Taking seriously the law of chastity

This is a guest post by Michael Davidson

I recently exchanged some correspondence with a good man regarding the law of chastity, and felt like some of what I said may be of interest more generally.  The context of the discussion was related to whether or not same gender dating was harmless exploration and discovery or a violation of the law of chastity.  We disagreed on this. I argued that we need to be concerned with the letter and the spirit of the law, and that the spirit of the law was much stricter that who put whose hands where.

First, it is not only what we do physically that can constitute sin.  The law of chastity can be violated without ever touching another person. We are taught that “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart”[1]and “our thoughts will also condemn us.”[2]  The guidelines released recently regarding missionary worthiness included teachings that “to be chaste, you must be morally clean in your thoughts, words, and actions,” importantly not just your actions.  Homosexual activity is also called out as a serious sin, because, at least in part, “it distorts loving relationships and prevents people from receiving the blessings that can be found in family life and the saving ordinances of the gospel.”[3]

Second, “dating” is not a term that is equivalent to “going out socially.” Dating, as it is understood colloquially, is always a precursor to more.  This is why we teach the youth to put it off until they are older.  This is why we teach the youth to go on group dates, and to not date the same person exclusively before they are ready and prepared to make eternal commitments.[4]  The purpose for dating, in the structure of the gospel, is to prepare for the highest ordinances of the temple, and commitments made between God, one man, and one woman, and to create family units in which a man and a woman can keep the very first commandment given to Adam and Eve to multiply and replenish the earth.[5]  This commandment that is still in force,[6]and represents something that is impossible in a homosexual union.

The For the Strength of Youth pamphlet takes it as a given that a date is between a young man and a young woman, and states that explicitly.[7]  Dating someone of the same sex is a counterfeit that we have been warned about by the prophets and apostles, and most directly by Elder Perry a few years back.[8]

It bears asking, within the structure of the gospel, what exactly does a young woman or a young man productively discover and explore while pursuing a dating relationship with a young man or a young woman of the same sex?  How does spending time, thought and emotional energy on something such as that prepare a young man or a young woman to be sealed in the temple? How does such an exercise prepare a young man or a young woman for a life lived in accordance with the laws and expectations set forth in the structure of the gospel?  How does such an exercise prepare one to serve a mission, where they will be expected to teach the law of chastity as defined? 

Third, this is where we need to start considering the spirit of the law of chastity.  The law of chastity, like all gospel commandments is aspirational while also being prohibitive.  The aspirational part is the most important.  It teaches us to be pure in preparation for marriage as it is defined by God.  There are things we are told will defile us in action and thought, but avoiding those things is only meant to add strength and glory to fulfilling the goal of an eternal family.  One cannot take his or her sights off of that goal and remain on the covenant path.  Merely keeping one’s hands to oneself until a proper marriage, along with fidelity therein, fulfills the letter of the law. Worthily and chastely entering into a marriage sealed under proper authority, where covenants are kept and cherished, fulfills the spirit of the law.  Anything short of that violates it.

In any dating relationship, there is an aspect of flirting with the future.  When a young man takes a young woman on a date, done properly, they are flirting with a future marriage and all that entails.  The maxim that “we marry who we date” is apropos. Ideally, they are imagining what a future would involve, and they are flirting with an outcome that could result in exaltation for them both and their children.  What is a young man dating another young man flirting with?  What does that future hold in the structure of the gospel?

Yes, there is no sin in being attracted to somebody, but there is sin in mentally flirting with sin. There is sin in imagining and pining over sin.  There is sin in pursuing a relationship, even if no touching is involved, that “prevents people from receiving the blessings that can be found in family life and the saving ordinances of the gospel.”  It is a mistake to wink at homosexual dating as being harmless so long as they keep their hands to themselves.  To come to that conclusion one must look only to (a part) of the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law.  Pursing a homosexual relationship is inconsistent with the aspiration of the law of chastity, it is inconsistent with the spirit of the law. To say homosexual dating is innocent, even when keeping their hands to themselves, is to deny God’s word and His purpose for us.  It is a mockery.

My good friend has not replied to this, but I hope it has given him, and now you, some food for thought.


