Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sexual Sins Are NOT Next to Murder

I think the whole "sexual sins are next to murder" idea is a flawed interpretation of the passage in Alma from which the idea is taken.  I believe sexual sins are serious - and many of them are extremely serious, but, as a general, all-encompassing category or in every particular instance, I believe they are not next to murder as the third most serious sins possible to commit.  (The first is denying the Holy Ghost.) 

This is what Alma 39: 2-5,13 actually says, with my own bolding for emphasis:
2 For thou didst not give so much heed unto my words as did thy brother, among the people of the Zoramites. Now this is what I have against thee; thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom.
3 And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.
4 Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted.
5 Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?
13 . . . that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly . . .
So, Corinaton did all of the following:

A) Boasted in his own strength, thus denying God and God's place in his ministry (seriously not good - of the highest order, almost);

B) Forsook his ministry (seriously not good - right up there in seriousness);

C) Consorted with a harlot - while serving as a missionary (seriously not good - pretty high up on the list of sexual sins, given his calling at the time);

D) Led others away from the Church of his father and caused them to sin and "do wickedly" (seriously not good).
Alma said, "THESE things are an abomination" - not "THIS thing".    

[It is important to note that, as far as we know, the "worst" sexual sin Corianton probably committed was "fornication" - since we have no indication that he was married at the time of the mission in question.  He might have been, but that is not specified anywhere in the account.  Further, since all we actually have in the record is that he went after a harlot, we don't even know for sure that he committed fornication.  Also, Jesus is quoted as having taught that the abuse of children is so serious that it would be better for an abuser to have never been born than to commit such a sin.  Finally, in our own day, there is a clear distinction made between the "seriousness" of fornication and of adultery - so it's not even fair to say that Corianton was guilty of the "worst" sexual sin in the account recorded in Alma 39.]  

Remember, this is Alma the Younger - someone who would know exactly how abominable it is to actively lead others away from God  He was racked with the pains of Hell for three days over very similar actions - at least in his own eyes, I'm sure. 

In fact, as Andy pointed out in one of the comments on this thread, Alma 36:14 explains how Alma felt about his own actions:

Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.

I don't believe it was sexual sin that Alma labeled as next to murder; I think it was the entire enormity of the multiple things Corianton had done - that was close to spiritual murder, in a very real way, in his father's eyes.  I believe Alma carried a degree of guilt over his youthful actions to his grave, based on other passages in his writings, and I think it tore him up inside to see one of his sons straying onto the same path he had walked in his youth.  

I think that is critical, and it gets overlooked when most people read the account without parsing the actual words carefully.


graceforgrace said...

I like this post.

I think that our human minds like to categorize things (especially when we are trying to justify sin!) and therefore, we've become accustomed to listing the serious sins. In fact, many prophets have declared that adultery as well as fornication are sins that are "next to murder" (starting with J Reuben Clark in 1942 and quoted by Ezra T Benson, Spencer W Kimball, and Harold B Lee).

I think you bring up some good points and I would have to say I agree with you.

However, what you have written contradicts what Latter-day prophets have stated. Are you saying that what is in the Book of Mormon over-rides what the prophets have stated?

P.S. What exactly is "denying the HOly Ghost, anyways?"

Andy said...

Amen. While obviously chastity remains an important principle (as you stated) I think the misinterpretation of this passage has caused some Latter-day Saints to emphasize this single category of sin at the expense of almost all others. It's like we've taken the condemnation of sexual sin and turned it into a sort of odd gospel hobby that avoids all other important aspects of the gospel. For instance, many tend to equate Sodom and Gomorrah solely with sexual sin, while Ezekiel stated that the sin of Sodom was pride and not helping the poor (Ezekiel 16:49) Now while we don't want people going out and fornicating, we do want to develop the entire spiritual person. And that involves more than obsessing (and being blinded by the obsession) over sexual sin.

@grace: In my opinion, despite what indeed seems a contradiction, Latter-day prophets were not wrong in condemning sexual sin; they were just off when it came to stating it was next to murder in seriousness. In the end, any sin not removed through the atonement of Christ keeps me from the presence of God so it seems pointless to worry whether I am a heavy or lightweight sinner.

SilverRain said...

I have long thought about that scripture in the way you describe. Nice post.

