most benign breaking of it, I would argue that it is also true that a commandment should not be judged by the most egregious breaking either. Just because some horrible things result from fornication or WOW breaking does not mean that horrible things always result, or even often result.

    And Tyler in #22, please never mention again the possibility that God is present and involved in sex between 2 people. I may never indulge again. Seriously. Ewww.

  29. I have to second Tyler (#22)’s comment. The most satisfying answer in why the law of chastity is so important is that the powers of procreation are imbued with power. I don’t think that the two teenagers in the backseat are worse people, or more corrupt, than the older thief or criminal, but that the matter involved raises the stakes.

    Money can be restored, but the creation or taking of a life is an eternal thing.

  30. I always thought the LoC was so important because sex was so awesome. How wrong I was.

  31. Notice that after this little episode of “tough love,” Alma doesn’t send Corianton home, or excommunicate him, or impose any negative consequences at all. Rather, Alma immediately reiterates Corianton’s missionary call, telling him to get back out and teach the people. In fact, Alma tells Corianton this, despite the fact that Alma thinks Corianton has a rather dramatic lack of basic understanding, as pertains to sin and atonement.

    Doesn’t this seem to moderate Alma’s “sin next to murder” teaching?

  32. #22, List Item #3:


  33. Tyler, # 22

    I think I would agree with you to some extent about the symbolic meaning of marriage and intimacy, but have reservations about some of the more extreme extensions of that thought. Specifically that sex is only to create babies.

    And I don’t mean to be disrespectful at all, but your # 3 makes me very uncomfortable. No one likes to be watched.

  34. Watching the video, I can just hear a voice over of Terryl Givens. “There is in the Mormon faith a kind of celebration of the physical….”

  35. Ray, #27 Elder Holland said it, not me

  36. I apologize for not remembering the title or author, but I read once in a church booklet or book that was written by a prophet (or apostle?) that sexual sins definitely have gradations of seriousness. The example given in the text specifically said that the sin of rape was far worse than the goof up of a couple of fiances.

    I agree that the way the text above was written, it’s really important to see it in context. Perhaps it’s rationalization, but I tend to see it as more the use of lustful indulgence many times over with a “harlot” and the objectification of the woman involved, as being more serious than the sex itself.

    And thank you Steve, for including another glimpse of my new theme dance.

  37. “No one likes to be watched.”

    Oh Kevin, loosen up!

  38. Tyler, from what I remember of the talk, Elder Holland doesn’t suggest God is “present” any more than He is present with you right now, per se.

  39. Doc and others,

    Science (really technology) has severed the link between sex and procreation, but if we’re honest, biology and psychology have also reduced sex to one more of our urges, like eating and sleeping. Frankly, I find it hard to refute this. At the same time, I appreciate Alma’s and Elder Holland’s attempts to get us to take sex more seriously, and maybe sacredly. I was going to say they could be seen as taking respectively a stick and carrot approach to this issue and then realized Freud had invaded my subconscious yet again.

    What I think is telling is that we would still condemn sex between infertile partners who are unmarried, right? So what’s all our talk about misusing the powers of procreation when the individuals involved can’t procreate? That throws us into the weirdness of saying the act itself is somehow woven into the fabric of the universe, which some of us find ludicrous or even trivializing. Any solutions here?

  40. BTW, I am not saying that I necessarily agree with the 3 points Elder Holland refers to, I was just wondering what everyone else thinks about it.
    BHodges, #37 ” . . . But it is also symbolic of a union between mortals and deity. Uniting for a rare and special moment with God himself, and all the powers by which he gives life in this wide universe of ours. . .”
    and, “. . . from time to time-indeed, as often as is possible and appropriate-we find ways and go to places and create circumstances where we can unite symbolically with Him, and in so doing gain access to His power.”

  41. #22 & #31: Here’s an Ewwwww moment for you: I remember in the MTC, a couple of the elders in my group were discussing what was permissible in marriage and what wasn’t (don’t ask), and one of them mentioned his brother had been told by his stake president had told him right before being married that whatever he did with his wife should be done “as if he were doing it with the Savior”.


