Latter-day Saint teachings/Clarifying Latter-day Saint Teachings

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Clarifying Latter-day Saint Teachings

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Question: How do Latter-day Saints understand the concept of love?

Introduction to Question

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been confused about the meaning of love from a Gospel point of view. This article seeks to outline principles of love that will affect the attitudes and behavior of the Saints towards commandments, their views about their identity, and so on.

This reflects the best efforts of the author to define love from the scriptural canon of the Church. Others are free to disagree with this if they have better scriptural exegesis and/or better philosophical considerations. The author has tried to follow the principles and procedures for reading and interpreting scripture outlined in this article.

Response to Question

Definition of Love

The scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contain many mentions of love. In fact, there are over 600 occurrences of the words “charity,” “charitable,” “love,” “loved,” “loves,” “lovest,” “loving,” “loving kindness” and “loving kindnesses” in the entire canon. Readers are encouraged to either search out these words on the Gospel Library app or purchase concordances for the scriptures and explore each use.[1]

Love is the cardinal virtue one can possess as a Latter-day Saint. The prophet Alma compares those that don't possess it to the worthlessness of the dross of metal (Alma 34:29). The prophet Moroni likewise says we are nothing without charity (Moroni 7:44). The Savior bases his entire ethic on the law of love (Matthew 22:34-30).

After the author’s own review of the scriptures, the following definition of love can be derived:

Freely, rationally, generally unselfishly, and non-grudgingly acting without the expectation of reciprocity so as to recognize and respect the full personhood of humans and provide survival, telic flourishing, and happiness—both temporal and spiritual—to all creatures (including God) so that ultimately all exist in a relationship marked by unity of both heart and mind. All without the expectation of reciprocity.

As can be seen immediately, love is a concept pregnant with meaning for Latter-day Saints. As will be demonstrated, that’s the point.

Let’s break down each part.

Freely

A person must act freely when entering a loving relationship. Love can neither be coerced nor determined. This necessitates that there exist some ability in humans for genuinely free action. The locus classicus for the Latter-day Saint belief in free action is found in 2 Nephi 2:27:

27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.[2]

Rationally

It requires a rational enough mind to give the moral law content. A person who has significant enough mental impairments cannot construct if/then statements like are required for morality. Some are not capable of thinking something like “if I murder person, then I’m doing something wrong." Thus one needs to have a rational enough mind to formulate moral sentences and evaluate their truthfulness.

Those who can’t form moral sentences rationally are not of any less worth than others. All humans, as will be explained below, are of infinite, intrinsic moral worth.

Generally Unselfishly

Love is an act that seeks the good of the other. It is not self-centered. As Restoration Scripture tells us, “charity...seeketh not her own” (Moroni 7:45). The Savior taught us that "[h]e that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 16:26) and that we should love our neighbors and God with all we have (Matthew 22:34-30). However, love is only generally unselfish. It is important to love ourselves since, if we don’t, we won’t be able to love others. We can’t love others if we’re emaciated from hunger and thus too tired to help others. We can’t help others when facing crippling depression. Thus, we should love ourselves. King Benjamin taught us that "it is not requisite that a man [or woman] run faster than he [or she] has strength" (Mosiah 4:27). We should seek to love ourselves not as an end in and of itself, but as a means to the end of loving others.

Non-Grudgingly

We shouldn’t be hesitant with our love. Love should also not be given out of duty. If given out of duty, then it is not love. Moroni tells us that we shouldn’t give gifts grudgingly (Moroni 7:8). The Lord told the Saints that they should be equal in temporal things, "and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld" (Doctrine and Covenants 70:14).

Acting

As the late Baptist minister and professor of New Testament exegesis and theology at Fuller Theological Seminary George Ladd wrote in his seminal work on New Testament theology, on the New Testament's view "[l]ove is a matter of will and action."[3] Love is not merely being. You can say that you love someone until you’re blue in the face but it doesn’t mean anything until you actually do something to show it. The Lord told us that “if ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). To really be loving, you have to do things.

This is a crucial point that many don’t understand. In protest to certain Church standards, people will often say that we should just “focus on the heart” and “not judge others” by certain standards. The point deemphasizes the fact that love is and always will be a principle of action and God reserves the right to judge people by how well they act in accordance with Church standards.

Without the Expectation of Reciprocity

Love should be given without the expectation of reciprocity. To give care to someone's needs with the expectation of reciprocity is to treat someone of merely instrumental and not intrinsic worth. Love is when we care for someone's needs because of their intrinsic worth. An action can be called loving merely by someone not having the expectation that the other will care for their own needs. It does not necessarily need to be the case that there is no chance for reciprocity when trying to act lovingly towards others.

So as to Recognize and Respect the Full Personhood of Humans

Latter-day Saint theology holds that all human beings are of infinite, intrinsic (and not merely instrumental) worth. This because it is believed that they have 1) always existed and 2) with human like intelligence (Abraham 3:18). All humans are believed to be sons or daughters of Heavenly Parents and thus have a potential to become divinized like them and hold dominion over the universe (Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-20). Thus, along with being of infinite, intrinsic worth, humans are also believed to always of absolute worth. Nothing conditions their worth because they are, inherently, of the highest worth being gods in embryo. Humans are also the only creatures capable of having dominion over the earth and replenishing it (Genesis 1:26, 28; Moses 2:26-28; Abraham 4:26-28). They have the power to access other ecosystems and bring balance to them. A human can enter an ocean and bring balance to the habitat of fishes. A fish can't enter the habitat of a human and bring balance to it. They don't (and indeed can't without some form of miraculous technological intervention perhaps) have that type of intelligence.

Humans should thus never be treated as mere means to an end. They are persons and should never be treated as anything less than a person. Such would dehumanize them. If we love human beings, then we will never treat them as merely a means to an end.

The recognition of a person as having infinite, intrinsic, and absolute value should accompany every act we perform in relation to another. It will be demonstrated by both the attentiveness and tenderness we lend to people’s wants and needs.

And Provide Survival

It’s intuitive that love should have particular effects. The effects are what we use to discern what we value so much about love.

Among these effects, making people feel that they have absolute value (as discussed above), is a good effect. Survival is also a good effect. We are commanded to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and administer to the relief of the sick (Mosiah 4:26).

Telic Flourishing

Telic flourishing is also a good effect. A telos is a particular purpose or design that a thing has. The philosopher Aristotle posited that a thing flourishes when it acts or is used in accordance with its design. A basketball flourishes when it is bounced, passed, and shot through a hoop. Latter-day Saint theology teaches something similar. One thing that Latter-day Saint theology explicitly indicates is part of the human design is that of being united sexually after marriage (Genesis 2:21-24; Matthew 19:3-9; Doctrine and Covenants 49:15-17; Moses 3:21-24; Abraham 5:14-18).[4] A man is designed to be united with a woman and a woman is designed to be with a man. Thus, homosexual behavior (including same-sex marriage), pornography, most cases of masturbation, adultery, and other sexual behavior outside the confines of marriage, since they can and do lead men and women away from fulfilling their telos, are not acceptable under Latter-day Saint moral standards.

Latter-day Saints who have gone through and done initiatory ordinances in the temple may, from a blessing they receive during those ordinances, know the telos of many parts of the human body.

Happiness

Another thing that is likely a part of the human telos for Latter-day Saints is joy (2 Nephi 2:25). We find our greatest joy in committed, loving relationships. This is part of why the Savior commands that we love. Joy comes as we survive, flourish according to our telos, and have other things helped. For instance, a person with bad eyesight is loved by helping them regain it. True enough that a person with poor eyesight can be happy, but there are times when providing eyesight back can make them more joyful. We all want joy. Love given in this way can bring it. There is also a difference between temporal joy and spiritual joy. Temporal joy is getting a cool treat at the store from your parents. Spiritual joy is more enduring and primarily comes when we are acting in accordance with the thing that will bring us the most lasting joy like cultivating an abiding, intimate relationship with God. Temporal joy isn't necessarily bad, it's just not as valuable as spiritual joy. This may be why we're commanded to be "spiritually minded" (Romans 8:6,7).

Some may wonder here why we have separated these effects. The reason is that it's the author's belief that a person can have one or two of these things provided to them without the others. One can survive without being comfortable or happy. One can survive and be comfortable without being happy or experiencing telic flourishing.

To All Creatures

These effects should be brought to all creatures and not just humans. All creatures want to survive, to flourish according to their telos, and to be happy. Latter-day Saint scripture tells us that animals have spirits (Doctrine and Covenants 77:1-4). They also apparently have a telos. Doctrine and Covenants 59:16-19 explains this telos of animals and plants:

16 Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;
17 Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;
18 Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;
19 Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.

However, verse 20 of the same section provides this injunction:

20 And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.

This same caution against the use of animals in excess is repeated in Doctrine and Covenants 49:21. Another revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants clarifies that the Lord ordained the consumption of animals for times of winter, cold, famine, and excess of hunger (Doctrine and Covenants 89:15).

Including God

Love is not just a virtue that should be shown towards other animals and other humans. It should also be shown towards God. Jesus teaches that the first great commandment is to love God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength by keeping his commandments (Matthew 22:37; John 14:15).

There are commandments in scripture that clearly show God trying to get us to be in a totally unified, loving relationship with him (or, at least, can be interpreted as such). For instance, God commands us that we set aside the entire day of Sunday as a day to rest from labors and pay our devotions to him (Doctrine and Covenants 59:9-13). We spend most of our weeks not thinking about God. Isn't it intuitive that God would ask for one day for himself? Additionally, God expressly condemns witchcraft, sorceries, soothsayers, and idolatry since these types of people/behaviors can lead us to believe in other powers besides his. Engaging in these things becomes an affront to his omnipotence and total majesty. Idolatry is linked to adultery throughout scripture and God is depicted as the betrayed lover.

Jesus sets up a perfect triangle of love between us, others, and God in Matthew 22:33-40. He commands us to love both God and our neighbor. The purpose of this life is to discern how to create a totally unified, loving relationship between God, us, the rest of the human family, and all of God's creation.

So that Ultimately All Exist in a Relationship Marked by Unity of Both Heart and Mind

Love ultimately brings about unity. This unity should be a unity of both heart and mind. Love is the "bond of perfectness" (Colossians 3:14). The Doctrine and Covenants exhorts us to be clothed in the bond of charity and calls it a bond of perfectness and peace (Doctrine and Covenants 88:125).

Unity of heart is being 1) willing to continue providing for the needs of the person you are in a relationship with and 2) having trust that they feel the same for you. What should our universal purpose be as creatures? Love. Particularly, loving in the right way at the right time. By loving in the right way at the right time, we all grow into understanding of the principle of love.

Unity of mind is being agreed in and knowing all things including purpose, morality, science, and so forth. Unity of mind can thus happen now, but it can also grow further into the eternities. Scripture tells us to "be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind" (Philippians 2:2).

At the very root of the Latter-day Saint hope for the world is to create a relationship "of one heart and one mind" (Moses 7:18) with all of humanity. It is by this relationship that Latter-day Saints and indeed the entire human family can take on the very nature of God and become love personified (1 John 4:8).

If everyone were to face their attention outward and focus on the needs of others, eventually, no one's needs would need to be met. This is why the Savior wants us to lose our lives and begin to love others: so that we can eventually save ours and everyone else's life (Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24). If everyone is loving someone, no one will need love. If everyone has love, then we will all experience the greatest amount of joy that is possible to experience. This is the concept of Zion elucidated by Latter-day Saint scripture.

Conclusion

Thus, the Latter-day Saint philosophy of love would be something of a synthesis of the union, robust concern, appraisal, and emotion complex models of love in the philosophy of love.[5] Love, for Latter-day Saints, is both an attitudinal and active virtue.

Continued reflection may yield additional understanding on this vital theme. Readers are encouraged to seek it.


Question: How should we collectively view the concept of judgement?

Introduction to Question

The concept of judgement is misunderstood by most of the world. What can we learn from the scriptures about it?

The concept of judgement is probably one of the most frequently misunderstood facets of Christian ethics and religious life in general in today’s world.

Frequently, the concept is brought up in discussions where one person is attempting to give correction to another in light of Christian/Latter-day Saint moral values. The person who rejects correction will usually cite the scripture where Jesus tells his followers “judge not that ye be not judged.”

This article will correct a few misconceptions surrounding this concept.

Response to Question

Scripture Holistically

It will be best to cite the relevant scriptural data in full so as to get a better understanding of this. In the scriptural canon there are over 1300 combined uses of the words “judge,” “judged,” “judges,” “judgest,” “judgeth,” “judging,” “judgement,” “judgements,” “judgement-hall,” “judgement-seat,” and “judgement- seats.” A sizeable number of these have to do with God as our Eternal Judge, sitting on his judgement-seat, ready to enact judgement against those who have sinned without repentance at the last day.

There are upwards of 15 different Greek and Hebrew words that the canon uses to translate the above 11 words. Readers are encouraged to purchase a concordance for the scriptures or search these terms using the search function in the Gospel Library App and explore each use.[6]

What can we learn from this data? One thing we can learn is that judgement is not an inherently bad thing. Indeed, if it were, God would be sinning and, as a religious truism, God is perfect.

The real problem, then, can’t be judgement itself, but perhaps who is doing the judging. But even this has some problems as will be demonstrated.

Scripture in Context

Let’s take the most important scripture of this debate and reproduce it in full for analysis.

Matthew 7:1-5

1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

What are some of the lessons that we can draw from these verses? The first thing we might learn is that Jesus’ condemnation of judgement does not have to do with judgement itself. It is the way and time at which judgement is used. Jesus condemns hypocrisy with judgement. After we remove hypocrisy from ourselves, then we will be able to better cast out the mote in our brother’s eye. Indeed, Jesus even commands his followers to judge righteous judgement (John 7:24)! How could we even do missionary work or invite anyone to repent (Doctrine and Covenants 88:81) if we cannot recognize weaknesses or other sins in others and help them address them?

But what are some of the ways in which we judge unrighteously? Jesus has some things to say about this as well. In this scripture, it is heavily implied that we often have a greater weakness than our brother. Indeed, Jesus makes this clear by making a contrast between a mote (like a speck of dust) and a beam (a large piece of wood). So, we should examine ourselves and see if we have that same weakness. If we do, then we will be judged by our brother and, likely, God too. We should repent if we have that weakness. If we have fully repented, then we will have the opportunity to see the mote in our brother’s eye more clearly and be able to help him or her address it. When we do, we should do it in a spirit of meekness, humility, lowliness of heart, and love unfeigned. We should not seek to gain a sense of spiritual superiority by our helping others with their weaknesses. Indeed, we are all ultimately fallen men and women (Mosiah 3:19). This is what really upsets the person receiving correction: not judgement itself, but the way in which others judge. Does a person’s judgement lead them to help the other person receiving correction to only feel shame that produces self-loathing? Or does it inspire the other to see greater blessings in keeping the commandments?

Another way we judge unrighteously is by overlooking important details when judging someone's moral character (John 7:24).

In other articles we will explore the concepts of shame and harm and see how these might round out discussion of this important concept.

One Scripture That May Contradict the Viewpoint of This Article

There is one scripture that may contradict the view of this article.

The Lord told the Saints headquartered in Kirtland to make friends with their non-Latter-day Saint neighbors.

Doctrine and Covenants 82:22-23 states:

22 And now, verily I say unto you, and this is wisdom, make unto yourselves friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, and they will not destroy you.
23 Leave judgment alone with me, for it is mine and I will repay. Peace be with you; my blessings continue with you.

Some may use this scripture to say that we shouldn't judge anyone at all. Though this scripture more intuitively refers to merely pettiness in judgement. It cannot be used to invalidate the main point of this article: that unrighteous and righteous judgement both exist.

Conclusion

It is clear that there is something to learn for everyone regarding judgement. If others have better scriptural exegesis or philosophical considerations, they are welcome to send some of those disagreements to FAIR volunteers so that this article might improve if necessary. Continued meditation on this theme will almost certainly bring greater understanding to it.

Moving forward, it will be best to distinguish between unrighteous judgement (such as judgement that is petty, hypocritical, and/or presumptuous) and righteous judgment (such as judgement that helps us know what associations are going to lead us to always keep God's commandments).


Question: How should we collectively view the concept of harm?

Introduction to Question

The concept of harm is often misunderstood from a Gospel perspective. What can we learn about harm from the scriptures?

Response to Question

Harms that Bring about a Greater Good are Often Okay

One of the first things we can learn from the behavior of God and Jesus is that not all harms are bad. Indeed, it seems that if a harm brings about a greater good, then the harm may be justified.

Why would Jesus harshly criticize Peter (Luke 4:8)? Why would he rebuke unclean spirits (Luke 9:42)? Why would we be under the obligation to reprove our fellowmen with sharpness at times (Doctrine and Covenants 121:43)? It seems that not all harm is bad.

Harms that Do Not Bring about a Greater Good are not Okay

Only when harm treats others as if their lives were expendable or when a harm otherwise does not bring about a greater good should a harm be viewed as bad. That is one purpose of the whole moral ecosystem we know as the law of love laid out in scripture: to do away entirely with unnecessary harm and to allow us to know when it is appropriate to enact necessary harm.

Conclusion

It seems, then, that the task of any discussion of harm is to determine whether a particular action done by God or someone else does or does not bring about a greater good.

Continued meditation on this theme may reveal other important insights into this important concept. Readers are encouraged to seek it and send any thoughts to FAIR volunteers at this link so that we might consider it and add it to the article.


Question: How should we view the concept of shame?

Introduction to Question

The topic of shame has been one of the most discussed in recent years. What is the value of shame? What is shame?

These questions are explored in this article.

Response to Question

Distinguishing Shame From Guilt?

The primary concern of many when dealing with shame is that shame is associated in people’s minds with feelings of self-loathing rather than hope and change. Popular psychological researcher Brené Brown speaks about how shame is thinking “I am bad” whereas guilt is more like “I have done something bad.” Brown’s distinction has become quite popular in others’ consciousness and it is indeed useful.

In the author’s view, Brown’s distinction does run at least one risk: that we forget that shame and guilt are qualitatively very similar feelings. When we associate any bad feeling that is similar to shame (guilt, embarrassment, remorse, etc.) with the label of shame—and we view all shame as entirely bad—we can start to reject moral norms that are placed on us by the Gospel and the Lord's servants as merely conduits to self-loathing. It is not that Brown's distinction is wrong or bad; but that it can have adverse, unintended affects on our psyches/spirits and moral thinking if we do not monitor our thoughts and feelings carefully.

Is Shame Useful?

It is important to remember that not all shame is bad. Shame that only produces self-loathing is indeed bad, but shame also has other functions like instilling moral wrongs into people. Whenever we do something we feel is morally wrong, we may feel a degree of shame. That isn’t bad. Even in the scriptures the Lord tells us that there may be a time for others to feel shame. Doctrine and Covenants 42:74-93 lays out procedures for performing Church discipline for when a member offends another member:

88 And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled.
89 And if he or she confess not thou shalt deliver him or her up unto the church, not to the members, but to the elders. And it shall be done in a meeting, and that not before the world.
90 And if thy brother or sister offend many, he or she shall be chastened before many.
91 And if any one offend openly, he or she shall be rebuked openly, that he or she may be ashamed. And if he or she confess not, he or she shall be delivered up unto the law of God (emphasis added).

Thus, there should be a function for shame to some degree. Not self-loathing, but godly sorrow and the change it inspires within us.

Conclusion

Hopefully this article will serve as a point of insight for those seeking to understand this vital concept. Continued reflection is surely to reveal more on this. Readers are encouraged to seek it.


Question: What is the difference between agency and freedom?

Introduction to Question

Many confuse the difference between agency and freedom from a Gospel perspective. For instance, some complain against the Church’s strong discouragement of its members getting tattoos by saying that such “takes away a person’s agency” and that taking away agency was “Satan’s plan."[7] This article seeks to outline the true meaning of agency and freedom.

Response to Question

Definition of Freedom

The Webster’s 1828 Dictionary (contemporary to Joseph Smith) defines freedom as “[a] state of exemption from the power or control of another; liberty; exemption from slavery, servitude or confinement. freedom is personal, civil, political, and religious.”[8]

Definition of Agency

The Webster’s 1828 Dictionary teaches that agency is “The quality of moving or of exerting power; the state of being in action; action; operation; instrumentality; as, the agency of providence in the natural world.”[9]

Explanation

Thus agency is the capacity to make an undetermined decision whether or not a particular freedom is given to you. Freedoms can and are stripped rightfully at times. The freedom to kill an innocent person is not one that is granted by basically anyone. Religious organizations have a right just like anyone else does to take away and give certain freedoms that define the parameters within which one must remain in order to be counted as members/full participants in those organizations.

Conclusion

Hopefully this will serve as a point of clarity for those that are wishing to gain added insight into this vital concept. Additional reflection may yield more insight.


Question: When, if ever, is it okay to disagree with Church leaders?

Introduction to Question

The current First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Russell M. Nelson as President (center), Dallin H. Oaks as First Counselor (left), and Henry B. Eyring as Second Counselor (right).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a large and well-established organization of leadership. This video outlines that leadership in detail:


The President of the Church, considered to be a prophet of God, receives revelation on behalf of the entire Church. Each person receives revelation for his or her own position and correlative sphere of influence in the Church. The more general the leader, the more general their stewardship. An Elder’s Quorum President can receive revelation to direct the Elder’s Quorum, a Bishop might be able to receive revelation to direct the Elder’s Quorum, but the Elder’s Quorum President cannot receive revelation on behalf of the whole ward like the Bishop can.

Occasionally in the Church, it is asked when it is ever okay to disagree with the decisions and/or teachings of local and/or general Church leadership.

This article will outline those occasions when it may be okay to disagree with leaders of the Church.

Three Important Initial Considerations

Before we get into the occasions when it may be okay to disagree with Church leaders, it is important to keep three things in mind.

The Ideal: Agreeing with and Defending as Much of Leaders’ Words and Actions as Humanly Possible

First, we should lay out what the ideal is for every Latter-day Saint in relation to all leaders (both general and local) of the Church. That is:

We should try and agree with, defend, and live out the words and actions of all leaders of the Church as much as humanly possible.

