Matt Walsh wrote a blog telling married men to stop their pornography habit. MMM wrote a blog in response. To make sure this response blog chain keeps on going unhindered, I wrote a response to MMMs blog on my blog. The blog written by MMM was oddly critical of the Matt Walsh blog as well as oddly protective of those involved in pornography, objecting to Matt Walsh calling such husbands sneaky, shameful and perverted. Here is my response.
Loving the sinner: our most developed virtue
We live in a day where the sinner enjoys more protection and is less likely to be reproved than the faithful. If someone introduces themselves as living with their boyfriend or girlfriend no one in their right mind these days will so much as raise an eyebrow. My wife has many friends with large families and they have numerous stories of the criticisms they get for having many children. My wife has received much criticism herself over our family size. I remember the disdain with which one man asked me if I was going to continue to have children. The man himself lived with his girlfriend. But in our society there is no question which one makes you a weirdo: living with your girlfriend or having nine children. Sadly from what we can tell even church members appear to be much less likely to reprove the couple living together than to reprove the parent who has too many children.
Every one knows that we should love the sinner but hate the sin. But frankly the amount of love heaped on the sinner these days is already phenomenal. Movies and books portray him again and again as the heroic figure. Bad guys must be exaggerated in the extreme just to ensure the good guy still looks good by comparison. In real life many people don’t challenge any behavior that isn’t actually illegal. Our societie’s idols are grossly immoral people portrayed in films, books and music which are portrayed, written and sung by yet more grossly immoral people. No longer are there many heroes in these days, and we are anxious to find flaws in any heroes the past has to offer. By constrast, somehow, the sinner enjoys a blessed state of protection.
This attitude is not limited to our media and has not been kept out of our churches. Sometimes bishops and stake presidents don’t get much love among their local congregation. But the sinner is generally free of any open show of disdain. In fact, to frankly condemn sin is more likely to bring opposition that if you actually commit sin. If I state that living together is a perversion (words used by a prophet in my lifetime) I will be more likely to be reprimanded for judging someone than the person who sleeps around freely and often is likely to be reprimanded for his immorality.
Another aspect of this is a dampening of accountability in the minds of many if a person has truly and fully given way to the sin. For instance, to be considered addicted to pornography one has to partake of it frequently and in large quantities. The occasional user is not the “addict” we speak of. Of course that comes at a terrible price spiritually. While I agree that it is terribly difficult to break free of I do not agree that it somehow provides freedom from accountability for it. For some the porn addict’s plight is portrayed as if agency has nothing to do with it at all. The magic of the word “addicted” is invoked and partaking long and frequently is suddenly deemed as no longer being an act of will. A mental reversal takes place where the sinner’s accountability is simply waved by some and rather than the wife and children being the victims, the sinner becomes viewed as a saint “struggling” with pornography. He may be a latter day saint, but let us not pretend that the justice we know God will exercise against him if he fails to repent is somehow arbitrary and capricious. As we believe God is just then let us put aside the notion that the sinner has no choice. Let us put aside the fallacy that is he is not the chooser, but the victim, not the perpetrator, but the valiant Christian. If we give way to that notion, which in his blinded state he may well believe and openly preach, we will only limit our ability to help him as well as limiting his own ability to save himself.
Of sacred things
One of the interesting things about the gospel is that the Lord sets apart some items as “sacred”. These things offer great spiritual potential, but come with serious consequences if toyed with. One example is the temple. The Old and New Testament dramatically illustrate that, whether or not Jesus loves you, if you mess with the temple the consequences are going to be grave. Sometimes quite literally. The Philistines took the ark of the covenant from the temple and started dying so fast they moved it to a different city, where in turn they started dying so fast it was moved again. Eventually it was moved again and then allowed to return to Israel of the Philistines own volition. The famous “writing on the wall” incident was precipitated by using the dishes from the temple for a kingly feast. On two occasions a man was slain for merely touching the ark of the covenant. The two different cleansings of the temple by Christ further illustrate that some things are sacred, and whether Jesus loves you or no, you must not tamper with them. Christ made a cat of nine tails and used it to forcibly drive people out of the temple.
I think this notion that certain things are sacred is one that is necessary to us for exaltation. We need to understand that even though God loves us there are still some things that if we tamper or toy with we will face terrible consequences. We need that idea partly because family relationships are guarded like the tree of life, with its guardian cherubim and their flaming sword that turns every way, by the law we call the law of chastity. We need to have the idea that “some things are sacred and you must not mess with them” written into our minds and hearts so that we will not rationalize away the sacred law that protects the family, the law of chastity.