  42. Oh, gosh… Damn you, Terry! Damn you for making me laugh at that!

  43. where we can unite symbolically with Him, and in so doing gain access to His power.

    I was just going to say that it doesn’t have anything to do whether or not the couple is infertile because the sexual act itself is symbolic of using the creative powers of God.

  44. #40. Oh my gosh!! And I’m a woman and I wouldn’t even want to think of that!

  45. kevinf, #32- on the only for babies thing
    The talk covers that issue as well, extolling the act of intimacy in and of itself. He never implies that children are the only reason for sex.
    We can all thank God for that…

  46. If the two most important commandments are to love God and to love other people, wouldn’t it follow that breaking those two commandments would constitute the two most serious sins?

  47. Gary, #45
    Yes, but chastity is merely a sub-commandment of both of those. When Jesus refers to the two most important commandments he simply puts all the other commandments into the aforementioned two.

  48. Tyler, # 44


    I’ve had so many other comments that I have started to make, and then I delete them after thinking about Aaron’s post “Muzzling the Wife”, and know that my wife would muzzle me. I’ve had several LOL moments here today.

    Gary, # 45, are you pointing out another paradox? My paradox absorption quota is filled for the day, so I’ll take a pass on your otherwise pertinent and meaningful comment. Seriously.

  49. ” When the books are opened, out of which the human family are to be judged, how disappointed the professedly sanctified, long-faced hypocrites and smooth-toned pharisees will be, when the publicans and harlots enter into the kingdom of heaven before them; people that appeared to be full of evil, but the Lord says they never designed to do wrong; the Devil had power over them, and they suffered in their mortal state a thousand times more than you poor, miserable, canting, cheating, snivelling, hypocritical pharisees; you were dressed in purple and fine linen, and bound burdens upon your weaker brethren that you would not so much as help to lift with your little fingers. Did you ever go without food, suffer with tooth-ache, sore eyes, rheumatism, or the chills and fever? You have fared sumptuously all your days and you condemned to an everlasting hell these poor harlots and publicans who never designed an evil. Are you not guilty of committing an evil with that poor harlot? Yes, and you will be damned while she will be saved.”

    Brigham Young, 24 May 1863, Journal of Discourses 10:176

  50. A good friend of mine, whom I admire greatly and whose talks I generally like very much, gave a talk once in the adult session of Stake Conference that included a discussion of the “sacrament of sex”. I love the man dearly, but I’m not going anywhere near the concept. Armageddon Porn is bad enough; Heavenly, voyeuristic, Sacramental Porn is not a celestial product, imo.

  51. Kevin Barney says:

    Terry #40, that comment was a home run! Hilarious stuff.

  52. Jnilsson (#38),
    You are right, biology and psychology have reduced sex to an urge or an appetite. It is an appetite that happens to be emotionally and physically bonding between two people. It is a physical expression of the deepest connection we can experience in this life. To treat it as anything other than sacred is to trivialize it, IMHO. I don’t understand “woven into the fabric of the universe” as trivializing. But at the very least, you have to admit that love, intimacy, and Sexuality are mighty powerful, earth shaking enough emotions that have potential to cause great pain, anger, jealousy, hatred, or cause incredible joy. I think God’s way is the unquestionably more fulfilling.

  53. mapinguari says:

    No. 30 –

    I am aware of many instances in modern times in which missionaries confessed sexual sins, repented, and continued their missions. Such missionaries often excelled in the work.

    No. 35 –

    Current church policy concerning worthiness to serve a mission supports the notion that sexual sin includes gradations of seriousness. While one may repent of all sexual sin, the nature and duration of certain sexual behaviors will preclude one from serving a mission.

  54. Tyler,

    Since you are asking for opinions about Elder Holland’s talk, I will give you mine. I find the arguments unpersuasive and the meta-ethics glossed over without serious engagement. I applaud his effort to address the question, but I don’t get much out of his actual response and would take issue with a lot of the points he makes. I do think he has some good points in there, but in large part it confirms my suspicion that we don’t know why we treat some things as seriously as we do.

  55. I agree that if you rank “seriousness of sin” by the darkness of soul it takes for one to commit the sin, then bilking the elderly out of money is indeed darker than two teenagers in an unguarded moment. But what the teenagers may lack in evil intent is more than made up for in the seriousness of their sin.