This is what it means to sustain a leader: to uphold their influence in human hearts as much as possible. When we disagree with them or criticize them, they can start to lose their influence either in our own hearts, the hearts of other people that hear our criticism, or both.

Particularly in regards to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, we are told over and over again in the scriptures that they are holy.[10] We should try and treat them and their words as such.

We are also told in scripture to receive all the prophet's words as if from the mouth of God in all patience and faith.[11] Additionally, we are told that if we do lift our heels against them and say they have sinned when they haven't, that we will be cursed.[12] Latter-day Saints who have gone through temples to receive their endowment have covenanted to not speak evil of the Lord's anointed.

This is absolutely not to say that we make an assumption that the leaders of the Church (both general and local) are incapable of error. The scriptures expressly declare that the prophets are capable of error. The first section of the Doctrine and Covenants declares that when leaders make errors, it shall be made known.[13] It also declares that when they sin, they will be chastened so that they will repent.[14] All this means, again, is that we agree with and defend them as much as possible so as to uphold their influence on human hearts and minds.

We're trying to get the whole human family into a relationship of one heart, one mind, with no poor among us, and everyone dwelling in righteousness by living the Savior's law of love.[15] We can't accomplish that task unless the human family trusts God's appointed spokesmen to accurately relay how we can all achieve that type of relationship with one another given the world's circumstances.

Recognizing a Fault or Mistake vs. Criticizing and Backbiting

Prophets and apostles have consistently taught that there is a difference between the type of differences of view that members can have with Church leaders and criticism or backbiting. Elder Dallin H. Oaks noted that there is a difference between the type of criticism that is "the act of passing judgement as to the merits of anything" and "the act of passing severe judgement; censure; faultfinding" which Church members are to refrain from in relation to Church leaders. Elder Oaks notes that the latter is condemned repeatedly in scripture.[16] There is a large difference between recognizing that what some Church leader said is mistaken or wrong and openly criticizing them and faultfinding. When we have disagreements, we can do the former and not the latter.

The strongest word that the scriptures use in relation to addressing the faults of top leaders is admonish which means "[t]o warn or notify of a fault; to reprove with mildness."[17] That word is used twice in scripture in relation to leaders of the Church and only directed to people that have close relationships with the prophet. In the first instance it is with Oliver Cowdery in 1829 before the organization of the Church:

19 Admonish him in his faults, and also receive admonition of him. Be patient; be sober; be temperate; have patience, faith, hope and charity.[18]

In the second instance it is given to Thomas B. Marsh who was the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

12 And pray for thy brethren of the Twelve. Admonish them sharply for my name’s sake, and let them be admonished for all their sins, and be ye faithful before me unto my name.[19]

In this latter scripture, it does say to admonish "sharply." But, again, it's used in relation to someone who is already in high positions in the Church. Also, "sharply," in this context, more than likely means "with plainness, truth, and clarity" rather than "with harsh censure." Such has been argued persuasively by Kent P. Jackson and Robert D. Hunt.[20]

Five procedures to follow if you have differences with Church leadership

Elder Oaks gave five things that members can do when they have differences with Church leadership.

  1. Overlook the difference
  2. Reserve judgment and postpone any action on the difference
  3. Take up our differences privately with the leader involved.
  4. Communicate with the Church officer who has the power to correct or release the person thought to be in error or transgression.
  5. Pray for the resolution of the problem.[21]

These procedures, as Oaks astutely observes, help one to address the point of pain while also keeping in accordance with the principles of moral truth outlined in scripture—thus allowing an individual to keep the Spirit of the Lord with them.

There may be times where we believe that personal revelation has told us something that contradicts the prophet’s revelation. In these cases, review the principles and procedures outlined in this article.

Occasions When One May Disagree With Church Leaders

Now we list the occasions in which one may disagree with Church leaders. These are not automatic exceptions. Disagreement should be handled in a spirit of charity, prayer, and seeking the good of the Kingdom of God.

1. It may be okay to disagree with Church leadership when what they teach is out of harmony with the Standard Works

The first place where it would be okay to disagree with any Church leadership is when they say something that is out of line with the standard works. Joseph Smith left clear revelation that the canonized scriptures should govern the Church.[22] This since they have been revealed by the Lord's duly appointed prophet (the only one authorized to receive revelation on behalf of the entire Church),[23] submitted to and approved by all members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve,[24] and submitted to the general body of the Church for ratification.[25] Scripture should be read contextually (that is, in the historical context of the people who would have first heard the revelation) and holistically (seeing everything scripture has to say on the topic at hand) to acquire accurate theological conceptions that members judge every person's doctrine against. This article explains in more detail how to read the scriptures.

Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine. You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards of doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works. Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted.[26]

It's important to remember that just because a doctrine doesn't immediately and explicitly pop up in scripture, doesn't mean that that teaching isn't inspired. For instance, President Russell M. Nelson taught the following at the October 2017 General Conference of the Church:

My dear brothers and sisters, I promise that as you prayerfully study the Book of Mormon every day, you will make better decisions—every day. I promise that as you ponder what you study, the windows of heaven will open, and you will receive answers to your own questions and direction for your own life. I promise that as you daily immerse yourself in the Book of Mormon, you can be immunized against the evils of the day, even the gripping plague of pornography and other mind-numbing addictions.[27]

This is a promise connected to a specific action. This promise and action are never explicitly laid out in scripture, but the Lord does bless us as we treat the prophets as holy, are anxiously engaged in a good cause of our own free will without God's revelation (like sustaining the prophet by lovingly accepting his challenges),[28] and receive the words of the prophet as if from the mouth of God in all patience and faith as we are bound to do by the Doctrine and Covenants.[29]

2. It is okay to disagree with Church leadership when they try and claim revelation for something that is outside the bounds of their stewardship

As mentioned before, Church leaders have a specific sphere of influence that they are given with their calling and they are only allowed to receive revelation for that calling.

Elder Oaks taught the following. His words are supported by scripture (cited in the footnotes):

First, we should understand what can be called the principle of “responsibility in revelation.” Our Heavenly Father’s house is a house of order, where his servants are commanded to “act in the office in which [they are] appointed."[30] This principle applies to revelation. Only the President of the Church receives revelation to guide the entire Church. Only the stake president receives revelation for the special guidance of the stake. The person who receives revelation for the ward is the bishop. For a family, it is the priesthood leadership of the family. Leaders receive revelation for their own areas of responsibility. Individuals can receive revelation to guide their own lives. But when one person purports to receive revelation for another person outside his or her own area of responsibility—such as a Church member who claims to have revelation to guide the entire Church or a person who claims to have a revelation to guide another person over whom he or she has no presiding authority according to the order of the Church—you can be sure that such revelations are not from the Lord. “There are counterfeit signals.”[31] Satan is a great deceiver, and he is the source of some of these spurious revelations. Others are imagined. If a revelation is outside the limits of your specific responsibility, you know it is not from the Lord and you are not bound by it.[32]

3. It may be okay to disagree with Church leadership when their decisions don’t come from revelation

Members may disagree with Church leaders' decisions when those decisions do not come from revelation. When a decision, new doctrine, new policy, etc. is claimed to come by revelation, this adds a confirming, divine witness on that action and disagreement with that decision may very likely be disagreement with God. Since revelation almost always comes from God through the Holy Spirit, it follows that when the Holy Spirit does not touch us, that we are usually not receiving revelation.

As the Lord told all prospective missionaries in 1831, we are inspired when the Holy Ghost touches us:

3 And this is the ensample unto them, that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.


4 And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.

5 Behold, this is the promise of the Lord unto you, O ye my servants.[33]

Here we echo the above caveat to not immediately reject a teaching, policy, promise, and/or other action that is not explicitly laid out in scripture/not explicitly said to have come by revelation.

Plato and Aristotle in discussion, by Luca della Robbia (1437)

4. It is okay to disagree with Church leadership when their conduct clearly does not fall in line with the moral standards and other statutes laid out in scripture

Another area in which members can disagree with Church leadership is when their conduct does not clearly fall in line with the moral standards and other statutes laid out in scripture. What are the moral standards laid out in scripture? See this article for an informative yet non-exhaustive summary.

As mentioned before, the Doctrine and Covenants expressly states that when Church leaders make errors it will be known. It also states that when they sin, they will be chastened so that they will repent. No one is exempt from the laws of the Church given through prophets by God via revelation. All must be held accountable before the appropriate authorities for their transgressions.[34] The Doctrine and Covenants even provides a procedure for excommunicating the President of the Church.[35]

5. It may be okay to disagree with Church leadership when their words do not accord with science

This last one is perhaps the most fraught with difficulty and complexity. We absolutely do not want to make science our idol. We do not want it to have higher authority than revelation or the prophets. We do not want to reject doctrines of the Church just because the current scientific community accepts something that might be at odds with Church doctrine and other moral standards placed upon us by the Church.

However, we also do not want to be hostile to science either. We want to have science inform our perspectives on things pertaining to the Gospel as much as possible. Take, for instance, the words of the revelation given to Joseph Smith when organizing the School of the Prophets:

77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.


78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;

79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—

80 That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.[36]

It is clear from the revelation that our theology is expressly not hostile to science. We welcome it in order to be better instructed in things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. Thus, we will have to do a continuous dance with our scripture and the academy: seeing how revelation and science converge. For instance, we can see what miracles, characters, and other events in scripture that we must logically see as literal and historical and which we do not. We might be informed about other things about the nature of those miracles, characters, and other events.

As President Brigham Young taught:

“Mormonism,” so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to “Mormonism.” The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this Church. As for their morality, many of them are, morally, just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom. “Mormonism” includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. It is life, eternal life; it is bliss; it is the fulness of all things in the gods and in the eternities of the gods.[37]

Conclusion

It is the hope of the author that these principles and ideas will serve productively to show that there is room for disagreement in the Church without undermining the (very) essential governmental structure and holy authority of Church leaders.


Question: How does official teaching of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints view those that receive revelation that contradicts that of the Prophet?

Introduction to Question

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe in living prophets—men who literally can speak for God in our day.[38] They boldly and proudly proclaim that the heavens are open and that God speaks today on behalf of the entire human family through these prophets. Prophets speak for God by way of revelation. This revelation can sometimes constitute the Church's policy on something, a commandment given by God to the Church, and can sometimes indicate what Latter-day Saints believe to be eternal, unchanging truths.

Members of the Church enjoy the opportunity to hear from the prophet. They are encouraged to seek revelation of their own to know if God calls prophets today and if the current president of the Church is God’s authorized prophet. They are also encouraged to seek revelation as to how best apply the words of the prophets into their daily lives.

Occasionally within the Church, there are claims by those who affirm to be members of the Church (and sometimes by those even outside of official Church membership) that they have received a revelation that contradicts revelation claimed by the prophet on behalf of the whole Church. These claims to revelation are spread publicly and often stir controversy among Latter-day Saints because of the opposition the person enacts against the Church leadership.

These claims are all too familiar for mature Latter-day Saints. Such claims are heard frequently and to hear that revelation contradicts the prophet can cause some dissonance for those that are seeking to understand what Latter-day Saint doctrine can inform these epistemological discussions and provide answers to resolve these seemingly difficult problems.

This article will seek to identify principles and procedures that people can follow if they believe that they have received revelation that contradicts that of the President of the Church, the First Presidency, and/or the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. These will be sought for from the official scriptures and teachings of the leaders of the Church.

Five Things to Do in Case of Belief of Contradictory Revelation

1. As a first step, members ought to consider whether they are mistaken or misled.

Many members of the Church who find themselves in this situation ought to consider if they are simply wrong. There are a few ways in which members might be wrong.

1. Can’t have Spirit if in transgression or if in rebellion of Church leaders. President Dallin H. Oaks taught:

We cannot have the companionship of the Holy Ghost—the medium of individual revelation—if we are in transgression or if we are angry or if we are in rebellion against God’s chosen authorities.[39]

His words are supported by the official scriptures. According to them, the Spirit of God cannot abide in unclean hearts (hearts of people who have willfully sinned and/or rebelled against God) and to receive the First Presidency is to receive God.[40] If Latter-day Saints are in purposeful rebellion towards the leaders of the Church, it is believed that they may be in great danger of being deceived by false Spirits.[41] The scriptures teach clearly that hearkening unto the revelation received by prophets is how members will not be deceived in the last days before Christ's second coming and how they can become like God--thereby achieving salvation and exaltation.[42] Several scriptures address how to discern the difference between true and false Spirits.[43] This may seem surprising to modern Latter-day Saints that evil and/or unclean spirits might have influenced them to believe something false, but the Book of Mormon documents how this very thing happened among the Nephites.[44]

Latter-day Saints would also know that there are people who may intentionally want to be led by false Spirits--people that will spiritual experiences to pass that convince them of their own prophethood, so to speak. There are also those that might claim to have had a spiritual experience telling them that the prophets are wrong (when they haven’t actually had any revelatory experience) simply for the purpose of stirring up contention, mocking the epistemology of the Saints, and/or to simply troll. These are those that might be said to “pervert the Gospel.”[45]

2. Seeking revelation on everything can make us susceptible to self-deception or influence of false spirits. President Oaks had another thing to say on this regarding those that seek revelation on everything:

Closely related to this example is the person who has a strong desire to be led by the Spirit of the Lord but who unwisely extends that desire to the point of wanting to be led in all things. A desire to be led by the Lord is a strength, but it needs to be accompanied by an understanding that our Heavenly Father leaves many decisions for our personal choices. Personal decision making is one of the sources of the growth we are meant to experience in mortality. Persons who try to shift all decision making to the Lord and plead for revelation in every choice will soon find circumstances in which they pray for guidance and don’t receive it. For example, this is likely to occur in those numerous circumstances in which the choices are trivial or either choice is acceptable. We should study things out in our minds, using the reasoning powers our Creator has placed within us. Then we should pray for guidance and act upon it if we receive it. If we do not receive guidance, we should act upon our best judgment. Persons who persist in seeking revelatory guidance on subjects on which the Lord has not chosen to direct us may concoct an answer out of their own fantasy or bias, or they may even receive an answer through the medium of false revelation. Revelation from God is a sacred reality, but like other sacred things, it must be cherished and used properly so that a great strength does not become a disabling weakness.[46]

The scriptures confirm his teaching. We are told in Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-28 to not be commanded in all things and are bring about righteousness through our own agency.[47]

3. Over-interpreting a heart flutter. It may be that an emotional reaction to something can be over-interpreted as a spiritual impression. Latter-day Saints should seek more dynamic confirmation if they are unsure they’ve felt the Spirit. Prophets have warned us about mistaking emotion for revelation. President Howard W. Hunter taught:

Let me offer a word of caution. . . . I think if we are not careful . . . , we may begin to try to counterfeit the true influence of the Spirit of the Lord by unworthy and manipulative means. I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself.[48]

4. Can’t receive revelation outside of stewardship. Lastly, members should remember the concept of stewardship. For example, only the President of the Church may receive revelations on behalf of the entire Church.[49] Only those members of the Church that are appointed to a particular office may receive revelation for that office. Again from Elder Oaks:

First, we should understand what can be called the principle of “responsibility in revelation.” Our Heavenly Father’s house is a house of order, where his servants are commanded to “act in the office in which [they are] appointed."[50] This principle applies to revelation. Only the President of the Church receives revelation to guide the entire Church. Only the stake president receives revelation for the special guidance of the stake. The person who receives revelation for the ward is the bishop. For a family, it is the priesthood leadership of the family. Leaders receive revelation for their own areas of responsibility. Individuals can receive revelation to guide their own lives. But when one person purports to receive revelation for another person outside his or her own area of responsibility—such as a Church member who claims to have revelation to guide the entire Church or a person who claims to have a revelation to guide another person over whom he or she has no presiding authority according to the order of the Church—you can be sure that such revelations are not from the Lord. “There are counterfeit signals.”[51] Satan is a great deceiver, and he is the source of some of these spurious revelations. Others are imagined. If a revelation is outside the limits of your specific responsibility, you know it is not from the Lord and you are not bound by it.[52]

The First Presidency wrote in 1917:

When visions, dreams, tongues, prophecy, impressions or any extraordinary gift or inspiration, convey something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear. … In secular as well as spiritual affairs, Saints may receive Divine guidance and revelation affecting themselves, but this does not convey authority to direct others. … The history of the Church records many pretended revelations claimed by imposters or zealots who believed in the manifestations they sought to lead other persons to accept, and in every instance, disappointment, sorrow and disaster have resulted therefrom.[53]


Members may feel some discouragement that it takes such effort to receive and recognize revelation; but this is, in a somewhat ironic way, strictly in line with the Lord's requirement for his people to be "tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that [he has] for them, even the glory of Zion[.]"[54] Learning to receive and recognize revelation would logically not be an exception to such a requirement.

In order to guard themselves against false revelation, members should seek to understand what is already laid out in the revelations contained in scripture. Joseph Smith left clear revelation that the canonized scriptures should govern the Church (D&C 42: 12-13, 56-60; 105:58-59). This since they have been revealed by the Lord's duly appointed prophet: the only person authorized to receive revelation on behalf of the entire Church (D&C 21:4-5; D&C 28:2), submitted to and approved by all members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve (D&C 107:27), and submitted to the general body of the Church for ratification (D&C 26:2; 28:13). Scripture should be read contextually (that is, in the historical context of the people who would have first heard the revelation) and holistically (seeing everything scripture has to say on the topic at hand) to acquire accurate theological conceptions that they judge their spiritual impressions against. This article explains how to do this in more detail.

2. Members should pray to have their heart changed if this is necessary.

In the Book of Mormon, Nephi didn’t understand the meaning of his father Lehi’s vision. He was given the opportunity to either reject his father’s words or accept them. As a result of the confusion Nephi felt, he prayed to God to have his heart softened if necessary. All Latter-day Saints can learn from this example that Nephi set.[55] There may be things with which they do not fully agree with or understand at this moment. We learn from the Book of Mormon that a witness comes after the trial of faith.[56] We also learn that as one continues in light, that light can grow brighter and brighter until the perfect day.[57] Thus if we disagree with something right now, we may at some point grow in understanding of what has been revealed by prophets that we can reject the influence of false ideas and, yes, even false spirits that may have influenced us into believing something that wasn't true. A time of personal disagreement is fine. What isn’t fine for a person committed to the truths of Latter-day Saint theology is to not consider that one may be wrong and/or not approaching God with an honest heart seeking an answer from him when they have these types of questions. He promises that if we ask, we will receive.[58]

3. Members should be patient.

Closely related to this last point, members should be patient. For Latter-day Saints, the answer to prayer as to if something is right may not come until a bit later.

Consider a case from President Brigham Young. Brigham Young talked about the first time Joseph Smith taught something that he didn’t and couldn’t believe. It happened when Joseph taught about three degrees of glory in heaven. Said Brigham:

I was not prepared to say that I believed it [three degrees of glory], and I had to wait. What did I do? I handed this over to the Lord in my feelings, and said I, ‘I will wait until the Spirit of God manifests to me, for or against.’ I did not judge the matter, I did not argue against it, not in the least. I never argued the least against anything Joseph proposed, but if I could not see or understand it, I handed it over to the Lord.[59]

Note that Brigham does not “blindly follow” Joseph. He does not start believing the doctrine simply because Joseph preached it. Brigham insisted that he have his own witness prior to believing.

Yet, Brigham did not go too far the other way either. He did not engage in learned debate, or publish an “alternative” newspaper (today such folks would probably start a blog or post on Facebook) detailing all the reasons why he did not believe what Joseph was teaching. He conformed his outward behavior in accordance with his covenants, but he did not abdicate his inner responsibility for building his testimony by confronting his sincere doubt and uncertainty. He waited for revelation, but he did not let that which he did not know destroy that which he did know.

If he had not taken this approach, he would never have gotten a revelation. There is an old adage in Latter-day Saint culture that says "faith precedes the miracle." Perhaps this can include the faith to simply be patient for revelation that we need.

President Boyd K. Packer cautioned:

There are those within the Church who are disturbed when changes are made with which they disagree or when changes they propose are not made. They point to these as evidence that the leaders are not inspired.

They write and speak to convince others that the doctrines and decisions of the Brethren are not given through inspiration.

Two things characterize them: they are always irritated by the word "obedience," and always they question revelation. It has always been so.[60]

As mentioned previously, in The Book of Mormon it is taught that one receives no witness until after the trial of their faith.[61] Latter-day Saints might consider this in their efforts to be patient in receiving the light and knowledge they need to be in line with the authorities of the Church.

4. If, after all this, we still believe we are being told that the leaders of the Church are wrong, we are still not authorized to publicly preach or urge a different course of action or teaching.

President George Q. Cannon observed:

We could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the Authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing these differences of opinion and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife and to place the acts and counsels of the Authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term. We further said that while a man might honestly differ in opinion from the Authorities through a want of understanding, he had to be exceedingly careful how he acted in relation to such differences, or the adversary would take advantage of him, and he would soon become imbued with the spirit of apostasy and be found fighting against God and the authority which He had placed here to govern His Church.[62]

Dallin H. Oaks gave five things that members can do when they have differences with Church leadership.

  1. Overlook the difference
  2. Reserve judgment and postpone any action on the difference
  3. Take up our differences privately with the leader involved.
  4. Communicate with the Church officer who has the power to correct or release the person thought to be in error or transgression.
  5. Pray for the resolution of the problem.[63]

These procedures, as Oaks astutely observes, help one to address the point of pain while also keeping in accordance with the principles of moral truth outlined in scripture—thus allowing an individual to keep the Spirit of the Lord with them.

