First Presidency Letter on the value “virtue”

By happy coincidence, I was given a copy of the First Presidency letter announcing the YW value “virtue.” I’m reproducing it here for your parsing pleasure as a supplement to Rebecca’s post.

November 28, 2008

To: General Authorities; Area Seventies; Stake, Mission, and District Presidents; Bishops and Branch Presidents

Dear Brethren:

Revised Young Women Theme

We are pleased to announce the addition of the attribute of “virtue” to the Young Women theme. This addition will assist young women in developing high moral standards. We invite parents and leaders to teach the doctrine of chastity and moral purity to help each young woman to be virtuous and worthy to make and keep sacred temple covenants and receive the ordinances of the temple.

The complete text of the revised theme is enclosed. Please give a copy of this letter and the enclosure to all Young Women leaders.

Sincerely yours,
The First Presidency


  1. Worth noting is, I believe, the fact that not a single woman is the direct recepient of this announcement. While this is perhaps merely a byproduct of correlation, it nevertheless saddens me that the people most impacted by this change – past, present, and future young women – are left voiceless and unsolicited in this letter.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    My parsing of this language is that virtue = no sex outside of marriage, and anything else is an afterthought.

    I’m still pushing for warfare skillz…

  3. I’m with you, Kevin. I think virtue here clearly should be interpreted as Hector and Achilles did, as “arete” or excellence in all areas of endeavor, particularly the in the area of badassness.

  4. StillConfused says:

    #1. That was the first thing that I noticed too: Dear Brethren… followed by a discussion of the young woman’s program.

    The second thing that I noticed is that this IS all about chastity.

  5. Natalie (#1) and StillConfused (#4). It was also most striking to me that the letter was not addressed to anyone female.
    And yes, clearly, this IS all about chastity, which would have been very confusing to me as a YW.

  6. Jennifer in GA says:

    President Faust’s most excellent talk aside (I was a ward YW Pres as well as a Stake YW Pres Secretary when he gave that talk, and I’ve referred to the notes I took that night *many times over the years!) I’m having a hard time seeing how this value is about anything more than chastity.

  7. Why did the FP announce it instead of the YW presidency? I like the idea of a RS presidency or YW presidency writing an official letter with that recipient list (General Authorities; Area Seventies; Stake, Mission, …).

    On the bright side, it’s kinda cool that the FP takes an interest in the minutiae of the YW program, at least enough to write this letter.

  8. A few weeks ago, Mormon Matters had a similar article about abstinence education and its failings.(Sorry couldn’t figure out how to link it.) Girls who make purity pledges in evangelical churches are much more likely to “lose their virtue” than girls who don’t according to this article. However, those who were the most educated (generally living in the blue states) were the most likely to remain “virtuous”. Perhaps the Young Women’s program should give the value of “Knowledge” more than lip service and the girls would have a greater desire to keep themselves “pure” out of an intrinsic motivation. As the Mormon Matters article reminds us, “Don’t Think the Color Red, Don’t Think the Color Red!”

  9. Hestia,

    I actually read an article a couple weeks ago that said a study using the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (I think) found that teens who make purity pledges are just as likely to have $ex, but are much less likely to use birth control.

    I can’t find the article right now. I’ll keep looking and link it when I find it.

  10. the doctrine of chastity and moral purity

    Am I parsing this incorrectly, then? Aren’t there issues of moral purity *not* related solely to chastity?

  11. #8 – That’s hilarious!

  12. Am I parsing this incorrectly, then? Aren’t there issues of moral purity *not* related solely to chastity?

    Apparently not.

  13. Jim Donaldson says:

    It seems to me that given the importance of the chastity of especially young women in the the church and its inversely proportionate relationship to chastity in the world, we’d be twice as successful if we talked about it twice as much, thus we cover it twice in the YW values, half the time calling it ‘virtue,’ so as to double the amount of time we talk about it. Gotta work, right?

    Oh yeah–the boys–no worry, they don’t get pregnant.

    I think the desperation of the situation well exceeds the logic of the proposed solution.

    For the brighter youth (there has to be some), as with the silly “New Year” approach, it is at best humorous, at worst, an insult. But then, the church has based nearly all of its adult curriculum since correlation in the 60s on a fundamental assumption that the intelligence of the average adult in the church is somewhere near that of a box of hammers. Just check the lesson manuals. Why should it be different for the kids?