    My extended family still hasn’t fully recovered from the aftermath of two teenagers cavorting during the 1930s. (Part of the aftermath is due to folks not fully partaking of the atonement, but still …) Sexual sin is so serious because you’re messing with the lives of tons of people who aren’t in “the back seat” at the time, many of whom may not exist yet. And those who are infertile or have no other way of conceiving are no less guilty for piling on to the environment of sexual permissiveness that has caused so much misery. No snowflake in an avalanche feels responsible.

    It’s kind of a strange paradox that the con man may have a much harder time obtaining the Lord’s forgiveness for his actions than the teens would, even though the teen’s total impact on eternity might be much greater. Just another reason I’m in awe of the Lord’s atonement.

  56. Doc,

    I am talking about the physical act itself, when one has stripped away the consequences of the act. Is it sacred when animals have sex? Not to me.

    This gets back to my comment about Alma and Elder Holland making us think more seriously about sex than we are accustomed to, giving it a level of gravitas which makes it more than the satisfaction of momentary urges. I believe things, including sex, are sacred when our attitudes toward them are.

    Sometimes it is, but sometimes it’s just fun. I think as Mormons somehow we’re not supposed to feel that it’s just fun sometimes, and that’s what I object to. If it’s always a religious ritual, I guess I’m missing something.

  57. (Haven’t read all the comments yet – forgive me if someone else mentioned this)

    Nibley speculated that this might be referring to cultic prostitution. Fairly common in the near east and something Israel had trouble with. Asherah worship often involved ritualistic sex with temple prostitutes and if this is what Alma was referring to it would make a lot of sense.

    The downside is that we just don’t know a lot about Nephite culture let alone the culture of the other people around (typically designated as Lamanite) Certainly reading into the Book of Mormon those near Eastern religious traditions is fairly problematic. But so far as I know (and I don’t know much about mesoAmerican religion) there just wasn’t the cultic prostitution one found in the near East.

  58. Adultery and idolatry do seem to go hand-in-hand throughout the Old Testament.

  59. Actually, let me rephrase that. The Aztecs at the time of the invasions by the Spanish did have young boys as cultic prostitutes. I don’t know enough about this to know how much of the tales are Spanish exaggeration or invention and how much was legitimate.

    Further late Aztec practice needn’t tell us much about the period in question in Alma.

    Also the prostitute in question in Alma is a woman and not a young boy.

  60. Just a thought about context: when we read Shakespeare, there are numerous references to “French crowns” etc. i.e. “sexually transmitted disease.”

    Sleeping with a prostitute in the past (before the days of modem medicine) was a sure-fire way of flirting with madness and death.

    Put in perspective, a man who goes out on his wife, contracts AIDS, transmits this disease to his wife or unborn child, we could easily see how such a thing would be categorized as a sin next to murder.

    So, maybe the Nephite view was this: sleep around, and syphilis is an inevitable consequence. There is no cure. You will go blind. Your joints will freeze up. You will descend into madness and death. Know ye not that this is a sin, almost as grievous as murder is?

    Sexuality before marriage has been, for many people a beautiful and wonderful thing. I have known so many good people in the world, kind, generous, good charitable people who also were with their companions before marriage. I do not believe that these people did anything like unto murder, nor will they be tried as such.

    But this is not what Alma is talking about. Nor is he telling his son not to rape. So we are not really able to say that Alma must have been referring to sex taken to its extremes. He was saying to his son that to sleep with a prostitute has terrible consequences, not only in terms of the example that he is setting but also the inherent consequences of the terribleness of sexually transmitted diseases.

    This is the only way I can make sense of Alma’s comments given the context.

  61. I think those that think of sex in strictly ritualistic/religious terms (those who don’t feel that it is just fun sometimes) are the minority.
    A crazy, boring little minority.

  62. Thanks Tyler!

    I was starting to feel like I was crazy for bringing up the f word (fun, that is).