[1]  Matthew 5:28

[2]  Alma 12:14

[3]  Standard Interview Questions for Prospective Missionaries

[4]  For the Strength of Youth

[5]  Genesis 1:28

[6]  The Family: A Proclamation to the World

[7]  For the Strength of Youth

[8]  Why Marriage and Family Matter – Everywhere in the World, by L. Tom Perry, April 2015 General Conference

14 thoughts on “Taking seriously the law of chastity

  1. You might add the Lord’s counsel that we should be “anxiously engaged”, no pun intended, but in all seriousness; I take it to mean we are to be “engaged’ in our own eternal salvation and progress, and that of those around us, with “anxiousness” for our own and their welfare. So your notion of “looking forward” in dating with expectation and planning for God’s promises to unfold in your life fits nicely. The concept of youthful frivolity defies anxious engagement. And so, the spirit will either leave, or stand on the sidelines waiting for us to reengage. And halfhearted engagement also fails to tap into all the spirit the Lord has to offer, hence, anxious engagement is what we should aim for. All is sin that is selfish, and a failure to align our actions with the will of God keeps us from all the spirit the Lord would pour into our souls if we stopped resisting it and got engaged, anxiously.

  2. I recently had a conversation with one of my daughters. She is happily married and for the past sixteen years her husband was her best, and usually her only close friend, although she had many secondary friends. Recently she met a person with a daughter the age of her oldest daughter. They share several interests and she enjoys pursuing those interests with this woman. However she was concerned about the amount of time she was spending and how much she enjoyed it. I asked her several pointed questions: 1. Do you feel any sexual attraction to this person? (She replied with an emphatic “Of course not.”) 2. Is the time you spend with this person using up time and energy you owe to your family. (She answered that almost all the time they spend together is actually in aid of her family’s welfare since they spend most of their time together planning and executing activities for a home school network.) I found it sad that she was considering cooling her friendship because she felt it was somehow wrong to have a very good friend who was not her husband. Another daughter suffered from rumors that she was lesbian because she had a very good girl friend in high school. Like all teenaged girls, they mostly talked about boys. This is a result of muddied waters. Women and men can ‘hang-out’ with friends of the same sex in a number of associations that have nothing to do with romantic or sexual feelings. It is an excellent caution for married people to limit friendship with opposite sex friends to fairly formal situations or those that include their mates because it is still common for people to be sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex. Perhaps it is the saturation of non-herteronormal behavior in our culture, even though the vast majority of people continue to prefer partners of the opposite sex, that blurs the lines between hanging out with friends and ‘dating’. It would be truly sad if innocent friendships between girls or boys, men or women became suspect because everything has to be sexualized.

  3. I think the Church needs to stop using the word “dating.” I don’t have a good replacement term, but in the modern world, it’s not a precursor to more; “dating” has, in the last 15-20 years, turned into a euphemism for “having sex with.” It’s gotten to the point where people assume you slept with your wife before you got married if you mention “dating for X years” or whatever.

  4. Thank you for this post!

    And Pat, thank you for your comment. It reminds me of something that C.S. Lewis wrote:

    “Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend. The rest of us know that though we can have erotic love and friendship for the same person yet in some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest. Above all, Eros (while it lasts) is necessarily between two only. But two, far from being the necessary number for Friendship, is not even the best. And the reason for this is important.
    … In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets… Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, ‘Here comes one who will augment our loves.’ For in this love ‘to divide is not to take away.”

    I think that deep friendships without a sexual component has been one of the often overlooked victims of the Homosexual revolution.

  5. Taylor, good comment.

    Ivan, I must betray my age, because whenever I think of “dating” I think of what it was like when I was growing up, ie going to a movie and dinner with a nice young woman. Does “dating” really mean “having sex with” these days? Sheesh. I have heard of “hooking up” and “hanging out” as euphemisms for sex, but “dating” — I have near heard that even once. Ivan is much more in tune with these things than I am, so I trust him, but, wow, that is a new one for me.

  6. Michael,

    If a man looking at a woman with lust constitutes adultery and violation of the law of chastity, should said man be excommunicated for adultery and violation of the law of chastity?

    No (I hope you will agree). I hope you will agree that in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we understand the law of chastity to mean than men and women only have sexual relations with their [opposite sex] spouses. Other actions or thoughts may be unholy or impure, but do not reach the threshold of violating the law of chastity. As you said, until married, one should keep one’s hands to oneself.

    Regarding the substance of your posting, I agree. Fun with one’s same-sex friends is all well and good, but calling it “dating” is troubling.

  7. Pat and Taylor,

    And they said SSM would never affect heterosexual people.

  8. Your comment about dating is interesting, Ivan. In Bulgaria where I served my mission “dating” means sleeping with. When you go on a “date” it’s assumed you’re going to sleep with the person. If you use google translate and ask, “How long have you been dating” it translates to “How long have you been having sex with that person.

