Carl Jung once said: "I would rather be whole than good".
Perhaps this is not at all different from Jesus' invitation to be
perfect, or complete. I present in the following ideas the thesis
that within the collective shadow of Mormonism lies a tremendous
reservoir of shame surrounding sexuality. I believe this institutional
shame is in part a product of the church's inability to honestly face
its own history of sexual eccentricity that was a consequent and perhaps
integral component of plural marriage. The progeny of this collective
shame and the unwillingness to honestly face it, is that it continues
to adversely influence church ideology, theology, policy, and subsequent
behaviors in the area of sexuality. Facing that shame, by facing the
truth, may be foundational to the ability to move past it to a place
of greater "wholeness".
Former church president Spencer W. Kimball once conceded that sexual
issues were the number one etiological factor he found in divorcing
If you study the divorces, as we have had to do in these past years,
you will find there are one, two, three, four reasons. Generally
sex is the first. They did not get along sexually. They may not
say that in court. They may not even tell that to their attorney,
but that is the reason...
Absent in his concession is any ownership or responsibility of the
church institution for the sexual problems its members might experience.
Jung articulated that:
The inner voice brings to consciousness whatever the whole--whether
the nation to which we belong or humanity of which we are a part--suffers
from. But it presents this evil in individual form, so that at first
we would suppose all this evil to be only a trait of individual
The church institution projects the "evil" of sexual excess
onto individual "perpetrators" or members, yet fails to
acknowledge its own complicity in the sexual misbehaviors or dysfunctions
of its members. Such dysfunctions may in part emerge as a result of
not sufficiently reckoning with the sexual shame that resides within
the collective shadow of the institution. The dysfunctions are subsequently
passed on to individual members. By dysfunctions I am referring to
a condition of sexual shame and consequent behaviors (or lack thereof)
that cause distress, are unhealthy, or may involve harming others.
Such feelings and behaviors range from sexual shame, inhibition, dysfunction,
addictions, and paraphilias.
Prominent hurtful sexual issues like many of the paraphilias (e.g.
pedophillia, exhibitionism), and addictive behaviors (e.g. pornography
abuse, promiscuous sexual behaviors, etc.) are obvious examples of
problems that occur in part due to unresolved conflict. Less obvious
sexual conflict issues, like many of the inhibitory sexual response
dysfunctions, can in a less traumatic but equally disturbing way disrupt
the happiness of relationships and lives. Relationships can develop
extreme conflict/resentment problems due to one or both partners who
experience shame/guilt surrounding normal sexual response feelings--especially
as this shame causes inhibition in normal sexual behaviors. The mechanism
of normal sexual response begins in one's mind. When the ability to
think and feel sexually has been undermined with shame, it can be
foundational to sexual conflict problems in relationships. Such relationship
problems often lead to infidelity and divorce. The etiological factors
in the development and manifestation of sexual dysfunctions is normally
very complex and multi-causal. I believe that the shame that resides
in the collective shadow of Mormonism may simply be a contributing
factor--albeit at times a significant contributor.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of a "shadow" a brief
explanation may be useful. As individuals develop, they learn that
certain behaviors, sights, sounds, words, feelings, etc. are bad or
unacceptable. Consequently, they daily participate in a process of
resigning such elements into a part of their psyches they believe
is bad or unacceptable. For example, I may be taught that looking
at nude pictures is bad, yet find delight in doing so. My delight
in this behavior is ultimately relegated to my personal shadow. Eventually,
I may adopt a position of outward disdain for viewing nudity --and
inward delight. A split occurs in my psyche concerning the thoughts
and feelings I have regarding viewing nudity. The unacknowledged inward
delight that I have resigned to my shadow, if not reckoned with, acts
as an unconscious force which will ultimately exert its force in some
usually negative way. Each person has a shadow component they stuff
with various types of unacceptable material. Confronting or reckoning
with those parts of ourselves that we have relegated to our personal
shadows is the only way to be complete--and free.
Plural Marriage: Contributing to
From its inception Joseph Smith's plural marriage was formulated
and instituted in a haze of secrecy, concealment, and public lies.
Indeed, the practice of plural marriage was not publicly acknowledged
until 1852, perhaps some 21 years after it was first advocated by
Smith. Determining the facts about the practice of plural marriage
is therefore especially difficult in early Mormon history. Public
denial and private practice among a select few seemed to be the unwritten
policy of early plural marriages as instituted by Joseph Smith.
