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Thoughts on “The Lord’s Standard of Morality” by Elder Tad R. Callister

 I’m anxiously waiting for you to chime in on this Tad Callister talk.

This Facebook message from a friend was the final straw. She was the seventh person to ask me what I thought about the BYU-Idaho devotional address turned Ensign article by Elder Ted R. Callister, published in March 2014, titled “The Lord’s Standard of Morality.” The rumbling is enough to coerce me to the keyboard.

Thought: Lord's Standard of Morality - CallisterWord of warning #1 – I’m only going to address those things that I either think deserve positive reinforcement or that I have concerns about. As much as I’d like to, I just don’t have time to address the entirety of everything important every time I blog. And, really, I don’t think anyone asked my opinion on this because they hoped I would say, “Awesome sauce to the core! Go read!” Most likely they found it somewhat troubling and/or controversial and wanted to compare their ideas with others.

Word of warning #2 – I’m writing this without first reading the apparent barrage of comments/posts/articles already written. I may be a misfit or redundant or just irrelevant. That’s OK. I just wanted to record the personal reaction I had without it going through multiple filters.

You can assume that if I do not mention something, I either agree with it, find it neutral, or at least believe it can be reasonably explained. If that approach doesn’t work for you, please stop here! You have been warned!

Here we go…

God Trumps You (and Me)

He was reminded that the supreme court trumps all lower ­court decisions, how­ ever numerous or recent they may be. So it is with God our Father—He needs to speak only once on the issue of morality, and that one declaration trumps all the opinions of the lower courts, whether uttered by psychologists, counselors, politicians, friends, parents, or would­ be moralists of the day.

A few weeks ago, an LDS friend of mine published a post on a currently controversial topic. He asked for input. Given the content of the post and the church’s current stand, I couldn’t see where there was room for much discussion outside of “the church says X, so how do we make that work?”

He, however, did not want to discuss the church’s actual position. Rather, he wanted to avoid that kind of absolutist thinking and roll around in the other possibilities. He deleted my comment and moved on.

So, right up front let me say it again: God makes the decisions without  much regard for my personal taste. I think it’s fine to ask questions and look for clarity, but ultimately I think the decisions are his, not mine.

This goes too far when he says, “He needs to speak only once…” History (within the church itself) has proven that many policies and standards do change with time. So God often speaks multiple times on a given issue, in the context of current events and cultures.

On the other hand, the procreative power is not to be exercised outside the husband­/wife relationship. Accordingly, any conscious thoughts or voluntary actions that stimulate or result in the expression of the procreative power outside the marriage relationship are disapproved by the Lord.

I’m guessing this was the beginning of the trouble. And I’m guessing the problem is mostly a matter of ineloquent  rhetoric. Let’s parse:

ANY voluntary actions that STIMULATE procreative power outside marriage are disapproved by the Lord.

This could be read to say that if a woman chooses to walk down the street in a burka and some guy gets turned on, the Lord will disapprove of the woman who chose to walk down the street covered from the top of the head to the ankle because the guy was “stimulated.”

Men Ogling Woman in Burka

Source: imgur

I don’t think that’s what Callister meant. But given the history (in the church and out) of women being blamed for and told they are responsible to control men’s sexual feelings, it’s not surprising this might have been read in such a way.

Given the history of such expressions, people (particularly men, particularly church leaders) need to be excruciatingly careful about how they present these statements to stop making women responsible for “Adam’s transgression.”

It Will Make You Go Blind

The Lord condemns self-abuse. Self-abuse is the act of stimulating the procreative power of one’s own body.

This verbiage strikes me as a bit odd. I’m sure masturbation isn’t clinically described as “self-abuse,” so that may cause concern. But let’s just pretend that Callister isn’t a psychologist and is using the term differently. Indeed, he does define what he means, so let’s go with his clearly stated definition. (Unless you’re playing the equivocation game, that seems fair.)

When Callister uses the problematic term “self-abuse,” he means masturbation. And when he says masturbation is wrong, he’s quoting Elder Packer.

When I was in college I had an LDS friend who was sexually active in every way except to actually have intercourse. Once she told me, “Well, there’s really nothing wrong with oral sex, because there’s no risk of getting pregnant. They just tell us that so we don’t go too far.”

In other words, she felt the sin was in actually messing with the powers of procreation, not in just generally messing around. She thought the reason the church advised against all the other foreplay stuff was because once we do that, we’ll be more likely to go “all the way.” Preventative policy.

