An Old LDS Woman Talks to Young Single Adult Brothers about Intimacy

Lucy H. WestmoorBy Lucy H. Westmoor, Ph.D.

Editor’s Note: This is from a talk given by Dr. Lucy Westmoor at a gathering of young single adult brothers. It is a companion piece for the similar talk given to LDS young single adult women by Larry L. Eastland, published by Meridian Magazine. The opinions expressed are solely those of Dr. Westmoor, and reflect neither those of the editor nor The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Introduction

6Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” 8But he refused…. 11One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house…. 19When his master heard the story his wife told him,… 20Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined. (Gen. 39:6-20, NIV)

You’re Handsome

You’re handsome. Do you know that? You’re supposed to be. People probably don’t tell you that enough, but it’s true, every last one of you. Don’t be sad, little guy.

Artists since the beginning of time have painted your figure, and especially your private parts, on papyrus, ivory, copper, stone, canvas, doodle papers, and bathroom stalls. They have sculpted you all over the world. Writers have attempted to describe your strong, masculine bodies in literally millions of words through all time. Composers have lauded your most distinguishing features in the greatest works of music—from “My Ding-a-Ling” by Chuck Berry to “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel.

This should make you feel special, because women, on the other hand—with the minor exception of porn and everything else on the internet and in writing—are merely depicted in terms of their accomplishments in the public sphere, in business, the military, as doctors and lawyers, etc. You don’t want that for yourselves—your God-given manly beauty makes you special. You are free to rise above the confusing and complicated world of commerce, academics, and politics, and take your place on the pedestal as an object of manly beauty. Think of the story of “Beauty and the Beast,” where some evil witch victimizes the poor Prince by taking away one of his greatest possessions—his beauty—until he is saved by the noble and brave Belle. The Prince lives happily ever after because he got his beauty back.

So, it is little wonder that women look at you, admire you, and to one extent or another, lust after you. They—we (because I know I’m getting on in years, but some of you guys are dang hot)—notice just about everything about you, including your body parts and the way you dress. We notice how much of you is showing on the outside. If:

  • You wear a shirt that is unbuttoned low enough that we can see even a part of your chest hair, the sisters (those women that will be leering at you from across the hall as you exit this chapel) cannot help but look. You are beautiful in our eyes.
  • If your slacks are so tight that they show the outline on your sword of Laban, we admire it.
  • If you wear a tank top, some lusty female eyes will see any movement that shows your pectorals and deltoids.
  • If you lean over and you reveal the outline of your buttocks, Belle will see whatever the Prince reveals.

This is because our Heavenly Parents created you to be handsome in Eve’s sight. It’s called “attractive” because it “attracts” our eyes and more (you know what I’m talking about). And, it has worked for 6,000 years.

“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24, NIV)

And so, you want to look handsome, interesting, and yes, desirable. The Heavenly Mother intended it that way. When Her husband said a man shall be united to his wife and they shall become one flesh, He wasn’t talking about mud wrestling. He was talking about intimacy, the most trusting relationship between a man and a woman. Yes, I know that naked mud wrestling is one kind of mud wrestling, and that’s a form of intimacy, but you get my point.

On Being a Man

Let me tell you how to be a proper man: The bible says of David, “He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him.” (1 Sam. 16:18, NIV). Of Joseph, the bible says, “Joseph was well-built and handsome.” (Gen. 39:6, NIV). Of Absalom, the bible says, “In all of Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absolom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him.” (2 Sam. 14:25). Whatever the bible praises, you know must be right.

How Women See You

There are some differences between how you see the issue of modesty—or immodesty—and how women see it. Men and women are simply different; they process images differently. While men are attracted to women’s inner beauty, women only appreciate men for their physical beauty and their body parts. Yes, men are objectified in our society. I’m not out to change that, but I’m just saying that you ought to be aware of it. Accept it quietly, and don’t struggle.

So, boys, be careful about what you are marketing. The message you are sending when you dress immodestly to be more attractive—and the message women are receiving—are two very different messages. And, here rests the challenge you face when determining how to dress and how to act. When all is said and done, you are little more than a walking billboard.

What you may see as being simply more attractive—desirable—by being less modest than you have been taught, women will see as an invitation to touch, to enjoy, to try to force you to “come to bed with me” as Potiphar’s wife did when she saw Joseph. Remember: Potiphar’s wife desired him by only seeing his hot slave body while he was doing chores around the royal palace. She knew nothing about him. She didn’t care about Joseph’s feelings, or education, or how Joseph’s day was going. All she cared about was his hot, sweaty slave body. And if you’ve seen old bible movies from the 1950s like they had when I was growing up, you’ll know that Egyptian slaves were very hot, and they went around all tan, shirtless with ripped muscles, and wearing skirts. Who could blame Potiphar’s wife, really?

What women see they want to possess. So, what you show they desire. They’re like machines. The more you show, the greater the invitation to them, as they see it, to do something they should not do, because the message received is that it is OK with you, or you wouldn’t be dressing, or undressing, that way. Whether you intend it or not, that is the message they believe you are sending—an invitation to do much more than simply admire. An invitation to caress and possess. To please and seize. To grab and nab. She might even caress and possess you without your consent. Think of what a tragedy that would be—a tragedy that might be prevented if only you had dressed modestly.