  63. J (#56),
    I agree that it is fun for committed couples. It’s also “fun” for the rapist but not the victim, for the player but not the played. Would you agree that taking sex lightly can lead to deep emotional hurt even when unintended? I am not so sure that God sees sacred and fun as mutually exclusive. Our culture does however, and I think that is just sad and wrong.

  64. Doc,

    I agree with you about the consequences which often accrue when human beings take sex lightly. The reason I don’t see sex as woven into the fabric of the universe is because other species on this planet have a means of reproducing themselves, and I see no reason to believe sex will continue for them in the hereafter either, once it’s raison d’etre is gone.
    No one has touched my questions about the physical act itself. This is separate from the attitudes we bring to it. What Corianton did with Isabel was not sacred, but either sordid or fun or whatever emotions they felt. Alma is saying Corianton should take sex seriously and presumably only do it within marriage.

    I don’t understand why me saying it is fun brings up rape analogies, which have to do with exercising power, and not having fun, in the normal, psychologically well-adjusted sense of the word.

  65. “I think those that think of sex in strictly ritualistic / religious terms are the minority”

    Oh how wrong you are. Me and the missus are part of a growing movement.

  66. Not to cheapen the discussion or anything, but Steve, tell us more. [edited for family friendly content]

  67. based on my experieince in the Church I would say that there is a sliding scale on the seriousness of LOC violations.

    1. At one end the less serious you would see Mast. and teenage petting and intercourse.

    2. On the more serious end you would see Child sexual abuse, Sex trafficing, rape, production of p*rn

    3. In the middle we would find other sins like adult unmarried sex, adultry etc.

    I am not sure where to put viewing p*rn and not all sexual sin falls so neatly into a category as there is always a wide variety of circumstances with each individual sin and different levels of accountability for the individual involved.

    When I read the scripture above I get the sense that Alma is saying the sin you committed is bad really bad. If a modern MP or missionary publicly engaged in sexual sin with a well known prostitute it would be a pretty serious situation.

  68. Following up on comment #18, I have a tough time actually seeing sin #3 as being sex immorality. I see it as abandoning the ministry for it, or, really, any reason.

    And the sex immorality here is not necessarily fornication, in Alma 39:9 Alma tells Corianton to “go no more after the lusts of your eyes” which suggests something pornographic or lascivious dancing or burlesque. I dont see anything in the text that necessarily requires Corianton actually did stuff with Isabel. He “didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the aharlot Isabel” It doesnt say he got busy with her, Alma says he abandoned the ministry.

    I think we are too eager to impute sex immorality to Corianton when the text doesnt require it.

  69. ED,

    So Corianton just went to a strip club and that was a sin next to murder?

  70. ED,

    Before you answer, I know you are saying #3 is “forsaking the ministry,” not whatever happened to be the way Corianton chose to do that. Would sleeping in have been a sin next to murder if that was how he was forsaking the ministry?

  71. #56

    Is it sacred when animals have sex? Not to me.

    Then you’re going to hate my Sunday School lesson next week.

  72. #70: I suppose it depends on whether he was sleeping in alone or with somebody else.

  73. Norbert,

    Please tell me that’s a very sick, albeit funny, joke.

  74. Norbert,

    I don’t see the physical act between animals as sacred except as it is part of this whole miraculous circle of life (from a strictly scientific standpoint it is the very stuff of evolution.)

    I think we, as humans, are something much more than animals though. Our potential, our purpose, our agency all seem to indicate something much larger in store for us.

    Again, I think fun and sacred is a false dichotomy. If there is nothing fun in the Celestial Kingdom then count me out.

  75. Doc,

    Well expressed. I agree with you about the difference between humans and animals on this one. And on fun in the Celestial Kingdom.

  76. I think ED’s point is that it isn’t about the sex but the abandonment of ministry.

  77. Let’s face it . . .without the Atonement we’re all one sandwich short of a picnic.

  78. I have a few thoughts, first I really think Raphael hit on a good point. Sex is a good way to transmit terrible diseases.

    Second, most women don’t choose to be prostitutes for the fun times and good pay. Chances are good that Isabel wasn’t the evil money grabbing seductress we often think of her as. Starving women and human trafficking aren’t modern inventions. A man who would not only not help a woman in those situations, but would further exploit her in her neediness is callous indeed.