  14. I do think it is interesting how the YW theme and values have been subtly modified over the years to make them more focused on “traditional” female values of chastity and home life/home making. It never occurred to me that the original theme and values were “liberal” or too individualist, but perhaps they were. Or at least they did not have a strong enough emphasis on chastity and a woman’s responsibility in the home and family.

    The last sentence of the original theme read: “We believe as we come to accept and act upon these values, we will be prepared to make and keep sacred covenants, receive the ordinances of the temple, and enjoy the blessings of exaltation.” A few years ago this sentence was modified to add, as the first hoped for purpose: “to strengthen home and family”. So that now it reads: “We believe as we come to accept and act upon these values, we will be prepared to strengthen home and family, make and keep sacred covenants, receive the ordinances of the temple, and enjoy the blessings of exaltation.”

    And, as has been discussed, until this announcement, the values were Faith, Divine Nature,
    Individual Worth, Knowledge, Choice and Accountability, Good Works, and Integrity. That seems pretty comprehensive, but apparently, to add emphasis to the principles of chastity and moral purity, it was necessary to add “virtue”.

    It would be interesting to have been a “fly on the wall” during the discussions about whether to make either of those changes. I’d be curious whether the motivation (and inspiration) for the changes came from grass roots comments, from proposals by the YW board or presidency, or from the male general PH leadership.

    (Perhaps LDS scout units should add “Virtuous” as a thirteenth point of the scout law! :) )

  15. Great. You know, it’s stuff like this that makes me question whether I REALLY want to raise my daughter in this church. Maybe I’m too much a part of the world, but I don’t actually think the family is under attack, and so don’t appreciate the “strengthen homes and families” line, and I think teens are less likely to have sex today than they were 10 years ago (at least, if you believe studies on sexual activity like this one (pdf), and so don’t really see the necessity of adding “virtue,” a.k.a. “chastity” to the list of YW values.

  16. I can’t read this letter any way but Virtue = virginity. You’re really digging if you’re finding the more nuanced meanings in this letter.

  17. link to article about purity pledges and $exual activity.

    I, too, have serious concerns about how the church emphasizes the idea that the family is under attack and that there is so much evil in the world. I worry that we are going to raise a generation of youth who are afraid of the world. I’m in our ward’s YW presidency and whenever the discussion turns to how bad things are, I try to find some way to remind the girls that there is a lot of good out there. Besides, if there is opposition in all things, and there’s an awful lot of evil, there must also be an awful lot of good.

    I’m not for keeping the girls naive and thinking everything is wonderful, but if all we focus on is the bad, than how do they learn to recognize what’s good.

  18. Perhaps LDS scout units should add “Virtuous” as a thirteenth point of the scout law! :)

    The Scout law already includes an admonition to be “clean”.

    Of course, telling a boy to be “clean” means something entirely different than telling a girl to be “clean”.

    And isn’t that what this is really about? The old theme about males trying to control female sexuality?

  19. This just makes me incredibly sad.

  20. I like the idea of virtue encompassing more than just sexual purity, but I don’t think we can discount how big of an issue this is. Abstinence before marriage is looked on as odd by most people if you are older than 18, most movies portray sex as just a normal part of any dating relationship. It is hard for kids to keep swimming upstream from what is considered normal in the world. Most bishops I have talked to say that moral issues are a big problem for their youth. If there is any one thing that keeps most kids from being unworthy to enter the temple, it would be chastity.

  21. It was a very open and honest lesson taught with much scripural and General Conference talks as reference which kept me chaste. We should say what we mean. President Hinckley got the closest with his “Be Clean”.

    Recent research shows that “virginity pledges” don’t really work. Education, knowledge, and attention from adults help.

  22. #13 – jaded much?

    The curriculum, like the commandments, are geared toward “the weakest of Saints”. You are welcome and indeed encouraged to expand you personal study well beyond what’s offered in GD, however, the priority for any GD teacher should always be to invite the Spirit and instruct the Saints. That instruction needs to start with the foundation where many members (new and seasoned alike) are lacking.