Do not believe that lust will make her love you. I have counseled too many of the sisters who are currently in a lustful relationship doing things they know are wrong including improper touching and oral sex. When asked, “Do you love him? Are you thinking of marrying him?” the heartbreaking answer is “no.” Frankly, I can tell you as a woman that if we can have our way with a man, he becomes worthless to us. He is a licked popsicle—a chewed gum stick to be discarded. If he doesn’t care enough about his virtue to dress modestly so that we will not be tempted to caress and possess him, then he doesn’t deserve our love or respect.

The Question: “Do You Live the Law of Chastity?”

I point this all out because the issue of sexual morality is a very broad one, and one that must be viewed as an issue of desire, not just of actions. To enter into a Mormon temple to be given in marriage to your eternal wife, you must be live the Law of Chastity. But let me ask, where does the Law of Chastity begin?

Infidelity or impurity does not begin with the final act.

  • Does the law of chastity begin when a young man decides just how clingy his bike shorts can be to his brazen serpent and still not be considered too immodest?
  • Does it begin when a woman decides just how far her hands can wander on a boy whom she is dating before she has entered forbidden territory?

In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, we read:

The law of chastity applies not only to behavior but also to dress, speech, and thought. Latter-day Saints are counseled to dress modestly, to use dignified language in speaking of bodily functions, and to cultivate virtuous thoughts. Accordingly, they are to avoid anything pornographic in literature, movies, television, and conversation. Though many outside the Church regard [self-abuse] as normal, LDS leaders teach that the practice is wrong, one that feeds base appetites and may lead to other sinful conduct. Similarly, unmarried couples who engage in petting or fondling are breaking the law of chastity, and stimulating impulses that may lead to other sin.

Counsel

So, I am here today to counsel you as someone who has lots of experience loving and being loved, and wants to impart to you the benefits of her knowledge so that you can receive the exquisite joys I have experienced in a lifetime of loving my little Mister and being loved by him in return, bless his heart.

If you have not made the decision to dress and act modestly, do so today. Unless you have already lost your virtue, it is not too late. Be attractive. Dress attractively. As the legendary songwriter Right Said Fred wrote:

“Cause I’m a model, you know what I mean
And I do my little turn on the catwalk.
Yeah, on the catwalk, on the catwalk, yeah,
I shake my little touche on the catwalk.”

I have been told that my remarks today should be like your underwear: the subject should be fully covered, but clearly brief. Or briefs, or whatever.

So, I’m not asking you to look like the Amish or wear a long beard and a turban, I’m asking you to be conscious of the message you are sending, and to send a message of interest and intrigue, yet modestly and wonderful attractiveness. You think that’s a difficult line to walk? Maybe, but strait is the gate, and narrow the way, that leadeth to sexymodesty.

After all, betting is evil, but I would wager with you that in 90 percent of the cases, the next young woman with whom you are affectionate will not be your wife. So, you will be allowing someone else’s wife to share intimacies and she will be sharing intimacies with you, someone else’s husband. It’s just like wife swapping, except that none of the four participants are yet married, but if you were to travel in a time machine and see your future wife getting intimate with some other future guy, how would that feel? What do you think would happen if the future husband of the woman you are being intimate with came back in a time machine to kick your shapely little butt? Make sure you have no regrets by doing something you shouldn’t—starting with the message you are sending. Women can’t be held responsible for interpreting the way you dress as an invitation for sex.

Nature

Please don’t take anything I’m saying as blaming one side or the other. As my great-great grandmother used to say to Daniel Boone: “You can’t keep the flint in one drawer and the stone in another, and ever get a spark.” Or maybe she said, “You can’t keep your flint and stones in your drawers, without starting a fire.” I can’t really remember, but the point was that I’m just looking out for you poor boys. I know from my own experience that women can be assertive and manipulative, so I have to protect you so you don’t get taken advantage of.

Sex is Natural

Sex is natural. It is basic. It can be overpowering. You do not need to advertise it. We know it’s there. Boy, do we know it’s there! We think about it all the time and we constantly imagine you naked, whether you show us skin or not. So what’s the point of being immodest?

Do you remember that the Prophet Joseph Smith taught us that we always existed? Always. First as intelligences, and then through the power of procreation Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother got together and after nine months we became little spirit children. But this life, right here and now, is the first time, in all of these eons of time in which we have existed, when the Heavenly Parents have given us the power to create, their very own power. So, it is sacred and eternal. And, if we use it properly, it will be ours for all of eternity. If not, then we will lose it again forever. We will be like Barbie and Ken dolls forever in the afterlife. Use it properly, or lose it, I always say.

Let Me Be Direct

So that there is no misunderstanding about what I am saying, I’m going to stop beating around the bush now and be both blunt and indelicate, and dare I say offensive:

1.         Do not allow her to touch you below the waist. That includes feet, because there’s  nothing worse than a female foot fetishist. You are to stay away from her private areas.