Is this reasoning correct? Does it apply to masturbation? I don’t know. Callister doesn’t go into much detail here and we don’t have a detailed masturbation policy that I’m aware of (can you imagine?), so we’re left with authoritative sources telling us to keep our hands away from the private parts of ourselves and others outside of marriage.

Maybe it is “just” preventative policy, but it makes sense to me that if you’re having orgasms all over the place you’re thinking about sex. And if you’re not in a position to have sanctioned sex, maybe that’s not a great idea.

The Same Gender Attraction Rabbit Hole

A same-gender relationship is inconsistent with God’s eternal patter that husbands and wives not only have children in mortality but also have eternal increase in their exalted condition.

I have found through personal experience that this topic is so explosive and controversial, that it’s utterly impossible to have a logical discussion about it. Ever. I’d almost like to just pass over this section all together because people immediately leap off a cliff of nonsense in defending their “rights.” But I’m guessing that this section was part of the complaint, so — deep breath — here goes.

Fact #1

I have never taken a position on same gender attraction — either publicly or privately — other than to say, “Well, it sure would make things easier if church policy changed to accept homosexuality.”

Fact (set) #2

  1. I have a number of gay friends. (I was a musical theater major (before switching) and performer. Sorry, it’s just part of the gig.)
  2. Most of them disagree with my politics but I think none would say I am in any way hateful to them.
  3. Most of them are (or were) LDS and most of them struggled mightily with their desires.
  4. Many served missions.
  5. Many tried to change how they felt.
  6. Many gave up in despair and began to live the life they desired to.
  7. A significant number, yes, actually chose to follow the church’s counsel and have — often with outside help — lived happy fulfilling lives either single or with opposite-gender spouses and children.

Fact #3

Science hasn’t given us much consistent, useful information to go on in this arena.

Fact #4

Most people (probably all people) — not just homosexuals — have tendencies, even strong tendencies, even tendencies they’ve exhibited from the time they were very young that are contrary to God’s word. Name a commandment or counsel recognized by the LDS church and I can tell you someone who finds it almost impossible to follow:

  • Chastity
  • Masturbation
  • Pornography
  • Fidelity
  • Honesty
  • Tithing
  • Word of Wisdom
  • Pedophilia
  • Charity
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Selflessness
  • Humility
  • Obedience
  • Service
  • Self-reliance
  • Temple attendance
  • etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum

 I am hard pressed to put the church’s position that homosexual sex is proscribed by God in an entirely different category from all the other stuff proscribed by God.

The trials we face are hard. Sometimes devastatingly hard. Sometimes excruciatingly difficult. Sometimes so overwhelming we contemplate ending it all to avoid the pain.

This isn’t exclusive to LDS homosexuals. And it’s awful for whomever is dealing with these struggles and pain for whatever reason. When someone we love deals with these trials, we should do whatever we can to love and help them.

For Shame – and Fear

Someone messaged me yesterday saying that a psychologist objected to the “shaming” and “fear” promoted in this article and complained, explicitly about this quote:

In some regards, Satan is like an octopus trying to capture us. If one tentacle does not work, he will try another and another until he finds on that will take hold.

OK, so I’ll admit I tend to take the latest psycho-babble with a bucketload of salt. I admit this “problem” in the article would have completely eluded me, because I don’t get it. Seriously, some things are shameful and some things are scary. I’ve never understood all this how-dare-you-hurt-my-feeeeeeeelings-by-telling-me-the-truuuuuuuuuth stuff.

I get crazy when people make up “doctrine” and disseminate it everywhere. That is harmful. But when people discuss actual doctrine and consequences? I think that’s kind of OK.

Is the octopus analogy wrong? I don’t think so. Satan is real. Satan is smart. Satan has lots of experience. If I can tell with almost 100% accuracy how my kids will behave in a given circumstance, how ridiculous to assume Satan can’t do that as well. So, yea, he actually does want to capture us and he does try whatever tactics are available to him. Deal.

 Just Say No to Porno

It is an interesting exercise to read an article with the purpose of divining what other people think is wrong with it. I’m probably more likely than usual to see the problematic parts as verbal slips or communication gaffes than usual. That doesn’t mean those slips and gaffes don’t cause problems, but language is imprecise no matter who’s using it.

God desires that His children not watch any movie or TV show, go to any website, or view any magazine that is pornographic in any way.

