What Is Morality in Mormonism?

What Is Morality in Mormonism? February 17, 2016
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Immorality, springing right up from the ground (Wikimedia Commons, alterations by Cody Ray Shafer)

Here in Utah, State Senator Mark Madsen is proposing a bill that would legalize medicinal marijuana. And, because it is Utah, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were called to pressure lawmakers against passing this bill. There was an update and still, I just wonder why these guys think they can weigh in at all? Why do they think that whatever they have to say about the issue is relevant whatsoever?

The Church rarely comments on political issues (or so we’re told) but when they do, it’s because of a “moral issue.” That’s pretty vague, considering how often we talk about any and every political issue in in the context of morality. But what does it mean when the Church gets involved in politics? What is the moral issue at the heart of medical cannabis?

Truthfully, I don’t really understand morality in Mormonism anymore. Growing up in the church, I had the impression that morality was essentially a religious term for sex. Sex outside of marriage is immoral, pornography is immoral, adultery is immoral, homosexuality is immoral, etc. Dig real deep and even some sex acts within marriage are immoral. And that’s about it.

So is keeping the Word of Wisdom moral? I guess, if we expand the definition of morality to include keeping all commandments, and if we accept that the Word of Wisdom is a commandment, then I guess it is. It was never really counted among the typical morality sermons I heard in my youth, but I can forgive the omission. Keeping the Word of Wisdom is a moral issue.

But then, where does it mention cannabis in D&C 89? It doesn’t. But church authorities have made sure everyone knows that illegal drugs are covered by the Word of Wisdom. I think that’s a stretch, because legality varies among regions, and this is a worldwide church, right? So to keep track; smoking pot is immoral because the Word of Wisdom forbids it, as long as the Word of Wisdom is interpreted by a living prophet as forbidding marijuana. Because it is illegal. Meanwhile, prescription opioids, since they are not illegal, are fine to use under the care of a doctor, because a prescription and legality makes it moral. So is the law the defining factor of morality?

Obviously not. Because now that the law is up for a revision to include marijuana for medical use, suddenly the church has an issue with that. On moral grounds, of course. If this is dizzying, stay with me.

Let’s figure this out. What is morally wrong about consuming cannabis if it is 1) legal 2) prescribed by a doctor and especially 3) not mentioned in the Word of Wisdom?

Since we’re talking about Mormonism, morality is defined simply as whatever the Brethren say. Authority is the ultimate morality. Can we even ask where they find their own morality? It’s not from science, which backs the medical use of cannabis . It’s not from the law. It’s not even from the scriptures. It seems, given the evidence, that this idea of morality is merely based on 20th century societal ideals of what constitutes good behavior. Marijuana was easy to outlaw because it was associated with counter culture, which, in the 1950s, meant jazz, or the African American community in general. In fact, I don’t think there is not much difference between this opinion of cannabis and the culture of appearance that condemns bearded men. So in this case, unless there’s something the Church isn’t telling us, morality is defined strictly by an outdated worldly standard.

At least Madsen, who himself is an active Mormon, is not engaging in the same moral code of the Brethren.

Still, Madsen, who is Mormon, said he won’t back down because polls show most Utah residents support the proposed law. Plus, people with serious medical conditions could really use the pain relief.

“It would be immoral to back down,” he said.

Madsen said he loves his church and reveres the leaders of the LDS church but he also said he is acting on principle in pushing the legislation because he knows it will make a huge difference in people’s lives.

Madsen is right. Morality has very little to do with sin, sex, or drugs. It has everything to do with how we interact with people, how we treat them, and our integrity. It would be immoral to let the Church have the final say on what kinds of medical treatment Utahns can receive. Especially when that Church is silent on the morality of blocking legal access to Medicaid in Utah, silent on the crushing pollution in Salt Lake City,  takes no disciplinary action against members who promote torture or commit acts of treason, or just flat out tells some kids they shouldn’t bother getting baptized. If morality in Mormonism is as arbitrary as “because I said so” then all of those are moral issues, and the Church has a serious morality problem.

Since then, the Church has doubled down on their stance, claiming they want more research on the subject. This op-ed (from an actual doctor) does a pretty good job of countering that, so I’ll just redirect there. But if that’s not enough, check out James E. Talmage’s pot diary.

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