2.         You are not to lay on top of each other, and you are not to pretend sex with your clothes on or off. Sex is sex . . . whether there is penetration or not. It may not be intercourse, but if it quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck. (But don’t have sex with ducks.) Back at BYU, we used to call this “Levi lovin’.” Now that I’ve told you exactly how it’s done, don’t do it!

3.         No oral sex. As we used to say back at BYU, “oral ain’t moral.” The used to say the same thing at Oral Roberts University, but it meant something different there.

4.         No self-abuse together, or alone, or on the phone, etc. Self-abuse is worse than child abuse, because the abuser and the abused are the same person. So you get the guilt from being the abuser, and the shame from being the abused, all at the same time. If you are self-abused, be sure that you report it to the police, because most instances of self-abuse remain unreported. If you don’t know what to do, call an abuse hotline and tell them what you’ve done.

5.         Keep all of your clothes on. Leave hers on her. She is not to place her hands on your clothes or under your clothes in any area that I have just described as forbidden. (Remember, that includes feet. Yuck!) In fact, just keep your clothes on always. If you have to shower, just take off parts of your clothes one at a time and wash the exposed parts, making sure that you are never fully nude. Nudity is evil in all forms.

6.         Pornography and self-abuse are violations of the moral code just as any arousal of sexual passions outside the bounds of marriage are. In fact, porn and self-abuse are basically in the same category as adultery. If you have already stepped into the seedy underworld of porn and self-abuse, all is not lost. There are twelve step programs that you can join. Someday, you can overcome your addiction and become a productive member of society again.

7.         In any circumstance, when affection turns to arousal, you’ve gone too far. It is a sin to be aroused for any reason, unless you are asleep and it happens in your dreams. If you ever get aroused, seek out the counsel of your Bishop immediately, before it is too late. It doesn’t matter what time it is. Call him at two o’clock in the morning if you have to. He needs to know, before it gets out of hand. Literally.

Honor Her Leadership

Help her honor her leadership by honoring your manhood. I’m counting on you to make her a better leader than she thinks she can be. Good men have made women better leaders from the beginning of time. We almost always exclusively celebrate the accomplishments of women, after all, but you boys also have an important role in their accomplishments.

Michael Burlingame, a history professor at Connecticut College and the author of The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln, wrote:

Mary Lincoln also took the broom to her husband, according to Hillary Gobin, a neighbor of the Lincolns’ in the 1850s. Mrs. Gobin recalled her mother saying that Mary and Abraham Lincoln ‘were very unhappy in their domestic life, and she was seen frequently to drive him from the house with the house with a broomstick.’ As a young girl, Lizzie DeCrastos visited the Lincoln home with her mother and observed Lincoln flee out the door as his angry wife attacked him with ‘very poorly pitched potatoes.’ A servant girl recalled that one day as Lincoln prepared to leave for Taylorville, ‘His wife ran him out of the house half dressed—as she followed him with a broom.’ Lincoln told the servant not to get scared’ but to go into the house and fetch him some clothes, which he donned and then ‘went up town through the woodhouse & alley.’” (p. 277)

So on the one hand, Abraham Lincoln was the legendary President of the United States who saved the nation from dissolution, won the Civil War, and freed the slaves. On the other hand, his wife beat the crap out of him. So the philosophic question of the day is: Would you take that as a deal? Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?

On the one hand, being the greatest President of the United States of all time is nothing to sneeze at. Lincoln has earned the admiration of his peers in a way very few experience. Some men might value that. He has gone down in the history books and will be revered as a great president. Nonetheless, if you had to take more than three seconds to think about this question, you are absolutely crazy. Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.

God is counting on you to marry well, and it’s your role to raise up righteous children in holiness to the Lord. In order to do that you must date well. Here are some rules that I think are essential to doing this. When on a date:

1.         Date out not in. Go out and do interesting things, not stay in an apartment. Satan hides in your closet, under your bed, and in other dark places in your home, and if you spend too much time there, Satan will get you.

2.         Nothing good happens after midnight. Go home or send her home. Well, actually, sleep is a pretty good thing, and that happens after midnight. Also, Craig Ferguson’s TV show happens after midnight, and I’m a big fan. But nothing else.

3.         When affection becomes arousal, you’ve gone too far. Take a cold shower, sing a church hymn, and call your Bishop. Again, arousal is sin. If you are ever aroused, you must repent immediately. (Unless you are dreaming. Dreams are like Vegas—whatever happens in dreams, stays in dreams.)

4.         There is never any reason to be in each other’s bedroom, unless you are in each other’s bedroom simultaneously. That way, you’ll be in her bedroom, and she’ll be in your bedroom, and it will be kind of weird, but there can’t be any hanky-panky if you aren’t in the same bedroom together.

5.         Keep your clothes on and hands out of private places–and keep her hands out of your private places. As you should know, every inch of your body is either a private place or public property. Public places are up for grabs. Anyone can touch you there with or without your permission. But private places are your property, and you can control who touches there. However, when you expose your private places to the public, you are granting public access.

6.         Keep your feet on the floor and the rest of you vertical not horizontal. However, if you need to raise your arm occasionally so that it is horizontal, you may do so as long as you quickly put it back in its vertical position the way God intended it. No other body parts are allowed to be horizontal. Horizontal is the devil’s counterfeit of vertical. So that means don’t be lying on top of each other.