A rather brutal example of the secrecy surrounding plural marriage
in its early practice by Smith is found in the apparent case of his
secretly marrying his wife's (Emma's) counselor and her secretary
in the Nauvoo Relief Society of which Emma was president. This
was apparently done without Emma's knowledge or consent. Joseph was
therefore secretly married to nearly all of Emma's Relief Society
Presidency without her awareness! Perhaps the contradictory and self-nullifying
rule revealed as the "Law of Sarah" was used as justification
for the seemingly audacious behavior of Smith. As revealed in section
132 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Law of Sarah decreed that the
first wife was to give her consent for subsequent wives, unless the
first wife was unbelieving or unwilling. In that case the male was
exempt from the Law of Sarah, and the first wife was found in contempt,
labeled a transgressor, and even threatened with destruction! I
am only grateful that such "laws" are not efficacious in
In my teaching experience in various settings in the church I've
discovered many contemporary members of the church are surprised to
learn that Joseph Smith was married to anyone other than Emma! I believe
this demonstrates the obscuring of history that has occurred within
the church. Obviously it is a big shock when lifelong members, after
graduating from seminary and sitting through hundreds of hours of
church instruction, discover that not only did Joseph take other wives,
but many of them were married when he took them! Further, many of
Smith's wives were considerably younger than himself--with at least
one as young as fourteen! Some members, at this point, feel anger
or disillusionment towards the church institution that chose to keep
such information veiled in secrecy. However, in view of the apparent
realities concerning plural marriage it becomes somewhat evident why
there may be motive to keep such information safely in the church
institution's secret closet!
Many members of the Mormon church are familiar with an oft quoted
statement made by Joseph Smith that begins: "Happiness is the
object and design of our existence: and will be the end thereof, if
we pursue the path that leads to it..." Many church members
might be surprised to discover that this statement has been extracted
from a letter Joseph Smith had written Nancy Rigdon (First Presidency
counselor Sydney Rigdon's daughter) attempting to entice her into
marrying him. The statement that appears in all official church
references (including Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith)
has been sterilized of all context relating to the married prophet
attempting to secretly entice a young woman into a polygamous relationship
Plural marriage, the secrecy of its early practice, and the ensuing
social and political circumstances that emerged from its practice
are probably the greatest factors leading to the murders of Joseph
Smith and his brother Hyrum, and the subsequent upheaval of this era
of Mormon history. Indeed, a careful analysis of the later Nauvoo
era of the Mormon Church presents itself as a perfect example of the
workings of the shadow within a culture or institution. The church
attempted to present a pristine public appearance, but was having
considerable conflict with the underworld of secrecy and private behaviors.
Most likely empowered by the energy inherent in the sexual drive,
the underworld of Nauvoo was a veritable shadow land of wonder! Accusations,
denials, conspiracies, secret societies and practices, conflicts,
and violent behaviors danced their way out of the shadow lands of
the Mormon institution, colliding and conflicting with the Victorian
outward appearance of the pristine church and its people.
Division within the highest ranking quorum of the church (First Presidency)
would produce the circumstances that would ultimately allow the powderkeg
to explode. When First Presidency counselor William Law could no longer
condone the secret practices and peculiar doctrines Smith was advocating,
he publicly split with the prophet and along with others determined
to expose the truth. In an aptly titled publication, The Nauvoo
Expositor, Law and his group produced a paper that brought some
of Nauvoo's secret practices into public awareness and promised to
reveal more of the truth in subsequent editions. However, before further
editions could be produced, Smith and the city council had the press
destroyed. This clearly unconstitutional action provided the legal
justification that would eventuate in Smith's incarceration. With
Smith and others secure in jail, the explosive political climate erupted
in mob violence and he and his brother were murdered. To many, Smith
was hailed as a martyr. Others knew him as an obvious fraud and scoundrel
exploiting his position of power to gain control over others and the
sexual favor of many.
The practice of plural marriage within Mormonism would eventually
be flushed from its seeming security in the closet. And although its
practice became publicly acknowledged and nationally publicized, an
obvious air of embarrassment would continue to surround the issue
for many Mormons. Attempts by early and contemporary proponents of
the practice to minimize the sexual aspects of plural marriages indicates
to me the ongoing nature of shadow compartmentalization.
