Denver Snuffer said in Lecture One: “We equate in large measure, repentance, with whatever it is you’re doing with your genitals. Joseph equates redemption and repentance with whatever it is you’re doing with your heart and with your mind.”
It’s under this umbrella I wish to discuss Alma 39.
For decades, the Church and its handbooks have been a harsh punisher of sexual sin—in Brigham’s time it could have resulted in death. People who mess up before marriage get their weddings postponed for months or cancelled, often they are dis-fellowshipped. Others are stripped of their blessings. Others are told they must marry in order to avoid judgment from the Church, causing years of torment in a bad marriage. Others are denied service in the Lord’s kingdom, even AFTER they are declared temple worthy through annotated records that chase them from ward to ward and year to year. In other terms, sexual sins have been described as heinous. For LDS doctrinaires, the scripture that is used to justify such judgment by Church leaders is Alma 39:
“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?”
Yep, there it is . . .the most abominable sin. Or . . . is it? Is this another example of the Lord giving us the easy answer when it takes effort to find the correct one?
Instead of highlighting what is “most abominable” perhaps what we should be doing is highlighting “these things.” What are these things?
Again, the easy answer is the previous verses:
“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. 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.”
So the easy answer is sex outside of marriage. But does it actually SAY that. What the verse says is that Isabel, the harlot, stole his heart. He left his ministry to go after his own heart, his own lusts. I don’t know if he even accomplished the task of getting her into the sack. The verse isn’t clear. But we sure have extrapolated a lot about the sin equal to murder based on this one verse, so I think it needs another look. The simplest answer is not necessarily pre-marital sex, but forsaking your ministry (notice that Alma repeats himself about him abandoning his ministry), in order to chase harlots. When put that way, if you can imagine an missionary today leaving his companion, his ministry, total abandonment, and trying to date or bed a harlot, that would be pretty bad, maybe close to the sins of murder and denying the Holy Ghost.
Maybe . . . but there’s more
Alma in verse 5 says, “these things.” This is obviously plural. It’s a combination of things that Corianton does that relegates his sins (plural) as to being close to murder. Maybe it would be good to list them as Alma lists them and put them together to get a better picture.
- Did not give heed unto his father Alma (verse 2)
- Boasted of his own strength (verse 2)
- Forsook the ministry (verse 3)
- Chased prostitutes (verse 3)
- These sins could have had him sinning against the Holy Ghost (I’ll get to that later)
- Went after the lusts of his eyes (verse 9)
- Going after vain and foolish things (verse 9)
- Poor example among his potential converts, possibly leading them to destruction (verses 11-12)
- Seeking for riches and vain things (verse 14)
When placed in context, the behavior of harlot-chasing seems to be a result of his other, grosser and more entrenched sins. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first sin explicitly listed is “boasting of his own strength.” When one does such things, one thinks it is because of THEM and THEIR efforts that give them success. How many Priesthood holders look at their own efforts, their works, their charisma, their leadership as evidence of their own successes instead of looking to Christ and being merely a tool in His hand? In this list, boasting of one’s own strength is a gateway drug that leads to the other sins.
When one takes strength unto themselves, they see themselves as deserving of the things they desire. In Corinaton’s case, it was a harlot, vain things, and riches. These are all under the umbrella of “lusts of the eyes.” The harlot in this instance, is merely the hand caught in the cookie jar. How many Latter-day Saints see themselves as deserving because of their own strength and works? How many lust after riches because they see themselves as righteous? How many of them feel they deserve the most perfect, most sexy, most engaging, most successful, and most “spiritual” spouse and will not marry until they get the perfect companion? How many indulge in pornography? How many would line up at the bishop’s office to get more wives if polygamy were to return? Truth be told, I’m not sure many Mormons are out chasing harlots, but I’m sure there are a few.
Finally, how many of our behaviors are seen by outsiders in such a way that it turns them away from Christ because of our bad examples? In a way, we murder them because we kill AN opportunity for them to be saved by Christ. This should give all of us pause in how we behave and how our behaviors are noticed by others, starting with how serious we take our discipleship. But that then leads into what we buy, what our worldly habits consist of, to yes, our sexual behaviors (cheating, porn addiction, serial marriages, etc.) But I also find that sexual behaviors are much less visible than how we treat others, how we treat ourselves, or what we spend our time and money doing.
Simply stated, the sin that is next to murder is pride. Sexual sins are often a direct result of pride, but pride is the originator! Perhaps when the Saints are prideful and seek after riches and boast of their own strength, or misuse their Priesthood, it would be wise for a handbook to “amen” their membership privileges for at least a year or so, and if they repeat it, excommunicate them.
Or better yet, we stop some of the restrictions we place on people because we think they are going to be damned when they mess up in the bedroom with someone else. Perhaps pride should be the theme of judgment and not the sex itself. Ask yourself these questions. Do these sexual sins, in and of themselves, feel like they are close to murder?
- An engaged couple who messes up before marriage
- A single woman who is preyed upon by men who succumbs to advances because she doesn’t know how to say “no” (Women are punished unequally in the Church)
- A person who desperately wants to avoid sexual sin but is compelled out of addiction
- People who cohabit but don’t marry legally for some reason or another
If any of these people come to me and want to fellowship with me, and show a repentance spirit, I would not deny them the ordinances of the Lord! I believe that a repentant attitude of replacing darkness with light will be successful at removing the sin from these people’s lives more than putting a restriction on partaking of these ordinances. The latter feels like punishment, and often serves to only push the offender away from the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the nature of the heart, not the sin, that matters the most.
I don’t want to minimize sexual sin. It is still sin and needs to be forsaken and repented of. But we like to shine a light on it more than other sins, and often it serves for those not ensnared in it to boast of their own strength and of their own pride, knowing that “not even once” did they ever partake in such things, and they are now blessed because of it. Yet, they are ensnared in the insidious sin of pride and they know it not.
Denying the Holy Ghost
When verse 6 is included, we have a different kind of instruction. We learn about denying the Holy Ghost. Here you have a missionary who has not yet had the Holy Ghost. We know this because he was not yet converted to Christ. Had he been, these things would have been affront to his conversion. He would have forsaken the Lord and there would have been no forgiveness. He would have had to suffer for those sins himself or become a son of perdition. But thank goodness he was a naive youth. Instead, he did things that are forgivable by the Atonement of Christ. I think this is helpful when we see many of our young people who mess up, whether before, after, or during a mission or even after entering an ordinance they do not yet understand or have interred, such as a temple endowment. We ought to be more forgiving of their youthful sins and teach them the doctrines of Christ and let those doctrines convert them so that they will be fortified against sin though the Baptism of Fire and the Holy Ghost.
The next three chapters have Alma expounding doctrine and not railing upon his son’s sins. We should take note.