7.         Never allow yourselves to be in a circumstance where you know no one will walk in on you. Always leave a slight doubt—and the door open. If you don’t have anyone that can stumble into your private space and potentially catch you in the act, pay someone. Younger siblings are usually more than happy to disturb your privacy, and many times they will do it for free. If you don’t have younger siblings, pray that angels or the Three Nephites will disturb your privacy. If you have the Aaronic priesthood, you have been given the keys to the ministering of angels. Use them!

8.         When all else fails, follow the Joseph principle, also known as the tree principle. Just leave. If you’re too embarrassed to leave…tell her “I’m leaving not because I don’t like you…but because I do. I’m leaving because I can think of no other way to keep you from caressing and possessing me” Then leave. I don’t know how saying that will lessen your embarrassment, but if you memorize it, it will be easy to remember in difficult situations.

Review

And so, when you are getting ready to be married in the temple and you are asked the question: “do you live the law of chastity?” I would ask you to carefully review your actions, your thoughts and your desires. Be faithful in your covenants you have made to those who love you: to your parents and family and to your Mother and Father in Heaven and Savior. Do the right thing because your don’t want your parents to be embarrassed and ashamed of you. Do the right thing because your Heavenly Parents can see everything you do and are taking video for later reference on judgment day. Do the right thing because every time you are immodest, Jesus sweats one more drop of blood for you in the garden of Gethsemane and he gets one more lash with a Roman whip. Exercise your agency for holiness. If you need to see your Bishop about issues in your life, heed the counsel of Alma:

“Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.” (Alma 34:31)

This scripture has nothing to do with confession, but it seems like it does if I quote it out of context, so I thought I’d throw it in there. Confession to a priesthood authority is fun. Everybody’s doing it. The Prophet Isaiah put it this way:

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

Again, this has nothing to do with confession, but it sort of sounds like it does if you leave out the surrounding verses. So, often I have young single brothers who come to me to share their sorrow, guilt and anguish over sin who conclude by saying, “Dr. Westmoor, I’m damaged goods. Why would any worthy young woman want to marry me? Of course, I don’t disagree with them that they are damaged goods. Their virtue is gone for good, and will never come back. But I give them two answers:

First: Together your Savior who atoned, your bishop who is here to guide you, and you yourself, will get you worthy to be given in marriage to your future wife in the temple. And, when you are—and I promise you that if you will follow the guidance here, you will be—as you walk through the door of the temple and look up at the words “Holiness to the Lord,” you will be as worthy as every other worthy person who enters the temple to perform sacred ordinances. There is no such thing as “damaged goods” in the Celestial Kingdom. It’s just in this life that you are damaged goods. If you lose your virginity, that is a precious gem that you have lost forever. But by the time people reach the Celestial kingdom, nobody is still a virgin anyway.

Second: Do not live your life in guilt. Just accept the fact that your virtue is gone forever and move forward with life’s burdens. Accept the atonement of Jesus completely, gratefully, and then do what He has asked:

28Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

And what is His yoke? First, remember that a yoke is a strong piece of wood that is put around the neck of two oxen so that they will be able to pull wagons or carts. It binds them together in pulling the load, and multiplies their united strength many times greater than if they were to do it alone.

So yes, the Savior wants to put a heavy chunk of wood around your neck and make you pull stuff for the rest of your life. That’s the burden of being a man. All he’s saying is that as far as yokes go, his is a pretty light one. Plus, it’s not like you’ll be pulling Jesus in the wagon. He’s not lazy like that. He’ll be pulling alongside you. You are not laboring alone.

Additional Counsel

I was going to wrap this up because I can see how bored you are, but let me conclude with some additional counsel, things that have been hanging around in my head for some time as it deals with the sisters across the hall that will be leering at you when you leave this chapel because you are dressed immodestly.

If a relationship is over, she’s no longer your best friend. She’s your former girlfriend. Get on with your life. While there’s nothing wrong with seeing her as a friend, you’re just hurting yourself if you don’t move on. What’s the point? If she is not going to be your eternal companion, what good is she to you?

Do not assume that attention equals interest. Just because she spends time with you hanging around, it seldom develops into anything else. Many of the sisters are afraid of commitment, so the best way to have a safe companionship is to make male friends—friends—and spend a lot of time with them. Do guy stuff together. Watch football together. Fix cars. Shoot things. You know—guy stuff. Women’s natural inability to make a commitment also makes it hard to break off even if there is nothing going on. Accept that fact. If you aren’t engaged in a few months, she’s a deadbeat so it’s time to look elsewhere.

Almost never does hanging out lead to dating or a relationship. Women make that decision in the first 30 seconds—well, maybe not 30 seconds—but certainly not six months later. You might as well just forget about forming any relationship with a woman you knew six months ago. So, don’t keep getting your heart up when in reality it is not going to happen. I decided the first time I saw my husband across a ball field at a single’s ward picnic in Spanish Fork, Utah, that I wanted to ask him out. Women are like that. Dating and hanging out are two different things. Don’t confuse the two. We women make snap decisions. You are either in or out. We give you a good, careful look-over and we know right away what kind of man you are, and if you don’t do anything for us right off the bat, your chances of having anything happen in the future are almost nil.