Subsequent litigation and national disenfranchisement would force
(or heavily induce) the church to abandon the practice of plural marriage.
Complete abandonment of the practice proved to be a formidable task.
This is most likely due to the fact that plural marriage was initially
presented as essential and foundational in early Mormon theology.
An era of purging those who refused to abandon the once believed essential
practice ensued. Again, the emergence of conflicts, secret societies
and practices ventilated the ongoing repressed shadow material in
early 20th century Mormonism. Mormon fundamentalism had its birth
in this era.
The stage was set for the split that would occur in the 20th century
individual and collective Mormon psyche. The church would eventually
adopt a position of public disdain for the practice of plural marriage,
but maintain somewhat of a repressed awareness of its eternal prominence.
Further compounding this psychic split would be the repression of
awareness of the sexual connotations inherent in plural marriage.
To access this awareness, one only need bring up a serious discussion
of plural marriage in a Gospel Doctrine Sunday school class and watch
the repressed material begin to emerge! Contemporary Mormons generally
demonstrate an unwillingness to face or confront the realities of
the previous era of secret and eccentric marital and sexual behaviors.
A position of "sweeping under the carpet" seems to be a
common way of dealing with thoughts and feelings relative to the whole
business of the earlier practice of plural marriage. This is true
of the church's public and official dealings with the difficult topic
as well. Richard Van Wagoner postulates in his excellent research
on plural marriage that Utah Mormons may be the most anti-polygamous
group of all! It appears evident that the contemporary Mormon
is socialized to resign much thought and feeling in this area to the
shadow lands. Openly, a pristine attitude concerning marriage and
sexuality is embraced. Resigned to the shadow is a lurking awareness
of this strange and eccentric practice previously embraced, and bound
to re-emerge somewhere in the eternities
Potential Shadow Effects
How might this common repression which takes place on both an institutional
and subsequent individual basis effect individuals today? I posit
the idea that developing Mormon attitudes, policies and practices
concerning sexuality have been powerfully influenced by the repression
of this material into our collective and individual shadows. And while
I don't believe the church's impact on the development of sexuality
is exclusive, I do believe it may be one of the most significant influences
for many members.
Romel Mackelprang summarized the Mormon Church's evolving philosophy
concerning sexuality by examining official statements and policies
of the church on the subject. He summarized that while more articles
and statements affirming the positive aspects of sexuality are gradually
appearing, the preponderance of official church statements and policies
simply overwhelmingly emphasize restraint and chastity. Historically,
official statements from the church have consistently failed to validate
or recognize the positive aspects of sexuality. Overall, this is exactly
the official (and subsequent individual) attitude concerning sexuality
one might expect considering the repression of so much information
and feeling on the topic.
Perhaps most relevant to members of the Mormon Church are the influences
on developing sexual attitudes shaped from interaction with the church
culture. The sexual climates of home environments, parents' attitudes
about sexuality, lessons heard in church settings, ecclesiastical
interviews and admonitions, and even that which goes unmentioned are
more powerful influences on developing views of sexuality within individuals.
It is probable that such influences are the direct offspring of official
church pronouncements, attitudes and policies about sexuality. Documenting
such influences requires one to rely on individual accounts that are
probably as idiosyncratic as the individual. However, as one might
expect, general themes and experiences do surface as one discusses
the topic of development of sexual attitudes with individuals raised
in Mormon environments and families. The following summary of developing
sexual attitudes within the average Mormon individual is a result
of my interactions with church members as a seminary and institute
instructor for the church, bishop of a singles ward, and clinical
social worker with specialty in treating sexual disorders practicing
in northern Utah.
Overall, my perceptions about individuals' attitudes about sexuality
(which as stated is greatly influenced by interaction with the total
church experience), has been the observation of a pervasive attitude
within church members about sexuality that is beset with guilt and
shame. I believe that the church's overemphasis on chastity combined
with failure to validate the positive aspects of sexuality have contributed
to this pervasive attitude. By overemphasis on chastity I am referring
to a bombardment (especially towards the youth) on the topic that
emphasizes the seriousness and consequences of the "sin",
and an overall presentation that leaves an impression of guilt. The
negative is further accentuated by the absence of the positive messages
that should be addressed concerning the joy and celebration of our
Elder Jeffery Holland's recent treatment of the topic in the October
1998 General Conference of the church is an excellent example.
While Elder Holland could have used the time to teach the youth of
the church the positive reasons why an expression of sexuality with
healthy boundaries is favorable, instead he turned to the shame motive.