It’s important to know that Latter-day Saints can have differing opinions as to the efficacy of policy. Policy is a different matter entirely from revelation that teaches truths about heaven. Latter-day Saint scripture teaches that they are meant to seek all that is "virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy" and use all disciplines to be better instructed in the Kingdom of God.[64] We may find things that may be helpful in supplementing the already good principles being used by the leaders of the Kingdom in building it up. As matters of policy and, more particularly, policy that is not claimed to have come by revelation, Church members may be free to agree and disagree and opine on ways the Church might improve through constructive dialogue. As matters of revelation that teach eternal truths, however, it’s difficult to conceive of a member that would go against revelations as received and approved by the top counsels of the Church. Such seems to be bad epistemology. It’s to ascribe a certain amount of self-delusion to the top leadership of the Church even when they’ve followed all necessary steps for making something official. The Doctrine and Covenants is explicit that a person cannot "lift up [their] heel" against the President of the Church and the other leaders and believe that they have sinned when they haven’t.[65] Are we sure that we want to deny that someone has received revelation when 15 people confirm the same thing? This type of theology also speaks to the ability that humans have in general to receive revelation from God. If humans can be wrong about receiving revelation even when unified in claiming that they have in regards to any particularity, then how much more ability does a regular person have to receive revelation that doesn't simply confirm their own biases? It’s to make it so that God’s word is not, in Latter-day Saint scriptural vernacular, "sharper than a two edged sword" and make it so that "the law hath no claim on the creature."[66]

5. Members may be taught things by revelation that may be true, and for their comfort, but it is still not their place to spread them publicly, use them to advocate for change, and so forth.

Another point closely related to this is to know how revelation that gives us a mystery not yet known to the general body of the Church is to be taught. The Book of Mormon teaches that there will be times when people will receive revelations that may provide them instruction about the mysteries of God. Nevertheless, whenever they’re given mysteries, they are, according to Latter-day Saint doctrine, to not preach that as revelation until such knowledge is given to the whole Church through the appointed prophet.[67]

Doctrine and Covenants 28:4-5 tells us that:

4 And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it.
5 But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom;


All this begs the question of how we'll know it's the Spirit that prompts us to share. We will recognize that the Spirit is the one that prompts us to share when we feel that it doesn't motivate us to share it as factual knowledge. It will also not motivate us to go spread the information and stir up contention and strife among the Saints or stir up malice against the Church.[68] There may be times when the Spirit can prompt us to share our knowledge with someone, but it will likely be on a very individual basis and in private. You will likely not be bothered with the general rule being taught as the position for the entire Church.

Other Latter-day Saint prophets have taught similar things:

  • Brigham Young: “Should you receive a vision of revelation from the Almighty, one that the Lord gave you concerning yourselves, or this people, but which you are not to reveal on account of your not being the proper person, or because it ought not to be known by the people at present, you should shut it up and seal it as close, and lock it as tight as heaven is to you, and make it as secret as the grave. The Lord has no confidence in those who reveal secrets, for He cannot safely reveal Himself to such persons..”[69]
  • Joseph F. Smith: “Not even a revelation from God should be taught to his people until it has first been approved by the presiding authority—the one through whom the Lord makes known His will for the guidance of the saints. . . .The spirit of revelation may rest upon any one, and teach him or her many things for personal comfort and instruction. But these are not doctrines of the Church, and, however true, they must not be inculcated [i.e., taught and distributed/published] until proper permission is given.”[70]
  • Joseph Fielding Smith: “If a man comes among the Latter-day Saints, professing to have received a vision or a revelation or a remarkable dream, and the Lord has given him such, he should keep it to himself. . . . the Lord will give his revelations in the proper way, to the one who is appointed to receive and dispense the word of God to the members of the Church.”[71]

As a matter of caution, it would be wise to again point out that the Book of Mormon records how Satan went about the land, stirring up contention among the Nephites with rumors, gossip, and false teachings. If there is a spirit that tells us that we should publicly disclose our revelation and seek to bring others to our side, this would likely need to be seen as coming from Satan. Members may be taught things for their instruction or their comfort, but they should not disclose those revelations unless the Prophet of the Church reveals the same thing.

Conclusion

It’s not uncommon to hear difficult questions such as this one being leveled against the Church by its more secularist critics as if this were some sort of slam dunk on its epistemology. Although many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may feel confused by these questions and some not as well read in order to provide answers to these questions, the reality is that these epistemological questions have been answered by the official scriptures and teachings of leaders of the Church since the Church's inception. Understanding the previous principles and being able to articulate them to others will provide an excellent “reason for the hope that is within us” and help us to live more as Zion—as “one heart and one mind.”[72]


Question: What is the significance of the temple garment worn by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and what is the appropriate way to wear them?

Garments worn by male members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Introduction to Questions

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perform several sacred ordinances or ceremonies for individuals that they believe are necessary for individual exaltation. A few of these ceremonies are performed in temples: holy places dedicated to serving God.

As part of ceremonies in the temple known as “initiatories,” individuals put on sacred underclothes to symbolize some of the sacred promises that they make in the temple as well as sacred knowledge conferred to them. These underclothes are commonly referred to as "the temple garment," "temple garments," "the garment," or simply "garments."

Members of the Church who go through these ceremonies and put on these sacred garments are sometimes confused as to two things:

  1. Whether or not they make a covenant to wear the garment
  2. When it might be appropriate to remove or modify the garment

This article seeks to answer these two questions given what we know from the temple and other official Church sources.

Response to Questions

1. Do Latter-day Saints covenant to wear the garment?

According to the official leadership handbook of the Church, “[m]embers who receive the endowment make a covenant to wear the temple garment throughout their lives.” A "covenant" is defined by the Church (and, indeed, by most dictionaries) as “a sacred agreement between God and a person or group of people. God sets specific conditions, and He promises to bless us as we obey those conditions.”

In the temple, we are instructed to wear the garment throughout our life, to not defile it, and to remain true to the other covenants we make in the temple. In exchange, the garment will serve as a spiritual shield and protection (and what good does a shield that isn't worn do?).This clearly follows the definition of “covenant” above. It is understandable and forgivable that confusion would arise on the issue since the endowment does not explicitly state that you receive the garment by covenant, but the instruction given plus the blessings promised for complying with that instruction clearly fall in line with the definition of covenant.

To “defile” means to violate the sanctity of something. To not wear garments when you have the reasonable opportunity to wear them (as discussed below) certainly falls in line with this definition.

2. When might it be appropriate to remove or modify the temple garment?

The official leadership handbook section on wearing the garment states that “[t]he garment should not be removed for activities that can reasonably be done while wearing the garment. It should not be modified to accommodate different styles of clothing. The garment is sacred and should be treated with respect. Endowed members should seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to answer personal questions about wearing the garment.”

What are those activities where it might be unreasonable to wear the garment? Examples might include intimate relations between husband and wife, any period of intensive exercise, and any aquatic activity (including showering).

As the quote states, the garment should not be removed nor modified to accommodate different styles of clothing. One of the purposes of the garment is to encourage modesty in how we dress. The garment as currently designed indicates what parts of the body should be clothed in order to meet a more objective/specific standard of modesty in how we dress.

Several concerns have arisen because of various health and practical considerations. The garment, as currently designed, can potentially assuage some of those concerns. If concerns persist, these might be directed to God in prayer, a local bishop, a local stake president, and/or a local temple worker. You might also consider emailing [email protected] This email is directed to those in the Temple Affairs Department of the Church who frequently take user feedback about garments to better meet the needs of the wearer.

Some have been concerned about having to be in extreme heat when wearing the garment. Being in extreme heat may be a time to reasonably remove the garment. However, if one would like to try not to remove the garment, it should be understood that retailers that sell garments carry them in a number of different fabric types to accommodate this. The chart below lists the different fabric types.

Garment Fabric Types Better.png Some women have been concerned about the garment causing yeast infections and/or urinary tract infections. It should be noted that all garment styles for women "have a 100% cotton bottom panel for breathability and hygiene, as recommended by OBGYNs."[73] A few of the fabrics are either 95% or 100% cotton.

Some have been concerned about potential skin allergies that garments might cause. As noted above, there are several different styles of fabric that one can choose from in order to avoid allergies.

Some have been concerned about the itchiness of certain fabrics. The chart above gives ratings for how soft and comfortable each fabric style is. Consumers can pick what works best for their circumstances.

Special styles of garments exist for women who are pregnant and/or nursing and for those that are terminally ill and/or bedridden for an extended period of time.

Some women have concerns about how the garment can hold menstrual pads. The garment is definitely not designed for this and many women resort to either removing their bottoms, putting regular panties on underneath their bottoms, or other approaches. Here, women are encouraged to due what works best for them and what seems to feel right spiritually after praying.

Some complain about uncomfortable waistbands. This might be solved by keeping the garment top tucked into the garment bottom. But this may be an area of improvement for the garment's design.

The basic notion that the author wants to express is that garments should not be removed when we have the reasonable opportunity to wear them and that, generally speaking, we should be seeking for opportunities to wear them rather than not wear them. Why would there be so many fabrics and styles that one can choose from if the Church didn't expect us to wear them as much as possible? Even if this were merely an "instruction," it'd still be an instruction from God. Do we want to not follow God's instructions? Instruction is a firm word by itself. It's certainly stronger than "suggest," "urge," "recommend," etc. Are we showing love to God if we treat our promises to Him lightly? That said, we should be intuitive about our garment wearing and be in the communication with the Spirit to know when it may be necessary to remove them.

Conclusion

Wearing the garment is a sacred privilege. They are expressly not "just like any other underwear." Wearing the garment communicates love for God by keeping our promises to him and love for others by giving them an example to follow that leads them to Jesus Christ.[74] We often want so much to conform our garment-wearing to the world rather than help the world conform to garment-wearing. We shouldn’t be afraid to be different from others. The Lord has told us that, as Christians, we should “[l]et [our] light so shine before men [and women], that they may see [our] good works, and glorify [our] Father which is in heaven.”[75] He wants us to be "a peculiar people, zealous of good works."[76] Being different by wearing our garments and treating them with sacredness is an excellent way that we can humbly follow the Lord and, by so doing, be peculiar and interesting to other people. This interest may lead them to explore the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ and be converted to it. Thus, by wearing the garment we can fulfill the Lord’s commandments. As Latter-day Saints, we should be model disciples of Jesus Christ. Wearing the garment is one way that we can do that and it brings tremendous spiritual blessings.


Question: What are appropriate activities for the Sabbath?

Introduction to Question

Like many Christians, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrate the Sabbath on a Sunday. On Sunday, members attend worship services held at local chapels.

Members of the Church have been confused as to what activities might be appropriate on the Sabbath.

This article seeks to present scriptural quotes, commentary from prophets, and some ethical considerations about the issue that may elucidate a definitive answer to the question.

Response to Question

Scriptural Quote

The most relevant scriptural quote to answer this question is given in the 56th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. There, the Lord declares the following in verses 9-19:

9 And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day;
10 For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;
11 Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times;
12 But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.
13 And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.
14 Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer.
15 And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances, not with much laughter, for this is sin, but with a glad heart and a cheerful countenance—
16 Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;
17 Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;
18 Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;
19 Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.

This scripture already has given us a pretty definitive declaration. You should:

  1. Go to your local chapel and offer up sacraments, oblations, and vows
  2. Rest from your labors
  3. Pay your devotions to God
  4. Confess your sins before your brethren and God
  5. Prepare food and specifically with singleness of heart
  6. Fast
  7. Pray

We should do these things with:

  1. Thanksgiving
  2. Cheerful and glad hearts
  3. Cheerful countenances
  4. Not with much laughter

The blessings for following these injunctions are the fulness of the earth including all beasts, fowls, herbs, and other foods for clothing, housing, industry, medicine, and general enjoyment.

Commentary from Prophets

The pamphlet For the Strength of Youth, written and approved by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, includes several restrictions on Sabbath day activities:

Sunday is not a day for shopping, recreation, or athletic events. Do not seek entertainment or make purchases on this day. Let others know what your standards are so they can support you. When seeking a job, share with your potential employer your desire to attend your Sunday meetings and keep the Sabbath day holy. Whenever possible, choose a job that does not require you to work on Sundays.[77]

The Church’s official handbook for leaders lists the following activities as appropriate:

  • Personal worship through prayer and fasting
  • Gospel study and learning
  • Ministering and service to others
  • Family history
  • Joyful family time
  • Other appropriate gatherings.

Ethical Commentary

We spend the majority of our weeks focused on things and people that aren’t God. To an extent that’s good and divine. Often that means we’re busy thinking of ways to keep the second great commandment to love our neighbor as ourself.[78] But is it any wonder that the Creator of the World asks us to set aside one day for Him and to do nothing else besides pay our devotions to Him and rest from labor after we have spent all week not talking to him? Not thinking about him? We often think that God is entirely self-sufficient and doesn’t need our devotion or love. That may come because of our seeing Him as all-powerful. While He is all-powerful, He is an all-powerful human. Like all humans, He is blessed and nourished by love. Don’t treat God as so distant that you think He doesn’t want or need your love. Treat Him as if He were as near to you and in need of attention as your closest friend or relative.

Conclusion

Hopefully this article has illuminated one way that we can more fully love God by keeping his commandments.[79]


Question: What does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teach about modesty and what is its importance?

This page is still under construction. We welcome any suggestions for improving the content of this FAIR Answers Wiki page.

Introduction to Question

Questions about the Church’s standard of modesty have arisen in recent years. This article seeks to be an exposition of everything we should know about modesty and the reasons for practicing it as well as a response to certain criticisms that have arisen about it.

Response to Question

The Scriptural Case For Modesty

Definition of Modesty

Modesty Applies to Both Men and Women

Modesty in Dress

Are Church Standards About Modesty Sexist?

Question: Why does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints consider the practice of masturbation sinful?

Introduction to Question

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints views the practice of masturbation to be generally sinful. The Church's current handbook for leaders (2020; 2021) lists abstention from masturbation as among the standards of conduct placed on Church members. It states that engaging in masturbation does not require a church membership council to be called.[80] The rulebook for the Church's missionaries (2019) says to "avoid any thought or action that would separate you from the Spirit of God. This includes but is not limited to adultery; fornication; same-sex activity; oral sex; arousing sexual feelings; inappropriate touching; sending or receiving messages, images, or videos that are immoral or sexual in nature; masturbation; and viewing or using pornography (see 7.5.3). See For the Strength of Youth (2011), 'Repentance,' 28–29, for additional information." The youth pamphlet For the Strength of Youth (2011) has said to "not arouse [sexual] emotions in your own body."[81] Church leaders have been clear for much time that the practice should not be regarded nearly as bad as other sexual practices, but that it is bad enough to require sincere repentance.[82]

Many have wondered why the Church takes this stance. The modern scientific community views the practice as normal in humans of all ages. Many benefits are associated with masturbation such as improved sleep, a better immune system, a better cardiovascular system, reduced stress, and reduced sexual tension—especially when a partner is not available for sexual relations. Many health professionals recommend masturbating to mitigate tension in relationships where one partner has a higher libido than the other and doesn’t want to demand intercourse of the lower libido partner (or the lower libido partner doesn’t want to accept demands). Some women experience a condition known as vaginismus where the vaginal walls and/or opening tighten up to the point where either sex is painful or where they physically cannot experience penetration. Some couples wish to engage in masturbation to the thought of their spouse to have a sexual relationship with them. Many health professionals recommend masturbation to treat vaginismus and/or help couples have a sexual relationship while the woman faces symptoms. There is at least some evidence that more frequent ejaculation in men can result in reduced risk of prostate cancer.[83]

This article will explore why the Church might take the stance that it does on masturbation even given the potential benefits of it. Almost all of these points apply to a discussion about pornography. This article can thus be considered a response outlining the Church’s rationale against masturbation as well as pornography.

Response to Question

Sexual Desire is a Fundamentally Good Thing

Before we proceed with the rest of our response, it should be first noted and emphasized that our sexual desires are fundamentally good things, given to us by God to be used to strengthen emotional and spiritual bonds with our spouses and to bring children into this world. As For the Strength of Youth says, "[p]hysical intimacy between husband and wife is beautiful and sacred. It is ordained of God for the creation of children and for the expression of love between husband and wife."[84] Thus, sexual desire in and of itself should not be considered bad. It indeed should be celebrated. Since sexual desire has a particular use though, a proper use, it then follows that it should be exercised or put to use for that purpose and that boundaries should be in place to guide us towards fulfilling that purpose. It is not a sin to have a sexual desire. It is sinful, however, to exercise that desire in illicit ways as defined by God.

The Act is (Generally) Bad, the Person is Not

Another thing to be emphasized is that the person that engages in masturbation is not a bad person. The act is bad. We are not "good people" and "bad people." We are people that do good things and bad things. It is true that Jesus says that a good tree cannot produce bad fruit and neither a bad tree, good fruit.[85] But, for Jesus, it is not "who you are" that will determine what you do; it is what you do that will determine who you are. What you do creates proclivities and habits that become part of you. Undoing those and becoming a different creature requires deliberate, sometimes ongoing self-restraint and change. This change can happen for everyone and Jesus lovingly invites us with open arms to make that change if those habits are not in line with God's will as outlined in prophetic teaching/revelation.

Jesus' view of identity is similar to that of Parable of the Two Wolves told here:

The Sexually Relational Telos of Men and Women

The great Greek philosopher Aristotle considered all things to have a telos or purpose for which they were created/designed. He believed that things (including human beings) flourish when they adhere to or are used according to their telos. Telic thinking became the foundation of Aristotle’s theory of morality (known as “virtue ethics”). According to Aristotle, human excellence consists of adhering to their telos to be virtuous.

The scriptures and other official pronouncements of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a similar view of human sexuality. They teach that men and women are designed to be united with each other sexually after marriage.[86] Individuals, communities, and nations flourish when men and women adhere strongly to this telos. Sexuality is thus a relational (rather than isolated) act between married men and women for Latter-day Saints.[87] Any act that takes men and women away from that (or at least has a high probability of taking them away from it) is going to be viewed as immoral by the Church.

C.S. Lewis wrote:

For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back; sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself…After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.[88]

Masturbation and View of Others

Masturbation most often affects the way that you look at others similar to how pornography does—even if only temporarily. When masturbating, one makes use of others or the image of them as the object of their own self-gratification. With repeated masturbation and over time, this can come to make it so that you regularly see others as potential objects of your own pleasure. Using others as merely a means to an end and treating them as an object is contrary to the Lord's command to love our neighbor as ourselves.[89] While you’re only using people in your mind, masturbation still requires that someone be an object of your passion instead of a full subject; a full person. You must abandon, even temporarily, the attitudinal aspect of love: seeing the beloved individual as of merely instrumental rather than intrinsic and absolute value. As we know, love is both an attitudinal and an active virtue. Abandoning one or both halves of this is engaging in an inherently unloving act. In this way, it isn’t virtuous.

Masturbation and View of Self

Masturbation also has great potential to cause negative views of ourselves. We can start to view ourselves as slaves to our passions and out of control. This can cause great anxiety and depression. Being placed over our desires and mastering them can help us embody a fuller self concept and make us feel like the divine beings we are and meant to become. In this way, we can follow the Lord's command to love our neighbor as ourselves by abstaining from masturbation. As the Book of Mormon says, the natural man is an enemy to God and has been since the fall of Adam. The only way to overcome this is by listening to the enticings of the Spirit and putting off the natural man. We can’t engage in recreational, indulgent masturbation and consider ourselves as putting off the natural man. We are indeed distancing ourselves from the Spirit and the joy we feel when close to it.[90]

The Scriptural Case Against Masturbation

Masturbation as part of the definition of other words in scripture. The scriptures are the law to govern the behavior and beliefs of the whole Church.[91] They contain a constellation of words that describe unlawful sexual activity. Among those that are perhaps most relevant to this discussion (including their derivatives) are "adultery," "carnal," "chaste," "concupiscence," "fornication," "lasciviousness," "lewdness," and "lust." An exhaustive scriptural concordance of these words and their derivatives have been placed in the appendix to this article. Readers are encouraged to read each occurrence in their original scriptural contexts (preferably following this approach articulated in another article on the FAIR wiki). While masturbation is not explicitly mentioned in scripture (with the potential exception of Matthew 5:30), it very likely falls under the definition of any one of these words. If it does, then it is condemned in scripture and we are bound to follow those injunctions to abstain from that behavior.

As an example, "fornication" is defined as any sexual activity outside of marriage. If masturbation falls under the definition of sexual activity (which, by many standards, it does), then masturbation is condemned scripturally for those that are not married.

"Lasciviousness" is defined as “sexual behavior or conduct that is considered crude and offensive, or contrary to local moral or other standards of appropriate behavior.” If masturbation falls under this category (and it very likely does) then masturbation is condemned scripturally.

Other scriptures that justify refraining. Other scriptural injunctions that support abstention from masturbation include being able to bridle your body and passions as taught by Alma and the author of James,[92] fulfilling your telos (as described above), being a peculiar people so as to encourage interest in the Church and thus success in missionary work,[93] to keep unspotted from the world,[94] to abstain from all appearance of evil,[95] putting off the natural man (as described above),[96] practicing meekness/lowliness of heart/humility/easiness to be entreated before the prophets who have implored us to abstain,[97] following the commandment to receive all the words and commandments of the prophet as if from the mouth of God in all patience and faith,[98] being anxiously engaged in a good cause without God compelling you to do something by explicit revelation,[99] and loving your neighbor as yourself (as described above).[100] Another scripture that may justify refraining is ridding ourselves of "inordinate affection" as encouraged by the author of Colossians.[101]

Whosoever lusts. Another couple of verses that are frequently used to justify abstention from masturbation (and more especially while married and fantasizing about another person) are Jesus' in Matthew 5:27-28:

27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Jason Staples, an assistant teaching professor in philosophy and religious studies at North Carolina State University, has argued persuasively that Jesus is not condemning sexual desire in and of itself here. Rather he is condemning exercising that desire in illicit ways. Furthermore, according to Staples, "lust" is better translated as “covet.” So, if you are making plans and acting on them in order to engage in unlawful sexual activity (without actually engaging in that activity) with someone while still married, you are committing adultery in your heart according to Jesus.[102] This passage, though, doesn't seem to clearly address the question of whether or not masturbation is an appropriate outlet for desire. Also, is someone who is married making plans to commit adultery by masturbating to the thought of someone besides their spouse? Dr. Staples says this:

While I don’t think the Bible [explicitly] condemns masturbation (the usual interpretation of the Onan story doesn’t get it right), it also doesn’t seem that masturbation is “one of the proper outlets,” either. Actually, Matthew putting “and if your right hand causes you to stumble” [Matthew 5:30] immediately after this statement about coveting a woman may be seen as an indirect reference to masturbation. It’s not entirely clear, but it’s the closest thing in [the Bible] you’ll find to a statement about masturbation. Given the general outlook on sex in Scripture, though, I’d say masturbation would not be included among the “proper outlets,” which are limited to heterosexual marital relations whenever discussed.[103]

So Matthew 5:30 is probably an implicit condemnation of masturbation from Jesus and probably a form of committing adultery in one's heart.