The woman you marry will not be perfect. She probably won’t be in this life, so stop looking for the perfect woman. Stop looking for perfection and stop nagging us about our faults. We women look for perfection, but you men should not. Look for someone with the potential to be better if you will love her enough to want to spend your life making her happy. A lifetime of putting your own needs on the back-burner while you try to make her happy might convince her to someday improve herself. Or not. But you shouldn’t get your hopes up.

The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote:

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7, NIV)

You can only have that life of love by making good decisions about who you are right now. So let me give you another list, because I just can’t get enough lists, and I can’t stop repeating myself or stop talking:

1. Be modest. Please. Accept only appropriate affection. Please, I beg you. For heaven’s sake, be modest, because I can’t control my thoughts.

2. Be honest in evaluating your relationships with the sisters. Please. I beseech you. Don’t expect much of us, because we really don’t care about you that much unless you are hot. But remember, don’t be too hot because we can’t control ourselves.

And finally, take the initiative to expand your circle by introducing yourself to new women when they move into your ward. Or, if necessary, while still fulfilling your assignments and attending your activities here, don’t be afraid to visit other wards from time to time to meet new friends. Most of the marriages in this ward in the past five years have been between a member of this ward and a member of another ward. Honestly, I don’t even know why we have young single adult wards like these. Nobody ever gets married in them. They all just hang out and have fun. So what’s the point?

Now, before I conclude, let me share with you my deep and abiding appreciation for you young single men, your goodness, and your hopes and dreams for a good marriage, a righteous wife, a family that drives you crazy that you love to death, and an interesting and rewarding life together in which you play an important supporting role in the public successes of your wife.

That’s what I want for you. And that’s what you’re going to have. So help me!

Boy Scouts can now be openly gay—and the LDS Church wants it that way

Old black and White photograph of one Scout helping another injured Scout

Taking a step in the direction of equal treatment, Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced today (5/23/2013) that it would admit openly gay Scouts. The change is the result of a 61-38% vote by the BSA’s National Council. This body agreed to accept the following proposed language: “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.” At least for now, the ban against openly gay Scout leaders remains in place.

Given the margin of victory, it appears that this change would likely not have happened without support from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The LDS Church is by far the largest organization that charters Scouting units associated with the BSA. Based on statistics from the end of 2012, the LDS Church operates 37,856 chartered units, representing 36% of all 106,200 chartered units. Scouts from these units constitute about 17% of all Scouts. In addition, many of the top BSA leaders are Mormon. Thus, the LDS Church has an outsized influence on the decision-making at BSA.

The church came out early in favor of the current language, apparently signaling an interest in “consistent standards for all BSA partners, recognition that Scouting exists to serve and benefit youth rather than Scout leaders, [and] a single standard of moral purity for youth in the program.” Thus, this policy appears to be exactly what the LDS Church wanted. Within hours of the vote that lifted the discriminatory policy, the church already apparently had a letter on hand in support of the new policy, signed by the church’s First Presidency, which will now be distributed to local congregations.

Interestingly, the church’s statement reveals, “Sexual orientation has not previously been—and is not now—a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops. Willingness to abide by standards of behavior continues to be our compelling interest.” Apparently, the LDS Church had been quietly at odds with BSA policy all along, and the vote today merely brings the BSA into conformity with longstanding LDS policy. If it is true that the LDS Church was violating this policy all along, one has to wonder whether the BSA was oblivious, or was intentionally looking the other way while this was happening. That would not be surprising, given that the BSA board members, who are drawn from corporate America, have been pushing for this change.

The church’s statement also raises the question of whether the church continues to disregard BSA’s continuing discriminatory policy against gay and lesbian Scout leaders. LDS Scouting policy stipulates, “Worthy adults, whether members of the Church or not, may be called to serve as Scouting leaders.” (§ 8.5). LDS policy currently considers gay and lesbian Mormons to be “worthy” so long as they are celibate. (Church Handbook of Instruction, Book 1 § 17.3.6). Conceivably, the LDS Church might get behind a BSA-wide policy that requires gay and lesbian Scout leaders to be celibate. Or perhaps the church might also get behind a policy that allows local units to follow their own policies regarding gay and lesbian Scout leaders. That way, the LDS Church can have its own policy, and other organizations who feel differently can have a different policy. If an openly gay or lesbian parent or other adult wants to be involved in Scouting, there would at least be some units where they will be welcomed.

As an Eagle Scout, I’m happy for the gay Scouts who will no longer be excluded. I am also happy that my church seems to have effectively sponsored this change. However, I don’t think the spirit and ideals of Scouting will be fully honored until openly gay and lesbian Scout leaders are welcomed into the Scouting program.

Might the LDS Church be okay with a more inclusive policy on gay Scouts and leaders?

Sketch of three Boy Scouts in an animated conversationA few days ago, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced that it was considering changing its policy to allow local Scout-sponsoring organizations to make their own decisions on whether or not to ban gay Scouts and leaders from their troops. Wednesday, after pressure to delay the decision from several scouting organizations, most notably the Great Salt Lake Council in Utah, the BSA decided to delay the decision until its annual meeting in May 2013.

