(To see Cal Grondahl’s cartoon, click here.) The media coverage focused on the first LDS woman to give a prayer in LDS General Conference and the sight of a very old Apostle Boyd K. Packer rasping — from a chair — about the “tolerance trap” and virtue gone sour. However, the most significant discourse was provided by a younger apostle, David Bednar. His Saturday talk, “We believe in being chaste,” is another salvo in the church’s forceful attempt to reverse a consistent decline in adherence to traditional morality, particularly among younger people.
Bednar reiterated the LDS belief of ”complete sexual abstinence before marriage” and that “marriage between a man and a woman is the authorized channel through which premortal spirits enter mortality.” While these are familiar messages for active Mormons who pay attention to conference, they are principles that are no longer considered morally wrong by a majority of Americans.
According to a 2011 Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans regard premarital sex as morally acceptable. As to births outside of marriage, 54 percent regard that as morally acceptable. (Read) It’s not unreasonable to assume that higher percentages of Americans 30 and under regard premarital sex and births out of wedlock as morally acceptable.
The LDS faith’s “Law of Chastity,” which opposes fornication and regards marriage between a man and a woman as the preferred structure in which to raise children, used to have the implied consent of most Americans. That’s not so any more. Elder Bednar acknowledged as much, saying, “The doctrine I have described will seem to be archaic and outdated to many people in a world that increasingly mocks the sanctity of procreation and minimizes the worth of human life. But the Lord’s truth is not altered by fads, popularity or public opinion polls.”
How this cultural change in the definition of morality affects younger members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is, in my opinion, of more interest to LDS Church leaders than gay marriage or whether women can hold the church’s priesthood. I think the biggest concern of church leaders is making sure that teenage members and young adults, as they embrace the independence of adulthood, remain active, faithful Mormons. The lowering of ages for missionaries for both sexes provides a quicker transition from high school, to a mission, and presumably, to a temple marriage and children.
Bednar’s talk made it clear that the LDS church regards popular culture as predisposed to a secular distaste for traditional values, and assigns it as a chief culprit in helping lead members into sexual sin. What’s interesting is the contrast he draws of proper sexual choices as being part of a divine heritage. What he describes as the body’s divine procreative qualities are, paradoxically, turned into potential avenues of sin due to man’s natural state on the earth and Lucifer’s desire to leave men and women “alone, in the dark, and without hope.” To achieve that, Bednar states, Lucifer urges people to violate the Law of Chastity, and deny their duties as God’s children.
In the talk, Bednar says, “We are agents blessed with moral agency and are defined by our divine heritage, as children of God, and not by sexual behaviors, contemporary attitudes, or secular philosophies.”
LDS Church leaders are clearly focused on efforts to keep younger members active in the church. They see the rise in inactivity, as well as changes in attitudes on traditional values, and regard it as Lucifer winning the battle over young souls. Softer rhetoric on gay marriage and baby steps for female inclusion in male-dominated rituals are a part of that effort, but the main focus is on combating what is regarded as a popular assault on chastity. That battle will remain long after Elder Packer has left this world. To hear Elder Bednar’s talk, click here).