This is another post in our series of guest posts on learning about sex within different religious contexts. Here’s a link to our guest post invitation. This is from a father who felt the need to reframe the story of Corianton for the sake of his son. [The image on the left is from the D&S Mormon Fakebook series.]
This is a letter I wrote to my son when he was 17. He was being admonished by our Bishop about his occasional masturbation “problem.” He came home weeping after meeting with the Lord’s representative and feeling like he was dirt because he was told he was committing a sin that was next to murder. And then to add insult to injury, the Bishop prohibited him from taking the sacrament! And this is my sensitive son that strives with all his might to be good kid and an exemplar young man in all ways. I was furious! I comforted my son the best I could and then wrote this letter. I felt I needed to fight fire with fire. If the Church was going to throw their authority around, then I felt I needed to use the authority of the scriptures to counter their false doctrine and abuse. I was angry when I wrote this and thus you will notice that the tone is rather confrontational. I offer this as my own interpretation of the story of Corianton and I recognized that it differs from that of the Church and will probably differ from your own. You are welcome to accept or reject it, but I offer it in the hope that it might start your own conversation about ”the sin next to murder.”
The letter was well received by my son and led into a great discussion about the difference between the Gospel and the Church, which was also well received.
Now here is something I did that I do not recommend that you do. I went to see the Bishop. I consider him a personal friend and after the usual pleasantries I broached the subject about how–instead of pointing to Christ–he was putting himself between Christ and the repentant sinner. And he replied that, yes, that was his place as a Bishop and as a judge in Israel–he was to place himself between the Lord and the sinner. After a few counter arguments, I saw we were going nowhere with this so I ended the conversation and left. It had turned into an arm wrestling match, my opinion versus his opinion. And guess who always wins? He does. So my advice to you is not to bother. You are not going to change your Bishop (and you are not going to change the Church’s stance on this). Knowing the truth is enough.
I counseled my son the next time this “interview” occurs to just tell the Bishop that everything is fine and that the past problem has been taken care of. I told my son as long as we never cease to come to Christ, Christ will take care of it.
And He does.
Here is the letter (in its entirety and in its original form):
Corianton and Sex
I’m sure the title of this letter has no doubt caught your eye, and no, this is not about the birds and the bees. Although it does talk about sex, this is really about the precepts of men and how we need to root them out of our life, know the truth and turn to the Lord. With that short preface, let’s get started.
Alma’s talk with his son Corianton has been quoted over and over as an example of how horrible sexual sins are. We have been told by our leaders that sexual sins are next to murder. This has been pounded into us so much that we believe that it is better for our sons and daughters to come home in a pine box rather than for them to compromise their virtue. Like so much of what we hear, this is nothing but false doctrine that you need to discard as the precepts of men. Let’s look at the actual scripture shall we? In Alma 39:3 we read:
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.
We think of this verse is speaking of a specific young woman by the name of Isabel that has led our young missionary astray, but that’s not the case. The harlot Isabel is one of the dumb idols spoken of in Alma 31:1:
1 NOW it came to pass that after the end of Korihor, Alma having received tidings that the Zoramites were perverting the ways of the Lord, and that Zoram, who was their leader, was leading the hearts of the people to bow down to dumb idols, his heart again began to sicken because of the iniquity of the people.
Alma hears that the Zoramites were worshiping dumb idols. The very reason the missionary journey of Alma and the gang even takes place is to halt their worship of false gods and call them back to Christ. And Isabel is one of those false gods. Nibley says she was a fertility goddess.
So what has Corianton done? He visits the temple of the fertility goddess to investigate what was going on over there. He gets caught up in their rather exciting rites of worship and is enticed to have sex with one of the temple hierodules.
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?
What is the definition of an abomination? It is a wrong or sinful act done under the guise of religion so as to make it appear as a legitimate and acceptable practice. So what are “these things” that Alma is talking about? It was worshipping the false goddess by having sex with one of the temple prostitutes–literally whoring after a false god–that was wrong. Fornication is a sin. A serious sin. It was this fornication “done under the guise of religion so as to make it appear legitimate and an acceptable practice” that makes this an abomination. Now as bad as the sin of fornication is–and don’t get me wrong, it’s seriously bad–the bigger problem is that he was “worshipping” the false goddess. It was this idolatry that was most abominable above all sins except murder and denying the Holy Ghost. The fornication is just a part of “these things.” It is the idolatry that Alma addresses with a vengeance.
11 Suffer not yourself to be led away by any vain or foolish thing; suffer not the devil to lead away your heart again after those wicked harlots. Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words.
Notice it is “Those wicked harlots” (plural)–the temple hierodules of Isabel–not a wicked harlot (singular) whose name was Isabel that Alma is talking about. Again, Isabel is just the name of the false goddess and the harlots are her priestesses. You worship and become “one” with the goddess by having sex with one of her priestesses (hierodule) who acts vicariously for and in behalf of the goddess. It was this bad example of worshiping the false goddess that deafened the ears of the Zoramites to Alma’s teachings. And the great crime that Alma speaks about is that Corianton knew better than to do this.