Shockingly, his message to those who have been sexual outside of church
defined boundaries is that they "desecrate the atonement of Christ",
they "mock the Son of Righteousness", they "crucify
Christ afresh" through their behaviors! It would be difficult
to create a message more infused with Godly shame. Shame inflicted
from a Godly perspective is potentially most disabling and distorting
to an individual. The message that is internalized is that not only
am I unacceptable to others or myself--but to God! Incidentally, victims
of sexual offenses who feel a natural guilt for being victimized,
usually hear such messages as one who has chosen the behaviors. Their
shame, along with those who have chosen their behaviors, is now infused
with a message about crucifying the Savior through their actions!
In my experience, shame, or applied guilt is a very poor motivator
to change behavior. Sometimes, applied guilt can help control others
for a period of time, but I don't believe it ultimately fosters long
term resolution, or growth. As a matter of fact, in the area of
sexuality and other addictions, shame is a greater fuel to the problem
behavior-- akin to treating the problem with its very cause.
Tracing the development of sexual awareness and activity allows one
to see the church's potential and frequent opportunity for negative
influence. While it is normal to begin to experience sexual thoughts
and feelings, the young church member has been taught that such things
are wrong and need to be eliminated. Lust is bad. Because almost everyone
will naturally experience these feeling states, the almost automatic
conditioning has great potential negative influence on the individual.
An "if it is bad to lust, then I must be bad" conditioning
The pervasiveness of masturbatory activities has been resigned to
the shadow lands of Mormonism. Some research has suggested that virtually
100 % of males and 85% of females will masturbate. If this topic
is dealt with at all in any church or family settings, it is probably
almost always surrounded by deep shame. The evasive or non-existent
treatment of masturbation in a church or ecclesiastical context, in
view of the pervasiveness of the behavior, probably also contributes
to the residue of shame that eventuates from the behavior. The inherent
shaming quality of the behavior, in part due to the very private practice
of it, is intensified by the God-infused feelings of guilt that are
applied. Again, if anything, this probably promotes or feeds the repetitiveness
of the behavior. One young woman in discussion with me concerning
a repetitive masturbation issue was told by a previous bishop that
she was mocking God through her repeated "offenses." This
had a short term cessation influence, and a longer term intensification
effect for her. She eventually returned to the behavior to medicate
herself, in part due to the shame she felt. This demonstrates the
addictive and self-feeding nature of the behavior.
I received a call from a bishop who was referring a young man to
my singles ward. I was shocked by this bishop's intention to have
the young man brought up before the high council for a disciplinary
hearing due to the fact that he masturbated. Out of dismay I had to
ask him to repeat to me that the young man's "offense" was
masturbation! I informed the bishop that I would handle the situation.
Months of de-shaming this young man ensued.
Many young people have discussed and written (most are too shamed
to openly discuss the topic) to me concerning the crippling effect
the shame they feel about masturbation has had on them. In my opinion,
for many, the severe shame they experience due to this behavior, intensified
by the God-infused guilt, can severely distort their self-image, healthy
development and consequent healthy behaviors/choices.
A young woman wrote me a private note indicating how much she was
hurting, but couldn't tell me why. After several notes she worked
up the courage to tell me the following:
...I hope you don't mind me writing this, but I know it'd be really
hard for me to tell you. This isn't anything I'd brag about.
I've done terrible things in my life, but this goes way past bad.
I can't go back and change, but everyday I wish I can. Masturbate,
that's the thing that's ruined my life. I can't deal with this guilt,
it's taken over all my actions. I feel I have to be perfect, so
to cover it up sometimes I hurt my body, by not eating as much,
and making myself throw up. I think one day it'll (sic) will get
rid of all the shame, but so far, nothing. Nothing has changed.
Every night I have bad dreams of what I may turn into, and it really
I try so much to pray, but I don't feel welcome to the Lord...
Right now, I'm really scared, since I'm telling you this. I've never
told anyone but God. I carry this big burden and it's carrying me
down, but I feel I may never get back up.
