Sex and the Church

Sex and the Church November 12, 2021


A twenty-first-century Mormon maiden?
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)




In my surfing of the web this evening during a brief break from more important tasks, I ran across a curious comment.  Its author, obviously a disaffected member or former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, idly wondered why the Church is so “obsessed” — his or her word, not mine — with sex.  Why does the Church care what consenting adults do with their bodies?  Sex is, after all, merely a “recreational activity” — again, his or her word, not mine — of no particular significance, of no special moral or social import.  Miniature golf is fun, thumb wrestling is fun, decorating cupcakes is fun, silly puns are fun, watching scary movies is fun, and sex is fun.


This seems to me a colossally stupid point of view.


One reason it seems stupid to me is that it’s so remarkably provincial.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is scarcely alone in setting standards for its members regarding matters of sexual behavior and related issues.  Has this person never met a Catholic priest?  Has he or she never heard of monks, monasteries, nuns, and convents?  Has he or she never read about Orthodox Jews or Buddhist ascetics?  Does this person really think that Islam and the Qur’an have nothing to say about relations between the sexes?  Is he or she somehow under the impression that the Restored Church is the first or the only religious organization that has something to say about sex?  Does this person imagine that the term puritanical emerged out of Salt Lake City?


Has he or she never read the Bible?  It’s absolutely replete with passages about marriage, adultery, fornication, whoredoms, and sexual immorality.  Here are just a few of them:


Thou shalt not commit adultery.  (Exodus 20:14)


For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil: but her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.  Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.  (Proverbs 5:3-5)


I have seen thine adulteries, and thy neighings, the lewdness of thy whoredom, and thine abominations on the hills in the fields. Woe unto thee, O Jerusalem! wilt thou not be made clean? when shall it once be?  (Jeremiah 13:27)


But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.  (Acts 15:20)


But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.  (1 Timothy 1:8-11)


For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.  And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity.  (Romans 1:26-29)


Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.  What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. . . .  Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.  (1 Corinthians 6:15-16, 18)


For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:  That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God.  (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5)


That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.  (Acts 15:29)


Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness.  (Galatians 5:19)


But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints.  (Ephesians 5:3)


And these, from Jesus himself:


But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.  (Matthew 5:28)


And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.  For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:  All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.  (Mark 7:20-23)


Well, that’s probably enough of those.  One can reject such teachings, obviously.  But one cannot plausibly suggest that they don’t exist.


There are plenty of other reasons for viewing the position expressed by the anonymous writer mentioned above as silly.  At least one of them has nothing whatever to do with religion.  Although much, much more can and should be said about it, it essence is nicely expressed and summarized by the Pulitzer Prize-winning husband and wife historical-writing team of Will and Ariel Durant:


No one man, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for these are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history. A youth boiling with hormones will wonder why he should not give full freedom to his sexual desires; and if he is unchecked by custom, morals, or laws, he may ruin his life before he matures sufficiently to understand that sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group.  (Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968], pp. 35–36)


It’s not necessary to be religiously devout — Will Durant, who earned a doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University, described himself as a “theological skeptic” — to recognize that sex, which binds couples together when properly governed and often, when ungoverned, destroys relationships and families and motivates crimes, is far more than a mere “recreational activity.”



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