    #1 This was a letter to Priesthood leaders who should be passing this info on to their respective YW Presidencies. I wasn’t there, but I’m fairly certain the FP would have consulted quite a bit with the General YW Presidency on a matter like this.

  23. I’m just now getting caught up on all the virtuous-talk, and I’m really surprised that no one’s brought up this yet. It’s the first thing I thought of.

  24. molly bennion says:

    I have both great sympathy for leaders distressed by the hook-up culture through which our youth must navigate and great concern for increased emphasis on purity if we do not couple that with an increased emphasis on the atonement so we do not lose those who err and solid reasons (yes, beyond the Lord said so) why sex outside of marriage is wrapped in danger. Last August Dialogue sponsored a session with BU religion professor Donna Freitas whose book Sex and the Soul (Oxford 2007) points the way to a a more successful sexual discussion for those who favor abstinence. Her research is particularly interesting regarding young women, whom she found felt used and abused in casual sex. I hope you who must now teach “virtue” as a sexual purity value will seek books like Donna’s, will treat sex with sufficient complexity, answering the questions the girls will be slow to ask, and will spend a good deal of time bringing the atonement to life for your girls. Deviance in a sexual purity culture too often results in a quick, clean break with religion.

  25. molly bennion says:

    Sponsored a session at Sunstone, that is, so you can listen to Donna’s discussion by logging on to

  26. Jennifer in GA says:

    I think it’s also worth pointing out that from 1984 (when the values and PP program were first introduced) until 2002, the program virtually remained unchanged. Since 2002, there have bee three major changes: A complete overhaul to the PP manual and the way the Young Womanhood Recognition Medallion is earned, the addition of “strengthen home and family” to the theme, and now the addition of an eighth value.

    It’s interesting to me that so many changes have come in such a relatively short time period, given that we all know how much the church dislikes changing its curriculm! Each time a change has been made it’s required a complete overhaul of the PP book itself and anything that has the YW theme printed on it (including scripture and pocket sized copies of the YW pamphlet).

    I attended a regional training meeting in Macon, GA shortly after the new PP program was introduced. Sister Julie Beck (the RS General President) and Sister Allred (I think she’s in the YW presidency now) were both in attendance at the meeting because they were on the YW General Board at the time. Sister Allred told us that they had worked in conjunction with the First Presidency and Quorom of the Twelve for over a year before the new PP program was ready to be introduced.

    Given that there has been three YW presidency changes since 2002, it almost seems that each presidency has worked on changing *some* aspect of the program.

  27. Boy, by reading the comments of some poster, you’d have thought that the letter that the first presidency set sent out contained the following line.

    “From now on, please lock your daughter up in the closet until a worthy male, who has met first presidency approval and has returned from a mission asks for her hand in marriage. Also, make sure your daughter has no say in who she marries.”

    Everything is a conspiracy.

    I’m wondering if there is some empirical data that the church leadership is looking at that has prompted this change. I’m also wondering if there was some discussion about who would sign their names to this letter. I’m wondering if they decided to go with the First Presidency because a letter from them might hold more weight than the Young Womens leadership might. That would be sad commentary, not on the leadership in Salt Lake, but on the leadership at the stake/ward level.

  28. AoF 13: “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”

    I read the above verse and notice that JS makes a strong distinction between chastity and virtue. Like many of the commenters above, I too am unable to interpret the letter in the OP as defining virtue as anything other than chastity. Strange, though, because interpreted thus, the last sentence of AoF 13 becomes creepy (it sounds like JS and his buddies really loved chaste, lovely (women), and sought after them).

    Sadly, to me it seems very unlikely that the various leaders involved in making the decision to add the 8th value to the YW program could have overlooked this article of faith in their deliberations. Which causes me to wonder what they could have been thinking. To me, although the logic doesn’t conclusively prove it based on the evidences presented above, the leaders of the church are trying to paint virtue as a strictly sexual issue, similar to the way they use the word “morality” to refer exclusively to sexual purity. But why, but why? Having virtue and morals is so much more than sexual practices.

  29. What I find a bit baffling is the underlying assumption that there was not already sufficient emphasis on chastity in the Church’s youth programs. The addition of this narrowly-defined value strikes me as unnecessary.