Callister uses some problematic language here. I guess it kind of brings up the images of the “becoming pornography” talk from 2005.  When there are people who find sexual stimulation just about anywhere, it’s hard to define what this means, particularly when coupled with “in any way.”

Pornography is any picture or narrative [not live event?] that feeds the carnal man within…It is a…snake that will strike you the moment you take your first look and will continue to strike with a full portion of venom with each look thereafter.

Again, language problems. I don’t mind the fear factor, I mind the absolutism. I’m no fan of porn. But as someone who has made my living on the internet since 1994, I can tell you the statement leaves a lot to be desired.

Dealing with hundreds of emails per day and doing extensive internet research, I’ve found it impossible to completely shield myself from porn. No matter how I try to filter email, some gets through — and what gets through is the worst. For example, spam filters aren’t really good at telling the difference between a product image and the image of full frontal nudity in sexuality explicit positions.

No matter how careful I try to be, when I’m researching sinful topics (like, say, looking for that Oaks talk about porn), it’s hard to do so without getting glimpses of objectionable stuff mixed in among the things I need.

I’ve gotten really good at identifying offending email and trashing most of it before opening. I’ve gotten really good at specifying keywords to narrow down the results. But it still comes up. And I don’t think that means I’m caught in the porn trap.

The Modesty Thing – AGAIN!

I’ve just come to the next section heading in the talk: Immodest Dress. Seriously, I do not even want to go there. I don’t even want to read it. I’m so exhausted by the problematic rhetoric we use on this topic and I have yet to see a reasonably sound alternative. (And, no, I haven’t thought of one, either.)

Before I go on, let me point you to one of the most cogent descriptions of the modesty teaching conundrum. It’s a post by my friend and co-blogger on Times and Seasons, Julie M. Smith (no relation). It’s titled Men, Women, and Modesty. You simply must read it.

Now, onward I go into the modesty abyss. Prayers are appreciated.

Given our propensity to make crazy talk on the modesty issue, checking sources can be helpful. Callister starts out quoting scripture. Kind of.

Accordingly, Paul the Apostle counseled “women [to] adorn themselves with modest apparel. (1 Timothy 2:9)

That sounds pretty straightforward, if we assume the typical (unsubstantiated) LDS definition of modesty meaning, almost exclusively, “Women, cover up your parts and stop tempting the men beyond their control!” But is that what modesty really means? Does it fit the actual scripture being referenced?

Here are some definitions for modesty (in the order found in my dictionary):

  1. the quality or state of being unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one’s abilities
  2. the quality of being relatively moderate, limited, or small in amount, rate, or level
  3. behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency

1 Timothy 9-12 has a bit of counsel for women. Let’s look at all of it.

9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;

10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.

To me this sounds to be much more about definition #2 than the assumed #3. And where it applies to #3, the specified “impropriety” would seem much more about pride and excess than showing a knee cap or shoulder.

Linda Burton Wearing PearlsWe also need to note how the culture in which this counsel was given impacted the specifics. I mean, this is President Burton wearing some  doggone enormous pearls! As far as I can tell from our general leaders, braided hair along with gold and pearl jewelry is perfectly acceptable as long as it doesn’t go down the path of “costly array” — a term which is obviously relative.

In my opinion, this scripture is telling women not to dress in a way that is excessive or indecent. Do you agree?

It’s worth mentioning the rest of the chapter. Again, it represents cultural counsel that not only doesn’t fit our modern day, but is not followed by our church.

11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.

12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

Let’s collectively sigh and rejoice that women are no longer expected to shut up. Back to Callister…

The dress of a woman has a powerful impact upon the minds and passion of men. If it is too low or too high or too tight, it may prompt improper thoughts, even in the mind of a young man who is striving to be pure.

And there it is again. It just had to be there, didn’t it? Those poor, poor men who are doing everything they can to choose the right are being seduced by those skanky women in their scandalous outerwear!

Excuse me while I go pound 50 on the wavemaster.

Women particularly can dress modestly and in the process contributes to their own self-respect and to the moral purity of men.

So here’s a question for you. I often hear Mormons talk about how modesty produces self-respect, but I’ve never heard how that is supposed to happen. And please tell me when we will hear this over the pulpit:

Men particularly can pursue girls who dress modestly and in the process contribute to their own self-respect and to the moral purity of women.

I guess (?) I’m OK with women being responsible for men’s behavior (please explain how that is done!) as long as men are now going to be responsible for women’s behavior. (I’m planning a wild party this weekend. Who can I blame it on???)