However, I think sexual sins ARE next to murder, though it isn't that scripture that gives me that impression. Murder is wrong for a few reasons, primarily because it cheats another person of their time of probation and their chance to exercise their agency, and because it takes a divine power—life—and exerts selfish control over it.

Sex outside of potentially procreative marriage is wrong for similar reasons. It carries consequences that drastically limit our choices, and it toys with the divine power of life for selfish reasons.

It's not equal to murder, but it certainly acts out of selfishness, trivializes life, and affects innocent lives as murder does.

That being said, leading people away from the Gospel is certainly worse.

Papa D said...

graceforgrace, I support and sustain the prophets deeply and passionately - but I don't believe they are infallible.

This is a case where I agree 100% with the foundational idea that sexual sins are bad, that some sexual sins are really bad and that some sexual sins actually are "next to murder" in seriousness. (Rape - especially those cases that involve distinct and separate torture - is an example of a sexual sin that is next to murder - and the sexual abuse of children ranks right up there.) I just think the idea that ALL sexual sins are next to murder is not supported by the scriptural text - and there have been some REALLY horrible mutations from that idea over the years - like it's better to die than to survive a rape or commit fornication. That is abominable, imo, and it is a direct result (or, at the very least, related to) the idea I addressed in this post.

Papa D said...

Oh, and I define "denying the Holy Ghost" as akin to looking God in the face and throwing a punch.

That's why I believe there are VERY few Sons of Perdition.

Andy, thanks for the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah. It is enlightening to note that the classic story has the offering of WOMEN in place of the visiting men as a possible solution. It appears that it wasn't homosexuality that was the issue, but rather an all-prevasive culture of rape of EVERYONE, especially visitors. (I'm not saying homosexuality wasn't considered a sin in that passage, but rather that it doesn't appear to have been THE focus of the narrative - as it generally is read to be.)

SilverRain, I absolutely agree that some sexual sins are next to murder. My main concern is that we don't lump two teenagers groping each other in the same category of seriousness the really egregious sexual sins - like adultery (which I believe to be a case of sexual abuse of a spouse in a very real way), rape, sexual abuse of children, etc.

SilverRain said...

I agree. Two teenagers transgressing is similar to two teenagers fighting. Not different in type of sin to severe sexual sin or murder, but certainly different in degree. Kind of like the difference between lying and being a liar.

However, if one insists on accusing others, there is certainly an advantage to ranking sin, but otherwise, I find it kind of like ranking ways to die. True that some are worse than others, but not ultimately helpful.

Papa D said...

"I find it kind of like ranking ways to die. True that some are worse than others, but not ultimately helpful."


Not related, but I remember a man who used to say that there is no such thing as being kind of active in church. He said it's like being kind of pregnant. I don't agree completely with him, but I love the line, nonetheless.

Andy said...

Great comments everyone. If I can just add a few more thoughts.

I agree that if Corianton committed any sexual sin it was most likely fornication. However, we have no definitive proof that he actually did anything more than simply "go...after the harlot Isabel." But whether or not he actually did anything with her doesn't matter in the context of the spiritual harm he still caused to others (and to himself). I think we can generally agree that if it were well known that a missionary was looking for a harlot it would result in people, like the Zoramites, to "not believe in [the missionary's] words"(Alma 39:11).

This leads directly to what was said in the post about the seriousness of leading people away from Christ. Indeed, Alma the Younger equated his own earlier actions that led people away from Christ with murder. "Yea, I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction"(Alma 36:14).

Anonymous said...

The one reason for "ranking" sins I can think of is when teaching teenagers, especially when they can't fully think through consequences. When they tend to view the world in black and white and think that getting a tattoo is as bad as adultery. I try to talk to my children and explain things so in a way I do end up ranking sins in their mind, but that is a good thing. I don't want them to fail a test, but I'd rather have them fail a test than to cheat. I would prefer they not swear, but swearing is not the worst sin in the world.
So in order to avoid the "LDS teen that thinks watching a rated R movie or smoking is worse than getting a girl pregnant/getting pregnant out of wedlock" I am probably ranking sins to some extent.
Since there are so many sexual sins, when my daughter mentioned the "next to murder" quote, I made sure I explained the range of sexual sin (compared it to the range of stealing gum or stealing someone's life savings) from masturbation to rape, with the worst being really bad and the least being a smaller sin, (yet still a sin because of the spirit of the law that we treat our procreative powers as sacred).

