better to marry than to burn, but try not to burn at all


Yesterday we had the obligatory annual chastity lesson. This differs from the annual chastity talk given some fifth Sunday by the singles ward bishop in only a few ways. Most notably, it takes quotes from some dead President of the Church out of context but pretends that they flow together (seriously, check out the footnoting next lesson) and tends to be much less uncomfortable for all parties involved. Plus, there's not much chance of being told to only buy a pony that catches your eye, if you know what I mean, brethren, as one high councilor once did in my ward at the Lord's University.

The lesson was pretty standard, with the exception of the guy who wondered why church leaders don't urge women to dress like pioneers and/or why the US doesn't enact Muslim-state style laws of morality. I am not making this up. He disparagingly compared Mormon women to Middle Eastern women and honestly thought that bonnets and prairie dresses were the better part. Let's just say that, should he ever start dating a girl in the ward, I will break my nonintervention rule to tell her to get the hell out and now! There was also a guy who very bravely shared how he had had trouble with the law of chastity in the past and that it can be "sweetest fruit you'll ever partake" but that it's not worth it. He's recently engaged and everything's on the up and up now. This kind of sincere, honest, personal approach to a topic which most people would prefer to present as so shameful and removed from any one present to allow for individual examples was amazing. That, I feel, is what church should actually be like.

The real point here, though, is the lust v. love distinction that always comes up in these lessons. We hear it over and over again. Lust is all about physical attraction and leads only to pain, suffering and pregnancy. While love, on the other hand, leads to joy, fulfillment and pregnancy. The issue I have is that this strays a little to close to the chewed gum/nailed board/handled white rose theory of sex. In other words, it's the "sex is disgusting and awful so save it for the one you love" school of thought. I'm bothered because crossing lines of chastity is not exclusively about lust, about women fondling for attention or men using women as playthings (actual phrases employed by President Kimball). Or, to crib another wording of his, love does not always fly out the door when lust sneaks in.

This view presents that love is love and lust is lust and ne'er the twain shall meet. But the way lust is defined makes it sound like all sexual feelings and actions are lustful. The logical conclusion is that love has no basis in the physical plane. Clearly it does and should. Basically, what we need is a more complex understanding of premarital sex. Let's start by ditching this whole notion of not mentioning PTs, shall we? There is good reason to not dwell on what you've done wrong in the past, but there's great danger in pretending like nobody who's not a craven, twisted loser has chastity problems. We need more members in the church like the brother who was willing to admit that he'd fallen and gotten back up. After all, isn't that the message that Christ died for, that we can be lifted no matter what we stumble on? While we're at it, we might want to create a position that harmonizes our position that you can be married in the temple to someone other than your legal spouse if divorce isn't possible in the country you live in but a man still gets excommed if your legal marriage is to another man and not a woman (see here). Because, frankly, our current position doesn't make much sense. Lastly, why does sleeping with someone you love before marriage mean that you're hurting them? Surely it's not that simple.

Now, despite my libertine views and lifestyle, I actually do believe that unrestrained sexuality leads to a whole host of problems and should best be avoided in most cases. And I can see some rationale behind teaching this way. For instance, how do you teach teenagers to really tell enduring connections and quick fixes apart? Or how can you allow for legal same-sex marriages to be tolerated but not solemnized in your temples? And what about all those grey areas of intimacy, like when kissing and holding enters necking and petting? The list could go on and on. But this area is particularly thorny. Shouldn't we take the time to address the underlying issues. For example, why is chastity so important? The only reason I can come up with is that it's a requirement for the kind of marriage that God wants to happen (a temple one for time and all eternity). Are there other reasons I'm missing?

I guess this falls into the same class as all other topics taught in the Church. I wish we were just a little more complex in our handling of these things. We are, after all, supposed to learn everything we can while we're here, not just the same thing over and over again.


Jake Spurlock said...

Interesting thoughts. I taught this same lesson last week in my ward, and had a hard time going through the paces. The lesson has three parts, one was on contention, one was relying one the spirit instead of the wisdom of the world, and the third being morally clean.

The way that I looked at it, was we should all avoid contention. When there is contention in our hearts, we cannot have love. When we have love in our hearts, we been be guided by the spirit in decision, not having to rely on the wisdom of the world. If all os this is done, our actions will be in harmony with the spirit, and we will be, and our actions will be, morally clean.

I think that one of the most important facets of the gospel is love. I could go on and on... But I digress. ;)

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