Masturbation and the story of Onan. The last set of scriptures to broach are those telling the story of Onan in Genesis 38. Indeed, many religious groups refer to masturbation as Onanism.[104] While that interpretation has a venerable tradition and ancient roots, modern biblical scholars agree that the story cannot credibly be used as justification for refraining from masturbation. As biblical scholar Carl S. Ehrlich has observed:

Onan's sin was not sexual. Rather, it was a refusal to fulfill the obligation of "levirate marriage" (Deut. 25:5-10; see also Ruth 4), according to which a man was obligated to impregnate the wife of his brother if his brother had died without an heir, thus ensuring the continuation of his brother's line and inheritance...Thus Onan's sexual act, most probably coitus interruptus, was the means whereby he avoided his fraternal duty, in spite of the fact that he seemed to be fulfilling it by cohabiting with Tamar. For this deception he was punished.[105]

The reasons for avoiding pregnancy were also considered selfish. "Onan would have had to expend his own resources to support a child that is legally someone else's, and the child, as heir to the first-born son, would displace Onan in the line of inheritance to boot."[106]

How Masturbation Might Take Away from Marriage

An addiction is a compulsive behavior that interferes with other objectives you wish to accomplish in life. So, if you masturbate enough that you lose your job because of it or your grades suffer because you're losing too much time with it, it is likely that you have an addiction.

While masturbation does appear by most metrics to be harmless when done sparingly, it does have the much-greater-than-merely-possible potential to become addictive.[107] When turning addictive, masturbation can quickly become a deterrent from having normal sexual relations with a spouse. It can become more pleasurable to the person engaging in it over other relationships. Taking away sexual relations from a spouse can cause deep dissatisfaction and distrust in the relationship—thus potentially leading to the breakup of families.

Donald L. Hilton, a Latter-day Saint neurosurgeon based in Texas, relates how, during any stimulation of the genitals and orgasm, chemicals such as dopamine, vasopressin, and oxytocin are released in the brain. Oxytocin and vasopressin in particular have been linked to emotional bonding mechanisms in humans and other animals. When oxytocin was selectively blocked in voles, for example, it was observed that they don't mate for life or bond.[108] Hilton cites American counselor Patrick Carnes who says that one stage of recovery from addiction is grief where the person says "goodbye" to their addiction. Hilton writes that "[i]t may be a combination of craving for dopamine and yearning for oxytocin-bonded pornography, among other things, that pushes a person to act out and view pornography."[109] If Hilton is correct about oxytocin and bonding, we'd do well to ask "why don't we do more to keep sexual relations in marriage so that we can direct our oxytocin and vasopressin-driven emotional bonding towards our spouse as well as more fully recognize and adhere to our sexually relational telos?"

Masturbation and Escalation

The highs that one gets from masturbation and the potentially ensuing addiction that might follow from it can result in escalation of that sexual behavior to include viewing pornography, attending strip clubs, requesting various forms of local prostitution, and even forced sexual advances on the unwilling.

Deriving the Benefits of Masturbation Elsewhere

But what about the many benefits of masturbation? Shouldn’t one care about the risk of prostate cancer at least? The problem is that the benefits of masturbation can be derived elsewhere and there is no net detriment to one's health while abstaining from masturbation. Indeed, masturbation is not even among the top things typically recommended by professionals when wanting to derive most of these benefits. We can take the potential benefits one by one and see what is recommended to reap them to demonstrate.

  1. Improved sleep: The Mayo Clinic suggests six things to improve one’s sleep. These include sticking to a set sleep schedule, paying attention to what you eat and drink, creating a restful environment, limiting daytime naps, including physical activity in one's daytime routine, and managing one's worries.[110]
  2. Improved cardiovascular system: UC Irvine Health recommends that one exercise, quit smoking, lose weight, eat heart-healthy foods such as guacamole and vegetables, have some chocolate in moderation, not overeat, and manage stress in order to have a healthy heart.[111]
  3. Improved immune system: Harvard Health recommends that one not smoke, eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, get adequate sleep, wash hands frequently, minimize stress, and keep with current vaccines in order to maintain and improve one’s immune system.[112]
  4. Reduced risk of prostate cancer: The Mayo Clinic recommends that one keep a healthy diet (such as doing a low-fat diet, increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat each day, and reducing the amount of dairy products you eat each day), maintain a healthy weight, and exercise most days of the week to reduce risk of prostate cancer.[113]
  5. Sexual tension/Differing libidos: This is a question that is probably best left between the couple and God through prayer (and maybe the local bishop or stake president). However, if one is struggling with hypersexuality and truly trying to lower their libido, Janet Brito and Daniel Yetman recommend focusing on your diet, getting medication, focusing on relationships, and stopping illegal drug use.[114]
  6. Vaginismus: Also probably best left between husband, wife, God, and maybe local leaders. That said, Brenda Goodman and Nivin Todd recommend doing Kegel exercises and manual stretching with the fingers as well as getting therapy for psychological impediments to normal sex.[115]

All the potential nuances/exceptions to the general prohibition come when fostering or nourishing the relational, tender, committed, married, and man-woman sexuality outlined in scripture and/or as specifically prescribed by a qualified, reputable professional for a particular health reason. We should approximate this ideal as much as possible.

Is there something within us that biologically determines us to masturbate?

Some people construct an identity around the practice of masturbation. People say that “we’re sexual beings” (which is mostly true) and “masturbation is a part of our natural development.” What these people often mean is that “engaging in masturbation is a behavior that is biologically determined and thus prohibiting it goes against who and what we are. It serves as a net detriment to our well-being.” We often construct these identities to justify bad behavior and protest against certain standards that go against these identities. Thus, the imposition of a prohibition on masturbation starts to feel like an assault to our personhood. This is one reason that General Authorities of the Church so often stress that our fundamental identity is that of children of God: if we construct identities around sinful behaviors, we will quickly embroil ourselves in habits that are contrary to the will of God and his nature and feel that any call to repentance is a crusade against us. We can thus squeeze ourselves out of faith and find ourselves in rebellion to the Lord's anointed. If we center our thinking about our essential identity in the fact that we are infinitely beloved, spirit sons or daughters of Heavenly Parents, then we will be much more open to changing our behavior so as to foster closer relationships with them and the rest of their creation. Identity construction is one of our most common forms of denial as human beings. We need be careful in how we construct our identity.

We are not merely “sexual” beings. We are marital beings. Again, we are built with the purpose of being joined maritally and, after marriage, sexually as man and woman; husband and wife. We were designed for a relational, tender, married man-woman sexuality and we should create our norms to funnel us towards that as stipulated by scripture.

There actually is one biologically determined function that both men and women experience that serves the purpose people might think masturbation serves: nocturnal emission. We don’t need masturbation to pull double duty.

But What Harm does One Really Do When Engaged in Isolated Sexual Acts?

But do isolated sexual acts really hurt anyone else? The foregoing analysis should be sufficient to demonstrate that masturbation can very likely have adverse effects on others. However, another point to make here is that, as humans, we are exceptionally bad at creating and being faithful to norms that are based on the delayed consequences of our actions. We are really good at creating and abiding by norms that are based off of the immediate, obvious consequences of our actions. For example, all of us agree that it is wrong to kill an innocent person. We would do well to ponder more about how we can create and more diligently abide by (still important) norms based on delayed, less-obvious, and even unseen consequences of our actions.

What do I do if I'm struggling with masturbation?

If you're struggling with masturbation, there is always help for you. The first thing to do will be to disclose your struggles to those you love and trust most. It may also be a good idea to speak with your local ecclesiastical leaders. You should discuss whether or not you actually have an addiction. Many people unfortunately are diagnosed as having an addiction wrongly and end up spending a lot of money unnecessarily on professional help. If you have trouble here, it may be helpful to seek professional counsel. There will very likely be many wonderful, qualified professionals in your area that can help you. These might include marriage and family therapists, sex therapists, and addiction recovery specialists. The Church provides addiction recovery programs for individuals interested in overcoming addiction. There are some resources available online by individuals that help with recovery from pornography addiction including Sarah Brewer, Danny Poelman, and psychologist Cameron Staley. Any good addiction recovery specialist is going to help you on addressing limiting core beliefs that keep you from recovery, understanding the brain science behind addiction, and setting daily boundaries that help address your core emotional, physical, and spiritual needs as well as take away about 80% of potential relapses.

Any good marriage and family and/or sex therapist is going to help you address your problems according to the objectives that you set. So if you go in with the firm and explicit objective of not engaging in recreational, indulgent masturbation, they are obligated by their professional ethics (of allowing individual self-determination) to provide you the best therapies that help you accomplish those goals and are conducive to your ultimate well-being. If they don't help you move towards those objectives, then they are not acting ethically and you should consider seeking other help.

Conclusion

While masturbation is not an avenue of sexual exploration or expression that will be wholly endorsed by the Church, it is still encouraged that parents have open discussions with their children about the beautiful, sacred nature of human sexuality, that everyone read out of the best of books about how to have more fulfilling sexual relationships with their partner (future or current), and that, generally, we make sexuality a topic of open discussion among those that we love and trust most. We often spend too much time in church talking about illicit sexual behavior that we often neglect defining and discussing what healthy, righteous sexuality is and how we can engage in it. That’s not always a bad thing. Talking about all the minutia of sexuality is most often not going to be tasteful in Sunday School and other public church meetings. That said, among our families and others that we love and trust most, it can and should be much more comfortable. Sexuality is a topic that everyone should become an expert of at the right time so that we can all better understand how to reach and live in accordance with our divine destiny and identity.[116]

It is the author's hope that this article will serve as a point of hope for those that would like to discontinue masturbation and remain in line with the Church, as a point of clarity on the Church's stance of masturbation for those that are confused about it, and as a source of great insight to those that are generally looking to understand the utterly sacred and beautiful nature of human sexuality.

APPENDIX: Scriptural Concordance of Words Referring to Unlawful Sexual Conduct and Relevant to Considerations About Masturbation

Adulterer

  • Leviticus 20:10
  • Job 24:15
  • Isaiah 57:3

Adulterers

  • Psalm 50:18
  • Jeremiah 9:2
  • Jeremiah 23:10
  • Hosea 7:4
  • Malachi 3:5
  • Luke 18:11
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9
  • Hebrews 13:4
  • James 4:4
  • 3 Nephi 24:5
  • Doctrine and Covenants 63:14
  • Doctrine and Covenants 76:103

Adulteress

  • Leviticus 20:10
  • Proverbs 6:26
  • Hosea 3:1
  • Romans 7:3

Adulteresses

  • Ezekiel 23:43
  • Hosea 2:2
  • Matthew 15:19
  • Mark 7:21
  • Doctrine and Covenants 63:14

Adulteries

  • Jeremiah 12:27
  • Ezekiel 23:43
  • Hosea 2:2
  • Matthew 15:19
  • Mark 7:21

Adulterous

  • Proverbs 30:20
  • Matthew 12:39
  • Matthew 16:4
  • Mark 7:21

Adultery

  • Exodus 20:14
  • Leviticus 20:10
  • Leviticus 20:10
  • Deuteronomy 5:18
  • Proverbs 6:32
  • Jeremiah 3:8
  • Jeremiah 3:9
  • Jeremiah 5:7
  • Jeremiah 7:9
  • Jeremiah 23:14
  • Jeremiah 29:23
  • Ezekiel 16:32
  • Ezekiel 23:37
  • Ezekiel 23:37
  • Hosea 4:2
  • Hosea 4:13
  • Hosea 4:14
  • Matthew 5:27
  • Matthew 5:28
  • Matthew 5:32
  • Matthew 19:9
  • Matthew 19:9
  • Matthew 19:18
  • Mark 10:11
  • Mark 10:12
  • Mark 10:19
  • Luke 16:18
  • Luke 16:18
  • Luke 18:20
  • John 8:3
  • John 8:4
  • Romans 2:22
  • Romans 2:22
  • Romans 13:9
  • Galatians 5:19
  • James 2:11
  • James 2:11
  • 2 Peter 2:14
  • Revelation 2:22
  • Mosiah 2:13
  • Mosiah 13:22
  • Alma 16:18
  • Alma 23:3
  • Alma 30:10
  • Helaman 4:12
  • Helaman 7:5
  • 3 Nephi 12:27
  • 3 Nephi 12:28
  • 3 Nephi 12:32
  • 3 Nephi 12:32
  • Doctrine and Covenants 42:24
  • Doctrine and Covenants 42:24
  • Doctrine and Covenants 42:25
  • Doctrine and Covenants 42:75
  • Doctrine and Covenants 42:80
  • Doctrine and Covenants 59:6
  • Doctrine and Covenants 63:16
  • Doctrine and Covenants 66:10
  • Doctrine and Covenants 132:41
  • Doctrine and Covenants 132:41
  • Doctrine and Covenants 132:42
  • Doctrine and Covenants 132:43
  • Doctrine and Covenants 132:44
  • Doctrine and Covenants 132:44
  • Doctrine and Covenants 132:61
  • Doctrine and Covenants 132:61
  • Doctrine and Covenants 132:62
  • Doctrine and Covenants 132:63

Carnal

  • Romans 7:14
  • Romans 8:7
  • Romans 15:27
  • 1 Corinthians 3:1
  • 1 Corinthians 3:3
  • 1 Corinthians 3:3
  • 1 Corinthians 3:4
  • 1 Corinthians 9:11
  • 2 Corinthians 10:4
  • Hebrews 7:16
  • Hebrews 9:10
  • 2 Nephi 28:21
  • Mosiah 4:2
  • Mosiah 16:3
  • Mosiah 16:3
  • Mosiah 16:5
  • Mosiah 16:12
  • Mosiah 26:4
  • Mosiah 27:25
  • Alma 22:13
  • Alma 30:53
  • Alma 36:4
  • Alma 41:11
  • Alma 41:13
  • Alma 41:13
  • Alma 42:10
  • Doctrine and Covenants 3:4
  • Doctrine and Covenants 29:35
  • Doctrine and Covenants 67:10
  • Doctrine and Covenants 67:12
  • Doctrine and Covenants 84:27
  • Moses 5:13
  • Moses 6:49

Carnally

  • Leviticus 18:20
  • Leviticus 19:20
  • Numbers 5:13
  • Romans 8:6

Carnally-Minded

  • 2 Nephi 9:39

Chaste

  • 2 Corinthians 11:2
  • Philippians 4:4
  • Titus 2:5
  • 1 Peter 3:2
  • Jacob 2:7
  • Articles of Faith 1:13

Chastity

  • Jacob 2:28
  • Moroni 9:9

Concupiscence

  • Romans 7:8
  • JST Romans 7:8
  • Colossians 3:5
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:5

Fornication

  • Ezekiel 16:26
  • Ezekiel 16:29
  • Isaiah 23:17
  • 2 Chronicles 21:11
  • Matthew 5:32
  • Matthew 15:19
  • Matthew 19:9
  • Mark 7:21
  • John 8:41
  • Acts 15:20
  • Acts 15:29
  • Acts 21:25
  • Romans 1:29
  • 1 Corinthians 5:1
  • 1 Corinthians 5:1
  • 1 Corinthians 6:13
  • 1 Corinthians 6:18
  • 1 Corinthians 7:2
  • 1 Corinthians 10:8
  • 2 Corinthians 12:21
  • Galatians 5:19
  • Ephesians 5:3
  • Colossians 3:5
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3
  • Jude 1:7
  • Revelation 2:14
  • Revelation 2:20
  • Revelation 2:21
  • Revelation 9:21
  • Revelation 14:8
  • Revelation 19:2
  • Jacob 3:12
  • 3 Nephi 12:32
  • Helaman 8:26
  • Doctrine and Covenants 35:11
  • Doctrine and Covenants 42:74
  • Doctrine and Covenants 88:94
  • Doctrine and Covenants 88:105

Fornications

  • Ezekiel 16:15

Lasciviousness

  • Mark 7:22
  • 2 Corinthians 12:21
  • Galatians 5:19
  • Ephesians 4:19
  • 1 Peter 4:3
  • Jude 1:4
  • Jacob 3:12
  • Alma 16:18
  • Alma 45:12
  • Alma 47:36
  • 4 Nephi 1:16

Lewd

  • Ezekiel 16:27
  • Ezekiel 23:44
  • Acts 17:5

Lewdly

  • Ezekiel 22:11

Lewdness

  • Judges 20:6
  • Jeremiah 11:15
  • Jeremiah 13:27
  • Ezekiel 16:43
  • Ezekiel 16:58
  • Ezekiel 22:9
  • Ezekiel 23:21
  • Ezekiel 23:27
  • Ezekiel 23:29
  • Ezekiel 23:35
  • Ezekiel 23:48
  • Ezekiel 23:48
  • Ezekiel 23:49
  • Ezekiel 24:13
  • Hosea 2:10
  • Hosea 6:9
  • Acts 18:14

Lust

  • Exodus 15:9
  • Psalms 78:18
  • Psalms 78:30
  • Psalms 81:12
  • Proverbs 6:25
  • Matthew 5:28
  • Romans 1:27
  • Romans 7:7
  • 1 Corinthians 10:6
  • Galatians 5:16
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:5
  • James 1:14
  • James 1:15
  • James 4:2
  • 2 Peter 1:4
  • 2 Peter 2:10
  • 1 John 2:16
  • 1 John 2:17
  • 1 Nephi 3:25
  • 3 Nephi 12:28
  • Doctrine and Covenants 42:23
  • Doctrine and Covenants 63:16

Lusted

  • Numbers 11:34
  • Psalms 106:14
  • 1 Corinthians 10:6
  • Revelations 18:14

Lusteth

  • Deuteronomy 12:15
  • Deuteronomy 14:26
  • Galatians 5:17
  • James 4:5

Lustful

  • Doctrine and Covenants 88:121
  • Doctrine and Covenants 101:6

Lusting

  • Numbers 11:4

Lusts

  • Mark 4:19
  • John 8:44
  • Romans 1:24
  • Romans 6:12
  • Romans 13:14
  • Galatians 5:24
  • Ephesians 2:3
  • Ephesians 4:22
  • 1 Timothy 6:9
  • 2 Timothy 2:22
  • 2 Timothy 3:6
  • 2 Timothy 4:3
  • Titus 2:12
  • Titus 3:3
  • James 4:1
  • James 4:3
  • 1 Peter 1:14
  • 1 Peter 2:11
  • 1 Peter 4:2
  • 1 Peter 4:3
  • 2 Peter 2:18
  • 2 Peter 3:3
  • Jude 1:16
  • Jude 1:18
  • 1 Nephi 22:23
  • Alma 39:9
  • Mormon 9:28
  • Doctrine and Covenants 46:9

Lusty

  • Judges 3:29


Question: Why does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints strongly discourage their members from getting tattoos?

Introduction to Question

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints strongly discourages its members from getting tattoos. Why is this?

In this article we will explore this question. We will present teachings from top leaders regarding tattoos. They will clearly explain their position and reasoning for it. Next, we will explore teachings from the official canon of scripture of the Church and the morals taught by it that might support the Church's discouragement of tattoos.

Teachings from Top Church Leaders

What follows represents an exhaustive listing of everything top general leaders of the Church have said regarding their strong discouragement of tattoos in official Church settings.

Vaughan J. Featherstone – October 1999

Aren’t you proud that the Church teaches us the truth? We don’t have to wonder about earrings for boys and men, tattoos, spiked hair, the four-letter words, and obscene gestures. We have prophets who model the standards.[117]

Gordon B. Hinckley – November 2000

The practice is growing among young people of tattooing and piercing their bodies. The time will come when they will regret it, but it will then be too late. The scriptures unequivocally declare:

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:16–17).

It is sad and regrettable that some young men and women have their bodies tattooed. What do they hope to gain by this painful process? Is there “anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” (A of F 1:13) in having unseemly so-called art impregnated into the skin to be carried throughout life, all the way down to old age and death? They must be counseled to shun it. They must be warned to avoid it. The time will come that they will regret it but will have no escape from the constant reminder of their foolishness except through another costly and painful procedure…We—the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve—have taken the position, and I quote, that “the Church discourages tattoos.”[118]

Gordon B. Hinckley – November 2000

In a discourse on teaching children true Gospel principles, President Gordon B. Hinckley stated the following:

Teach your children self-respect. Teach them that their bodies are the creation of the Almighty. What a miraculous, wonderful, and beautiful thing is the human body.

As has been said here tonight, Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, declared: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:16–17).

Now comes the craze of tattooing one’s body. I cannot understand why any young man—or young woman, for that matter—would wish to undergo the painful process of disfiguring the skin with various multicolored representations of people, animals, and various symbols. With tattoos, the process is permanent, unless there is another painful and costly undertaking to remove it. Fathers, caution your sons against having their bodies tattooed. They may resist your talk now, but the time will come when they will thank you. A tattoo is graffiti on the temple of the body.