There has been speculation that much of the pressure on the BSA came from the LDS Church, but apparently, not so. In a news release issued Thursday, the church said that it had not yet taken a position on the proposed policy change, and denied that it had been involved in any effort to prevent such a change. It encouraged people “not to speculate about our position or to assume that individual Latter-day Saints inside or outside the Scouting movement speak for the Church.”

There is a good chance that the LDS Church’s eventual position on the BSA’s proposed change might surprise us. A few years ago, the LDS Church baffled many conservative Mormons by supporting two city ordinances in Salt Lake City that prohibited housing discrimination against gays and lesbians. And just Thursday, conservative Mormons had further reason to be baffled when it was reported that the LDS Church was quietly seeking to extend Salt Lake City’s anti-housing-discrimination protections statewide throughout Utah. I suspect that Mormon clergy overall tend to be more sympathetic toward LGBT issues than many of the rank-and-file. I think this is true of most churches. It is difficult to be overly judgmental and dismissive of people you actually know, who are in your flock and for whom you have a duty to love and serve. One might imagine that it was his prior service as a bishop and Stake president that influenced 2012 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney to come out in opposition to the BSA’s ban on gay Scouts.

The BSA’s proposed policy change actually squares with current LDS policy on sexual orientation. Openly gay and lesbian Mormons are officially welcome within LDS congregations, even in leadership positions or as full-time missionaries, as long as they remain celibate. For example, Mitch Mayne, an openly gay Mormon, was called in 2011 to serve in an LDS bishopric in San Francisco. In the LDS Church, being a Scout leader is essentially a church leadership calling. There does not appear to be any official prohibition on the calling of celibate gay or lesbian Scout leaders in the LDS Church, or the participation of gay scouts.

If the LDS Church does not intend to discriminate against celibate gay or lesbian boys and leaders, then the current BSA policy is problematic. The current BSA policy is one of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” So gay Scouts and leaders can remain in the organization as long as they are closeted. But when the come out, they are expelled from Scouting regardless of whether or not they are celibate. Thus, while a Mormon Scouting troop might want to include a celibate, openly-gay boy as a member, the BSA would not currently allow that.

My sense is that the LDS Church wants to have complete control over whatever accommodation it decides to make on the issue of sexual orientation of Scouts and Scout leaders. In a previous post, I suggested that if the LDS Church were required not to discriminate against openly-gay Scouts and leaders, that the church might part ways with Scouting. However, I don’t think that is the case so long as the LDS Church can frame its own policy, so that celibacy, rather than closetedness, becomes the criterion for admission of gays and lesbians to the Scouting program.

Mormons and witchcraft

Wiccan pentacleAs the most sacred holiday for witches is upon us, I thought I would write a little of what I know about the intersection between Mormonism and witchcraft. First, let me state the obvious, that Mormons are not witches, and most Mormons probably don’t think much about witchcraft. In fact, most Mormons would probably be horrified to see me comparing Mormonism with witchcraft. Like Mormonism, witchcraft is a much maligned religion, but one that I greatly respect and admire for their nature-based and environmental theology. Comparing Mormonism to witchcraft is not as preposterous as it might at first seem, given that I understand that in predominantly-Mormon Utah, the majority of witches are former or sometimes even current Mormons. Evidently, there is something within witchcraft that appeals to a certain rare segment of Mormons or former Mormons.

The diverse pagan traditions we call witchcraft have been around for a very long time. It mostly had died-out by the 19th century, but in the early 20th century it experienced a rebirth in the form of Wicca and various related denominations, who tried to reconstruct the pagan faiths based on old traditions and records. At the time Joseph Smith founded Mormonism in 1830, the witchcraft theology had basically disappeared. But some of the magical elements of these traditions were carried forward in the form of folk religion practiced by believing Christians. Joseph Smith was part of that magical culture, though he was by no means a witch. He was, really, no different than countless of other rural Christians who practiced folk magic.

Though he did not think of it as witchcraft, Joseph Smith was not unfamiliar with things like spells, talismans, curses, and magic divining stones. For example, Smith used a “seer stone” to translate the Book of Mormon. Smith referred to this stone, and similar stones, by the biblical phrase “Urim and Thummim.” Smith taught that in the far future, residents of the glorified crystal earth would each receive such a stone whereby they will be able to know “things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms” (D&C 130:10). Smith, like countless others of his era who lived close to the earth and relied in part upon the cycles of nature for their survival, also evidently believed in astrology. One of Smith’s early revelations indicates that he also believed in dowsing. Smith’s connection to the magical practices of his era are fully explored in the groundbreaking but controversial work Early Mormonism and the Magic Worldview, by D. Michael Quinn (1998, Signature Books, ISBN 1560850892). These magical practices were still part of Christianity, not withcraft, but they represent a common folk tradition between the two faiths.