Another young man wrote and expressed:
I really haven't pinpointed exactly what is wrong in my life, but
I usually feel good
to a extent I go to church every week & I participate in church
activities and have fun while doing them. I know that my outside
personality and expression seem to look as though I am fine. My
friends know how I feel, but that is it. I haven't any problems
in my family really I feel I am loved and treated well. I just hear
about how good all of these feeling people experience by being in
tune to the spirit. I want to experience it. I had problems in my
early years hanging with the wrong friends and started to get involved
with pornogphy (sic) magazines. Then I started watch porno movies.
They have cramped my mind very deeply. I haven't any problems with
immorality, because thier (sic) is no way I do that to any girl,
but all the thoughts are there and are pondered. I have strugled
(sic) with it I started masterbatting (sic) about 2 to 3 years ago
since I watch the films... I try hard to quit and be clean. I won't
say anything to my bishop or father. A few friends know, but that's
all I want [to be] clean and happier. I feel you could [help] me,
but I am asamed (sic). I hope I can succed (sic) and stop. P.S.
I would talk, but would need a sign of help or confidence that it
would be good.
A final example from a young woman writing me an anonymous letter
emphasizes the deep shame she feels and her attempts to compensate
for the shame with perfect behavior:
...Since I know that this is completely secret I will tell what
I've never told anyone before. Since I was about 10 years old I
have been masturbating. I don't know how I learned how to do it,
but every time I think about it I usually do it. I try to resist,
but since I've been doing it for so long I can't stop I've repented,
but then I just would do it again. I will never tell anyone what
I do because I'm very ashamed about it. If I ever told anyone I
know they would be surprised because in my group of friends I'm
known as a major "goody-goody" because I leave the party
if they watch an "R" rated movie and if they swear around
me they always apologize. I'm a good student at school, I go to
church, I do almost everything I'm supposed to. I know if I could
stop doing that one thing I would be happier, because it's such
a heavy burden on me. I kind of feel like it's almost to (sic) late
to stop, but I know that is just Satan tempting me to think that.
These notes give poignant examples of the deep Godly shame experienced
by individuals who masturbate and the indication that disclosure to
anyone would most likely never happen. These silent burdens are carried
by many. The message these individuals internalize from an ecclesiastical
or church context is that they are bad due to their behavior. The
irony is that in each of the preceding three examples the young people
writing these notes were magnificent human beings, seemingly only
bound by the shame and distortion they were experiencing concerning
I personally believe I have had better success dealing with this
difficult issue through openness, honesty, and using positive influences
that recognize the worth of each individual, and the pervasiveness
of the behavior. Further, by validating the extent of sexual stimulants
that exist in society and acknowledging the difficulty that we as
a people are having in defining and maintaining healthy sexual boundaries,
a safer environment exists where individuals can disclose and explore
their own sexual attitudes and feelings. This ultimately leads to
a better and healthier position to define and choose appropriate sexual
behaviors--outside of a shame motive or response. I believe this is
generally something that is not happening in the church context, and
may be a direction for how to better address the issue from an ecclesiastical
As already alluded to, the bombardment of negative messages to the
youth about sexuality does much to influence their developing attitudes
on the subject. Early experimentation with powerful sexual feelings
and behaviors can leave young individuals with poignant dualistic
feelings. Such feelings can either be dealt with, or relegated to
the shadow. Bishops' interviews with individuals often have a significant
influence--both positive and negative. It seems that sexuality is
the main thing such interviews focus on when it comes to transgression.
Voyeuristic, probing bishop's interviews, rather than helping to relieve
shame, often profoundly increase it. One young individual was coerced
into telling her bishop the number of thrusts encountered during her
sexual behavior. Amazingly, the bishop related the seriousness
of her offenses to such detail! Interestingly, the General Handbook
of Instructions gives no directive for such disclosure or probing.
Indeed, it might surprise many members of the church to discover that
the Bishop's handbook doesn't even prescribe that any disclosure of
such sexual behavior is necessary for repentance! Why then do some
bishops believe it is their duty to extract such lurid details? I
believe that some bishops may innocently believe they are maintaining
and upholding an ecclesiastical tradition and mandate. Others are
obviously deeply influenced by their own shadow material and are voyeuristically
exploiting and consequently shaming those whom they have agreed to
"watch over". In the case of the above individual who was
so thoroughly interrogated by her bishop, she related to me that she
sensed at the time of this probing interview that the Bishop was "getting
off" on her disclosure. This awareness seemed to only deepen
her already powerful shame.