Likewise[,] the piercing of the body for multiple rings in the ears, in the nose, even in the tongue. Can they possibly think that is beautiful? It is a passing fancy, but its effects can be permanent. Some have gone to such extremes that the ring had to be removed by surgery. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve have declared that we discourage tattoos and also “the piercing of the body for other than medical purposes.” We do not, however, take any position “on the minimal piercing of the ears by women for one pair of earrings”—one pair.[119]

For the Strength of Youth – 2001

The youth pamphlet For the Strength of Youth, written and approved by the First Presidency in 2001, states that should "not disfigure [themselves] with tattoos or body piercings."[120]

Margaret D. Nadauld – April 2002

The kind of young woman who can be a terrific torchbearer has high standards all the time, not just in her prom dress, but every, ordinary day. There are so many of you who are like that, and I salute you tonight. You have made modesty your way of life. It is more than how you dress. It includes at least six things that I can think of: (1) your behavior is decent and modest, and yet you are very fun to be with; (2) your language is never crude but happy and interesting; (3) you are well groomed, and that is appealing; (4) you are focused on developing your talents and achieving your goals, not piercing and tattooing and flaunting your body; (5) you play sports with gusto but never lose control; (6) you don’t seem to care about what the latest pop star wears or does because you have a certain style of your own. In summary, you do not imitate the world’s standards because you know a higher standard. You know who you are, and that puts you at a real advantage. You know that you really are a daughter of Heavenly Father. You know that He knows you and that He loves you; you want to please Him and honor His love for you. You know that even if you make foolish mistakes, He will help you if you turn to Him.[121]

Henry B. Eyring – April 2004

So many these days disfigure their bodies with tattoos. How shortsighted. These markings last for life. Once in place, they can not be removed except through a difficult and costly process. I can not understand why any girl would subject herself to such a thing. I plead with you to avoid disfigurement of this kind.[122]

Earl C. Tingey – April 2004

In the For the Strength of Youth booklet, the following standards, among others, are like a North Star to you: choose friends with high standards, do not disfigure your body with tattoos or body piercings, avoid pornography, do not listen to music that contains offensive language, do not use profanity, date only those who have high standards, remain sexually pure, repent as necessary, be honest, keep the Sabbath day holy, pay tithing, keep the Word of Wisdom.[123]

Julie B. Beck – April 2006

When you know who you are and what you should be doing with your life, you don’t want to hide your light. For instance, you would not want to “hide your light” by wearing clothing that diminishes your royal potential. You would not use improper language or stories or mar your body with tattoos or other procedures debasing for a daughter of royal birth.[124]

Gordon B. Hinckley – April 2007

At the April 2007 General Conference of the Church, President Gordon B. Hinckley said to “[b]e clean in body and dress and manner. Do not permit yourself to be tattooed. If you do, someday you will regret it. Only a painful and costly procedure can remove the tattoo.”[125]

Elaine S. Dalton – April 2008

The precious gift of your body enables you to exercise your agency and put your faith and obedience into action. Have you ever noticed that nearly all of Satan’s attacks are directed at your body? Pornography, immodesty, tattoos, immorality, drug abuse, and addictions are all efforts to take possession of this precious gift. This was a gift that was denied Satan. Obedience to the commandments and standards enables each of you to be steadfast and immovable in protecting the precious gifts of your agency and your body.[126]

James J. Hamula – October 2008

So, as we enter the final climactic stages of the war against Satan, be sober, my young friends. Understand that you cannot partake of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. You cannot participate in pornography or other immoral activity. You cannot lie, cheat, or steal. You cannot use false, demeaning, or dirty language. You cannot deface your body with tattoos and other piercings. You cannot do these things and be victorious in the battle for your own soul, let alone be a valiant warrior in the great struggle for the souls of all the rest of our Father’s children.[127]

Boyd K. Packer – April 2009

Do not decorate your body with tattoos or by piercing it to add jewels. Stay away from that.[128]

Thomas S. Monsen – April 2010

Servants of the Lord have always counseled us to dress appropriately to show respect for our Heavenly Father and for ourselves. The way you dress sends messages about yourself to others and often influences the way you and others act. Dress in such a way as to bring out the best in yourself and those around you. Avoid extremes in clothing and appearance, including tattoos and piercings.[129]

D. Todd Christofferson – October 2010

Acknowledging these truths and the direction of President Thomas S. Monson in last April’s general conference, we would certainly not deface our body, as with tattoos; or debilitate it, as with drugs; or defile it, as with fornication, adultery, or immodesty.4 As our body is the instrument of our spirit, it is vital that we care for it as best we can. We should consecrate its powers to serve and further the work of Christ. Said Paul, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God” (Romans 12:1).[130]

For the Strength of Youth – 2011

The 2011 edition of For the Strength of Youth, echoing the 2001 edition, clearly states that one one should "not disfigure [themselves] with tattoos or body piercings."[131]

Elaine S. Dalton – April 2013

When you came to the earth, you were given the precious gift of a body. Your body is the instrument of your mind and a divine gift with which you exercise your agency. This is a gift that Satan was denied, and thus he directs nearly all of his attacks on your body. He wants you to disdain, misuse, and abuse your body. Immodesty, pornography, immorality, tattoos and piercings, drug abuse, and addictions of all kinds are all efforts to take possession of this precious gift—your body—and to make it difficult for you to exercise your agency.[132]

Dallin H. Oaks – February 2019

The Deseret News reported on February 10, 2019 that President Dallin H. Oaks told 65,000 at a devotional to avoid "tattoos, piercings, immodesty and pornography, calling such things 'grafitti on your personal temple.'"[133]

The Scriptural Case Against Tattoos

The scriptural record does not have much to say explicitly about tattoos. That said, we can still defend the Church’s standard from them.

Leviticus 19:28

One of the most explicit references to markings on the skin comes from Leviticus 19:28 which tells us “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” The New Revised Standard Version translated this verse as “You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” While this prohibition is associated with the Mosaic Law which was done away with Christ's atonement, this scripture can still be instructive for why Church leaders have felt spiritually moved to strongly discourage modern Saints from participating in this practice.

The Catholic Study Bible notes that “[t]his prohibition probably refers only to the common ancient Near Eastern practice of branding a slave with its owner’s name as well as branding the devotees of a god with its name.”[134] The question would then become “Why would God not want the Israelites to tattoo themselves in devotion to Him?” It must have something to do with their collective identity as a people. This was a common practice in the ancient Near East and God asked the Israelites to stand apart from their contemporaries. This will be important moving forward in our examination. That God at one instance has cared about tattoos is telling.

This standard also likely had to do with merely disfiguring the body and corrupting the beautiful gift of God given to them. Regarding this scripture, the NKJV Study Bible notes that “[t]he human body was designed by God, who intended it to be whole and beautiful. Disfiguring the body dishonored God, in whose image the person was created. Cutting one’s flesh for the dead and tattooing (or perhaps painting) one’s body had religious significance among Israel’s pagan neighbors. In Israel, such practices were a sign of rebellion against God.”[135]

1 Corinthians 3:16–17; 6:19–20

Top general Church leaders (as can be seen above) have most often cited a pair of scriptures from 1 Corinthians about our bodies being temples of God.

1 Corinthians 3:16–17 reads:

16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

This scripture isn’t the best to use when justifying a prohibition on tattoos since Paul is here speaking to the local Church in Corinth. The scripture is making a warning to those from outside the Church that bring violence or other harm against those in the Church. It’s only in 6:19-20 that the word “temple” actually refers to the individual believer.[136]

1 Corinthians 6:19–20 reads:

19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

This is a much better scripture to use when justifying a discouragement from getting tattoos. It testifies that our individual bodies are temples of God where the Holy Spirit can reside. By disfiguring them with tattoos we are disfiguring the creation of God. We should do what we can to take care of our bodies.

Becoming a Peculiar People

The scriptures repeatedly testify that God’s covenant people should be a peculiar people (Deuteronomy 14:2; 26:18; Psalms 135:4; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9) and that we should be unspotted from the world (James 1:27; Doctrine and Covenants 59:9). By being given and following a strong discouragement on tattoos, we can achieve the goal of being peculiar. Not having tattoos becomes a social identifier—signifying that we are the Lord’s people and wish to be separate from the world.

This separateness can be essential in moving missionary work forward. People are interested in the Church because of the Church’s prohibition on tattoos (and other things obviously). Thus, we can achieve more convert baptisms by doing things that go against cultural grain. We can also achieve greater member retention. Indeed, one of the concerns of those that leave the Church is that they perceive that the Church isn’t unique enough among the world’s organizations, and they go elsewhere seeking to be unique and to be seen. Not getting tattoos, while annoying for some at times, can have delayed and even unseen consequences that can be beneficial for us as a people.

Jesus said that we should be a light on a hill and show forth our good works among men and women (Matthew 5:16). This is one way we can do that.

Becoming Meek, Humble, Lowly of Heart, Easy to be Entreated

Obeying this standard gives us a chance to practice being meek/humble/lowly of heart/easy to be entreated—a virtue we are bound by scripture to practice.

Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5

Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5 reads:

4 Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
5 For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.

This scripture binds us to giving heed unto all of the prophets words and commandments. Not getting tattoos when the prophet asks us to is one way we can apply this scripture.

Doctrine and Covenants 58:27–29

Doctrine and Covenants 58:27–29 reads:

27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
29 But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.

Lovingly accepting the prophet's challenges to not get tattoos without having to have a revelation bind us to keeping this particular counsel is an excellent way we can apply this scripture.

Responding to Objections

Cultural Tattoos

Some have said that the Church does not have a like discouragement for members of, for instance, Polynesian cultures that get tattoos as a symbol of rank and status among one’s tribe. As evidence of this, they point to the costumes and tattoos of performers at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

The director of the Polynesian Cultural Center, P. Alfred Grace, was asked about this topic in 2016. His reply was insightful:

The cultural tattoos are actually something that we discourage our employees to use, because while there’s a good cause for it, a good reason, we also feel that there is a higher law, which is to recognize our bodies as temples. And so we’re comfortable with that. For some cultures, it’s still a very significant part of their identification from a rank and status point. For example, in Samoa, the full body tattoo from the chest down to the top of the thigh is still a significant recognition of chiefly rank, so we’re sensitive to that. And while we don’t encourage employees to go away and get it and then return to the PCC, if they come with those kind of markings, we accept it as part of their culture.[137]

Thus, there’s no real allowance or exception of members to get these tattoos. There’s a strong discouragement as there is in other nations where the Church is founded. There is merely a question of not ostracizing those that do get tattoos and come into the Church with them.

Plastic Surgery

Some have protested that those that get plastic surgery on any part of their body are also “disfiguring” their bodies. It might be said that there’s a difference between disfiguring of the body that tattoos bring and the refiguring of it that corrective surgeries most often have.

That mentioned, Elder Holland has warned Latter-day Saint women to not get caught up in beauty fashions of the day that they feel that they have to change every part of themselves to fit in.[138]

Cosmetic Tattoos

Some have pointed to the existence of women who tattoo eyebrows for beauty and balding men that tattoo their heads to give the appearance of a hairline. The Church hasn’t mentioned this specifically in its literature; but a response similar to the one about plastic surgery may be given here.

Medical Tattoos

Some also point to the existence of medical tattoos and suggest that these might be acceptable should the person need it. However, bracelets are a good replacement and are the official recommendation, for instance, for the Church’s missionary force.

1 Samuel 16:6–7

Some have said that the Church's standard is against biblical teaching. These critics cite 1 Samuel 16:6–7. Samuel is being directed by the Lord to anoint a new king over Israel among the sons of Jesse: David. Samuel finds Jesse and sees one of his sons Eliab. Samuel then states while looking at Eliab "Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him." To this the Lord responds "Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart."

Those who criticize the Church on these scriptural grounds assume that the scripture is justifying getting tattoos because what is most important is that you don't judge other people for expressing themselves.

The scripture here does not justify making love only attitudinal. The Lord has sized up the heart of Eliab to see if Eliab will do whatever the Lord asks him to in the position of king. This stance taken by critics deemphasizes the need to show love to the Lord and the prophets by being meek and lowly of heart and respecting the gift of our bodies that God gave us. It deemphasizes love for the prophets by encouraging us to not receive all of their words and commandments in all patience and faith and, as we learn often in Church, faith is a principle of action. As Christ said in John 14:15, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." Love, to Jesus, is about action. I can say I love God and the prophets until I'm blue in the face but it won't actually mean anything until I do something to show my love for them.

While we should never withhold friendship or love from those that convert to the Church with tattoos already placed nor from those that are already members and still get tattoos, we also shouldn't be permissive of breaking prophetic counsel.

Doesn't Hurt Others

A final objection to the standard is "It doesn't hurt others, so why should it be so strongly discouraged?" This objection seems to assume that the only things that can be considered right or wrong must have immediate, obvious consequences. But there are many norms that we hold that have delayed, unobvious, and/or sometimes unseen consequences. We're pretty bad as humans at holding to the latter and being patient. Those who have this concern should seek to identify the delayed yet beneficial consequences not getting tattoos provides for us. The moral goods described by the scriptures above are a good place to start.

Other Reasons to Not Get Tattoos

There are some other reasons to not get tattoos.

Donating Blood and/or Blood Plasma

One is that you can't donate blood plasma for at least a year after you get your tattoo. That is if you get your tattoo at a parlor that is not state regulated. When getting them at a state regulated parlor, you may be able to donate blood and/or plasma immediately after.

Job Employer Trust

While stigma surrounding tattoos has decreased dramatically in recent years, it is still a common preference among employers for their employees to not have tattoos. Not having tattoos will enhance your likelihood of obtaining jobs among employers who do not prefer tattoos and those who are indifferent to them.

Conclusion

While we may occasionally get annoyed at certain standards that comes from the Church, when we humbly follow what the Lord’s prophets have asked us to do, it can bring feelings of peace and comfort as well as success in building Zion.

Further Reading


Question: Do Mormons really believe that drinking tea (or alcohol, etc.) is "morally wrong"?

The abstinence from tea and coffee is a moral issue for Latter-day Saints in that following it is a sign of keeping promises they have made with God

Mormons don't drink tea regardless of temperature, because they believe God's prophet and the authoritative interpreter today says, "Don't drink tea." It is a sign of covenants and promises they have made.

When someone makes a promise to another, they want to uphold that promise. Keeping promises is a sign that someone loves the person that they've promised something to. Latter-day Saints have promised God that they will obey the Word of Wisdom. In exchange, God has promised that he will provide health to them and that he will count them as among his people (Doctrine and Covenants 89:18–21).

Latter-day Saint thus count keeping the Word of Wisdom as a moral issue because they follow Jesus' ethic of loving God with all your heart, might, mind and strength by keeping his commandments and loving their neighbor as themselves (Matthew 22:37–40).

Members of the Church do not follow the Word of Wisdom strictly because of health reasons, but also because God, speaking to prophets, has given these instructions to his people today as a social identifier

It is a common misconception, among both members and non-members, that the Word of Wisdom exists primarily, or only, to promote the health of the members. Health protection is an important benefit of the Word of Wisdom. This is made clear by verses 18-20 of the revelation. But an equally the most important reason for the Word of Wisdom is the promise given in the last verse of D&C 89, in which the members are told:

And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.(D&C 89:21)

This refers to the last curse put on the Egyptians prior to the Exodus from Egypt. The Israelites were to mark their houses with lamb's blood at the first Passover. Houses so marked were protected from the "destroying angel." (See Exodus 12:1-30.)

Is lamb's blood "magic?" Does it repel angels like garlic does vampires? Hardly. Rather, we understand the blood to be a symbol of the covenant between God and Israel, and Christians understand it to be a foreshadowing of the culmination of that covenant as the blood of Jesus Christ protects from sin and destruction those who enter into a covenant with Him.

Thus, the Word of Wisdom functions in a similar way—it "marks us" as people under covenant to God. Consumption of coffee and tea is a common practice in many cultures—when others notice a member of the Church abstaining, it sets them apart as willing to forgo something that is culturally popular. This reinforces our duty to keep our covenants in both our own minds and in the eyes of others.

Some question why it is that we interpret "hot drinks" as only pertaining to coffee and tea. The answer is that that is how Joseph Smith, the prophet who received this revelation, interpreted "hot drinks" in his mind while receiving the revelation. Joseph Smith's model of revelation is one in which God can select mental content that we have previously produced as something that he would like to teach or emphasize to us (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8–9). It is also one in which God speaks to prophets according to their own language and understanding so that they can comprehend His commandments (Doctrine and Covenants 1:24).

Drinking things that impair your judgement can be morally wrong

In the case of alcohol, it can impair your judgement and make it so that you hurt others. It might be argued persuasively that engaging activities in which you may or may not hurt others (and when you really don't know that it won't hurt others) is a morally wrong thing to do.


Question: Why does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have rules for facial hair?

Introduction to Question

Beginning in the 1960s and 70s, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has imposed certain restrictions on facial hair for male students at church schools like BYU, BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii, Ensign College, and elsewhere. There are also restrictions imposed on general leaders of the Church such as bishops, stake presidents, area presidents, seventies, apostles, the prophet, and all their counselors. Why do they do this? This article seeks to answer this question.

Response to Question

The Only Reason: The Prophets Have Asked Us To So That We Can Create A Shared Identity

The only real reason that this has happened is because the prophets have asked us to. Why do the prophets ask us to? Mainly because they want to create a shared identity and be a peculiar people from the rest of the world. Making the absence of facial hair normative for Church members gets a lot of attention and this, in turn, can spark interest in the Church for potential investigators. There’s scriptural mandate to support becoming a peculiar people, unspotted from the world.[139] There’s also scriptural injunctions to practice meekness/lowliness of heart/humility/easiness to be entreated before the prophets who have implored us to follow this counsel,[140] to receive all the words and commandments of the prophet as if from the mouth of God in all patience and faith,[141] and be anxiously engaged in a good cause without God compelling you to do something by explicit revelation.[142] The effectiveness of this standard is manifested in the numerous movements that have been organized and publicized in places like the New York Times to change it.[143]

Conclusion

These types of little rules have delayed consequences that can be beneficial for us as a people. We should be patient and humble as we submit to these standards humbly and see Zion be built over time. Jesus cared about the little rules. Prior to his doing away with the law of Moses with his Atonement, the Savior said that “[w]hosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”[144] If Jesus can care about the little rules and can show us how they can help us grow as a people as we follow them, then we, as disciples of Christ, can follow them humbly in all faith.


Question: Why are men encouraged to wear white shirts to Sunday services in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

Introduction to Question

Male members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to wear a white shirt to Sunday worship services.

Why is this? Should Latter-day Saint men follow this encouragement?

This article seeks to answer this question.

Response to Question

The Church’s Official Policy Regarding This

We would do well to first restate what the Church’s policy is for boys that pass the sacrament.

Those who administer the sacrament should be well groomed and clean. They should not wear clothing or jewelry that might detract from the worship and covenant making that are the purpose of the sacrament. If the bishop needs to counsel a priesthood holder about such matters, he does so with love. He also takes into account the person’s maturity in the Church.

The general handbook had previously stated that “[t]ies and white shirts are recommended because they add to the dignity of the ordinance. However, they should not be required as a mandatory prerequisite for a priesthood holder to participate.” It no longer says that.

All we are required to do by official policy is be well-groomed and clean. We are not required to wear white shirts. That said, there are still special considerations to make that should encourage us to submit to leaders that have encouraged us to wear white shirts.

The Conveying of Sanctity in the Ordinance of the Sacrament

Wearing a white shirt for those that prepare, bless, and pass the sacrament can certainly signify the sanctity and holiness that the ordinance holds.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught:

In that sacred setting we ask you young men of the Aaronic Priesthood to prepare and bless and pass these emblems of the Savior’s sacrifice worthily and reverently. What a stunning privilege and sacred trust given at such a remarkably young age! I can think of no higher compliment heaven could pay you. We do love you. Live your best and look your best when you participate in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.


May I suggest that wherever possible a white shirt be worn by the deacons, teachers, and priests who handle the sacrament. For sacred ordinances in the Church we often use ceremonial clothing, and a white shirt could be seen as a gentle reminder of the white clothing you wore in the baptismal font and an anticipation of the white shirt you will soon wear into the temple and onto your missions.

That simple suggestion is not intended to be pharisaic or formalistic. We do not want deacons or priests in uniforms or unduly concerned about anything but the purity of their lives. But how our young people dress can teach a holy principle to us all, and it certainly can convey sanctity. As President David O. McKay taught, a white shirt contributes to the sacredness of the holy sacrament (see Conference Report, Oct. 1956, p. 89).[145]

President David O. McKay taught:

I am not going to say much about the dress. We are not a people who look to formality, certainly we do not believe in phylacteries, in uniforms, on sacred occasions, but I do think that the Lord will be pleased with a bishopric if they will instruct the young men who are invited to administer the sacrament to dress properly. He will not be displeased if they come with a white shirt instead of a colored one, and we are not so poor that we cannot afford clean, white shirts for the boys who administer the sacrament. If they do not have them, at least they will come with clean hands, and especially a pure heart.


I have seen deacons not all dressed alike, but they have a special tie or a special shirt as evidence that those young men have been instructed that “you have a special calling this morning. Come in your best,” And when they are all in white, I think it contributes to the sacredness of it. Anything that will make the young boys feel that they have been called upon to officiate in the Priesthood in one of the most sacred ordinances in the Church, and they too should remain quite, even before ethe opening of the meeting.[146]

Parity with Other Members of the Church

Another reason to wear a white shirt is to establish a feeling of parity and equality with other members of local congregations. We come from diverse economic and social backgrounds. Having every male member wear a white shirt may establish a sense of connection or parity with others. This is certainly one of the beauties of temple ordinances is that we all wear clothing that is similar and this can powerfully symbolize the scriptural truth that all human beings are equal in worth before God.[147]

Scriptural Reasons for Wearing a White Shirt?

The scriptures do not have any explicit injunction to wear white clothing when performing ordinances or attending church. That said, there are other solid, scriptural reasons to follow this encouragement from Church leaders. Wearing white shirts can help us in being a peculiar people so as to encourage interest in the Church and thus success in missionary work,[148] to follow the injunction to keep ourselves unspotted from the world,[149] practicing meekness/lowliness of heart/humility/easiness to be entreated before the leaders of the Church that have asked us to do this,[150] following the commandment to receive all the words and commandments of the prophet as if from the mouth of God in all patience and faith,[151] and being anxiously engaged in a good cause without God compelling you to do something by explicit revelation.[152]

Conclusion

While this may be one of those encouragements from the Church that we roll our eyes at from time to time, it is till one that, if we follow it, can have delayed but still meaningful and beneficial consequences for building up Zion in these latter days.


Question: Why do Latter-day Saints often partake of the sacrament with their right hand?

Introduction to Question

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ceremonially eat bread and drink water each week in remembrance of the atonement of Jesus Christ and as a renewal of sacred covenants that they have made with him and God. This ceremony (or “ordinance” in the preferred vernacular of Latter-day Saints) is called the sacrament. For much time, Church members have insisted on grasping the small bread strips and cups that hold the water with their right hand before being consumed.

Why is this such a common practice among Latter-day Saints? This article will reproduce another written on this subject in the Latter-day Saint magazine LDS Living by author Katie Lambert. Lambert very adequately addresses the history and significance of this practice and how Latter-day Saints might view it today.