  9. Ji,

    Before marriage, one should keep their hands to themselves, physically and mentally. I see the difference more of degree, but not of kind. I agree that impure thoughts shouldn’t rise, in and of themselves, to discipline worthy. The Handbook agrees to, guiding bishops and stake presidents not to discipline for pornography problems by itself, and it seems obvious to me that the warning against pornography is closely tied to this mental breaking of the law of chastity.

    It is important to remember in this that adultery doesn’t usually just happen in a flash. It starts to happen when we don’t immediately dismiss temptation, it comes closer as we entertain the idea, and becomes an awful reality when we act on those thoughts. But, even if we never act on it, those thoughts need repenting. And that is really my main thrust. The law of chastity is clear on certain boundaries to not cross, but Christ taught a law of chastity in which we don’t flirt with those boundaries, and none of us will be done repenting in this arena until even the thought of approaching those boundaries is abhorrent to us.

  10. Taylor,

    I think you are very right. Unfortunately, many will revise history in this light as well. It’s not hard to find articles and books arguing that David and Jonathan, for instance, were romantically involved and I have seen many people argue with all seriousness that Joseph Smith was involved with a number of different men. Their evidence for this isn’t anything direct, but just an assumption if two men cared so much for each other that there must have been a sexual component. It is a perverse way of looking at the world, and betrays a depravity of mind that this is how they interpret the world.

  11. I’ve noted this, too, that dating glibly means “having sex with.” Even the labels boyfriend/girlfriend loosely mean “someone I’ve had (or am having) sex with.” A charged and sexualized society expects our teens/high schoolers (and perhaps younger) to lose their virginity on the first date. Then add to that the pressures/permissiveness of discovering your orientation via experimentation and lectures on the same in public schools. Indeed, chastity with its sexual and mental boundaries (egads!) is extremely old school, outdated, and irrational.

    Threadjack alert…Maybe I am exposing my ignorance asking this, but I’ve wondered how does one “know” if his/her sexual orientation leans toward the same gender, unless they act on it? If they don’t act on it, then the “attraction,” or friendship, would be viewed as platonic, right? So how do our gay members who keep the law of chastity, and who are virgins, know that they are gay?

  12. Exploration. Cute…

    We been persuaded to take apart the floor joists and burn them for late night parties over the course of a few generations, and now we’re discovering what it’s like to stand on a floor with no foundation.

    Biology is about reproduction. Humanity is about procreation. Godhood is eternal increase.

    Marriage is the link between all of that — it empowers human biology and unites it with Godlike potential to create life, and lays the foundation for eternity.

    We’ve been persuaded over the years that there is a thing called sex that adults engage in for fun. Sure, that’s one vein of truth. But you don’t let a single vein in your body overrule the existence of the arteries.

    Sex is short for sexual reproduction. We’ve decided to have personal enjoyment and it’s not only destroying our culture, it’s not only severing our link to God and our potential eternal destiny it’s literally thwarting our biological progress as a species.

    Which brings us back to this idea of “exploring” gender and dating. And I assume the enlightened souls who say these things imagine themselves as “believing in science”. Sheesh.

    The early church leaders had it right when they were extremely cautious of birth control. The Catholics came down much harder on it, and seemed to severe, but in retrospect, every situation we’re facing right now from increased homosexuality, broken marriages, degrading society, and so on can be touched in some way by this perverse idea that we ought to be able to play with nature’s most fundamental power, which has created millions of years of life for mere recreation with no thought to the future.

    So it’s no wonder we have few arguments to make against poor, misguided souls who are standing on a foundation high in the air. We’re right there in the building with them. Occasionally laughing or literally scorning those in the past who courageously said that procreation was not only for marriage, but for raising families.

    And yes — I have no problems with people regulating pregnancies for health. But we all know that’s rarely how it’s happening. Good luck convincing a person who wants to try out being gay cause it might make them excited on the inside that they should instead embrace marriage, family, and responsibility.

    Yes, many of them will figure it out — 30-40 years too late, if they have the emotional honesty to recognize how wrong they were and out right their “bigoted, homophobic” elders before them were all along.

  13. Tiger—to answer your question “how does somebody know of their attractions unless they act on them?” Just like for heterosexual people, attraction is much deeper than sexual acts. Recall if you’ve courted someone or fallen in love: wanting to spend time with them, pining for them, wanting to hold their hand or give them a kiss, feeling feelings of love and getting closer to them. These are all parts of attraction. Teens feel these for a crush; we feel them for our fiancé before we ever “act on it” attraction is a concept that covers more that physical actions only.

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