In the end, most women get the type of  man they dress for.

So this was it.

I’m more than tempted to jump on Facebook and pull up the gazillion photos of Eagle-scout-awarded, admired, lauded, leadership-loaded Mormon boys at prom with the girls in the spaghetti strap (or strapless) gowns or flirty mini skirts.

Then I’ll head over to Beauty Redefined and gather some ammo to impress upon any men who will listen that they need to open up their eyes (and minds) to see that women are more than just bodies and clothing! If how I dress is the determiner for who proposes to me, then the men in this scenario are raving idiots, whether they are pro-modesty or pro-immodesty.

What is that the Lord said? Oh, yea, “Look not on his countenance or the height of his stature [or maybe how much of her shoulder is exposed]…for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) Maybe we can pass on some of those godly traits by way of authoritative counsel?

Personal Responsibility Exists

We do have the power within us to take control of our lives and our thoughts.

Right after the modesty blame game, Callister says this. YES! This is true! Of course!

What I don’t understand is how modesty (in the cover-your-parts sense) always seems to be presented outside of this obvious truth. If we have the power to take control of our lives and thought, then we have the power to take control of our lives and thoughts when a girl with a body is somewhere in the vicinity.

As I’ve said before, if modesty (in the cover-your-parts sense) is doctrinal, let’s get a cohesive discussion about it. And let’s not continue to turn it into: “do it so the boys don’t get out of control.”

Consequences of Sin

…it is always better to remain clean than to sin and repent afterward.

A few years ago a friend told me her life story. She got pregnant as a teen, had a “shot-gun wedding,” and had multiple children. Years later her husband joined the church (against statistical odds) and eventually they were sealed in the temple. After the sealing she said, “I’m glad I took the path I did, because nothing can compare to the joy of being sealed to my family.”

Over the years I’ve reflected on that quite a bit. Those who romanticize sin and repentance because of the resulting growth (and I include myself in this number) often miss a number of things:

  1. Is the joy from repenting really better than the joy of continued righteousness?
  2. Is the joy from repenting worth the risks and consequences?
  3. What growth would have occurred had we been faithful during that time?

When I look back at my life — filled with sin — there isn’t a single time I can honestly say, “Oh, I am so happy that I sinned! Look how much better my life is! If I were to do it all again, I’d make sure I sin at least as much, maybe more!”

I suspect some will argue with Callister on this point. But I think it’s pretty dumb. It’s better to follow God than not follow him. Every time.

The Quest for Perfection

Our goal in life is not just to be clean, but to be perfect.

The day I was baptized, my family went out for ice cream. As soon as we got home, I lunged past my brother to see who could be the first to get out of the station wagon. We squabbled and bumped each other. Once I hit the sidewalk, I realized it. I’d blown it! I was no longer clean! I had just been baptized and was heading straight for celestial glory and only a few hours into the endurance part, I was already on the path to hell.

Yes, we want to be like Christ. But none of us are. If being clean isn’t good enough and, in fact, is not the goal, then I’m toast. And have been since 1972.

 Blessings of a Moral Life

The blessings of living a clean and moral life are overwhelming. Such a life will bring self-confidence and self-esteem. It will result in a clear conscience. It will make us eligible for a spouse of like purity and will make the expression of the procreative power in the marriage relationship sweeter and more rewarding because we have reserved it for the tim the Lord Himself has endorsed.

Interestingly, the first time I read this article, I skimmed through this without a second thought. The second time the first two sentences sprung out at me.  Then the third. The the last. I believe Elder Callister was well meaning and this can be the kind of repetitive thing that just rolls off the tongue like “I know the Church is true…” But it may have a troubling impact on some readers.

He states that living a moral and clean life “will bring self-confidence and self-esteem.” This could be read — and in fact, I know scores of LDS people who would interpret it thusly — to mean that if you don’t have self-confidence and/or self-esteem, it’s because you aren’t living a moral and clean life.

If the inescapable consequence of doing A is B, and I haven’t experienced B, I must not yet be doing A.

In my experience there almost no direct earthly correlation between choices/behavior and good/bad life situation. I know amazingly pious people who have had (and still have) all manner of horrific trials. I also know awful hateful people who seem to catch every breath of good fortune within a thousand miles (including gobs of self-confidence and self-esteem).

Let’s remember that the promises of obedience and discipleship are mostly eternal, not always (often?) earthly. We can’t judge others based on their life situations — and we shouldn’t let them judge themselves that way, either.