Katie Lambert, “Why Members Are Told to Take the Sacrament with Their Right Hand and Whether or Not it Matters

As a Sun Beam in sacrament meeting, eyeing the bread tray as it made its way closer and closer to you, you probably didn't notice what hand most members were using to take the sacrament.

Brimming with the false sense of independence only a 4-year-old can possess, you reach eagerly for the bread once it comes to you with your left hand only to have your mom or dad whisper in your ear, "Use your other hand."

You obey without a second thought. But after a while, you begin to wonder: why do we as members take the sacrament with our right hands?

In The Church Handbook 2, there is no indication that members should take or pass the sacrament with their right hands. In fact, there's nothing in the handbook that says the Deacons should pass it with their right hands, either. However, some members firmly believe that the left hand should never be used to partake of the sacrament.

This could be because of the symbolism of the right and left hands. Scripturally, the right hand is a place of honor and a symbol of covenant keeping, as seen in Mosiah 5:8–9: "therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.

"And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God."

On the other hand, the word "left" comes from the Latin word "sinister," meaning unfavorable or unlucky. These meanings are sometimes used in the scriptures, like in the case of Matthew 25:33: "And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left." The sheep, in this case, are seen as preferred to the goats.

But this symbolism of left and right didn't translate to the passing of sacrament until the 1930s when the Great Depression was in full swing. According to an Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies article by Justin R. Bray, "Excessive Formalities in the Mormon Sacrament, 1928–1940," the preference was popularized after the Granite Stake published a directive in the Improvement Era magazine.

In the article, deacons were told to keep their left hands behind their backs "at all times" and "it is not proper to have a boy handling the sacrament with the left hand.[153]

In 1946, President Joseph Fielding Smith spoke out against having Deacons keep their left hands behind their backs but later clarified, "It is a well-established practice in the church to partake of the sacrament with the right hand and also to anoint with the right hand, according to the custom which the scriptures indicate is, and always was, approved by divine injunction."[154]

In a 1983 Ensign article, [Russell M. Nelson, then one of the Church's Regional Representatives and former Sunday School President] said:

"The hand used in partaking of the sacrament would logically be the same hand used in making any other sacred oath. For most of us, that would be the right hand. However, sacramental covenants—and other eternal covenants as well—can be and are made by those who have lost the use of the right hand, or who have no hands at all. Much more important than concern over which hand is used in partaking of the sacrament is that the sacrament be partaken with a deep realization of the atoning sacrifice that the sacrament represents."[155]

So although using the right hand to receive the sacrament does add symbolic meaning to the ordinance, it is not required by members. As President Nelson says, it is more important to focus on the Atonement and what the sacrament represents than which hand we take it with.

Other Scriptures that Might Support this Practice

Lambert’s article does not offer every scripture that might support this practice. Other scriptural reasons that one might want to follow this custom might be to be peculiar people so as to encourage interest in the Church and thus success in missionary work,[156] to keep unspotted from the world,[157] and to be anxiously engaged in a good cause without God compelling you to do something by explicit revelation.[158]

Conclusion

While this may be a cultural vestige that we can roll our eyes at, it can still have delayed, beneficial consequences for Latter-day Saints as a people in their continued efforts to build the Kingdom of God and to express their deepest love and devotion to Jesus Christ.


Question: Should we pay tithing before paying for food or rent?

The Quote: "If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing"

One critic of the Church states,

I find the following quote in the December 2012 Ensign very disturbing:

If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying tithing means that you don’t have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing. The Lord will not abandon you.

Would a loving, kind, empathic God really place parents in the horrible position of having to choose whether to feed their children or pay what little they have to a multi-billion megamall owning Church that receives an estimated $8,000,000,000 in annual tithing receipts?" [159]

The quote used is part of a story about a family in San Salvador that had joined the Church and was experiencing a great change in their lives. We will provide a bit more of the context:

The Vigils’ bishop, César Orellana, also saw changes in their lives. Soon after their baptism, Amado approached Bishop Orellana and said, “We want to pay tithing, but we don’t know how.”

Bishop Orellana explained that tithing was 10 percent of their increase. Amado was somewhat concerned. At the time, Evelyn had a job, but he did not. “We always come up short,” Amado explained to his bishop, “but we want to pay tithing.”

Bishop Orellana responded, “Brother, the Lord has made many promises.” Together they read scriptures about the blessings that come from faithfully paying tithing, including the Lord’s words through the prophet Malachi: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, … and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10).

After reading these scriptures together, Bishop Orellana looked at the new convert and said, “If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying tithing means that you don’t have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing. The Lord will not abandon you.”

The next Sunday, Amado approached Bishop Orellana again. This time he didn’t ask any questions. He simply handed his bishop an envelope and said, “Bishop, here is our tithing.”

Reflecting on this experience, Bishop Orellana says, “Ever since then, they have been faithful tithe payers.” The family received some commodities from the bishops’ storehouse during their financial difficulties. Beyond that, the Lord blessed them to be able to care for themselves. Evelyn received a promotion, and Amado found a good job. Evelyn later lost her job, but they continued to pay tithing and to receive spiritual and temporal blessings for their faithfulness. Once Bishop Orellana asked Amado how the family was doing financially. Amado responded, “We’re doing all right. Sometimes we don’t have much to eat, but we have enough. And more than anything, we trust in the Lord.” [160]

Choosing between tithing and food or rent

If someone is in the situation where they have to choose between tithing and food, it is of benefit to sit down and talk with the bishop as they have access to better training and employment opportunities as well as may be helpful in establishing a better budget so that such a conflict won't arise in the future.

With regard to self sufficiency, we are taught as well that we need to be part of our faith community and that requires of us time to allow others to serve us. It is a kindness to give others such opportunities, even when we don't necessarily need such help. There are blessings that come from being a charitable receiver as well as a charitable giver.


Question: Why should the poor and destitute pay tithing?

Biblical precedent for the idea that even those that are destitute will be blessed by the Lord if they pay their tithing

Critics of the Church often portray it as a business or corporation, with tithing being the method by which income is generated. If this were true, however, why would the Church be interested in the "widow's mite?" Critics often act as if the Church simply takes money from the poor and leaves them to fend for themselves. The reality is that the Church will not only support the destitute, but it will assist them in finding employment or means to create better circumstances in their lives. The Church does not force anyone to choose to pay tithing or to feed their children. The choice presented by the critics is a caricature which completely ignores the function of the Church Welfare program.

Paying tithing is a matter of faith. From a believer's perspective, a more accurate description than "pay what little they have to a multi-billion megamall owning Church" would be to "donate one-tenth of what little they have to the Lord."

There is a Biblical precedent for the idea that even those that are destitute will be blessed by the Lord if they pay their tithing.

Elder Lynn G. Robbins related the following at the April 2005 General Conference:

The Lord says to Elijah, “Arise, get thee to Zarephath … : behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee” (1 Kgs. 17:9). It is interesting that Elijah is not told to go to Zarephath until the widow and her son are at the point of death. It is at this extreme moment—facing starvation—that her faith will be tested.

As he comes into the city he sees her gathering sticks.

“And he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.

“And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.

“And she said, As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die” (1 Kgs. 17:10–12).

A handful of meal would be very little indeed, perhaps just enough for one serving, which makes Elijah’s response intriguing. Listen: “And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first” (1 Kgs. 17:13; emphasis added).

Now doesn’t that sound selfish, asking not just for the first piece, but possibly the only piece? Didn't our parents teach us to let other people go first and especially for a gentleman to let a lady go first, let alone a starving widow? Her choice—does she eat, or does she sacrifice her last meal and hasten death? Perhaps she will sacrifice her own food, but could she sacrifice the food meant for her starving son?

Elijah understood the doctrine that blessings come after the trial of our faith (see Ether 12:6; D&C 132:5). He wasn't being selfish. As the Lord’s servant, Elijah was there to give, not to take. Continuing from the narrative:

“But make me thereof a little cake first [the firstlings], and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.

“For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.

“And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days.

“And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah” (1 Kgs. 17:13–16; emphasis added).[161]

Mark 12:41–44 gives us the story of the widows mite:

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.


Question: Why should members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pay their tithing to it when the Church already possesses immense resources?

This page is still under construction. We welcome any suggestions for improving the content of this FAIR Answers Wiki page.

Introduction to Question

On December 17, 2019, The Washington Post reported that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds over 100 billion dollars in a tax-exempt investment fund. The information was obtained from a former member of the Church named David A. Nielsen. Nielsen was an investment manager for the Church and filed a complaint with the IRS on November 21, 2019 “[accusing] church leaders of misleading members — and possibly breaching federal tax rules — by stockpiling their surplus donations instead of using them for charitable works. It also accuses church leaders of using the tax-exempt donations to prop up a pair of businesses.”[162]

Several insightful responses were drawn from Latter-day Saints in light of this news and published in online venues. The pieces provide in-depth discussion about the ethics of holding that much money in reserve (and show clearly how the Church may very well be justified in its current financial practices).[163]

This article doesn’t seek to defend the Church on the question of whether or not it is ethically justified to hold that much money in reserve (the author believes it does). Rather, the author wishes to answer a tangential question that has arisen because of this news: Why should a member of the Church give tithing donations to it when it already holds that much money and can accomplish so much with what it already has? Certain Church members have already written that they do not want to donate to the Church when it already holds a lot—feeling that the Church would be better served by donating their money to the poor before the members resume tithing donations.[164]


Question: Is belief in the Book of Mormon’s historicity essential to Latter-day Saint theology?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #480: Why Is the Book of Mormon’s Historical Authenticity So Important? (Video)

Introduction to Question

Beginning in the early 90s, theorists have surmised that the Book of Mormon does not need to literally be a historical account of certain ancient inhabitants of the Americas in order to be "true." The primary architect of this theory was Latter-day Saint Anthony D. Hutchinson in a book chapter on the subject.[165]

Hutchinson states:

My thesis is simple. I will state it as directly as possible for the sake of understanding and discussion. Members of [The] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should confess in faith that the Book of Mormon is the word of God but also abandon claims that it is a historical record of the ancient peoples of the Americas. We should accept that it is a work of scripture inspired by God in the same way that the Bible is inspired, but one that has as its human author Joseph Smith, Jr.[166]

According to Hutchinson, the Book of Mormon is the word of God in that God authored the text. Essentially, it is a revelation of God told in story form. Joseph Smith is not translating an ancient text but merely dictating it as he believed it came from the gold plates. Joseph Smith is then a kind of author of the Book of Mormon text. According to Hutchinson, words like "inspiration" and "translation" now need a retooling in the Latter-day Saint vernacular.

In his words:

“I believe that the word of God or the gospel of Jesus Christ is ill-served if not undermined to the degree that current LDS approaches to the Book of Mormon focus on its claims about itself and its value as a sign authenticating LDS religious life rather than on its unique message as a nineteenth century reworking of the biblical tradition.”[167]

Hutchinson didn't remain alone in his advocacy. Close to 10 years after Hutchinson's book chapter was published, Jesus mythicist Robert M. Price similarly argued that Joseph Smith should be viewed as the “inspired author” of the Book of Mormon.[168] There have even been those that have so pompously, foolishly, and, ironically, unreflectively proclaimed that believing in historicity is actually a lower form of religiosity![169] These types of arguments have thus been offered against belief in the historicity of other scripture that is a part of the canon of the Church. This article can then serve as a response to anyone who makes this type of argument against any book of scripture.


This theory in all its minor variations has come to be called the Inspired Fiction Theory (hereafter IFT) for the origins of the Book of Mormon by Latter-day Saint scholar Stephen O. Smoot.[170]

Is belief in the IFT a historically and theologically viable position for Latter-day Saints to take?

In this article, we’ll present a short answer to this question.

Response to Question

The Essential Argument Against the IFT

The late BYU professor of political science William J. Hamblin has produced the most succinct dilemma for proponents of any variation of the IFT:

  1. Joseph Smith claimed to have had possession of golden plates written by the Nephites, and to have been visited by Moroni, a resurrected Nephite.
  2. If the Book of Mormon is not an ancient document, there were no Nephites.
  3. If there were no Nephites, there were no golden plates written by Nephites; and there was no Nephite named Moroni.
  4. If there was no Moroni and no golden plates, then Joseph did not tell the truth when he claimed to possess and translate these nonexistent plates, and to have been visited by a resurrected man.
  5. Hence, Joseph was either lying (he knew there were no plates or angelic visitations, but was trying to convince others that there were), or he was insane or deluded (he believed there were golden plates and angelic visitations which in fact did not exist).[171]

The Book of Mormon Loses Spiritual Potency with the Loss of Historicity

Many people can believe that the Book of Mormon is an inspiring document without being true. We as Latter-day Saints consider the Quran to be a book inspired by God but not the book that will lead you to the true God. One of The Book of Mormon’s central purposes is to convince the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ. The historicity of the appearance of the resurrected Christ to the Nephites here in the Americas is thus essential.

Actuality Over Details

More important about the Book of Mormon is that many of its most important events actually happened. It is less important to worry about how they happened. This is similar to Joseph Smith's First Vision: it is more important that God and Jesus Christ actually appeared to Joseph Smith rather than what color the leaves were that day, what temperature it was, whether or not the light around Joseph Smith was fire or just light, etc.

Other Arguments Put Forth By Latter-day Saint Scholars

Below is a Further Reading list that one can use to discover additional reasons that Latter-day Saint scholars have put forth to show the incoherency of the IFT.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this will encourage Latter-day Saints and other interested readers to look into the scholarship that has been written on the Book of Mormon so that they can more articulately defend the book’s historicity. There is a large amount of literature that is easily accessible to interested parties.


Question: Is The Family: A Proclamation to the World against feminism?

Introduction to Question

In 1995, top leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints introduced a nine-paragraph proclamation regarding the family called The Family: A Proclamation to the World. In it, the divine institution of the family is described and defended–– including primary gender roles for a man and wife in marriage.

This document has invited a lot of criticism from some of the more progressive critics of the Church. It has also been the source of confusion for many regular members of the Church that have feminist leanings since the document prescribes ideal gender roles. The question has been: Is the Proclamation against feminism?

This article explores the question.

Response to Question

Two Lines that Affirm Male and Female Equality

The document contains two lines that affirm male/female equality––thus demonstrating that the Proclamation is not against feminism.

The first is this:

By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

The second is this:

Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.

Notice the assumptions behind the lines: that males and females are capable of performing the same tasks and are encouraged to share each other’s loads.

Now, it is true that the Proclamation prescribes ideal gender roles (that is, roles that change not on preference but out of necessity) based upon what we are naturally ordered to biologically. This shouldn’t be offensive. Gender complementarianism is scientifically defensible and is a philosophy that affirms the moral equality of the two genders.[172] We should seek to fill our roles as prescribed by the Proclamation. But the Proclamation doesn’t exclude feminism. Notice that the second line assumes that wives will be able to take over their husbands’ responsibilities. Women should therefore have potential for lucrative careers to support their families––including those careers traditionally held by men.

The Proclamation may indeed be against certain strains of feminist thought--such as gender being merely a social construct. But it is not inherently against notions of moral equality of the genders. It does not say that females are fundamentally incapable of performing any task they wish. All the Proclamation intends to state is that there are psychobehavioral and physical differences between men and women that are both biologically and spiritually-determined and that these differences are optimized for producing, nurturing, and protecting children. It encourages us to fill the roles that we were most naturally ordered to so as to glorify men as men and women as women--not holding one to the other's standard of excellence.

Conclusion

It’s unfortunate that this has become such a common misunderstanding about the Proclamation; but hopefully this article will allow both “progressive” members and “conservative” members to find some common ground as we both seek to understand how both men and women can reach their fullest potential as children of God.


Question: What does the Family Proclamation mean when it says fathers “preside” over their families?

Introduction to Question

In September 1995, top general leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a document entitled The Family: A Proclamation to the World. In it, the divine institution of the family is described and defended. Part of this document talks about some general gender roles given to men and women. Fathers, it says, are to “preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.” Mothers “are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” In these responsibilities, it says, “fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”

Confusion has arisen over how fathers can “preside” over their families while mothers are supposed to help the father in that responsibility as an “equal partner.”

This article seeks to address this confusion.

Response to Question

The Latin Root of the Word “Preside”

The etymology of the word “preside” is interesting. It traces back to the Latin words “prae” and “sedere.” When combined, they literally mean “to sit in front of.” It was used in Latin to signify “standing guard” and “superintending.” Thus, the word carries the dual meaning of protecting something and leading something (or someone). That is why the word is included in others like "president."

Fathers Receive Revelation on Behalf of their Families

In the Church, there is a large and well-established structure of leadership. This video outlines that leadership in detail:


The President of the Church, considered to be a prophet of God, receives revelation on behalf of the entire Church. Each person receives revelation for his or her own position and correlative sphere of influence in the Church. The more general the leader, the more general their stewardship. An Elder’s Quorum President can receive revelation to direct the Elder’s Quorum, a Bishop might be able to receive revelation to direct the Elder’s Quorum, but the Elder’s Quorum President cannot receive revelation on behalf of the whole ward like the Bishop can.

For a family, “it is the priesthood leadership of a family” that receives revelation for it: the husband.[173] Paul taught that “the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”[174] Thomas B. Marsh was told to “[g]overn [his] house in meekness, and be steadfast.”[175]

A husband may choose to collapse this and pray together with his wife for joint revelation, but it is his right and choice to collapse it. This is similar to how a person can receive revelation to guide their own life through their own prayers but then outsource that authority to a person that gives them a patriarchal blessing. It is their right to choose who exercises that authority. A husband can lose his right to direct his family and/or the efficacy of his priesthood power if he is not keeping his life in accordance with the moral laws and other statutes laid out in scripture. That is made clear in Doctrine and Covenants 121:36-44. Thus, if his family is to receive guidance from God, a man is obligated to act in accordance with the commandments.

Eventually this priesthood structure will be dismantled entirely when man and woman become gods. Doctrine and Covenants 132 clearly teaches that a man and woman who are sealed become gods that share an absolutely equal amount of power (even if their powers may be qualitatively different) and become "one" even as all the gods are one: acting in total unison with each other with the same purpose.[176] This may be added incentive for a man to collapse or outsource his leading authority to his wife and pray with her for revelation: to practice for the day when they will share power equally and outright. This may add new and deep meaning to trying to become equal partners while still having separate spheres of responsibility in mortality.

Conclusion

It’s not uncommon for questions of authority like this to rise on occasion. It is the authors hope that this article will serve in our continued efforts to become more “of one heart and one mind.”[177]


Question: Was “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” drafted by lawyers in Hawaii in response to legal concerns the Church had over the legalization of gay marriage?

It seems that it is true that these legal concerns played a role but it does not appear that they played the only role.

It is claimed by some that “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” was drafted by lawyers in Hawaii in response to legal concerns the Church had over the legalization of gay marriage. This is partially true.

The Hawaii Supreme Court began hearing a case on gay marriage known as Baehr v. Lewin (later "Miike") in 1993. A year after this, members of the Quorum of the Twelve began to draft what we know today as the Family Proclamation. The Family Proclamation was included as an appendix to the amicus curiae brief filed in Baehr v. Miike in 1997.

Boyd K. Packer gives additional context

Boyd K. Packer gave further context to the Proclamation’s Origin:

The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve issued a proclamation on the family. I can tell you how that came about. They had a world conference on the family sponsored by the United Nations in Beijing, China. We sent representatives. It was not pleasant what they heard. They called another one in Cairo. Some of our people were there. I read the proceedings of that. The word marriage was not mentioned. It was at a conference on the family, but marriage was not even mentioned. It was then they announced that they were going to have such a conference here in Salt Lake City. Some of us made the recommendation: "They are coming here. We had better proclaim our position.”[178]

The doctrines have long been taught by the Church

The doctrines contained within the Proclamation are doctrines long taught by the Church. We address this elsewhere on the wiki.

Many of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants started out as similar documents

Some sections of the Doctrine and Covenants started out as (1) council minutes, (2) official statements of church policy written by lawyers like Oliver Cowdery, (3) letters written by Joseph Smith, (4) excerpts from peoples’ notes recording things that Joseph Smith taught. Examples include D&C 130 and 134. More may be found by reading the headings of the revelations. Those who are bothered by a revelation or doctrinal disquisition being first drafted by others may be comforted knowing that many revelations have been ratified in similar ways.


Question: Why do women not hold priesthood offices in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

During the early years of the LDS Church, no provision was made in the revelations describing the priesthood along with its offices for the ordination of women

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints positions in the leadership hierarchy are generally connected directly to offices in the priesthood. During the early years of the LDS Church, no provision was made in the revelations describing the priesthood along with its offices for the ordination of women.[179] Consequently, when the Church received revelation describing the authority structure of the Church in terms of priesthood offices and roles, women were not included. This situation changed to some extent between 1842 and 1844. During the last two years of his life, Joseph Smith both organized the Relief Society and began introducing the temple ordinances (in particular the endowment) to the larger membership of the Church. Both of these developments had consequences for the view of women’s roles in the Church and in discussions over the relationship between women and the priesthood. Joseph addressed the Relief Society six times—the only sermons which he delivered exclusively to women in the Church—and these sermons (found in the Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book) continue to frame the discussion of the role of women in the Church and their relationship to the priesthood.[180]

A Theory as to Why Women don't Hold Priesthood Office

Besides these revelations stipulating that only men hold the priesthood, we can develop at least one theory as to why women do not hold the priesthood. This is not necessarily the official position of the Church.

We learn that God, in the beginning, created Adam and Eve and pronounced that they should become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). They remained in the Garden of Eden. The Israelites used the Garden of Eden to represent the presence of God.[181]

After Adam and Eve partake of the fruit, they were cast out of the Garden of Eden and Adam is told that he will "rule over" Eve (Genesis 3:16). This represents the tragic disintegration of the one flesh equality that man and woman had while in the Garden. While in mortality, it has been men who have been given official priesthood offices (Doctrine and Covenants 107:40). This is consistent throughout scripture. Today, men are called to preside over and receive revelation for their families (per documents like The Family: A Proclamation to the World). The authority that men have is contingent upon how righteously they exercise it (Doctrine and Covenants 121:36-37). This hierarchy of authority is incredibly important because it organizes who can and cannot receive genuine revelation for specific stewardships. For example, an Elder's Quorum President can receive revelation on behalf of the Elder's Quorum, a Bishop can receive revelation on behalf of an Elder's Quorum, but an Elder's Quorum President cannot receive revelation on behalf of the entire ward like a Bishop can. This is explained more depth in this article.