From the JST of Matthew 5 we read:
Behold, it is written by them of old time, that thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unto you, that whosover looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath commited adultery with her already in his heart. Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer none of these things to enter into your heart, for it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell. (JST, Matt 5:29-31)
They are coming out from under the law of Moses, and being offered a more complete picture of the gospel – looking lustfully is adultery in ones heart. The contrast between this and the law of Moses is lost on us because we are so used to these verses, but at the time the use of the word adultery there must have been a bit of a jolt.
I love the Savior’s frankness in these verses. He makes reference to his own crucifixion, and then speaks of taking up our own cross as keeping these lustful desires out of our heart. I love that because I don’t think I know anyone that is as blunt about the strength of men’s sexual desire as Christ is. Christ, who will, himself, take up his cross to be crucified on it, compares keeping lustful desires out of our hearts to taking up a cross as he did. I love it both for its expression of the crucial nature of the required sacrifice, as well as the difficulty of it.
So when a man says that it is really, really hard to cast lustful desires out of his heart then yes, sure, that is no unusual thing for a man. According to Christ that is the general situation. But when that man says “it wasn’t my fault”, “I can’t control myself”, “I’m addicted so it wasn’t really my own choice” then my response is “No, it is your fault, and you can control yourself – it is the crux, the crucifiction of your flesh, the crucial but tremendously difficult sacrifice – but as Christ took up his cross to save mankind if you will not face up and take up your own you will not save your soul”.
The woman taken in adultery
But what of the story of the woman taken in adultery? There are a lot of stories in the scriptures that involve adultery. It is probably a sad commentary on us that this is the only one anyone ever seems to be able to bring to mind. What was the penalty she was supposed to endure? Death. Death? Seriously? Who came up with that idea? It is just so completely unchristian. It was the penalty enforced during all the times when Israel was strictly following the law of moses. It probably claimed thousands of lives in those many years. But who came up with it?
Well, Jesus did.
I’m sorry if that is shocking, but it is simply the reality of the situation. Jesus, as Jehovah, was the one who came up with that penalty and it was enforced whenever the law he gave through Moses was followed strictly. It wasn’t Moses, it was the Savior, Jesus Christ, though at the time he was called Jehovah by his followers.
And he wasn’t a different person with different sentiments in his premortal life, his mortal life, and his resurrection. In all three of these he was completely one with his father, subjecting his will to the will of his father. Do Heavenly Father’s opinions about moral matters change?
But as it has been pointed out (Talmage I think), under the circumstances where killing someone is forbidden by roman law except by roman consent, and where a lot of adultery is going on but nobody else is paying the consequences mandated by Jesus in the law, the right thing to do was to simply allow her to go with the imperative that she sin no more. But let’s be clear on who came up with that outrageous “death” penalty for adultery. It was Jesus’ idea.
What to call a spade?
What about Corianton? Alma tells him frankly he commited the worst sin he could have except murder. Had Alma no compassion? Or is it an act of compassion that leads him to say it.
The MMM blog post reproves Matt Walsh for calling husbands looking at porn sneaky, shameful perverts. With regard to whether it is wrong to refer to those committing such sins as perverts or shameful it is worth referring to whether apostles and prophets have deemed that unhealthy for the sinner to hear (all quotes are from general conference, just google them if you want to check).
N Eldon Tanner as well as L Tom Perry both quote Plato’s teaching:
“The first and best victory is to conquer self; to be conquered by self is, of all things, the most shameful and vile.”
Boyd K Packer
“There are magazines—you know the word, pornography—open, wicked persuasions to pervert and misuse this sacred power.”
“It is ridiculous to imply that pornography has no effect. There is a definite relationship to crime. Murder, robbery, rape, prostitution, and commercialized vice are fed on this immorality.”
Salvation is free, so isn’t repentance free too?
President Kimball teaches powerfully about the nature of immorality and the repentance necessary for forgiveness.
“Immorality does not begin in adultery or perversion. It begins with little indiscretions like sex thoughts, sex discussions, passionate kissing, petting and such, growing with every exercise. The small indiscretion seems powerless compared to the sturdy body, the strong mind, the sweet spirit of youth who give way to the first temptation. But soon the strong has become weak, the master the slave, spiritual growth curtailed. But if the first unrighteous act is never given root, the tree will grow to beautiful maturity and the youthful life will grow toward God, our Father.
‘Can we be forgiven, Brother Kimball?’ the young couple asked.
‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘the Lord and his church can and will forgive, but not easily. The way of the transgressor is hard. It always has been and it always will be. The Lord said: ‘I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite’” (Luke 12:59).
But I went on to tell them that in his goodness he provided for us a way to forgiveness. One may do as he pleases, but he cannot evade responsibility. He may break laws, but he cannot avoid penalties. One gets by with nothing. God is just. Paul said, ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap’ (Gal. 6:7)
We must repeat what we have said many times: Fornication with all its big and little brothers and sisters was evil and wholly condemned by the Lord in Adam’s day, in Moses’ day, in Paul’s day, and in our own day. The Church has no tolerance for any kind of perversions. The Lord has indicated his lack of tolerance, stating:
‘For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (D&C 1:31).’ ”
Elder Nelson made the stunning statement that
“Transgression of moral law brings retribution”
I italicize the last word because it is so easy to read without thinking about what the statement means.
Sorting victims from perpetrators
The division of counsel in Jacob 2 is pretty clear for the immoral husband and the victim wife. It is not acceptable to simply offer a nod to her suffering, but then make the husband, the porn addict, a victim rather than the perpetrator. Sure, we are all victims of our own sins, but that doesn’t change who is the victim and who is the perpetrator of a sexual transgression. It is not right to make the husband the chief victim and leave the injured spouse forgotten in the background except as convenient to help quiet those who would rebuke the type of actions taken by the husband. Jacob 2 sets a clear precedent. The husband is the offender, not the victim. The wife’s tender feelings do not mean one cannot speak out against the husbands sort of behavior in public.
There are those who would claim “but the perpetrator is also a victim!”. Well yes, that is true…of every crime you have ever heard of. Of murder, of plunder, of theft, of lying, of hatred, of any sin you want to name. But when we speak of the victim of a murder, we mean the person who is dead, and when we speak of the victim of an immoral spouse, we mean the other spouse.
The protective Father (in Heaven)
I don’t know how many of you have daughters, but I am going to give you some nice ways to ignore everything I have said by offering some bizarre opinions addressed to the fathers. The first is that the zealously protective feelings of a father toward his dating daughters, aimed against those who would take advantage of her, are a reflection of a divine trait. Put differently, the way you as a father feel about the young man who wants to misuse your daughter when he takes her out on a date is a trait you share with your Heavenly Father. If you want an offended God on your hands, try leading one of his daughters into moral compromise. Try paying to see one of them shame herself in pornography. Try bringing penetrating shame and misery to your wife when she finds out her husband is involved in pornography. We live in a day when we don’t really think of God as being “offended” by things. But I firmly disagree. You want to make God upset, you offend one of his daughters in a way that violates chastity.
In my mind, the porn addict has chosen to defile sacred things. We love him as a person. We certainly do not intentionally mistreat him thinking “he deserves it”. But no, we do not withhold teaching frank warnings to the still innocent or already repentant or even to the guilty themselves in order to avoid offending the guilty. Nor do we fail to recognize him as the perpetrator and his spouse as the victim. Honestly, I think that you can try and make a porn addict as cheerful, as delighted, as happy as you want. You can try and bring him out of his depression, out of his wallowing misery by any means other than actual repentance. You can hush up everyone, make sure they treat him as an angel from heaven and it won’t make a smidge of difference in this one regard: Sooner or later he will still suffer excruciating misery and anguish one way or another. The man who offends God’s daughters through immorality, especially the man who offends his faithful wife, will pay the full measure and not a mite less. He has defiled the temple and will feel the lash. And it will not matter how tenderly anyone wishes the opposite were true. Forgiveness is possible, but don’t offend a Heavenly Father’s precious daughters in matters of virtue. You cannot do so for free.
Forgiveness is real, and reproof may help us find it
Now, all that being said. It is still absolutely true that there is a way to forgiveness. It comes through the atonement on the condition of repentance. It is still absolutely true that though our sins be red as scarlet, Christ can make them white as snow. It is true that we all sin, not just once or twice but day to day, and without the cleansing blood of Christ we would all be doomed. It is true that we all desperately need the transforming power of the atonement of Christ. Elder Packer’s “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness” talk is all still true from beginning to end. But pay attention to the moment of that talk in which he states “It will not help if, out of tender regard for your feelings, I avoid telling you about the hard part.” We can be rescuers, but we are better rescuers for teaching the hard part, not for silencing accountability for sin. We all need reproof at times. It is not charity that fails to warn and ward away from the broad road that leads to destruction.