  30. Re. no 27, I’m not sure that the posters above are saying there’s a *conspiracy,* Ian M. Cook. Rather, I see a general bewilderment as to why feminine chastity is something that needs new-found emphasis, especially given that concept’s historical baggage.

    In our Ward, I work with the Young Men, and my wife works with the Young Women. We don’t perceive any imbalanced emphasis on the girls’ chastity, as opposed to the young men. However, the comments by molly bennion about navigating the youth through this area are apt and well-taken: Too many young people feel immediately disaffected after one LOC slip-up.

  31. #30:

    “Too many young people feel immediately disaffected after one LOC slip-up.

    This is in part a function of the “damaged goods” effect: the idea that once tainted, one can never regain the brightness of one’s garments and one’s standing in the community. Not an LDS-exclusive attitude regarding sexual practices outside of socially-appropriate contexts (marriage, heterosexuality), but one that is psychologically operative in the Mormon community.

    Its strange, but I see a sort of double standard. Those who convert to the Church who lived lives by “worldly” (don’t you hate that word?) standards, are accepted with open arms because of their “ignorance” of God’s laws, whether they grew up atheist, evangelical, or catholic. Those born in the Church should “know better”, so if they slip up their sins can never be forgotten or overcome. They have a hard time making friends, holding positions of authority in the church, etc.

    Why does the atonement work for converts so perfectly, but so inadequately for those born in the faith?

  32. SteveS – Thanks for this – had never thought of this before. And I think it’s right on. This realization makes me more inclined to be as charitable to those born in the church (ahem, my own children) as those who are converts.

    We are all converts in the end, right?

  33. That is a great point #31. I had never noticed before, but you are spot on. I have seen this very thing happen in many wards. Definitely something to be aware of.

  34. I recall good old days at USU family housing. The not opaque-enough windows in the bathrooms clearly revealed the profile of person(s) showering. In a correlation meeting, the elders’ quorum president recommended to the RS president that sisters place curtains in the windows. The sisters refused, stating that men should not be looking.

  35. Re: No. 30. As I mentioned in a related post the other day, it seems to me that within the YM & YW programs, the LOC is not another value… it is, in the end, the only value. Hence, one slip-up, and that is it…


  36. Rondell and Hestia:

    See here

  37. I continue to be proud of the LDS church’s clarity and purpose regarding the LOC. With 10 plus years in YM’s we hammer chastity all the time. Like almost every week.

    Are many of the posters above somehow ashamed of the LOC?

  38. Re: 36

    Hammer? My daughters, both of whom are highly chaste, felt the incessant chastity lectures were a sign of lack of trust. It made them wonder what their leaders had been up to in their youth.

    “People aren’t fanatical about things they really believe in. You don’t see people screaming from the rooftops that the sun is coming up in the morning.” –author unknown (to me).

    That said, I’m all in favor of Virtue as an LOC. The boys have 12 values, they could definitely use chastity as a 13th. (Morally clean is one of the slogans.)

  39. bbell: ashamed? not really. Speaking only for myself, I acknowledge the benefits of abstaining from sexual activity until marriage and will encourage my children to do so. Will I “hammer” chastity into them on a weekly basis? Certainly not! The points I made earlier (chastity does not equal virtue, and, mixed messages about the seriousness of chastity depending on whether you grew up in the church or not) were made simply to suggest that it seems it is the only value that matters to the Church (thanks Earl!). At least, that’s what we communicate when it becomes a topic of discussion each week at church among the youth and their leaders, and when terms like “virtue” and “morality” are narrowly defined as exclusively pertaining to a sexual context.

    Young people who get involved in pornography, masturbation, petting (do we still use that term?), or sexual intercourse need to recognize that their actions have spiritual, emotional, and physical consequences. But the repetition we use and vigor with which we seek to deter them from these actions has a way of driving transgressors away, should sin be committed. I guess what I’m really saying is that I think it is a shame we haven’t really been able to reach out to such individuals more effectively–take a look at young adult retention rates in the Church and the estimates of pornography usage among men in the Church, and I think its safe to assume that many people fall away precisely for LoC issues.

  40. Addended to the previous comment:

    Under these circumstances, do we need MORE emphasis on chastity? With all the pressures and implicit condemnation and social alienation that come along with the focus on chastity, I’m not sure.