In the temple, Latter-day Saint men and women who receive their endowment are told that men represent Adam and women, Eve. We learn from Joseph Smith's revelations that men and women who are sealed become gods and goddesses in the next life as they enter into the Celestial Kingdom where God resides (Doctrine and Covenants 76:62; 132:19-20). This is something no other faith teaches: men cannot be exalted without women. Thus, just as Eve led Adam out of the Garden (the presence of the Lord), by the ordinance of sealing and other ordinances, she will lead us back into it.

Thus, granting women priesthood office might upset Church governmental structure in harmful ways that lead to confusion and might ruin the beautiful narrative that is written out by Joseph Smith's and other prophets' revelations.


Question: If same-sex attraction is something that occurs naturally, why can't God and the Church accept it by allowing sealings of LGBT couples?

Introduction to Question

Some have brought up the sensitive question of why gay marriage and other LGBT relationships can't be accepted by God and the Church if the characteristic is innate. Some struggle to find a purpose in the command to not engage in homosexual behavior. Some secularist critics and even members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who support same-sex marriage co-opt this issue as a means of openly and directly challenging the Church's opposition to same-sex relationships and marriages. This article examines that sensitive question/criticism.

It must be understood that some people are very sincere when asking these questions and that the questions deserve to be treated as such when sincerity is sensed. Others simply want to emotionally manipulate people into faith crisis over this issue. Great discernment is needed to know whether one is the former or latter in any given situation.

Response to Question

Feelings are Not Being

It is important to remember that just because something occurs naturally, that doesn't mean that it is therefore a good thing. This is what is known as the Is-Ought Fallacy in philosophy. There are plenty of things that occur naturally that we don't consider good such as depression, anxiety, and so forth. Many animals kill each other after mating.[182]

Brigham Young University professor Ty Mansfield pointed out something important in regard to feelings not forming identity:

“Being gay” is not a scientific idea, but rather a cultural and philosophical one, addressing the subjective and largely existential phenomenon of identity. From a social constructionist/constructivist perspective, our sense of identity is something we negotiate with our environment. Environment can include biological environment, but our biology is still environment. From an LDS perspective, the essential spiritual person within us exists independent of our mortal biology, so our biology, our body is something that we relate to and negotiate our identity with, rather than something that inherently or essentially defines us. Also, while there has likely been homoerotic attraction, desire, behavior, and even relationships, among humans as long as there have been humans, the narratives through which sexuality is understood and incorporated into one’s sense of self and identity is subjective and culturally influenced. The “gay” person or personality didn’t exist prior to the mid-20th century.

In an LDS context, people often express concern about words that are used—whether they be “same-sex attraction,” which some feel denies the realities of the gay experience, or “gay,” “lesbian,” or “LGBT,” which some feels speaks more to specific lifestyle choices. What’s important to understand, however, is that identity isn’t just about the words we use but the paradigms and worldviews and perceptions of or beliefs about the “self” and “self-hood” through which we interpret and integrate our various experiences into a sense of personal identity, sexual or otherwise. And identity is highly fluid and subject to modification with change in personal values or socio-cultural context. The terms “gay,” “lesbian,” and “bisexual” aren’t uniformly understood or experienced in the same way by everyone who may use or adopt those terms, so it’s the way those terms or labels are incorporated into self-hood that accounts for identity. One person might identify as “gay” simply as shorthand for the mouthful “son or daughter of God who happens to experience romantic, sexual or other desire for persons of the same sex for causes unknown and for the short duration of mortality,” while another person experiences themselves as “gay” as a sort of eternal identity and state of being.

An important philosophical thread in the overall experience of identity, is the experience of “selfhood”—what it means to have a self, and what it means to “be true to” that self. The question of what it means to be “true to ourselves” is a philosophical rather than a scientific one. In her book Multiplicity: The New Science of Personality, Identity, and the Self, award-winning science and medical writer Rita Carter explores the plurality of “selves” who live in each one of us and how each of those varied and sometimes conflicting senses of self inform various aspects of our identity(ies). This sense seems to be universal. In the movie The Incredibles, there’s a scene in which IncrediBoy says to Mr. Incredible, “You always, always say, ‘Be true to yourself,’ but you never say which part of yourself to be true to!”[183]

Thus, there is big difference between feelings and the meaning or labels that we assign to feelings. Thank goodness that feelings are not being. Couldn't we imagine a time where someone would want to change feelings that they didn't feel described their identity such as impulses for pornography, drugs, or violence? This does not mean that the author is comparing sexual orientation to bad impulses, this is simply to point out that feelings do not inherently control identity. We assign identity to feelings.

The Latter-day Saint Argument for Marriage

We should turn to Latter-day Saint scripture to figure out why the Church values marriage as much as it does and why is refuses to acknowledge same-gender sexual behavior and romantic relationships.

In 1831, Joseph Smith gave a revelation to the Shakers living in Ohio regarding some of their beliefs. As part of their religious system, they forbade people to marry and made them celibate. This revelation reissues the Lord's definition of marriage to the Shakers:

15 And again, verily I say unto you, that whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man.
16 Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation;
17 And that it might be filled with the measure of man, according to his creation before the world was made.

This revelation makes several crucial points about the Latter-day Saint position on marriage:

  1. Marriage is ordained of God
  2. Marriage is defined as being between one man and woman
  3. We were designed by God to be married this way.
  4. Our design is not shown in the sexual orientation we have but our biological gender.
  5. We were designed in the pre-mortal existence to be married man and woman.

We might ask why this marriage arrangement is the ideal one? We believe that it is because the Lord endorses the conjugal view of marriage. What is the conjugal view of marriage? Another website explains:

The conjugal view holds that marriage is a union between a man and a woman who share a domestic life oriented towards child-bearing and child-rearing. In other words, procreation (creating new human life) is the unifying good of a marriage relationship. A “unifying good” is that activity that most completely unites the partners in the relationship — the purpose towards which they coordinate their joint activities.


Let’s illustrate what this means: Consider a boyfriend and a girlfriend who share a deep emotional connection and enjoy spending time with each other. They have no particular plans for the future, and have made no commitments to each other. They may be united by many things, including mutual enjoyment, or whatever shared hobbies they pursue. Imagine that the girlfriend suddenly becomes pregnant. At that moment, their futures change completely — a whole host of duties suddenly arise that fundamentally changes their relationship.

They are now united by something more than just mutual enjoyment and emotional connection — they are united by an innocent human person, who physically embodies their union. While their relationship may still involve love and a deep emotional connection, raising the child becomes that thing that most completely unites them. This is what it means to say that child-raising is the unifying good of the relationship. They will probably consider getting married, because that is what marriage is about. In fact, if they don’t get officially married, but continue to live together and raise their kids together, many governments will still consider them married anyway (in what is called “common law marriage”).

The change that occurred in their relation strikes at the heart of marriage, from the conjugal view. Marriage is when a man and a woman say to each other, in essence, “Let us extend our emotional union into something more permanent, by starting a family together.” That is, a married couple arranges their lives and joins their families in anticipation of child-birth and child-raising. A pregnancy may be an unexpected interruption to a boyfriend and girlfriend, which fundamentally changes their relationship. However, as much as a child might change the lives of a married couple, she does not change the nature of their relationship. Marriage creates that difference from the get-go (before children are ever conceived), by enwrapping the relationship in norms (expectations) of permanence and fidelity. This is because marriage is oriented towards procreation. It points couples that direction.[184]

There are some objections that people have raised to this that we address below.

Latter-day Saint scripture also provides some evidence that the union of man and woman creates the spirits people in the next life (D&C 132:63).

Objections to Church Standard

The Argument from Personal Revelation

There are often claims from members of the Church who identify as LGBTQAIP+ and other members of the Church who support same-sex marriage that they have received personal revelation that the Church is wrong about this issue and that it will eventually accept LGBT sealings, relationships, and so on in the future. Since this is a topic that involves the ontological makeup of the entire human family as well as their eternal destiny, this type of revelation does not lie within the stewardship of those that identify as LGBT or those that support same-sex marriage, but with the prophet of God (Doctrine and Covenants 28:2-4; 42:53-60; 112:20). The Savior told us that the one way we could protect ourselves against deception is to hold to his word (JS-Matthew 1:37) and he announces himself as the source of the revelation declaring that our telos as men and women is to be united maritally and sexually (Doctrine and Covenants 49:28). Thus, it is likely that these individuals, if they have indeed felt revelation occur, have been deceived by false Spirits (Doctrine and Covenants 50:1-2) and their testimonies should be disregarded. If someone were to receive a revelation like this, it would be given to them for their own comfort and instruction. They would also be placed under strict commandment to not disseminate their revelation until it accords with the revelation of the prophets, God's authorized priesthood channels (Alma 12:9).

The Argument from Priesthood Restriction

As an additional means of justifying opposition to the Church's position on same sex marriage, some point to the pre-1978 restrictions on people of African descent from holding the Church's priesthood or officiating in temple ordinances, including the Church's disavowed explanations for the restrictions. If the Church was wrong about their explanations for that, could it be wrong about this issue? This has been examined in another article on the FairMormon wiki.

Conclusion

Many LGBT members of The Church of Jesus Christ do not need to hear the points listed in this article. Many understand these points clearly but may simply need someone to love and empathize with their struggle. Members of the Church are placed under covenant at baptism to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort (Mosiah 18:8-9) and should be open to helping these good men and women when they need it most.

Alternatively, there may be some that begin to debate against the Church's position out of sincere frustration and sadness or simple spite. First, those who wish to help these individuals will need to dig deep and find out why these individuals are debating against the Church's position. Some may still need to simply have someone love them and empathize with them. Others may be past that and be debating, as mentioned, out of simple spite and emotional manipulation. In these instances, members of the Church should follow the other part of their baptismal covenant as outlined in Mosiah 18:8-9 and "stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in[.]"

As a final word which we wish to emphasize:

FairMormon joins The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in unequivocally condemning the discrimination of any of God's children based upon gender (or gender identity), race, sexual identity and/or orientation, and/or religious affiliation..


Question: Since there are people that are born intersex, experience gender dysphoria, or identify as transgender, does this invalidate the Latter-day Saint ("Mormon") doctrine of eternal male and/or female gender?

The Criticism

Some secularist critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints point to the existence of intersex humans, people who experience gender dysphoria, or people who identify as transgender in order to invalidate the doctrine of eternal, binary gender.

Intersex people are defined as those that:

are born with any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, "do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies."[185]

Transgender people are those that identify with, dress as, and/or have gender-reassignment surgeries performed on them to become, identify with, and or act as a different gender than the one they were proclaimed to be at birth.

Gender dysphoria is the dissonance caused by not identifying with the gender (male or female) that one is proclaimed to be a part of at birth.

It is claimed that this invalidates the doctrine of gender as outlined by "The Family: A Proclamation to the World":

All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.[186]

It should be noted here that "gender" is used synonymously with "biological sex".[187]

Our spirits are eternally gendered either male or female

One immediate point to make is that, according to the Family Proclamation above and the Doctrine and Covenants, our spirits are eternally gendered either male or female (D&C 49:15-17). A male or female spirit can still be housed in an intersex body. The existence of intersex individuals does not invalidate the possibility that we have male and female spirits only.

As it concerns transgender individuals, there are four logical possibilities:

  1. Their spirit has legitimately been housed in the wrong bodies by their choice.
  2. Their spirit has legitimately been housed in the wrong bodies by God's choice.
  3. Their spirit has legitimately been housed in the wrong body by the joint agreement of them and God.
  4. There is a deeper mental condition that doesn't allow their brains to accept that they actually belong to the right body.

We don't know which of these actually are happening. It's best to wait for science and revelation to converge. Eventually, we know they will. As President Russell M. Nelson has taught, "[t]here is no conflict between science and religion. Conflict only arises from an incomplete knowledge of either science or religion, or both[.]"[188]

Feelings are not Being

Some may be offended by the last possibility. It does remain a logical possibility.

Brigham Young University professor Ty Mansfield pointed out something important in regard to feelings not forming identity. He related it to sexuality but it can equally apply to gender dysphoria.

“Being gay” is not a scientific idea, but rather a cultural and philosophical one, addressing the subjective and largely existential phenomenon of identity. From a social constructionist/constructivist perspective, our sense of identity is something we negotiate with our environment. Environment can include biological environment, but our biology is still environment. From an LDS perspective, the essential spiritual person within us exists independent of our mortal biology, so our biology, our body is something that we relate to and negotiate our identity with, rather than something that inherently or essentially defines us. Also, while there has likely been homoerotic attraction, desire, behavior, and even relationships, among humans as long as there have been humans, the narratives through which sexuality is understood and incorporated into one’s sense of self and identity is subjective and culturally influenced. The “gay” person or personality didn’t exist prior to the mid-20th century.

In an LDS context, people often express concern about words that are used—whether they be “same-sex attraction,” which some feel denies the realities of the gay experience, or “gay,” “lesbian,” or “LGBT,” which some feels speaks more to specific lifestyle choices. What’s important to understand, however, is that identity isn’t just about the words we use but the paradigms and worldviews and perceptions of or beliefs about the “self” and “self-hood” through which we interpret and integrate our various experiences into a sense of personal identity, sexual or otherwise. And identity is highly fluid and subject to modification with change in personal values or socio-cultural context. The terms “gay,” “lesbian,” and “bisexual” aren’t uniformly understood or experienced in the same way by everyone who may use or adopt those terms, so it’s the way those terms or labels are incorporated into self-hood that accounts for identity. One person might identify as “gay” simply as shorthand for the mouthful “son or daughter of God who happens to experience romantic, sexual or other desire for persons of the same sex for causes unknown and for the short duration of mortality,” while another person experiences themselves as “gay” as a sort of eternal identity and state of being.

An important philosophical thread in the overall experience of identity, is the experience of “selfhood”—what it means to have a self, and what it means to “be true to” that self. The question of what it means to be “true to ourselves” is a philosophical rather than a scientific one. In her book Multiplicity: The New Science of Personality, Identity, and the Self, award-winning science and medical writer Rita Carter explores the plurality of “selves” who live in each one of us and how each of those varied and sometimes conflicting senses of self inform various aspects of our identity(ies). This sense seems to be universal. In the movie The Incredibles, there’s a scene in which IncrediBoy says to Mr. Incredible, “You always, always say, ‘Be true to yourself,’ but you never say which part of yourself to be true to!”[189]

Thus, there is big difference between feelings and the meaning or labels that we assign to feelings. Thank goodness that feelings are not being. Couldn't we imagine a time where someone would want to change feelings that they didn't feel described their identity such as impulses for pornography, drugs, or violence? This does not mean that the author is comparing sexual orientation to bad impulses, this is simply to point out that feelings do not inherently control identity. We assign identity to feelings.

These points demonstrate that we all have to seek out something else to determine identity that is enduring, real, and meaningful. Some of us turn to God for that identity. Others may subconsciously or consciously create some form of a platonic entity to ground our morality and identity i.e. "Love binds the universe. Love is my religion". But the basic point still stands—our feelings may be used to form identity, but that identity--the identity based in our feelings that we are having now--isn't enduring; and we must turn to the unseen world to form abiding and real identity.

The Argument from Personal Revelation

There are often claims from members of the Church who identify as transgender and other members of the Church who support transgenderism that they have received personal revelation that they are meant to identify as the gender that they currently identify as and/or that gender is not meant to be binary.

There are often claims from members of the Church who identify as transgender and other members of the Church who support transgenderism that they have received personal revelation that the Church is wrong about this issue and that it will eventually accept transgenderism and so on in the future. Since this is an important theological topic that involves the entire human family and their eternal destiny, this type of revelation does not lie within the stewardship of those that identify as transgender or those that support same-sex marriage, but with the prophet of God (Doctrine and Covenants 28:2-4; 42:53-60; 112:20). We should wait for the Lord to reveal more officially as to what is occuring with transgender individuals. As it regards those that have felt like they've received revelation that gender isn't binary, the Savior told us that the one way we could protect ourselves against deception is to hold to his word (JS-Matthew 1:37) and he announces himself as the source of the revelation declaring that gender is binary (Doctrine and Covenants 49:28). Thus, it is likely that these individuals, if they have indeed felt revelation occur, have been deceived by false Spirits (Doctrine and Covenants 50:1-2) and their testimonies should be disregarded. If someone were to receive a revelation like this, it would be given to them for their own comfort and instruction. They would also be placed under strict commandment to not disseminate their revelation until it accords with the revelation of the prophets, God's authorized priesthood channels (Alma 12:9).

As a final word which we wish to emphasize:

FairMormon joins The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in unequivocally condemning the discrimination of any of God's children based upon gender (or gender identity), race, sexual identity and/or orientation, and/or religious affiliation..


Question: Does D&C 132 state that polygamy is required for our exaltation?

The verse that is cited as supporting this cannot be logically read as a support of polygamy being required for exaltation

Some critics have claimed that D&C 132:4 supports the notion that polygamy is required for exaltation in the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[190] The text reads as follows

For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory

There are a number of problems with the assumption that this supports polygamy. The following points should demonstrate the appropriate context and thus provide a better exegesis of the relevant passages:

  • An 1831 revelation through Joseph Smith defines the everlasting covenant as “the fulness of my gospel, sent forth unto the children of men, that they might have life and be made partakers of the glories which are to be revealed in the last days” (D&C 66:2; see also 133:57). All mortal who inherit celestial glory will enter into this covenant (D&C 76:101; D&C 131:2), which is comprised of bonds that cannot be broken (D&C 78:11).
  • The everlasting covenant existed even before the world was organized. “Wherefore, I say unto you that I have sent unto you mine everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning” (D&C 49:9; italics added). From the beginning, God has made covenants with mortals on earth and as they comply with them, they are blessed with exaltation (D&C 6:1, 14:7, 132:23). Compliance begins with baptism (D&C 22:1-4) and is completed through temple ordinances including eternal marriage sealings (D&C 131:2, 132:4, 18-20).
  • The Lord's pattern is to reveal the everlasting covenant to believers on earth. Then, when it is lost through apostasy, He reveals it again to a living prophet as a “new” covenant. That prophet is authorized to teach and is given priesthood authority to administer the requisite ordinances. Joseph Smith taught “…in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given” (D&C 128:9).
  • The scriptures indicate that this covenant was made with Adam (Moses 6:54-55), Enoch (JST Genesis 9:21-23, 13:13), Noah (Genesis 9:16), Abraham (Genesis 17:7, 13, 19), Jacob (1 Chronicles 16:17), and Moses and the Children of Israel (Leviticus 24:8, Numbers 25:13, Jeremiah 32:40). Although Christ came in the meridian of time, He is the mediator of this covenant (Hebrews 13:20). Joseph Smith taught that the everlasting covenant would be reestablished through him (D&C 1:17-22; see also 15) “to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me” (D&C 42:9).
  • The first public references to the new and everlasting covenant of marriage came in May 1843 when the Prophet taught that “[w]e have no claim in our eternal comfort in relation to eternal things unless our actions and contracts and all things tend to this end.” Then two months later, on July 16, he became more specific. According to William Clayton, “He [Joseph Smith] showed that a man must enter into an everlasting covenant with his wife [notice the use of the singular] in this world or he will have no claim on her in the next.”
  • The verses surrounding verse 4 explain that once the covenant is revealed to a people, this covenant must be obeyed—that is, once the sealing ordinance is introduced among God’s followers on earth, they must marry according to that covenant or incur divine condemnation. The revelation reads:

4 For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.

5 For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.

6 And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.[191]
  • Later verses in the revelation demonstrate that the “covenant” that must be obeyed is eternal marriage, not plural marriage. Verse 19 promises exaltation to a man who marries a wife monogamously by proper authority and they live worthily. The threat of damnation in these verses is directed at individuals who have the opportunity to be sealed in eternal marriage, but instead choose a civil union or some other form of matrimony. They are “damned” in the sense that they “remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity” (D&C 132:17) and are not married in the next life. This threat of eternal consequences is similar to that accompanying other covenants and ordinances. For example, a person cannot reject baptism when the opportunity is presented and thereafter expect a second chance to accept it without penalties (see Alma 34:33-35; D&C 45:2).
  • The revelation further explains how a husband and “a wife” will be exalted if they are sealed by proper authority and they live worthily: “Verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, . . . [it] shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things” (D&C 132:19). Modern polygamists are all condemned because their marriages are not authorized. See D&C 132:18, 38.

Verse 19 does make use of the indefinite article "a wife" instead of a possessive pronoun (i.e. "his wife") or the definite article (i.e. "the wife" which wouldn't make sense grammatically), but that can simply be because both monogamous and polygamous marriages are in harmony with the covenant.

What all of these points should demonstrate is that the covenant of eternal marriage was necessary for exaltation and not specifically polygamous sealings.