    Lastly pregnancy and childbirth *still* aren’t safe, though they are now vastly safer than they were in Alma’s day. Sex with a woman that could easily lead to pregnancy puts the woman’s life at risk. a man who wantonly impregnates a woman who later dies of complications resulting with the pregnancy or childbirth could be thought to have committed murder in the form of negligent homicide.

  79. #40: keyword is “symbolic.”

  80. Excellent thoughts, Starfoxy.

  81. Looking at Alma 39, there is no wonder why the majority of readers have interpreted it to mean that Corianton committed sexual sin.
    Verse 5 lists the “worst” sins: “These things” (i.e., something associated with sex), “shedding of innocent blood”, and “denying the Holy Ghost.”

    Verse 7: “And now, my son, I would to God that ye had not been guilty of so great a crime. I would not dwell upon your crimes, to harrow up your soul, if it were not for your good. But behold, ye cannot hide your crimes from God; and except ye repent they will stand as a testimony against you at the last day.”
    Corianton was certainly guilty of one of these three, thus we are left with fornication. The focus of Alma’s rebuke is not so much that he simply abandoned the ministry, but that he did so in order to break the LOC.

  82. #79: Of course its symbolic. Physical presence was never the implication. The “unite” part of the next sentence at least implies that God is in some way involved, or at least that is how I interpret Elder Holland’s talk. He claims that sexual union is a sacrament between God and the couple.
    No need to take that too literally I assume.

  83. Brad (#76), see #70.

  84. I’m technologically challenged, but I’m pretty sure I linked Elder Holland’s talk entitled “Sexual Purity.” On Earth As It Is In Heaven, a book co-authored by Sister Holland also had a copy of the original talk from his BYU days. I found it to be deeply moving.

    As a bastard, I must say that sexual sin can most definitely affect generations. My father’s line especially is full of pain and broken hearts. Additionally, temple sealings in such situations can be very perplexing decisions. There are some knots in the family lines that Heavenly Father is going to have to untie.

    I would debate whether all sexual sins are actually of a lower degree than murder. One of my closest friend’s husband had a “pornography” issue and apparently became enamored of a certain body type, one that his adopted, mentally-impaired daughter had. The damage from those sins has been far-reaching and ugly. He could have killed his family and done less damage, imo.

    I’m not sure how so many posters here can say that one kind of sexual sin is OK while another is abominable. I hate to go with a slippery slope argument, but different types of sex sins are linked. If I walk outside of the line God has set, will I stay within the new line? And if I do go a little beyond the new line, it’s really not that far to the next line. Which line is going to be the real line? And I really won’t know in advance what my particular addiction tendencies are or how my behavior will affect the people in my life.

    I know that people who lie and steal can really mess up people’s lives and trust. It just seems that sexual sins have a far greater potential for damage in this life and in the next.

  85. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 74, etc.

    So are we to assume that animals are incapable of experiencing fun or pleasure? I’m not sure that in this life we’re as removed from the animals as we care to think, at least behaviorally. What about those adorable, monogamous emperor penguins?

    I remember this fundamentalist street preacher in Ann Arbor who went on and on against gays in the most horrific, vivid terms. He made a big point of how “even animals know better….” But of course, he was completely wrong about that.

    This thread makes me realize how secularized my thinking is. It’s a fascinating read though. An outside reader could easily conclude that the denizens of the Bloggernacle are obsessed with the topic of sex and porn. Kinda paradoxical.

  86. I agree with much of what Jami says. The pain and heartache carried by so many across generations merely because of a lack of sexual restraint is incalculable. I don’t think we westerners (generally speaking) know just how sick we really are–and that’s one of the reasons we don’t see sexual impurity as a serious sin. We are in desperate need of healing.

  87. Eric Russell says:

    I’m with DKL on this one.

  88. When did Nate Oman start making music videos? Before the goatee, I suppose…

  89. On the original story concerning Isabel, sexual sin in a society rooted in the Old Testament morals would have a terrible impact on the woman. In the OT, if a bride wasn’t a virgin, she could be stoned. Deut. 22. A woman who wasn’t a virgin, whether raped or by consensual sex, was not marriageable and so would be outcast from society. In that situation, she may as well be murdered as the alternatives are slow death by starvation or prostitution (diseases or childbirth). So setting unmarried sex right next to murder is not far off in describing the woman’s fate. That assumes the Nephite society retained the OT insistence on a woman’s virginity.

