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 lds.org 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.

THE FIRE WILL BURN YOU BWAHAHA

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.

9 comments:

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    1. Thanks Heather! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

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  2. We need to improve the LDS culture around repentance of all sins, but especially when it comes to pornography and other sexual sins. I love that when Corianton's father (Alma the Younger) went through his repentance the Lord told him "Marvel not that all mankind...must be changed from their carnal and fallen state." Marvel not! Don't be surprised. Even the best will have moments of temptation and vulnerability - marvel not! (See Mosiah 27:25)

    I have to assume it was with this experience clear in his mind that Alma the Younger approached his son Corianton. Clearly there was disappointment, and there was sin to be repented of. But he was not saying "I can't believe you would do this" - he was saying "you can and have to do better, and here's how..."

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    1. Great insight! I love that... "Marvel not". I'm definitely going to use it next time I get to teach a lesson that touches on repentance.

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    2. Well said! I love this insight.

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  3. This is pretty fantastic. Too often we are caught up in judging others, and it's far too easy to equate an action with a character flaw (or vice versa). That doesn't negate the seriousness of said action, but it's certainly not up to us to place a judgement on a person's character based in that action. We could never know enough of the situation or the person to make that kind of call.

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    1. Thanks for reading, and for the comment, Jenny! The judgment part really is the hardest, isn't it? Even when I've brought up not judging in SS class, there's always someone who has to justify the judgments they do make. It's hard, guys, I get it! But we can and should do better. Justifications don't fix judgments, they just entrench our existing prejudices.

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  4. There is an account in Ether about an interesting man by the name of Morianton. He did a lot of good for his people, a man easy to respect and love because of his love of freedom.

    However, Moroni makes it clear that this man, a great leader in the eyes of his people, was lacking in a critical area:

    11 And he did do justice unto the people, but not unto himself because of his many whoredoms; wherefore he was cut off from the presence of the Lord.

    (Book of Mormon | Ether 10:11)

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    1. Great, he was loved by the people. His being cut off was not up to the people to decide though, it was up to the Lord. As it should be.

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