Notes

  1. See for instance Strong's Concordance of the King James Bible and/or the concordances of the triple combination done by Gary Shapiro and Eldin Ricks.
  2. See also Moses 4:3.
  3. George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 131.
  4. There is controversy among biblical scholars as to whether or not the scriptures prohibit homosexual behavior. Interpretations of scripture that allow homosexual behavior are in the minority. For the dominant exegesis of scripture that prohibits it, see Robert A. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002); Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 379–406. For a source accessible online that gives faithful and accurate perspectives, see Justin W. Starr, "Biblical Condemnations of Homosexual Conduct," FAIR Papers, November 2011, https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/starr-justin-BiblicalHomosexuality.pdf.
  5. Bennet Helm, "Love", in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2017/entries/love/.
  6. For a concordance of the King James Bible, see James Strong, ed., Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009). For the triple combination, see Eldon Ricks, ed., Eldin Ricks's Thorough Concordance of the LDS Standard Works (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1995).
  7. The reference to the plan of Satan refers to the scene portrayed in the Book of Moses where the gods take counsel with one another before sending spirits into the world and Satan presents a plan for the spirits that was rejected. See Moses 4 in the Pearl of Great Price.
  8. ”Freedom,” Webster’s Dictionary 1828, accessed August 31, 2021, http://www.webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/freedom.
  9. ”Agency,” Webster’s Dictionary 1828, accessed August 31, 2021, http://www.webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/agency.
  10. For just three of dozens of references, see 1 Nephi 3:30; 5:13; 13:20
  11. Doctrine and Covenants 21:5. This revelation in context referred to Joseph Smith but easily applies to his successors.
  12. Doctrine and Covenants 121:16
  13. Doctrine and Covenants 1:25
  14. Doctrine and Covenants 1:27
  15. Matthew 22:34-40; Moses 7:18
  16. Dallin H. Oaks, "Criticism," Ensign 17, no. 2 (February 1987): 68. "Faultfinding, evil speaking, and backbiting are obviously unchristian. The Bible commands us to avoid 'evil speakings.' (See 1 Peter 2:1.) It tells us to 'Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you.' (Ephesians 4:31.) Modern revelations direct us to avoid 'backbiting,' 'evil speaking,' and 'find[ing] fault one with another.' (See [ Doctrine and Covenants 20:53–54 ]; 42:27; 88:124; and 136:23)."
  17. "Admonish," Webster's 1828 Dictionary, accessed June 16, 2021, http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/admonish. Emphasis added.
  18. Doctrine and Covenants 6:19
  19. Doctrine and Covenants 112:12
  20. Kent P. Jackson and Robert D. Hunt, "Reprove, Betimes, and Sharpness in the Vocabulary of Joseph Smith," Religious Educator 6, no. 2 (2005): 97–104.
  21. Oaks, "Criticism," 71–72.
  22. Doctrine and Covenants 42:12–13, 56–60; 105:58–59
  23. Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5; Doctrine and Covenants 28:2
  24. Doctrine and Covenants 107:27
  25. Doctrine and Covenants 26:2; 28:13
  26. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 3:203–204.
  27. Russell M. Nelson, "The Book of Mormon: What Would Your Life be Like without It?" Ensign 47, no. 11 (November 2017): 62–63.
  28. Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-29
  29. Doctrine and Covenants 21:4-6
  30. Doctrine and Covenants 107:99.
  31. Boyd K. Packer, “Prayers and Answers,” Ensign 9, no. 11 (November 1979): 19–20.
  32. Dallin H. Oaks, "Revelation," New Era 11, no. 9 (September 1982).
  33. Doctrine and Covenants 68:3-5
  34. Doctrine and Covenants 68:22–24; 107:81
  35. Doctrine and Covenants 107:82–84
  36. Doctrine and Covenants 88:77-80
  37. Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young: Second President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, comp. John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1954), 4. Quoting Journal of Discourses 11:375
  38. This article is largely adapted from Gregory Smith, “What Should I Do If I Think I’ve Received Revelation Different from Apostles and Prophets?” <https://www.fairmormon.org/blog/2016/01/11/what-should-i-do-if-i-think-ive-received-revelation-different-from-apostles-and-prophets> (5 January 2019).
  39. Dallin H. Oaks, “Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign 27, no. 3 (March 1997): 14.
  40. Helaman 4:24; Doctrine and Covenants 112:20, 30.
  41. Doctrine and Covenants 50:1-3.
  42. Moroni 7:20-25; Joseph Smith - Matthew 1:37.
  43. Doctrine and Covenants 50:31-33; 52:14-19.
  44. Helaman 16:22.
  45. Alma 30:60.
  46. Dallin H. Oaks, “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall,” Ensign 24, no. 10 (October 1994): 13–14.
  47. Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-28.
  48. Clyde J. Williams, ed., The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 184.
  49. Doctrine and Covenants 28:1-7; Doctrine and Covenants 43:1-7.
  50. Doctrine and Covenants 107:99.
  51. Boyd K. Packer, “Prayers and Answers,” Ensign 9, no. 11 (November 1979): 19–20. See also Doctrine and Covenants 50:1-3; 50:31-33; 52:14-19.
  52. Dallin H. Oaks, "Revelation," New Era 11, no. 9 (September 1982).
  53. Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, Charles W. Penrose, “A Warning Voice,” Improvement Era 20 (Sept. 1913): 1148–49. The canon of the Church is accepted as its official doctrine. Scripture is binding on all Latter-day Saints. See this page on the wiki.
  54. Doctrine and Covenants 136:31.
  55. 1 Nephi 2:16.
  56. Ether 12:6.
  57. Doctrine and Covenants 50:24.
  58. Matthew 7:7.
  59. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 18:247 (23 July 1874).
  60. Boyd K. Packer, “Revelation in a Changing World,” Ensign 19, no. 11 (November 1989): 16.
  61. Ether 12:6.
  62. Deseret News editorial, George Q. Cannon, editor, impression of 3 November 1869; reprinted in George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974), 493.
  63. Dallin H. Oaks, "Criticism," Ensign 17, no. 2 (February 1987): 71–72.
  64. Articles of Faith 1:13; Doctrine and Covenants 121:16.
  65. Doctrine and Covenants 121:16.
  66. Doctrine and Covenants 12:2; Alma 42:21.
  67. Alma 12:9-10.
  68. 3 Nephi 11:29.
  69. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 4:288 (15 March 1857); reprinted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 41
  70. Joseph F. Smith Correspondence, Personal Letterbooks, 93–94, Film Reel 9, Ms. F271; cited in Dennis B. Horne, ed., Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluating Doctrinal Truth (Roy, UT: Eborn Books, 2005), 221–222. Also in Gary James Bergera, Statements of the LDS First Presidency (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2007), 121.  Bergera indicates it is a letter from Joseph F. Smith to Lillian Golsan, 16 July 1902.
  71. Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, (April 1938): 65–67; see also Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 1:288.
  72. Philippians 2:2; 1 Peter 3:15; Moses 7:18.
  73. Amanda Freebairn, "Why I Wear the Temple Garment," Public Square Magazine, July 28, 2021, https://publicsquaremag.org/faith/why-i-wear-the-temple-garment/?fbclid=IwAR1Gm_AHhVKUxp7cZ_qy-_8LQJOFf5mfU8E1QGkSaAj_fhkf---5AUg6yCo. For recommendations on how to prevent yeast infections, see Traci C. Johnson, "10 Ways to Prevent Yeast Infections," WebMD, January 16, 2020, https://www.webmd.com/women/guide/10-ways-to-prevent-yeast-infections. For recommendations on how to prevent urinary tract infections, see Mayo Clinic Staff, "Urinary tract infection (UTI)," Mayo Clinic, April 23, 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/urinary-tract-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20353447.
  74. Matthew 22:34-40; John 14:15.
  75. Matthew 5:16.
  76. Titus 2:14. See also 1 Peter 2:9.
  77. For the Strength of Youth (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), 31.
  78. Matthew 22:34-40
  79. John 14:15
  80. Wikipedia has a pretty good timeline documenting the Church's attitudes towards masturbation over time. There are some aspects of the article that may be misleading. Caution and discernment is advised in accepting some of the analysis presented.
  81. For the Strength of Youth (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2011), 36. While the pamphlet is more directly addressed to youth, it is clear from reading the actual pamphlet that Church leaders hope that youth will carry the attitudes and standards gleaned from the pamphlet into adulthood. Thus the pamphlet should be viewed as a relevant text for Latter-day Saints of all ages.
  82. See, for instance, Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969), 77–78. President Kimball makes comments about homosexuality as he perceived they relate to masturbation here. For info on this, see our wiki article on this here.
  83. R. Morgan Griffin, "Can Sex, Masturbation Affect Prostate Cancer Risk?" WebMD, accessed September 11, 2021, https://www.webmd.com/prostate-cancer/ejaculation-prostate-cancer-risk.
  84. Ibid., 35. This same attitude about sexuality is reflected in the 1990 and 2001 editions of the pamphlet. Other editions of the pamphlet do not directly address sexual purity.
  85. Matthew 7:15-20
  86. Genesis 2:21-24; Matthew 19:3-9; Doctrine and Covenants 49:15-17; Moses 3:21-24; Abraham 5:14-18; The Family: A Proclamation to the World. Some may not believe that the Family Proclamation constitutes an official pronouncement of the church, but several facts contradict this view. See this page for more info.
  87. In contrast to the Catholic Church's view of human sexuality that makes almost no separation between the unitive purpose of sex (bring men and women together) and the procreative purpose of it (being open to the possibility of children resulting from the sexual act), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sees the unitive act as fulfilling men and women's telos and then strongly urges men and women to have children. The Church affirms the commandment to have humans multiply over the earth, but sees the unification of man and woman as a full adherence to the human sexual telos. See Doctrine and Covenants 49:15-17.
  88. C.S. Lewis, Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 292–93.
  89. Matthew 22:34-40
  90. Mosiah 3:19
  91. Doctrine and Covenants 42:12-13, 56-60
  92. James 3:2; Alma 38:12. The author of this article says "the author" of James since it is not known whether James actually wrote James, someone else wrote James and then attributed it to him, or someone who was a close follower of James reworked material originally written by him into Greek literary style and form. See Timothy B. Cargal, "The Letter of James," in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, ed. Michael D. Coogan, 5th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 2165.
  93. Deuteronomy 14:2; 26:18; Psalms 135:4; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9
  94. James 1:27; Doctrine and Covenants 59:9
  95. 1 Thessalonians 5:22
  96. Mosiah 3:19
  97. Moroni 7:44
  98. Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5
  99. Doctrine and Covenants 58:27–29
  100. Matthew 22:34-40
  101. Colossians 3:5. The author of this article says "the author of Colossians" since it remains in debate whether Paul wrote Colossians, someone else wrote it and attributed it to him, or one of his followers adapted material the he had taught and/or written for the audience. Wikipedia has a decent discussion of the relevant issues.
  102. Jason A. Staples, "'Whoever Looks at a Woman With Lust': Misinterpreted Bible Passages #1," Jason A. Staples, August 20, 2009, https://www.jasonstaples.com/bible/most-misinterpreted-bible-passages-1-matthew-527-28/.
  103. Jason Staples, May 22, 2012 1:20pm, "Comment on," Jason Staples, “'Whoever Looks at a Woman With Lust': Misinterpreted Bible Passages #1” Jason A. Staples (blog), August 20, 2009, https://www.jasonstaples.com/bible/most-misinterpreted-bible-passages-1-matthew-527-28/.
  104. Latter-day Saint leaders have occasionally referred to it as such. For instance see Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 545, 708. It's okay that Elder McConkie and other leaders may have misinterpreted this scripture as supporting refraining since other scriptures support abstention and we are only required to embrace what is in harmony with the standard works. See this page and this page for more info.
  105. Carl S. Ehrlich, "Onan," in The Oxford Companion to the Bible, eds. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael David Coogan (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 565.
  106. Jon D. Levenson, "Genesis," in The Jewish Study Bible, eds. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 77.
  107. For information on masturbation addiction and recovery, see Matt Glowiak and Trishanna Sookdeo, “Masturbation Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments,” Choosing Therapy, July 14, 2021, https://www.choosingtherapy.com/masturbation-addiction/. For research on the reality of masturbation and pornography addiction, see Gary Wilson, "Research," Your Brain on Porn, accessed September 11, 2021, https://www.yourbrainonporn.com/research/.
  108. Karen L. Bales, Julie A. Westerhuyzen, Antoniah D. Lewis-Reese, Nathaniel D. Grotte, Jalene A. Lanter, C. Sue Carter, "Oxytocin has Dose-dependent Developmental Effects on Pair-bonding and Alloparental Care in Female Prairie Voles," Hormones and Behavior 52, no. 2 (August 2007): 274–79. Cited in Donald L. Hilton, He Restoreth My Soul: Understanding and Breaking the Chemical and Spiritual Chains of Pornography Addiction Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ (San Antonio: Forward Press Publishing, 2009), 57.
  109. Hilton, He Restoreth My Soul, 58.
  110. Mayo Clinic Staff, “6 steps to better sleep,” Mayo Clinic, April 17, 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/sleep/art-20048379.
  111. Heather Shannon, “7 powerful ways you can strengthen your heart,” UCI Health, February 9, 2017, https://www.ucihealth.org/blog/2017/02/how-to-strengthen-heart.
  112. ”How to boost your immune system,” Harvard Health Publishing, February 15, 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system.
  113. Mayo Clinic Staff, “Prostate cancer prevention: Ways to reduce your risk,” Mayo Clinic, September 24, 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prostate-cancer/in-depth/prostate-cancer-prevention/art-20045641.
  114. Daniel Yetman, "How to Decrease Libido," Healthline, October 28, 2020, https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-decrease-libido.
  115. Brenda Goodman, "Vaginismus," WebMD, March 22, 2020, https://www.webmd.com/women/guide/vaginismus-causes-symptoms-treatments.
  116. Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-20
  117. Vaughan J. Featherstone, “One Link Still Holds,” Ensign 29, no. 11 (November 1999).
  118. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Your Greatest Challenge, Mother,” Ensign 30, no. 11 (November 2000).
  119. Gordon B. Hinckley, “‘Great Shall be the Peace of thy Children’,” Ensign 30, no. 11 (November 2000).
  120. For the Strength of Youth: Fulfilling Our Duty to God (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2001), 16.
  121. Margaret D. Nadauld, “Hold High the Torch,” Ensign 32, no. 5 (May 2002): 97.
  122. Henry B. Eyring, “In the Strength of the Lord,” Ensign 34, no. 5 (May 2004): 114.
  123. Earl C. Tingey, “For the Strength of Youth,” Ensign 34, no. 5 (May 2004): 50.
  124. Julie B. Beck, “You Have a Noble Birthright,” Ensign 36, no. 5 (May 2006): 107.
  125. Gordon B. Hinckley, “I Am Clean,” Ensign 37, no. 5 (May 2007): 62.
  126. Elaine S. Dalton, “At All Times, in All Things, and in All Places,” Ensign 38, no. 5 (May 2008): 107.
  127. James J. Hamula, “Winning the War Against Evil,” Ensign 38, no. 11 (November 2008): 51.
  128. Boyd K. Packer, “Counsel to Young Men,” Ensign 39, no. 5 (May 2009): 50.
  129. Thomas S. Monsen, “Preparation Brings Blessings,” Ensign 40, no. 5 (May 2010): 65.
  130. D. Todd Christofferson, “Reflections on a Consecrated Life,” Ensign 40, no. 11 (November 2010): 17.
  131. For the Strength of Youth (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2011), 7.
  132. Elaine S. Dalton, “Be Not Moved!Ensign 43, no. 5 (May 2013): 123.
  133. Tad Walch, "President Russell M. Nelson tells 65,000 of the faith's 'Arizona battalion' to strengthen themselves and others," Deseret News, February 19, 2019.
  134. Donald Senior, John J. Collins, and Mary Ann Getty, eds., The Catholic Study Bible, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 160.
  135. Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald B. Allen, and H. Wayne House, eds., NKJV Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 191.
  136. Ibid., 1801.
  137. Jannalee Sandau, “Why There Are Tattoos and Strapless Costumes at the Polynesian Cultural Center,” LDS Living, November 2, 2016, https://www.ldsliving.com/Why-There-Are-Tattoos-Strapless-Costumes-at-the-Polynesian-Cultural-Center/s/83359.
  138. Jeffrey R. Holland, “To Young Women,” Ensign 35, no. 11 (November 2005): 29–30.
  139. Deuteronomy 14:2; 26:18; Psalms 135:4; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9; James 1:27; Doctrine and Covenants 59:9
  140. Moroni 7:44
  141. Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5
  142. Doctrine and Covenants 58:27–29
  143. For example, Anna P. Kambhampaty, “Beard Crusader,” New York Times, August 16, 2021; Julie Turkewitz, "At Brigham Young, Students Push to Lift Ban on Beards," New York Times, November 17, 2014.
  144. Matthew 5:19
  145. Jeffrey R. Holland, “’This Do in Remembrance of me’,” Ensign 25, no. 11 (November 1995).
  146. David O. McKay, Conference Report (October 1956): 89.
  147. 2 Nephi 26:33
  148. Deuteronomy 14:2; 26:18; Psalms 135:4; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9
  149. James 1:27; Doctrine and Covenants 59:9
  150. Moroni 7:44
  151. Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5
  152. Doctrine and Covenants 58:27–29
  153. Field Notes,” Improvement Era 34, no. 7 (May 1931): 417.
  154. Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1957), 1:158.
  155. Russell M. Nelson, "Is it necessary to take the sacrament with one’s right hand? Does it really make any difference which hand is used?" Ensign 13, no. 3 (March 1983): 68.
  156. Deuteronomy 14:2; 26:18; Psalms 135:4; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9
  157. James 1:27; Doctrine and Covenants 59:9
  158. Doctrine and Covenants 58:27–29
  159. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director", 2013
  160. Aaron L. West, "Sacred Transformations," Ensign 42, no. 12 (December 2012): 38–39.
  161. Lynn G. Robbins, "Tithing—a Commandment Even for the Destitute," Ensign 35, no. 5 (May 2005): 34–35.
  162. Jon Swaine, Douglas MacMillan, and Michelle Boorstein, “Mormon Church has misled members on 100 billion tax-exempt investment fund, whistleblower alleges,” Washington Post, December 17, 2019.
  163. See, for instance, Christian Sagers, "Kathleen Flake: 'Mormonism and Its Money' is a power struggle we've seen before," Deseret News, December 26, 2019; Aaron Miller, "The $100 Billion 'Mormon Church' Story: A Contextual Analysis," Public Square Magazine, December 20, 2019, https://publicsquaremag.org/faith/the-100-billion-mormon-church-story-a-contextual-analysis/; Sam Brunson, "So You Have $100 Billion," By Common Consent, December 29, 2019, https://bycommonconsent.com/2019/12/29/so-you-have-100-billion/.
  164. Jana Riess, “Jana Riess: Why I stopped paying tithing to the LDS Church,” Salt Lake Tribune, December 24, 2020.
  165. Anthony D. Hutchinson, “The Word of God is Enough: The Book of Mormon as Nineteenth Century Scripture,” in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, ed. Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 1–19.
  166. Ibid., 1
  167. Ibid., 2.
  168. Robert M. Price, “Joseph Smith: Inspired Author of the Book of Mormon,” in American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, eds. Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 321–66.
  169. Parsley S., "Liberating Ourselves from the Obsession with Historicity," Prodigal Press, no. 4 (December 2020): 5–8.
  170. Stephen O. Smoot, “Et Incarnatus Est: the Imperative for Book of Mormon Historicity,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 30 (2018): 125–62.
  171. William J. Hamblin, “An Apologist for the Critics: Brent Lee Metcalfe’s Assumptions and Methodologies,” FARMS Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6, no. 1 (1994): 453.
  172. Bruce Goldman, "Two minds: the cognitive differences between men and women," Stanford Medicine, Stanford University, May 7, 2021, https://stanmed.stanford.edu/2017spring/how-mens-and-womens-brains-are-different.html; David C. Geary, "The Real Causes of Human Sex Differences," Quilette, October 20, 2020, https://quillette.com/2020/10/20/the-real-causes-of-human-sex-differences/ ; John Stossel, "The Science: Male Brain vs Female Brain," YouTube, October 15, 2019, video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTEi2-FAEZE.
  173. Dallin H. Oaks, "Revelation," New Era 11, no. 9 (September 1982).
  174. 1 Corinthians 11:3
  175. Doctrine and Covenants 31:9
  176. Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-20; John 17:11, 20-23
  177. Philippians 2:2; 1 Peter 3:15; Moses 7:18.
  178. Boyd K. Packer, "The Instrument of Your Mind and the Foundation of Your Character," CES Fireside (2 February 2003).
  179. The most significant revelations relating to the structure and function of the priesthood are found in D&C Sections 20:, 84:, and 107:. The language is almost entirely gendered. For example, 20:60 reads “Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him; and he is to be ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains him.”
  180. It is difficult to overemphasize the value of this record. A copy has been placed on-line at the Joseph Smith Papers website of the Church here.
  181. Matthew B. Brown, The Gate of Heaven: Insights on the Doctrines and Symbols of the Temple (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 1999), 26–29.
  182. Katherine Ellen Foley, "Some animals kill each other after sex because their distinction between hungry and flirty is blurred," last modified February 14, 2017, https://qz.com/909885/some-animals-kill-each-other-after-sex-because-their-distinction-between-hungry-and-flirty-is-blurred/.
  183. Ty Mansfield, "'Mormons can be gay, they just can’t do gay': Deconstructing Sexuality and Identity from an LDS Perspective," (presentation, FairMormon Conference, Provo, UT, 2014).
  184. "The Conjugal vs. Revisionist Views of Marriage," Discussing Marriage, accessed May 4, 2021, https://discussingmarriage.org/the-conjugal-vs-revisionist-views-of-marriage/#.YJG5gkhKjRZ.
  185. Wikipedia, "Intersex" <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex> (accessed 4 January 2019)
  186. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" <https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation?lang=eng&old=true> (accessed 4 January 2019)
  187. Church Newsroom, "General Conference Leadership Meetings Begin" ,https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/october-2019-general-conference-first-presidency-leadership-session> (accessed 7 October 2019). “'Finally, the long-standing doctrinal statements reaffirmed in The Family: A Proclamation to the World 23 years ago will not change. They may be clarified as directed by inspiration.' For example, 'the intended meaning of gender in the family proclamation and as used in Church statements and publications since that time is biological sex at birth.'”
  188. LDS Church News, "Elder Nelson: 'There Is No Conflict Between Science and Religion'," LDS Living, April 17, 2015, https://www.ldsliving.com/Elder-Nelson-There-Is-No-Conflict-Between-Science-and-Religion-/s/78668.
  189. Ty Mansfield, "'Mormons can be gay, they just can’t do gay': Deconstructing Sexuality and Identity from an LDS Perspective" FairMormon Conference, 2014. <https://www.fairmormon.org/conference/august-2014/mormons-can-gay-just-cant-gay> Accessed October 17, 2019
  190. Jeremy Runnells "Letter to a CES Director" April 2013 edition
  191. (D&C 132:4-6)