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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Generally, Not Even Close to Murder

by Shawn Tucker:

If I were given the chance to influence one aspect of Mormon culture and scripture interpretation, one thing that would be at the top of my list would be the notion that sexual sin is “next to murder.” Generally, I believe that sexual sin is not even close to murder. But before I explain this idea, an idea I got from Michael R. Ash, let me say that sexual sins that are close to murder are the only sexual sins that are close to murder. The easiest example of this is Moroni 9:9-10, wherein the Nephites rape, torture, kill, and eat Lamanite women. Now that is sexual sin that is next to murder. Other sexual sins that are next to murder would be sins that irreparably damage souls, sins like incest, molestation, and rape.

When we are speaking with youth about sexual sin, in general it is not the above sins that we have in mind. While sexual sins like masturbation, fornication, and adultery are serious, sometimes very, very serious, I do not believe that they are anywhere near murder.

Michael Ash develops this idea for a 2006 Sunstone article. Ash does not diminish the seriousness of sexual sins, but one of his most important insights is that Alma 39:5 lends itself to more than one reading. The verse says:
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?
When this verse says “these things are an abomination,” it is commonly understood that “these things” are sexual sins. But when we read the verse in the context of the entire chapter, “these things” that are so abominable seem to be whatever we do that would “lead away the hearts of many people to destruction.” In fact, in verses 12 and 13, Alma tells his son that the Spirit of the Lord has told him to command his son to do good so that he would “lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly.” Corianton’s great sin is not leaving the m inistry or sexual sin with a prostitute, rather it is the way that such actions, instead of nurturing, lifting, and encouraging others toward God, persuaded them toward spiritual death. It makes more sense when you read the verses that doing something that brings about spiritual death is “most abominable above all sins” except for literally bringing about someone’s physical death or denying God’s loving power via the Holy Ghost.

Ash’s article uses additional evidence from the Book of Mormon to highlight the grievous nature of sins that threaten the spiritual lives of others. Certainly some sexual sins can do just that, but the notion that an adolescent’s masturbation or sexual exploration that starts to cross the line is somehow close to homicide does not seem to line up with what we find in the Book of Mormon or any other books of Scripture. Understanding our bodies, our ability to be attractive and attracted, as well as the pleasure and the bonding that orgasm provides are important lessons for healthy adolescents. Training young people to understand those blessings and to use their covenants and the Holy Ghost to set their own standards is an important and sacred mission. As we seek to fulfill this mission, understanding what the Scriptures really say about sexual sin can help us and our youth keep its seriousness in proper proportion.

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Shawn Tucker grew up with amazing parents and five younger, wonderful siblings. He served as a missionary in Chile during the Plebiscite and the first post-dictatorship election. After his mission, he attended BYU, where he married ... you guessed it ... his wife. They both graduated, with Shawn earning a BA in Humanities. Fearing that his BA in Humanities, which is essentially a degree in Jeopardy, would not be sufficient, Shawn completed graduate work in the same ... stuff ... at Florida State University. He currently teaches at Elon University in North Carolina. He and ... you guessed it ... his wife have four great children. Twitter: @MoTabEnquirer. Website:

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