    As far as today’s society goes, I believe sexual sin creates a lot more pain than outsiders see. I have a friend who did have an “oopsie” with her fiance. (That’s been described on this thread as one of the least serious LoC sins.) After the initial shock, both their families rallied around them, and the bishop was very kind about it. Yet years later, she confided what led up to the mistake, and the fallout. She was still hurting, and there are still consequences to come. She talked to me instead of her husband because her husband didn’t see what the big deal was. It’s over, right? Not for her.

    Maybe Alma’s statement putting sexual sin right up there next to murder was meant to keep men from treating sexual sin cavalierly, since women are disproportionately affected by the social and physical issues of sexual sin, especially in an OT society.

  90. Peter LLC says:


    You must indeed be speaking generally, very generally. What insights would [the opposite of a sick westerner?] have regarding sexual purity that would help us bring to pass eternal life? That a woman must to be killed if she is raped or disgraces the clan through amorous behavior with the neighbor? That sexual restraint must be practiced by women since they are a leading cause of temptation?

    I suppose it’s all well and good to sweep in front of our own door, but I’m not sure the land of the setting sun has any monopoly on sexual permissiveness worth getting worked up over.

  91. Peter LLC,

    Your right that we don’t have a monopoly on sexual permissiveness. The problem is, we don’t think it’s wrong.

  92. #65: Steve, you’re not joining Sting and his wife, are you?

    Like Sting I’m tantric
    Like Snickers, guaranteed to satisfy

  93. Jami #84,

    Not to diminish the seriousness of anything, but I really don’t put rape and child molestation in the same category as a trip to the harlot Isabel. You seem to be arguing that one leads to the other (specifically, that porn leads to the other), but as isolated incidents, I view them as very different in a moral sense.

  94. A correction to my 84–the title of the talk is “Personal Purity.”

    Jacob J.– No, I am not meaning to say that one sex sin always lead to the other, but rather that you just don’t know how it’s going to go in any particular situation.

    A drug analogy: no one can know until they actually begin using crack how they are going to react to it. One can extrapolate from the experiences of others however.

    In the case of the less-than-rape-more-than-molestation of my poor young friend that I referred to, the path went from premarital “oopsie” to temple marriage anyway to p*rn & MB to adultery to more p*rn & MB to the going-straight-to-hell acts to marrying the next victim.

    Conversely, I know many people who have delved into this and that and who are currently totally clean and worthy before God.

    I’m just saying why try to draw our own line when none of us truly know what our weaknesses are until we are in that situation.

  95. Jacob J. By the way, what if the harlot Isabel isn’t available the next time? Does he opt for a life of purity or go on to the next available sex option? In my observation, sex sins are often not one-time offences.

  96. It’s tough to rejoin the discussion 90+ postings later, but such is life on the road.
    It’s interesting the gymnastics we need to go through to make this little piece of text ring true. There may be life-or-death implications in
    Corianton’s behavior due to VDs, but there is zero evidence that this informed Alma’s thinking, and there is also zero evidence that Corianton had embraced a different belief system, like a sex cult- we are only told that he had begun to question and rationalize aspects of the theology he had received from Alma.
    Let’s look at the text on its face; it leads to statements we hear at Church that “fornication is a sin next to murder in seriousness,” with no accompanying discussion of gradations in severity, or any of the other contextual discussion we’re seeing here.
    I realize the need to get the point across regarding the severity of sexual sin, but that needs to be tempered with an effort to distinguish between mere recklessness or indiscretion on one hand, and true malevolence and darkness of heart on the other.

  97. #69, 70 Sleeping in is Deadly Sin #4, cf. D&C 88:124.

    #76 Yes, that is my point.