In Conclusion

Thanks for asking for my thoughts on this. It’s a good exercise. And sorry it took so long to complete. I was on a tax-prep tear this week.

Please leave your thoughts below — including links to others’ posts that are relevant — and I’ll head off to do more reading.

{ 17 comments… add one }

  • Marionette March 1, 2014, 10:23 pm

    *** I am hard pressed to put the church’s position that homosexual sex is proscribed by God in an entirely different category from all the other stuff proscribed by God.***

    This is the most accurate statement I’ve ever heard on this issue. It’s the “special interest” approach that is so wrong and still so easily accepted.

    Keep it up! We need your voice!

  • Ashley A March 1, 2014, 11:15 pm


    The more of your work that I read, the more I like you. I appreciate you for having the courage to both follow the commandments of the Lord but also open for discussion the questions and concerns that we might have as church members.

    I think morality has always been an uncomfortable topic for many. I grew up in Utah and as a teenager in Young Women, I can honestly say that the topic was never so heavily discussed as it is today. My leaders (and I loved them dearly) never really touched on modesty or morality. Sure, they brought it up a few times and told us to wear modest clothing and keep ourselves morally clean, but I don’t think many of us really knew exactly what that meant. “Oh, you know – the Spirit is with you and will tell you what is right or wrong,” they said. Ummmmm… I have always been an incredibly Type-A individual. I feel guilty if I look at someone the wrong way. My own personal emotions oftentimes hinder my ability to hear the Holy Ghost and I don’t think I’m alone.

    I didn’t know that people confessed their sins to bishops until I reached the age of seminary in 9th grade. This brought a whole slew of confusion into my mind. What, exactly, required bishop intervention? What happened to people who confessed? My teacher’s answers were always, “I’d rather confess something to my bishop and find out that it was unnecessary to speak to him than not tell him and find out later that I should have.” Good advice… but for someone as literal as I am, it really opened a can of worms. Feeling guilty suddenly became my new baseline emotion and I began telling my bishop everything – for every minor indiscretion, I contacted him because good heavens, I didn’t want to accidentally end up in hell! One time, he lovingly told me that in fact, the things I was telling him could be handled on my own between me and the Lord.

    As an undergraduate, I attended nursing school. I hold a master’s degree and am currently earning a PhD in psychology. In every academic program I have attended, I have been told that sex is a basic human need. I tend to agree with this logic based on our physiology. I realize you mentioned that the Lord’s law trumps what a psychologist might say but it just seems that as human beings, unless we are married at age 18, we’re pretty much set up to fail – and not fail in some minor, oops-I-said-a-swear-word way, but in a major sin way. It doesn’t seem fair.

    I understand why Heavenly Father has given us the commandment of chastity. It makes sense in every way. By following this law, we are protected from terrible emotional, social, economic and psychological consequences. We will not have to face unwanted pregnancies or life-altering (and/or threatening) diseases. We will have the spirit to be with us. Surely, this law is given to us out of love and not as a way to make our lives miserable… but in some cases, it does kind of make us miserable, especially when we have the righteous desire to follow the commandment to be married and are faithfully looking for a companion, yet for one reason or another, are being denied the blessing.

    I feel uncomfortable, though, when an organization so closely monitors/controls/withholds/attributes guilt to a person’s basic human needs. I can see how speaking to a bishop about a sinful, destructive behavior of which a person is unable to stop could be beneficial (especially thanks to the resources available to bishops). I can understand why an adulterer would need to discuss his or her membership status with a priesthood holder. I can see how confessing certain indiscretions to a bishop might offer a person relief and an ability to forgive himself or herself (is this because we’ve been conditioned to believe so?). What I have a difficult time with is the requirement to discuss the very intimate, private details of a person’s life with a married man who is also the person’s neighbor. It is weird for adolescents who may feel that this is inappropriate and it is weird for adults who feel like they are grown-ups and are capable of working out their own salvations with their Savior.