In addition to the magical elements of early Mormonism, there are superficial similarities between Mormonism and witchcraft on a theological level. Most practitioners of witchcraft recognize at least two gods, the Moon Goddess and the Horned God. Mormons, in addition to recognizing the male Christian Father, also recognize a Heavenly Mother. Thus, both traditions recognize male and female deities. But the theological similarities between Mormonism and witchcraft are rather superficial. Though heterodox in relation to traditional Christianity, Mormons came from that tradition, are still part of it, and have been working hard to find common ground with it. Though not trinitarian, Mormons still believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of Christianity. Some Mormons believe that the Heavenly Mother is the Holy Spirit, but beliefs are varied. (See this 1980 Sunstone Magazine article for an overview of the Mormon Heavenly Mother doctrine.)

None of this is to say that Mormonism, especially modern Mormonism, is anything at all like witchcraft. But there are enough superficial similarities that Mormons ought to be sympathetic to witches. As much as I favor Mormon dialogue with traditional Christianity, I would also be on board for some sort of Mormon-witch dialogue.

How Mormons feel about Islam

Muhammad receiving revelation from the angel GabrielJoseph Smith receiving the gold plates from the angel Moroni

A couple of weeks ago, I had the misfortune of watching parts of the hate-filled anti-Muslim film made in the United States and promoted by Pastor Terry Jones—the spark that set off the recent flames of anti-Western rage in Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, and elsewhere. Jones, in case you don’t remember, is the same bigot that planned to burn copies of the Qur’an on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The film is horribly offensive. There have been offensive films made about Mormons, too, but nothing quite like this. It is truly trash, both artistically and as an expression of hate against Muslims.

Mormons have much in common with Muslims, and were subject in the 19th century to much of the same kind of ridicule as Muslims. Therefore, I think that Mormons are less likely than many evangelical Christians to join in Muslim-bashing. Also, there are many differences between Mormonism and evangelical Christianity that might tend to make Mormons more tolerant of Muslims.

First, unlike evangelicals, Mormon do not believe that Muslims are destined for hell unless they convert to Christianity and accept Jesus as their savior. To be clear, Mormons do believe that Mormon theology represents an exclusive path to the highest heavenly realm. However, in 1836, the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith said that he had a vision in which he was told, “All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it had they been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God.” (D&C 137:7). “This gospel” refers to the doctrines of Mormonism. Thus, according to Smith’s 1836 teaching, any Muslim who was not familiar with Mormonism, but would have accepted it had they known about it in their lifetime, would be automatically saved in the heavenly kingdom. Statistics would suggest that there ought to be far more Muslim-born people in that kingdom than Mormon-born.

A few years later in 1840, Joseph Smith introduced the practice of baptism for the dead, by which Mormons could be baptized as proxies for those people, including Muslims, who had died without Mormon baptism. Mormons today understand that in the afterlife, such people will have the choice as to whether or not to accept that baptism done on their behalf.

In Mormonism, all people including Christians are required to accept a Mormon baptism as a condition for salvation. Thus, as far as salvation is concerned, Mormon theology does not fundamentally distinguish between someone who died as a Muslim and someone who died as a Methodist.

Second, although Mormons believe that the “keys” to an effective baptism have been entrusted only to Mormon priests, they are not in generally opposed to the idea of non-Mormon or even non-Christian prophets. Mormon theology teaches that God “is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in.” (Alma 26:37). A very influential early 20th century Mormon scholar and leader named B.H. Roberts wrote in 1907 that Mormonism:

“is one of God’s instrumentalities for making known the truth yet he is not limited to that institution for such purposes, neither in time nor place. God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend. … All the great teachers are servants of God; among all nations and in all ages. They are inspired men, appointed to instruct God’s children according to the conditions in the midst of which he finds them”

Muhammad would have been one of these non-Mormon prophets to whom God revealed his truth. In 1978, the LDS Church issued an official statement that Muhammad and other great religious leaders “received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.”

Therefore, there is not much excuse within Mormon theology for Islamophobia, and there are enough outward similarities between Islam and Mormonism that one would not expect Mormons to be overly intolerant toward Muslims. Anti-Islam sentiment undoubtedly exists among some Mormons, as in any group, but I really believe it to be rare.

Is Romney the “face of Mormonism”?

In-fighting among Mormon politicians has erupted over an article by Gregory A. Prince, a well-known Mormon biographer. In the article, Prince claimed that Romney was “not the face of Mormonism.” Prince had been a Romney supporter prior to 2007, when Romney was a moderate. However, Prince became dismayed when Romney lurched to the right in his 2008 presidential campaign. and was baffled by Romney’s infamous “47% video.”

Prince argued that Romney’s dismissal of the “47%” was a betrayal of everything that Romney stood for as a Mormon lay pastor. A pastor who is a “good shepherd” goes after the lost sheep: even if one sheep in a hundred is in jeopardy, the pastor is to leave the fold and recover it. Also, Mormons were early champions of reaching out to the disadvantaged and providing social safety nets such as the Latter-day Saint Welfare Program. According to Prince, writing off 47% of the American population as a moocher class does not seem consistent with Mormon leadership principles or compassion.

Now, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has entered the fray, stating that he agrees with Prince. Reid and Romney have been at odds with each other before, but this time, it is about Mormonism itself.