    #81 The “these things” of Alma 39:5 is ambiguous as the preceding verse references Isabel’s harlotry and Corianton’s abandonment of the ministry. Nowhere in the text is there a clear accusation of Corianton committing fornication, that is all inferential. The conclusions you draw, Tyler, are precisely the sort of logic that has to be drawn outside of the text in order to come to the foregone conclusion that sex immorality is the #3 sin.

    I am in no way arguing that sex immorality in its multitude of forms is not a grave sin with long-lasting and damaging effects that are sometimes impossible to entirely repent of. What I am arguing is the standard LDS reading on this text is not supported by the text, it is traditional reading that relies on inferential logic that is acontextual.

  98. Doesn’t the Book of Enoch include tales of the “sons of god” (ie angels) having sexual relations with the “daughters of men”, and a resultant race of giants? Is there a possibility that Alma might have heard and believed these tales and, therefore, considered sex immorality as not only a sin in this life but something that could cause enormous problems in the world to come?

    And (returning to slightly more solid theological footing) if man’s purpose is to become like God, what does it say about a man (or woman) if he (or she) acts carelessly with the one power that in the eternities will separate the gods from the non-gods–viz, the power to create life?

  99. JimD (98),

    if man’s purpose is to become like God, what does it say about a man (or woman) if he (or she) acts carelessly with the one power that in the eternities will separate the gods from the non-gods–viz, the power to create life?

    That is the answer to the question: Is the breaking of the law of chastity a bad thing? and I don’t think anyone here is arguing that. The question is, if people read that text in Alma, and deduce from the text that it is okay to teach all members of the Church — including young people and new converts — that fornication is next to murder in seriousness, is that a good thing? Is it even true?
    I say it is not true, and teaching people with garden-variety, non-predatory chastity issues that they are near to murderers in wickedness is a violation of Paul’s rule that we not say or do things that would cause others to stumble.
    There are other ways of getting the point across that don’t involve cultivating a spirit of self-loathing and fear in people.

  100. Eric Russell says:

    Dan E., it beats telling kids that go home from their mission early that they have committed the sin next to murder.

  101. Or that they would have been better off coming home in a pine box.

  102. bbell

    “LOC violations are serious serious business. The results of which often in many cases pass down for generations.”

    Sure, children without caring parents results in problems for many generations. Also, we forget that those in the spirit world are able to observe us and our behaviour influences their attitudes and decisions.

  103. Steve Evans says:

    Howard, they are? Where’s it say that?

  104. Howard (102),

    This is true; there are all kinds of non-sexual abuse that affect generations down the line just as much as, or more than, a violation of the LoC. There are acts of violence and abuse in families that are much closer to murder than a violation of the LoC by a couple of horny teens in a buick.

  105. Dan, nobody – nobody – is arguing with that point. Frankly, anyone who does is out in left field. It’s a straw man argument that *maybe* 0.1% of all members and Priesthood leaders would make. How about we phrase it this way:

    Order of seriousness of sin =

    1) Denying a spiritual witness you *know* to be true (essentially, looking God in the eye and telling Him to shove it)

    2) Acts of violence against the innocent (physical, emotional and/or spiritual – the worst of which is murder, of the spirit, mind or body, and which would include various kinds of enslavement)

    3) Acts of sexual immorality – the worst of which is embodied in the results of prostitution (Frankly, I believe rape is such a horrible sin because it is in direct violation of both #2 *and* #3. Also, very few people in our modern society understand how much “selling” of the body is involved in *every* case of adultery and fornication – even if it is only for a feeling of love or acceptance.)

  106. Having looked again at the passage again, I actually think the reading Extreme Dorito is describing is quite compelling. The serious sin being condemned is simply called “these things” which if were were using a plain reading would include the entire group of events Corianton was guilty of culminating in the most egregious part — his forsaking the ministry and thus leading people away from Christ.

  107. Steve Evans,
    So you don’t believe that the dead visit the living or our Temples?

  108. Steve Evans says:

    Just curious as to how you learn that our behavior influences the “attitudes” of the dead. That’s extradoctrinal, IMO.

  109. Howard,
    Even if the events described in the temple are to be taken as literal and in no sense figurative or parabolic, dispatched emissaries is not the same thing as “those in the spirit world are able to observe us and our behavior influences their attitudes and decisions.”