    Here’s an example: I was married at 19. My husband committed adultery and as a result, conceived a child. We were divorced and I was single for several years before meeting my current husband. Having been formerly married and as a single woman, it would have seemed unsettling to me to have to go speak to my bishop (a married man who was my neighbor and also someone I did not know well) about something so personal. Call me crazy, but while the Lord’s commandments are the Lord’s commandments no matter how old we are, I believe there is a difference between a young, promiscuous girl who deliberately breaks the law of chastity as a recreational activity, and a more mature woman who was once married, is seriously dating a man and has a weak moment once. I get that sin is sin, but it just churns my stomach to think that the latter should have to be subject to the same consequences as a the former. Sure, the bishop may prescribe a different set of requirements for repentance, but isn’t the act of having to look your neighbor in the eye and describe your make-out session to him in detail, punishment in and of itself? The very thought of this makes me want to be a Catholic so that if confession was necessary, I would not have to stare the man in the eye and be subject to soul-piercing judgement.

    Sometimes I wonder how much of the way we do things is influenced by culture and what is actually commanded of us by the Lord. I’m not saying it’s wrong… I’m just saying that things can get confusing sometimes.

    I hope I did not deviate from your topic too much. Just do you know, I’m writing using an alias. The last thing I need is for someone out there to know who I am when I have left a comment of this nature!

  • Alison Moore Smith March 2, 2014, 12:56 am

    Ashley A, thank you for the wonderful comment. I promised myself I’d go to bed at a reasonable hour — hah — and now it’s nearly 1:00 am. But I wanted to thank you and let you know I’ll comment more fully later. For now, just this:

    My own personal emotions oftentimes hinder my ability to hear the Holy Ghost and I don’t think I’m alone.

    You are not REMOTELY alone. I’ve attended Education Week at BYU numerous times. One of the classes that was fairly regular was on recognizing the Spirit. Every year this class was held in a large room, the room was packed, and overflow rooms were provided. In other words, just about EVERYONE has this problem . :)
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Parent Delighted by Kids Falling On IceMy Profile

  • Tricia March 2, 2014, 1:03 am

    Agreed with above comment. So well expressed! Thank you for putting my impressions into words!! As for the modesty issue- I wonder if what he means to express is the responsibility we all have for each other. Personal responsibility, yes, but we are all so much more connected than we realize- and as such have significant influence on each other. It’s definitely a higher law to think and act that way; to choose behavior that helps rather than hinders another and then to accept accountability for our influence.

  • M March 2, 2014, 11:31 am

    Just two thoughts:

    Masturbation is, in my personal experience, a sin and it is a sin of self-indulgence rather than a sexual sin if one has to choose between categories. And it is similar to the self-indulgent sin of gluttony in its ability to become addicting in some people’s lives and also its power to cause alienation in personal relationships. It does get lumped with other sexual sins as well since it does generally include sexual fantasy and sexual anatomy. But it is primarily a sin of self-indulgence.

    Also, I have at least two members of my family who have struggled with pornography addictions, both introduced to the material when they were young, one in elementary school and the other in junior high/high school. The former nearly lost his marriage and had to get serious, long-term professional help to get on the road to recovery. The second found good ecclesiastical help and has been clean for 5 years. They both know that they, like any other former addict, will need to be on their guard for the rest of their lives and they take that extremely seriously. For them, a woman with a plunging neckline is a trigger that requires conscious self-regulation, just as for my alcoholic family member who is in recovery, an unopened beer can is a trigger that requires self conscious regulation.

    I appreciate the fact that some of the friends of my alcoholic family member do not drink around her and keep their beer out of sight when they socialize with her. It is a conscious kindness to her specific struggle.

    I appreciate each woman who, when she is working with one of my two relatives mentioned above, neither flirts nor dresses in a sexually provocative way. Though they do not know it, it is a kindness to their specific struggles.

    Dressing modesty isn’t taking responsibility for a man’s thoughts. Women are not responsible for that. But I firmly believe that dressing in ways that are not clearly sexual an act of unselfish KINDNESS lived in order to be helpful, knowing that I will likely never know who specifically needs that kindness now. It is putting my desire to be cute and attractive and sexual secondary to the desire to help a struggling unknown other who may be fighting a lifelong challenge in his struggle to follow God’s will.

    It would be sweet if none of Gods’ sons had to deal with recovery from porn addiction and none of God’s daughters had to think about that, but we live in a real world and the numbers of our brothers who have fallen into porn and are trying to stay clean is huge. (Statistics in 2013 indicated that 64% of male college students in the U.S. use porn at least once a week.)

    And I think that if I am to choose between kindness to someone I will not know I have helped and the fun of being cute and noticed and slightly sexy, kindness is the better choice.

  • Carrie March 2, 2014, 1:01 pm

    Nice write up Alison. I would not have been able to keep the balance you did. This talk hit me like a cement block. Besides the modesty in dress issue, the other area that worried me, was the idea of the spirit withdrawing.