Mormons who participate in temple rites (taught as essential to one's
eternal salvation) are required to wear a holy garment (underwear).
During yearly interviews such members are required to report whether
they are wearing the prescribed garment as they covenanted to do.
A specific question in the yearly temple worthiness interview inquires
specifically if the individual is wearing the garment both day and
night. A natural question arises: why the need to wear the holy
garment during sleep time? Mormons are taught that the garment is
a protection to them. It seems obvious that a deduction many members
consciously or unconsciously make is that the garment worn at night
may protect them from sexual thoughts or behaviors. This contributes
significantly to the undermining of sexual thought necessary for normal
sexual response. I believe this extreme controlling mechanism is a
further evidence of repressed sexual shame that resides in the collective
shadow of Mormonism. Controlling mechanisms that limit the ability
for even married couples to feel spontaneous and unbounded towards
each other are the shadow of an institution that has a need to compensate
for a history that is replete with sexual eccentricity and excess.
I believe that envy is often a shadow emotion that is repressed,
but ends up surfacing when some respond to other's sexual behaviors.
I remember listening to a fellow seminary teacher discuss how some
of the young people of the church were being sexually promiscuous
and "getting away with it." At the time I was aware that
latent envy was dripping from his words. This individual's shadow
envy surfaced later that year and he began a sexual relationship with
one of his students.
When sexual feelings can be dealt with openly and positively, the
potential for negative shadow influences is greatly decreased. The
opposite is conversely true. The shadow influences can either be a
compelling influence into indiscriminate sexual behavior, or have
a shaming/inhibitory effect--and sometimes combinations of both.
Facing the Shadow
On June 11, 1988 the Philadelphia Inquirer reported the following
in reference to the Soviet government temporarily canceling all history
examinations in the country:
The Soviet Union, saying history textbooks had taught generations
of Soviet children lies that poisoned their "minds and souls:
announced yesterday that it had canceled final history exams for
more than 53 million students.
Reporting the cancellation, the government newspaper Isvestai
said the extraordinary decision was intended to end the passing
of lies from generation to generation, a process that has consolidated
the Stalinist political and economic system that the current leadership
wants to end.
..."The guilt of those who deluded one generation after another...
is immeasurable," the paper said in a front-page commentary.
"Today we are reaping the bitter fruits of our own moral laxity.
We are paying for succumbing to conformity and thus to giving silent
approval of everything that now brings the blush of shame to our
faces and about which we do not know how to answer our children
This amazing example of a nation's willingness to confront their
previous attempts to control the awareness of history among its people
offers an example to modern Mormonism of the value in collectively
facing the "truth" of its past. I believe that Mormonism
is likewise suffering some "bitter fruit" today from an
acquiescence to conformity, and settling for a history that excludes
the whole truth.
Responding to the emergence of what might be labeled "the new
Mormon History," Elder Boyd K. Packer in a seminal address to
seminary and institute instructors admonished them to teach "faithful
history". The implication is clear: Teach that which will
cause the student to increase their belief in the institution and
leave out those parts that may challenge it. This address set the
tone for church history instruction and curriculum which is still
influential today. On the surface Elder Packer's instructions seem
admirable. " Lying for the Lord", or "the ends justify
the means" can always be used as rationalization for dishonesty
and concealment--especially when one knows their agenda is
right. However, there seems little difference in the motives
of the Soviet Union's attempt to conceal the truth of its past and
contemporary Mormonism's. With such a philosophy, United States history
could be taught leaving the whole problem of slavery out in order
to advance strong nationalistic feelings. Jesus' injunction that the
"truth will set you free" seems in opposition to Elder Packer's
ideology, and offers an ideal by which to deal with our shadows--both
institutionally and individually. We must deal truthfully and openly
with the totality of our thoughts and feelings. Only then can we be
Indicating some of the negative sequelae that can eventuate from
a restricted presentation of history, Lawrence Foster argues:
The writing of misleading yet supposedly "positive" accounts
of the Mormon past will be neither faith promoting nor good history.
Of course it all depends on what kind of faith one is trying to
promote. If one wishes to promote uninformed, unthinking acquiescence
to the church as an institution that can do no wrong, then clearly
the propagandistic approach is most suitable. But if one wishes
to promote a mature faith tested by a responsible exercise of free
agency, then such an approach can only be destructive and self-defeating...It
is indeed sad that for some Saints the horror of having any doubt
is so great that they do not see the even greater horror of having
a faith so small that they are afraid ever to doubt or test it for
fear the whole structure would crumble. Realistic faith, it seems
to me, must grow out of confidence rather than fear and defensiveness.