  41. With this value, I wish the Church would find a way to emphasize the importance of being sensitive to the girls who have been victims of sexual abuse and assault. I felt filthy enough without yet another lesson about how important my lost innocence was.

    I heard a YW leader talk in very disapproving tones about a Beehive who was rumored to be pregnant. Can’t people see that if a 12-year-old girl is sexually active, it’s almost certain that she was abused and/or raped? Normal 12-year-old girls don’t want to have sex.

    This virtue will just be more singing to the choir. The undamaged girls with healthy self-images will be satisfied about their righteousness. Us damaged girls who believe we’re nothing more than a sex object because that’s how we’ve been treated will continue to wonder why God hates us so much that he made us female.

    Yes, I eventually got over those attitudes, but it took therapy, not chastity lessons. I really hated it when people talked about how glorious it is to be a woman. Being female is the hardest trial of my life.

  42. Tracy(38): clean is in the scout law and morally clean is in the scout oath. The slogan is “do a good turn daily”

    Further, the scout law is the law of the boy scout program, not any church program. The Aaron Priesthood purposes are here. There are 8 of them.

    Hope this helps.

  43. er aaronic that is

  44. -Prepare and live worthily to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and temple ordinances.
    -Prepare to serve an honorable full-time mission.
    -Prepare to become a worthy husband and father.
    -Give proper respect to women, girls, and children.

    I would say that these four imply chastity, but none of them are explicit.

  45. The only thing I think is weird is that the YW are expected to recite the theme, but the YM don’t recite the purposes of the priesthood.

  46. #45 – Ours do (though not required). I know of many other wards that do the same.

  47. Anonymous says:

    I know exactly how you feel, #41.

  48. Actually, as someone who was abused as a child, I appreciate the strong stance the church does take on the law of chastity and against physical and sexual abuse.

  49. Thanks for the Purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood link.

    I suppose adding men and boys for respectful treatment would nullify church ball.

    Obtaining as “much education as possible,” seems unrealistic. Maybe perpetual is the right name for the fund.

    The young men goals seem to focus on accomplishment; the young women goals focus on character traits.

  50. Matt W., that’s fantastic that you haven’t struggled in the same way as #41 & #47 have. But surely you realize that has much (if not everything) to do with your gender, and how society treats men vs women when it comes to sexual “purity.”

  51. I’m just now getting caught up on all the virtuous-talk, and I’m really surprised that no one’s brought up this yet. It’s the first thing I thought of.

    Well, we all know that virgin hookers fetch a significantly higher market price than their non-virtuous counterparts.

    Are many of the posters above somehow ashamed of the LOC?

    If you’re going to insist on posting stupid questions, at least tone down the smug self-satisfaction and self-righteousness.

  52. I strongly support the LOC and I truly believe that abstinence is the best practice until marriage. However, I am concerned with placing further emphasis on chastity in the YW’s program, because there is already far too much. I don’t think I am alone in feeling that the obsessive emphasis on chastity in YW left me feeling ashamed of my body and anxious (not to mention uninformed)about sex later in life.

    Futhermore, the over-emphasis on chastity combined with the emphasis on motherhood as a woman’s most appropriate role reinforced an impression I repeatedly received in the church: that women’s value lie in respect to their husbands and to their reproductive capacities. While I don’t think this is God’s doctrine (although some ordinances certainly imply that women are to primarily serve their husbands), it is a cultural attitude that I think persists in the YW’s program. I support an emphasis on chastity, but, like other posters here, I want lessons on chastity to give YW real knowledge that they can use and to incorporate more sensitivity. I also wish to see chastity be only one aspect of the many virtues we should strive for.

  53. From #52 (are mine)

    Futhermore, the over-emphasis on chastity combined with the emphasis on motherhood (fatherhood) as a woman’s (males) most appropriate role reinforced an impression I repeatedly received in the church: that women’s (mens) value lie in respect to their husbands(wives)and to their reproductive capacities.

    Sounds like a great lesson to me for all the YM in my stake this year at ward conferences. In fact it already is a main focus of the YM’s program so I see no reason to not have the YW focus on this as well.

    It counterbalances the selfish teachings and inclinations of a world in error.

  54. 52 – That goes for you to, Brad.