    When we say that we have few words to describe that, the words we use often are the same words used to describe depression, anxiety, SAD, post partum blues. Teens especially have swinging emotions all the time. Michael McLean spoke about his depression at a Time Out for Women, how for years he thought he was lacking the spirit. So he increased his everything – prayers, scripture reading – not once a day but twice a day, fasting a full exact 12 hours, donating more money, etc. One day a doctor prescribed a pill the size of a pin head, and suddenly all those feelings of worthlessness went away.

    For me it’s worthlessness in the talk from head to toe that enrages me. Whether it’s what I do or don’t wear, or if my every step is sin. No where did I feel, read, or hear the Love of My Heavenly Father for me. No hope, no gratitude for any shoddy effort anyone has given. So again I praise you for finding a balance. And for delivering it with respect and honor to all of us, no matter what side of the issue we stand on.

  • Jax March 2, 2014, 3:27 pm


    Good post. Thanks for covering it.

    Re: not watching anything pornographic “in any way”… because what stimulates each individual is exactly that, individual, I think his comment was right on. If watching beach volleyball turns some person on, they ought not to watch it. If you can watch and enjoy the sport, then go ahead. The only problem is if you have people going to opposite way and saying “I can watch scenes of full intercourse and not get aroused…”. Things that are porn need to be avoided at all costs. But if things that aren’t porn are similarly stimulating to a particular person, I think it would be good counsel to have them avoid those things as well.


  • ji March 2, 2014, 3:58 pm

    The Lord condemns “self-abuse”? Really? Where? Nowhere in the scriptures.

    If masturbation is a sin, it is a minor and private sin, and repentance can be private.

    Masturbation does not require confession. Read the handbook (Handbook 1). Only serious transgressions require confession, and the handbook’s definition of serious transgression doesn’t reach to masturbation. Far from it.

    If one wants to confess, let him or her. But we mustn’t make anyone else think he or she MUST confess something as minor as this to a bishop.

    So please, let’s teach the whole story. I wouldn’t want anyone to read Elder Callister’s article and think he or she has to has to run to the bishop and make a confession. I also wouldn’t want bishops to use Elder Callister’s article as a basis to ask youth members about masturbation. That would be unfortunate and wrong. After all, masturbation doesn’t require confession.

  • Ashley March 2, 2014, 4:17 pm

    Thank you for saying that, Alison. I am glad I am not alone in my quest to learn how to communicate personally with the Spirit. Actually, I feel sorry to know that others struggle with this as well, but it is also nice to be in good company.

    I look forward to hearing more from you!

  • Geoff - A March 2, 2014, 6:46 pm

    I find it very sad that Callister thought it was a good idea to give this talk to BYU Idaho young people in the first place, but what possessed Ensign editors to send it world wide.

    Living in Australia where 0.5% of the population are members, and where people dress to be comfortable, and appropriate for their destination, and where LDS standards of modesty are not a consideration, this emphasis on women dressing modestly to save men, and that it affects their self esteem is rubbish.
    At the local shopping centre I can see what apparently is pornography in Utah, innocently doing the shopping.
    You might expect that the rate of sexual assault, and teenage pregnancy would be through the roof here if Callister is to be believed, but in fact Utah is higher on sexual assault, and 3 times higher on teenage pregnancy.
    We have had fact based sex education in schools for 30 years at least, which education was mostly about self esteem, power imbalances, the right for a person to say not to anything they are not comfortable with, and a whole lot of background factors and just a small section on biology and birth control options.

    Profession sex education seems to work better than what Callister claims is Gods version. Does he, and the Ensign, not realise they are undermining, themselves as well as hurting people with this rubbish.

  • Alison Moore Smith March 2, 2014, 7:41 pm

    Just to be clear, Idaho isn’t Utah. 😉
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  • IdahoMum March 6, 2014, 6:37 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts. As a psychotherapist, I was intrigued by this talk and the furor it has created. I wanted to crawl under a rock when I heard him use the “self-abuse” term. I thought that one had mostly died. It made me think of a session spent laughing with one of my clients as she described an interview with her bishop. She had problems with self-harming and had gone to discuss them with her. He misunderstood her concerns and asked her about “self-abuse” then started digging in to details (in a way I don’t think was appropriate). She shared a devolving story of him asking more and more personal details about how she did it, and her finally explaining that it was usually with razor blades. Well, you can imagine the terror and confusion this poor bishop and young woman had before they finally figured out that they were talking about two VERY different things.