I present my belief that not only does a limited faith result from
a less than honest and open exchange with our past, but potentially
serious limitations in our ability to respond in a healthy way to
the powerful sexual feelings inherent in the human experience. The
following are suggestions I believe the Mormon Church could begin
to implement towards a more healthy approach to sexuality:
1.The church must deal with its past in an honest way. Hiding from
the past is a sure sign that shadow material, with its inherent negative
consequences, is bound to eventuate. The church must honestly acknowledge
the behavioral, social, sexual and doctrinal eccentricities that are
a part of its past. It must attempt to understand the emergence of
such eccentricities from within an historical, but complete perspective.
Historical explanations that omit critical components of the situations/behaviors
need to be enlarged or replaced. If such an approach were undertaken,
the repressed shadow material would be flushed from the recesses of
the collective institutional psyche and individuals would then be
confronted with the "whole" truth. Confusion and conflict
would undoubtedly eventuate. However, in the process of facing the
whole truth, individuals could respond to current sexual complexities
based on conscious realities, rather than repressed shadow forces.
Facing the truth would have a consequential de-shaming effect on sexual
attitudes as shadow material becomes conscious.
2. The church must approach sexuality in an open and honest way.
It must recognize that shame is a propellent for unhealthy sexual
behavior (and other destructive behaviors). Church gatherings, rather
than being places of displaying our false images, could be places
of refuge and healing--places to deal openly with the complexities
of modern society with its innate difficulties. Church classes, meetings,
and confessionals could become places of dialogue, confrontation,
ventilation and relief from the sexual complexities we face. These
issues could be discussed, addressed, and at times even resolved in
a community of support and collective faith.
Harold Kushner, a Jewish author and Rabbi gives this valuable insight:
My experience as a clergyman and a counselor has taught me that
much of the unhappiness people feel burdened by, much of the guilt,
much of the sense of having been cheated by life, stems from one
of two related causes: either somewhere along the way, somebody--a
parent, teacher, a religious leader--gave them the message that
they were not good enough, and they believed it. Or else they came
to expect and need more from the people around them--their parents,
children, husbands, or wives--than those people could realistically
deliver. It is the notion that we were supposed to be perfect, and
that we could expect others to be perfect because we needed them
to be that leaves us feeling constantly guilty and perpetually disappointed....But
the more I, as a clergyman, dealt with people's problems and the
more I, as a husband, son, father, brother, and friend, learned
to look at my own life honestly, the more convinced I became that
a lot of misery could be traced to this one mistaken notion: we
need to be perfect for people to love us and we forfeit that love
if we ever fall short of perfection. There are few emotions more
capable of leaving us feeling bad about ourselves than the conviction
that we don't deserve to be loved, and few ways more certain to
generate that conviction than the idea that every time we do something
wrong, we give God and the people closest to us reasons not to love
us.As one who believes in a loving, cleansing, forgiving God and
as one who advocates religion as a cure for the afflictions of the
soul, I am embarrassed by the use of religion to induce guilt rather
than to cure it, and by the number of people I meet, of all faiths,
who tell me that they are constantly burdened by feelings of guilt
and inadequacy because they "made the mistake of taking religion
seriously" when they were children. It is so sad to meet people
who think of themselves as deeply religious and to discover that
what they think of as religion is in fact a childish fear of losing
God's love if they ever do anything against His will.
3. Finally, the church must teach its members to celebrate sexuality.
A recent alteration to the General Handbook of Instructions
which affirms that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved
even if procreation isn't the aim is a positive--yet incomplete step.
Mormonism, with its distinctly eternal perspective of sexuality should
of all religions teach the eternal Godliness of sexuality. Indeed,
Mormon theology, which emphasizes the importance and eternal significance
of the body of flesh would seemingly be in the forefront of leading
others to a healthy and positive view of sexuality. I believe this
could obviously be the case if we were not encumbered by such extensive
shadow material. With shadow influences eliminated, the fear of encouraging
unboundried sexual behaviors would no longer limit us from celebrating
this wondrous and moving part of ourselves. Passion could be promoted
and sought for rather than feared and branded as some great evil.