To be honest, Romney probably is the face of a certain class of well-known Mormon industrialists, among them J.W. Marriott, Jon Huntsman, and the late Larry H. Miller. Perhaps these are some of the more visible faces of Mormonism. And men who walk, talk, dress, and look like Romney inhabit the upper echelons of the LDS Church hierarchy. But I could not imagine any of these church leaders writing off the needs of what the far right views as the “moocher class,” as Romney appears to have done in the video.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, Mormons on average have become increasingly conservative. But Mormon leaders have periodically reined-in that conservatism to counter dismissiveness or lack of respect and empathy towards the poor, immigrants, and the disadvantaged. Mormons by and large have not adopted the most belligerent postures of the far right. Therefore from a Mormon perspective, Romney’s dismissive attitude might seem surprising and out of character for a Mormon who has been a lay pastor devoting years to serving the neediest under his care. Perhaps that is what Prince and Reid are reacting to.

There is another possibility: that Romney’s “face” is merely a mask, and that in dismissing the 47%, he is telling his wealthy conservative donors exactly what they want to hear, rather than what he truly believes. But that, too, is decidedly un-Mormon. A Mormon article of faith is that “we believe in being honest.” A current LDS Church manual quotes Brigham Young in stating, “If we accept salvation on the terms it is offered to us, we have got to be honest in every thought, in our reflections, in our meditations, in our private circles, in our deals, in our declarations, and in every act of our lives.” I wonder what Young would have thought about a candidate misrepresenting himself to a private group of donors—if that is what Romney did—in order to get campaign money.

A better face of Mormon honesty might actually be Jon Huntsman, who was ridiculed during the 2012 Republican Primaries for his consistently moderate views. He refused to lurch to the right as a political expediency, the way that Romney seems to have done. Like Romney, Huntsman was also born into a wealthy family, and therefore he is also probably a bit removed from the concerns of average struggling Mormons, but based on his views and consistency, he might have a little better claim for representing Mormon idealism than does Romney.

But perhaps it is incorrect to think that anyone could be the “face of Mormonism.” Mormons are more diverse than most non-Mormons think. There are single parents, undocumented immigrants, liberals, gays and lesbians, libertarians, and out-of-touch industrialists, all happily sitting next to each other on the pews of many Mormon congregations. Sometimes each of them is not completely honest, or compassionate, or tolerant, but they are all Mormon. Thus, ultimately I agree with Greg Prince’s observation that Romney’s video was not a good representation of Mormon ideals; however, I think that Romney has as good a claim to be the face of a flawed Mormon as any other Mormon does.

Mormonism and Ayn Rand

Art Deco design of an Ayn Rand postage stampObjectivist writer Ayn Rand has been in the news recently because in 2005, Romney VP pick Paul Ryan said that Rand was “[t]he reason I got involved in public service.” Although Ryan has recently tried to distance himself from Rand, by all indications, he was a Randite as late as 2009, when he argued that “Rand did the best job of anybody to build a moral case of capitalism.” As far as I can tell, nobody knows whether or not Mitt Romney agrees with Rand’s “moral” view of capitalism, but it is worth considering whether there is any place for the ideas of Ayn Rand in the Mormon worldview. I don’t think there is.

In many ways, Ayn Rand’s views as a whole are incompatible not just with Mormonism, but with all religion, as she was an atheist who rejected all forms of religion and altruism. Her philosophy was self-centered: the only morality, in her view, was the promotion of heroic self interest. She earnestly embodied the philosophy expressed by Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street that “greed is good.”

Despite the presence of anti-Christian elements within Rand’s philosophy, right-leaning Christians such as Paul Ryan and many others have overlooked Rand’s anti-altruism and strident atheism to embrace the “greed is good” part of her philosophy as a moral justification for capitalism. Undoubtedly, Mitt Romney is an altruist, as evidenced by his years of unpaid service in the LDS Church. I have no reason to think that Paul Ryan is not altruistic as well. But it is possible to be an altruist in specific circumstances yet also believe that as a general principle, the rational pursuit of individual gain and self interest is a form of morality.

Although Rand’s philosophy does not seem to have made a huge impact among Mormons, there are undoubtedly at least some Mormon Randians. Interestingly, it appears, based on partially-redacted data available on the LDS church website new.familysearch.org, that some of her fans have probably proxy baptized her into the Latter-day Saint faith. I suspect that some Mormons may be drawn to Randianism because a large fraction of Mormons happen to be conservative libertarians, and Rand provided a kind of “theology” for this corner of the political spectrum.

But it seems difficult to square Rand’s philosophy with Mormon scripture. The faith’s founding scripture, the Book of Mormon, frequently condemns those who “set their hearts upon their riches.” (Hel. 13:20). The book warns, “But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.” (2 Nephi 9:30). The pursuit of wealth, and the class pride of the wealthy over the poor, are repeatedly cited as the reason for religious apostasy, environmental disaster, and military defeat. The book envisions an ideal, utopian state as one where “they had all things in common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor.” (4 Ne. 1:3). Nothing seems further from the anti-collectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand, who wrote, “This miracle of me is mine to own and keep, and mine to guard, and mine to use, and mine to kneel before! I do not surrender my treasures, nor do I share them. The fortune of my spirit is not to be blown into coins of brass and flung to the winds as alms for the poor of spirit.” (Anthem).