  55. (to=too)

  56. bbell #53: I’m confident you missed Natalie’s point in #52. Either that, or you actually do define individuals only in terms of the existence/quality of their spouse and reproductive capacities. In a way, I’m glad for people like you. At least you’ll keep me vigilant with my own childrens’ education, so I can know better how to deprogram them from all the kookiness and personal interpretation that gets passed off as Gospel truth in Church, and give them a less reactionary perspective on life, the Church, its teachings, etc.

  57. SteveS,

    If you do not want YM/YW leaders who teach YM/YW that the one of the most important things they will ever (hopefully knock on wood) do is be a righteous husband/wife and father/mother in Zion then you got issues with far more then little ol’ kooky me.

  58. Steve Evans says:

    bbell, surely you can recognize that there is a great deal of unnecessary and iffy teaching that gets put forward to YM/YW. Nobody is debating the importance of teaching chastity or preparing youth to be good parents, don’t be silly. The issue at hand is whether we risk losing youth or failing them in some matters by overemphasizing chastity disguised as virtue. There is surely room for improvement in this respect, which is the purpose of the discussion here.

  59. #53 – Actually, I agree with you that the YM are taught this, too. And, of course, would should value our family relationships as our most important.

    But I think that the YM and the YW’s situations are not quite parallel. One, women are treated in our doctrine (though, happily, not as often now in our culture) as under the juristiction of the husband. Two, men are applauded for having roles as both fathers and providers, which means that they have been historically more supported in cultivating talents outside of the home. As a consequence of these facts, it is far more problematic to say that women’s value lies in respect to their husbands and children, because far too often that has been literally true. Historically, women have not had the same opportunities for financial independence or the same support for achievements outside the home.

  60. Steve,

    My experience in the youth programs of the church is that the LOC is the greatest barrier to retention of teenagers. We need to do a better job teaching it but being hung up in college level debates over virtue vs chastity definitions really misses the mark.

  61. Steve Evans says:

    LOL, be a problem SOLVER, bbell. If you don’t want to participate in the discussion, fine, but labelling it a “college level debate” is unproductive. Like all blog discussions this one is what you make of it. You think everyone is missing the mark — okay — then it is up to you to make a constructive and novel suggestion here to elevate the discussion rather than cheap potshots.

  62. Steve, LOL indeed. Here is a novel approach that I actually use with YM and YW

    I really think that one key point that is missed in youth Chastity discussions is the sheer joy of sex. When sex is enjoyed within the bounds of matrimony its proper and frankly awesome.

    Many times we teach kids the dangers of sex almost in an attempt to scare them out of doing it. We need to balance that with the reality that sex was created by God for babies and for couples to bond together with.

    The kids like being given a reason to wait till marriage. So less gloom and doom and more…. Sex is worth waiting for!

  63. bbell,
    The Church could release a statement declaring that YW who violate the LOC should be publicly stoned to death and your argument would work just as well as a defense (and as an indictment of those who question, not the LOC itself, but the way it is being emphasized). The fact that it is important does not mean that any approach to teaching, emphasizing, and enforcing it, no matter how reductionist or extreme or otherwise potentially harmful, is automatically justified.

  64. This is actually kind of a timely discussion. Perhaps this isn’t on topic so much, or it needs to be a blog post all to it’s own, but there was quite an argument in my wifes YW class.

    On of the teachers began teaching some “folk doctrine” and one of the girls called her on it and they argued, but one of the points argued about was that the teacher (who is married to a non-member) said that “It is better to have a bad marriage and it be a temple marriage, that to have a good marriage and it be not in the temple.”

    One girl was steamed about it (partially because she has the hots for a non-member boy.

    On a side note, I think that the point that #62 makes is an interesting one. “I really think that one key point that is missed in youth Chastity discussions is the sheer joy of sex.”

    I’m not exactly sure how that would help in a chastity discussion. I’m pretty sure that the manuals don’t exactly say that “Sex is bad.” As a matter of fact, the manual that is meant for the youth 12-13 years old says this “Physical attraction to members of the opposite sex is natural and normal.” I know this isn’t much. The problem is that teachers can be scared to breach the subject, or they are too negative about it. I don’t think church emphasis or teaching needs changed, the “prude” culture of it’s members needs to change.