Thanks to Mike Parker and Michael Ash for these thoughts, which should be attributed to them. I thought they were worth sharing.
In Alma 39, Alma talks to his son Corianton and admoninishes him that he has committed “abominable” sins.
We normally think that his primary sin is sexual sin, but in fact if we read Alma 39 carefully, it is mostly about something else: destroying the testimony of other people.
To quote Mike Parker who wrote here:
Note that Alma tells Corianton that “these things [plural] are an abomination in the sight of the Lord.” What Corianton did wrong was more than one thing (i.e., just sexual sin alone).
Also note that after describing Corianton’s sins as “abominable,” Alma does not go into a discourse about chastity, but rather discourses on the unpardonable sin of denying the Holy Ghost and also “whosoever murdereth against the light and knowledge of God, it is not easy for him to obtain forgiveness” (39:6).
Let’s put this passage into context: What exactly did Corianton do that was “an abomination in the sight of the Lord”?
39:2. He did “go on unto boasting in [his] strength and [his] wisdom.” Okay, not so good there.
39:3. He “fors[ook] the ministry.”
39:3–4. He “did go over into the land of Siron…after the harlot Isabel.” Just because she “did steal away the hearts of many…this was no excuse for” Corianton.
39:5. It is “these things” — all of the above — that “are an abomination in the sight of the Lord.” Why?
39:11b–13. “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. And now the Spirit of the Lord doth say unto me: ‘Command thy children to do good, lest they lead away the hearts of many people to destruction’; therefore I command you, my son, in the fear of God, that ye refrain from your iniquities; that ye turn to the Lord with all your mind, might, and strength; that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly; but rather return unto them, and acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done.”
When the Zoramites saw Corianton’s behavior, they would not believe the gospel message taught by Alma (39:11b). This was so bad that the Lord gave a commandment directly to Alma to tell his children to do good so that people would not be lead to spiritual destruction (39:12). Alma commanded Corianton to repent and go the Zoramites and try to repair the damage he had done (39:13).
Through his sins Corianton was engaging in spiritual murder. Alma himself had been guilty of this as a young man, and had repented only after he was chastened by an angel. Alma himself confessed to his son, Helaman, that through his actions he “had murdered many of [God’s] children, or rather led them away unto destruction” (Alma 36:14). It’s bad enough to commit murder; it’s essentially the same thing to kill testimonies by our bad behavior.
Compare Matthew 18:1–6. The disciples ask Jesus “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (18:1). Jesus responds by comparing believers to little children: Only those who change and become humble as children will enter and become great in the kingdom of heaven (18:2–4). Whoever receives a person who has become like a little child receives Jesus himself (18:5). And whoever “offends” such a person is worth of capital punishment (18:6). The message is not about hurting little children (although, like sexual sin, that’s certainly a serious offense before God). Rather, the message is about adult believers in Christ: Anyone who causes one of them to stumble, sin, or fall away (KJV “offend”; see fn. 6a in the LDS Bible) is guilty of a capital offense. Just as someone who murders a person is worthy of death, so is someone who kills them spiritually by destroying their testimony or enticing them to sin.
This is very serious stuff. We’re rightly concerned about avoiding sexual sin. Are we just as concerned, if not more, about causing offenses that harm other people’s testimonies?
To sum up, one of the worst sins you can commit is to hurt the testimonies of others. Is this a lesson we are prepared to accept?