Passion and intimacy potentials could be enhanced, ultimately building
stronger relationships and families. Unhealthy sexual addictions,
behaviors and deviations could be addressed, minimized and replaced
with individual's increased abilities to more effectively meet their
real needs--that of finding spirit, intimacy and passion in their
Matthew Fox, describing the disintegration of sexual celebration
of the Western churches gives some insight and an invitation:
When religion is anthropocentric and lacks a cosmology, it has
very little to tell us that is good news about sexuality, which
is so special a gift of the cosmos. When this happens, culture secularizes
sexuality and misuses it. Pornography substitutes for mysticism.
When I listen to what religion in the West teaches us about sexuality,
I hear two things. The first, paradoxically, is silence...
A second response to sexuality from our religions is moralizing.
Telling us all the sins we are capable of performing with our sexual
organs does not enlighten us about our sexuality. French philosopher
Gabriel Marcel has said that those who reduce a mystery to a problem
are guilty of "intellectual perversion."...in the name
of moralizing, the mystery of sexuality has been so often reduced
to problems of morality. ...I believe that the Western church, following
in the spirit of St. Augustine, basically regrets the fact that
we are sexual, sensual creatures. ...It is time that the voice of
the churches joined the voices of the other creatures to praise
the Creator for the surprising and imaginative gift of our sexuality....
Let religion and the churches abandon their efforts to be 'houses
of sublimation.' Instead, reenter the cosmic mystery that sexuality
is and teach your people, young and old, to do the same, remembering
justice, remembering responsibility as intrinsic to the mystical
experience. All lovemaking (as distinct from 'having sex') is Christ
...I believe there is a need to recover the sense of both lust
and chastity as powers and therefore virtues within all people.
Sam Keen, in addressing the topic of how to capture spirit in our
everyday lives, includes some valuable insight into the relationship
of sexuality and spirit, and ultimately enhancing a healthy spirited
orientation towards sexuality:
Sacred lovemaking brings people together in a way that enhances
the singularity of each person and their ability to surrender individuality
both to the relationship and to something beyond the relationship.
Sexual union should be a microcosmic act that recapitulates our
basic spiritual relation to Being. Inspired sexuality makes the
burden of individuality bearable, and increases each person's momentum
toward consciousness, compassion, and communion
A sexual meeting may become an epiphany when two people experience
each other and themselves as mysterious, awesome, and fascinating.
This happens only when two I's who are Thous to each other become
In practical terms this means: I do not turn you into an object.
You are not a "piece," a conquest, a body for the fulfillment
of my desire. We remain ends, not means, to each other, irreplaceable
persons, not mere sense organs, genitals, or interchangeable bodies.
We come to each other with respect, recognizing that we are inviolable
beings with complex and unique histories. Anything that pulls us
apart from the totality of the lives to which we have committed
ourselves desecrates us.
...When lovers meet with respect for the mystery of their separateness,
they may, in coming together, suddenly experience lovemaking as
a sacramental dance, an outward and visible sign of the invisible
grace that unites the single self to the communion of Being. Only
then does sexuality become a path to wisdom and compassion.
...It is not uncommon for even casual romantic partners to experience
a momentary mystical union when egos are shattered in the moment
of ecstasy. It is much rarer for two people to devote themselves
over the years to the ordeal of cultivating unconditional love and
transforming shared sensuality into sacramental sexuality. There
is an infinite distance between romantic fun and games and the soul-mating
...Since spirit and flesh are indivisible, there is no difference
between the devotions necessary to enhance our spirituality and
These lengthy citations give a flavor for an attitude and perspective
about sexuality that is far different from the one I grew up with
as an active Mormon. As mentioned, it appears this type of attitude,
characterized by a healthy, positive perspective of sexuality, is
still not being transmitted to individuals through the church institution.
Fear of change, failure to risk, breaking tradition, facing the whole
truth, complacency, and fearing an ultimate loss of control are the
barriers that I believe inhibit the church hierarchy from taking these
positive steps that would eventuate in an opportunity for greater
wholeness for its members .
In view of the almost complete saturation of sexual stimulants in
modern society, I believe there is an urgency for the church institution
to initiate the type of transitions I outline above. As one who daily
listens to the havoc of lives up-heaved through negative expressions
of sexuality, I feel a personal urgency as well. Individuals, couples,
families, communities and the entire church institution would be the
benefactors of instituting such changes.