    I wanted to point out one concern I had about the article. I agree that mostly it is a matter of awkward semantics, but the one that bothered me was in your final section. As one who has spent years working with women who were sexually abused, I’ve seen first hand how many distort their beliefs about themselves and their worthiness. Read the following in the light of a woman who believes she is unworthy and full of sin due to sexual abuse:

    “Such a life will bring self-confidence and self-esteem. It will result in a clear conscience. It will make us eligible for a spouse of like purity and will make the expression of the procreative power in the marriage relationship sweeter and more rewarding because we have reserved it for the time the Lord Himself has endorsed.”

    I know this does not apply to those women in that way, but I guarantee you they will not see it. It will feel like condemnation and confirmation of their unworthiness. They will not feel confident because they must be unworthy. They don’t deserve someone of worthiness because they are not “pure” anymore.

    Not to mention my concerns about telling us this is how we become “eligible for a spouse of like purity.” My husband is a convert. We had frank discussions before marriage about his past. I could see that while he came to our marriage with a different history than me, he did not revel in his old exploits as some do, and had truly moved beyond them–utilizing the power of the atonement to change his heart and behaviour. If I were to believe that he was somehow unworthy, I firmly believe the greater sin would lie with me, not him! To do otherwise would deny the power of the atonement and negate Christ’s role in my husband’s life and personal conversion. Having a perfect past in one sense, while it makes us certainly eligible for great blessings, does not mean that others cannot become worthy.

  • Tiffany W March 6, 2014, 7:02 pm

    Ashley A., I have one quibble with your comment about sex being a human need and therefore impossible to control. To me, a need is something you must have in order to live. Anything else above that is a want. You don’t need sex to live or survive.

  • E March 6, 2014, 7:46 pm

    I had a similar reaction to Geoff-A when I read through this talk. My thought was “how did this make it through correlation?!?” I have seen the Ensign criticized for being bland but it is generally inoffensive. I am truly amazed.

  • Ashley A March 6, 2014, 11:17 pm

    Tiffany W.,

    Ironically, I had written a whole paragraph about that very subject explaining how I realize that we need food and water to remain alive but sex was not necessary for actual survival/sustaining of life… and then I realized it was making my comment too long and wordy and I assumed that everyone reading had at least taken psych 101 and learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs so they knew what I meant without me going into too much detail. I can certainly see what you mean by your comment though, so I apologize for deleting the original paragraph.

    I will try to proceed without becoming too graphic. Consider our physiology. We might be able to abstain from certain, more base needs such as sex in our conscious hours but… and I’m sorry for the graphic nature of this but I do not know how else to explain it… if the body does not get this need fulfilled by our own actions as living creatures, it will do what it has to do when we are not awake. I mean, this is basic 5th grade maturation clinic stuff, right? You already knew this though – I do not mean to patronize, I’m just trying to explain…

    So yeah, I agree 100%. We will NOT die if we do not have sex. It is a basic need, but not necessary for the sustaining of life. You get what I’m saying though, right? Even then, I didn’t make this up. It’s information that is taught over and over in different university programs (I was also a former social work and sociology major, before changing gears – it’s taught there, too!).

    I hope I cleared things up. Thanks for reading my rather revealing comment and I do hope that I do not know you in real life! ;-D

  • Anita March 15, 2014, 3:11 pm

    Great post! I seriously loved out you broke each paragraph down. You logic is very inspiring. It’s great to hear truth explained.
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  • jillio March 21, 2014, 2:42 pm

    You should be a reading teacher. We are teaching kids close reading and how to parse through text and you have it down!
    Now, I’ll be serious. We have to remember all the little sayings I was raised with: the spirit of the law vs. the letter of the law, if the Church weren’t true, the members would have destroyed it long ago, etc.
    I think people that struggle with talks like this are looking for an issue or are feeling they lack perfection in one of the areas and it hits hard. It’s just like listening to conference. Every time, I feel like the talks were given with me in mind specifically. I really enjoy them but I also try to use them to better my life not to bring me down and overwhelm me with all that I’m doing wrong or not doing right, omission-co-mission thing. I don’t think the Lord wants us to work so hard on reading between the lines, these are mere mortals after all, but to feel the spirit in which they are relayed. I can’t imagine feeling so against the teachings that I try to find fault with every word that is said or written.
    You are great to take the time to go through this and put it into perspective.

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