Papa D said...

Andy, thanks of that quote from Alma 36:14. That is exactly why I view the passage in question the way I do - that Alma talked of his own past actions as akin to murder. I probably will updatge the post to reflect that.

Anonymous, I agree totally with your approach - and, as a father of six kids, I understand the need to rank sins. I also believe strongly that sins can and should be ranked in seriousness - even as I also believe that we need to work on not succumbing to all sins, while not being over-whelmed by guilt when we aren't successful.

The Atonement is a wonderful concept, and our understanding of it generally consists of a fine line between competing extremes.

Anonymous said...

Add to this that whatever Corianton did, his father Alma didn't send him home from the mission but sent him back out afterwards.

Papa D said...

That's a really interesting point, Anonymous - and I'd never thought about it.

My Heart Squared said...

Any sexual sin, without repentance, will not and cannot allow us to live with God again. Period. Is not that the murder of one's soul? aka spiritual death?

@grace: President Joseph Fielding Smith said: "When a man has the manifestation from the Holy Ghost, it leaves an indelible impression on his soul, one that is not easily erased. It is Spirit speaking to spirit, and it comes with convincing force. A manifestation of an angel, or even the Son of God Himself, would impress the eye and mind, and eventually become dimmed, but the impressions of the Holy Ghost sink deeper into the soul and are more difficult to erase" (Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:151).

President Smith also said, "Through the Holy Ghost the truth is woven into the very fibre and sinews of the body so that it cannot be forgotten" (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:48).

Prehaps denying the Holy Ghost means denying everything that is been a part of you, for it cannot be forgotten.

Richard Alger said...

Andy: "In the end, any sin not removed through the atonement of Christ keeps me from the presence of God so it seems pointless to worry whether I am a heavy or lightweight sinner." Reading 'Believing Christ' helped me understand this.

SilverRain: "However, if one insists on accusing others, there is certainly an advantage to ranking sin, but otherwise, I find it kind of like ranking ways to die. True that some are worse than others, but not ultimately helpful." Again a very helpful way to look at it and I agree.

Papa D: "I support and sustain the prophets deeply and passionately - but I don't believe they are infallible." This is just one case of why I agree with you most on gospel topics. I think this describes my testimony about the prophets best.

Papa D, is this reference to Alma 39:5 one of the reasons of this post? I think I agree with the original post. Is this then where you think the collective 15 prophets are incorrect? Perhaps this is a case where the brethren are correct but are not being specific. As in your examples there are many degrees of seriousness among sexual sins.

Papa D said...

Honestly, Rich, I wasn't thinking of that specific reference when I wrote this post. The sentence that talks of Alma labeling sexual sin as third in order of seriousness obviously is the idea about which I wrote, but I didn't have that specific reference in mind.

I agree with just about everything in the FSOY section on Sexual Purity. That sentence is an obvious exception, and, if I was pressed to do so, there are a very few other things about which I could quibble, but I support the standard written in that section. I just don't agree with that one particular viewpoint about Alma 39:5 - and I REALLY like your description of "correct but not specific". That's a good way to say it.

I appreciate the input. I hadn't thought of that framing previously.

Anonymous said...

I think the two are pretty close together because the are both closely related.

While I was on my Mission, a Ward Mission Leader once told me that "Death was just one side of the revolving door that brought us into this world."

In that context, it seems like the most serious sins deal with misusing that "revolving door" - entrance into and out of this world.

What right do we have to exercise our agency to control the circumstances of another souls' entrance into or exit from this world outside the proper authority? What right do we have to terminate another's life or misuse that power of procreation that if used properly will bring a spirit child into a loving home with a Mother and Father who are legally and lawfully wed?

Anonymous said...

Yes, there are a lot worse things than adultery or fornication, not that it isn't a very serious sin that effects everything, but I would much rather have my husband commit adultery than not financially support me so I had to work or abuse me or our children.

A wife can get mostly over the fact that her husband is having affairs, but having to go to work to pay the bills plus raise children and keep a house, that is far worse and lasts a lifetime or if he is abusive & controlling, that also lasts as long as he is around.

But an affair or knowing he was with someone before he married you, is something women can get over or live with and hardly think about. Sad but true.

That is, IF the woman has strong self worth and a relationship with God to strengthen her through her husband's unfaithfulness.