  110. There have been several comments regarding the long-lasting effects of abuse and breaking of the law of chastity. There is much focus on commission of sin, but what of ommission?

    Does the law of chastity implicitly promote intimacy within proper bounds? What of the effects of marital or familial apathy- of stagnate marriages and of children that are not loved as well as they should be and are not taught and raised to be stalwart, faithful saints? I cannot cite statistics, but for the average LDS, I worry that our ommissions generally are more detrimental to us and our posterity than our commission of sins.

  111. Yes Steve, extra-doctrinal and personal revelation.

    Brad, I suppose “dispatched emissaries” are a possibility but a strange one given the freedom of travel and choice that the now dead enjoyed when they were alive.

  112. Steve, Howard, Brad:

    I’m not sure if this is a full answer to the discussion but here is a quote from the Gospel Principles manual:

    “In a funeral sermon, Joseph Smith declared that the spirits of righteous people who have died ‘are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts, feelings, and motions, and are often pained therewith’ (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 326).”

    Perhaps being pained does influence their “attitudes.”

  113. Steve Evans says:

    Darrell, an excellent thought.

  114. In this instance, TPJS is reasonably close to a contemporary account of the funeral sermon of Judge James Adams:
    “Enveloped in flaming fire, they are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts, feelings and motions, and are often pained therewith.”

    “Minutes of a Special Conference,” Times and Seasons 4, no. 21 (September 15, 1843): 331.

    That flaming fire refers to the consuming glory of angelic beings rather than the tempting inference that all are in Purgatory.

  115. Eric Russell says:

    Having just seen The Orphanage, I’m thinking I’d prefer it if the dead and living just left each other well enough alone, thank you very much.

  116. Kevin Barney says:

    I saw The Orphanage, too, Eric; I thought it was pretty good.

  117. I’ve wondered about The Orphanage. It’s in the pile of my friend’s Academy DVDs and, based on your impressions, I guess I’ll have to borrow it.

  118. I haven’t seen the “The Orphanage” so I’m not sure why Eric feels the way he does. But I agree with him on the living and the dead leaving each other alone. I can’t stand the idea of being in a mortal fish bowl. We’ve got to have a little more autonomy than that.

  119. Matt Thurston says:

    Like MikeInWeHo (#85), it is threads like these that shock me into realizing just how secular my thinking has become.

    Like so many religious rules, it feels like this commandment mistakes the act for the sin. It is the way humans use sex to abuse themselves and each other (physically, emotionally, spiritually) that is sinful, not the act itself. I have a hard time calling the six-year co-habitation of my non-member brother and his girlfriend (they’ve since tied the knot) “the sin next to murder.” Their’s was (and still is) a model relationship built on love and trust. Does a certificate of marriage really matter as much as week think it does in the eye’s of God?

    I also wonder if the shame and scorn we heap on those who have violated the rules isn’t sometimes greater than the original sexual “misconduct” itself? I guess it depends on the degree of sexual misconduct.

    Finally, when it comes to sex and religion/sin, it is impossible for me not to think of Joseph Smith. On the one hand, we venerate the prophet for his progressive views on sex, both here and the hereafter, as a healthy form of communication between man and wife, not limited to procreation, and not inherently dirty.

    On the other hand, the secrecy, the lies, the doubletalk, the insiders and the outsiders… in short the way he conducted his own affairs/marriages and the collateral damage inflicted on his wife, friends, and community… makes me wonder even more about the sex and sin in terms of “rules” (so gray, so open to abuse and manipulation or rationalization) vs. the open/honest way we conduct ourselves sexually.

  120. #99 Right on!

    “The only thing worse that you could do to a young woman than have pre-marital sexual contact with her would be to murder her”.

    As spoken by my Bishop to our young men a few weeks ago.

  121. Here is a link to Elder Holland’s talk on Personal Purity.

    I agree with Lorin’s #55 and Jami’s #84. Sex still creates babies, even in this modern day and age. Virtually 100% of unwanted pregnancies are caused by sex. Birth control’s so-called failure rate translates into real babies or abortions. Creating a baby outside of the protection of marriage is a serious thing that affects generations.

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