Sunday, August 7, 2016

Corianton, Mormons, and Sex

If you attend the mainstream LDS church and you go to Gospel Doctrine for Sunday School, then you're probably in Alma right now, close to the Corianton chapters. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you can read Alma chapters 39 through 42 online or just keep reading for a brief overview.

In chapter 39, Alma lays out some serious allegations against his son, Corianton. Alma says that Corianton fled his missionary work with a harlot named Isabel and... *gasp* had sex with her. Alma goes on to explain that sexual sin is the worst kind of sin (okay, unless you're killing or denying the Holy Ghost), then he goes into a huge lesson on the resurrection and plan of salvation, and that's the way we usually talk about Corianton. He's Alma's kid who couldn't keep it in his pants.

Sin is just oozing out of these pants.

Today in my Sunday School class, the teacher asked if anyone could remind the class who Corianton was since we read chapter 39 last week and this week we covered chapters 40 through 42. The first commenter shouted out, "He was a bad guy!" and the class laughed.

Here's the thing though: Corianton was not a "bad guy". At the end of chapter 42, Alma asks him to return to his mission, obviously hinting that he's at least on the path to forgiveness and later on in chapter 63 he's mentioned in passing as having missed the chance to be the next keeper and author of the plates only because he was out at sea taking provisions to other groups. Obviously, he's a pretty decent guy by this point. And yet, here we are, sitting in Sunday School, ripping into "bad guy" Corianton.

So here's my question: Why are Mormons so obsessed with sex? And not just sex, but sexual sin?

A quick Google search limited to of the term pornography comes up with over 5,000 results. You can read talks about sexual sin leading people down terrible paths or GAs telling stories about flames burning the sinners who have sex.


Holland used the fire metaphor in one talk back in 1998 and I still remember hearing it and thinking how terrible sexual sin must be:
Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? … Whoso committeth adultery … destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonour shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away. (Prov. 6:27–28, 32–33).
Okay, we get it, it's bad. I'm not here to contradict the idea that sexual sin is bad, but we do a pretty poor job of separating people from their pasts. Sometimes we can't even separate appropriate, healthy sex from sexual sin.

There is a pervasive thought pattern among Mormons that anyone who does a bad thing must be a bad person, especially when we're talking about sex. These thoughts make it hard to accept when "good people" do bad things. It makes it harder for us to remember how to love our friends or family members who do bad things. It's why the Stanford rapist's family defended him so vehemently--how could a "good boy" do a bad thing? Part of the problem is how we naturally code people as good or bad. That's not how it works. People you think are good do bad things. People you think are bad do good things. Paradigm shifts aren't easy, but I'm asking you to believe me on this one--your life will be easier if you don't think about people as good or bad. We're humans. We do good things and bad things. Life is where we experiment with the good and bad things we want to try.

Newsflash: You'll try a bit of both.

Then we come across other problems, like which things are good and which are bad? There are Mormons who think that making out is a sin. I don't believe that to be true. There are Mormons who believe that even within marriage certain sexual activities are off-limits. There is no such limitation taught. I do think sex is special and even sacred, but I definitely don't think it's any of my business what you do in your bedroom, and I don't think it matters in the end whether Corianton and Isabel did it.

Look, we've seen the Mormon obsession with sex and sexual sin cause serious problems at BYU this year, and I saw it in small scale today in Sunday School. When the commenter said that Corianton was a bad guy, he meant that Corianton had done a bad thing, or more specifically, a good thing at the wrong time. He should have separated the two. Corianton repents, returns to his work, and, as far as we can tell, lives out his life in service. Repentance took care of it. Even burns heal with time.