4 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.
Alma admits, worshiping Isabel was a popular religion, but Corianton knew better than to worship false gods–even if it did allow you to get naked with a girl–it was still worshiping false idols.
It is this knowing you are doing wrong by worshiping a false goddess and doing it anyway that is murdering against the light and knowledge of God. You are denying the Holy Ghost who is warning you not to commit this sin and yet you willfully rebel and do it anyway.
6 For behold, if ye deny the Holy Ghost when it once has had place in you, and ye know that ye deny it, behold, this is a sin which is unpardonable; yea, and whosoever murdereth against the light and knowledge of God, it is not easy for him to obtain forgiveness; yea, I say unto you, my son, that it is not easy for him to obtain a forgiveness.
So if we are talking about the sin next to murder, it’s not the fornication part, it’s the idolatry. And even worse than the idolatry, the sin that really gets you in trouble with the Lord is the willful rebellion and denying the Holy Ghost, the God who dwells within you. See the TPJS p. 128, 339, 358.
So what happens to Corianton? He gets excommunicated and gets sent home from his mission in disgrace, right? Nope. He repents, he is forgiven and he stays on his mission. Quite different from what we do today isn’t it? Why do you think that is so? Could it be that Alma has it right and we have it wrong? Is it possible that today, we give preference to the precepts of men and not the mercies of God?
You might ask: “Yeah, but what about the sex? Doesn’t he get punished for that?”
Well, he had to repent, just like the rest of us have to do when we mess up.
“Yeah, but this is serious sex stuff! He should really have to pay, right?”
In Mosiah 26: 29-30, Alma prayed about what to do with the transgressor and got revelation on the matter from the Lord:
29 Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also.
30 Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.
So Alma is told that if the person confesses his sins and repents that Alma is to forgive him and the Lord will forgive him. It doesn’t say anything there about further church discipline. Further, what was Christ’s response to the woman taken in adultery? “. . . neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” (John 8:11) I don’t recall Christ asking her to suffer. He calls us to repent, to change our direction, turn to him and ask him for forgiveness. And then he asks us to live a life of actions that show our commitment to him. We do that by listening to the Holy Ghost within us and following the directions we are given. And Corianton does exactly that.
But this ide, this precept of men that we’ve been taught, that any touching of each other before marriage–think two kids feeling each other up–or touching yourself is the sin next to murder has led many to live in despair, guilt and shame thinking that once they have committed this “horrible wicked sin” in a moment of weakness, that Christ can never love them again. Their board has a hole in it, their cupcake has been licked and their gum chewed or any number of other ridiculous analogies. And that they are forever flawed, sinful, wicked and unworthy of happiness or a good life. And then on top of that, the Church says that you have to suffer this guilt, shame and self loathing until some leader like a Bishop or a Stake President says you’ve suffered enough guilt, shame and self loathing to satisfy their personal estimate of what constitutes repentance.
Is that what Christ did?
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a license to sin, we are to obey the Law of Chastity. Which is, that you are not to have sexual intercourse with anyone except your spouse. That is the pre 1990 endowment definition, no more and no less, period. Any other explanation is a precept of men.
Let me be blunt here so there is no mistake: as long as your boy bits stay out of her girl bits you are keeping the Law of Chastity. Now this may come across that I am giving you permission to intimately touch a girl. No, I am not. You are to keep your hands to yourself. Once lines are crossed, it’s too easy to rationalize and continue on into intercourse. What I am saying is that when people slip up that (1) it is not the sin next to murder and (2) you don’t have to satisfy some leader’s idea of suffering to repent and (3) if people mess up, they should confess to the Lord and no one else. It is to Christ alone that we ask for forgiveness, not the Church and certainly not men.
Now why am I writing about this to you? I bring these topics up because I don’t want you to be caught up in the shame, guilt and self-loathing that is taught in the Church by good but erring leaders. I especially don’t want you to speak of your private personal life to a Bishop, Stake President or Mission President. Their intrusions into your personal life borders on sexual abuse on their part and I want you to have nothing to do with it. Again, if something needs to be confessed, then confess to the only One who can forgive you and then let it go.
To conclude, because we “err not knowing the scriptures”, the Church has misused the story of Corianton to beat up and shame its members…especially the young men and young women into thinking they have committed the sin next to murder if they ever slip up and let a member of the opposite sex touch them or that they might touch themselves. And I wanted you to know these are the precepts of men and you should not be deceived by them.
And you know my feelings about the precepts of men. To hell with them.
P.S. There will be some who say that people don’t question the Church’s teachings unless they are “looking for an excuse to sin.” So they will ask you, “What sin are you looking to commit?” Their question is nothing but a backhanded insult. The answer we give is that we are not “looking” to sin at all. What we are “looking for” is the truth and not the precepts of men. And we are certainly not looking for men to inject themselves between us the and the Lord and separate us from the only One who can truly forgive us.
[Last post in the Teaching Sex guest post series: It's Not the Stork]