Principles of Moral Thought and Action
Written by: Stephen Taysom
Mormonism's morality is based in large measure on the broad Judeo-Christian foundation common to many western religious traditions. Like other Christian traditions, Mormons accept the Ten Commandments of the Hebrew Bible as well as the expansion of those laws as described in the New Testament. For Mormons, the most serious moral offense is to deny the Holy Ghost. This sin consists of obtaining a sure knowledge of the existence of Jesus Christ as the Savior of the World and then rejecting that knowledge. This is largely a theoretical category, however, because the required level of testimony is so high. No Mormon has ever been accused of committing such a sin.
At the practical level, the most serious sin is that of shedding innocent blood (murder). Next in gravity to the sin of murder is the constellation of sins that involve sexuality. Mormons are expected to adhere to a strict code of chastity, which requires total abstinence from all sexual relations before marriage, and complete sexual fidelity within marriage. Adultery and fornication are grounds for excommunication from the Church. Likewise, sexual crimes are seen as extremely serious offenses against the moral order.
The Mormon emphasis on sexual laws stems in part from the Mormon belief that sex is a sacred power entrusted by God to men and women. In Mormon theology, God is embodied and continues to use his powers of procreation to create spirit children. Men and women must thus learn to control and channel sexual desires into divinely approved directions in order to live a godlike life.
These principles have also influenced recent Mormon forays into the realm of public policy. In an effort to defend what they view as "traditional marriage," leaders of the Church have mobilized campaigns to make marriage between homosexuals illegal. The sacred nature of embodiment also leads to adherence to the Mormon dietary code, known as the "Word of Wisdom." Mormons who follow this law abstain from alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee, illegal drugs, and other harmful or addictive substances. The code also enjoins individuals to eat meat sparingly and to make every effort to care for the body
In addition to proscribed behaviors, such as sexual immorality, a heavy emphasis is also placed on the moral necessity of caring for the poor and needy, both within the faith and outside of it. Faithful Mormons fast for two consecutive meals per month and make a donation to the Church at least equal to the value of those meals. These "fast offerings" are then used by the ward bishop to care for members of the congregation who need money and food.
The Church also maintains large storehouses filled with food, clothing, and other items. From these stores, the Church helps needy Mormons and also ships large amounts of goods to sites of natural disasters around the world. Mormons also pay 10 percent of their annual "increase" as tithing to the Church. This money is sent to Church headquarters in Utah, where it is used to finance Church operations. For Mormons, tithing is grounded in the moral ideal of sacrifice and is designed to weaken the attachment that individuals feel for material things.
One indicator of the most important moral ideals in Mormonism is the list of questions that Mormons are asked, and must satisfactorily answer, before they may be admitted to the Church's holy temples. Currently, Church members must pass these interviews once every two years in order to obtain a "temple recommend." All of the major moral issues and imperatives mentioned above are covered during this process. During this interview, individuals are asked about their doctrinal beliefs as well as if they live the law of chastity, are honest in their dealings, pay child support (if divorced), pay a full tithe of 10 percent, and obey the Word of Wisdom. Church leaders occasionally make changes to the temple recommend interview questions, and those interested in observing any shift in moral emphasis may monitor how the questions change over time.
1. What is the most serious moral offense to a Mormon? Why?
2. Describe the relationship between sexuality and sin.
3. How is tithing used as a guiding moral action?