Atonement

Transparency in All Things

Anonymous Question Series:

Q: If someone has watched pornography or masturbated in the past, do you feel they are obligated to tell their future spouse? Does it depend on how long ago it was?

There are three concepts in this question that need to be answered: 1) transparency in relationships, 2) stigma/shame of sexual sins/behaviors, 3) masturbation, is it really that bad? 

The main focus in this question is transparency and stigma/shame of sexual sins/behaviors. I will address the third concept in a separate post.

A: 

The quick answer: yes, and if you can't/don't, you should not get married.

Transparency In Relationships

"Where there is respect, there is also transparency, which is a key element of happy marriages. There are no secrets about relevant matters in marriages based on mutual respect and transparency. Husbands and wives make all decisions about finances together and both have access to all information." —Elder L. Whitney Clayton, Marriage: Watch and Learn

I understand the above quote is specifically addressing social media in marriage, which I will address more specifically in my forthcoming post on, "Jealousy and Social Media." Once published, I will put a link to it here.

Nonetheless, this quote is absolutely applicable to premarital relationships, especially if you are engaged. How do you ever expect to be transparent or desire your partner to be transparent if you yourself keep secrets?

The Myth

Let's dispel a myth right now. I have searched all over for a source, a reference, or the origin of one of the most ridiculous myths and traditions in our faith. But I cannot find an original source nor anything that supports it. That is, if you have "repented" of something, you don't need to divulge it to your future spouse (or current spouse). I cannot emphasize how naive, controlling, and dangerous this concept is.

There are women who say, "If it is in the past, I don't want to know about it, I don't need to know about it." For some reason, I've only heard women express this idea, but please realize that this is a rejection of your partner. Not wanting to share and not wanting to know is anything but love. Many excuse it as "true love" and "embracing the atonement" when they don't "dig up the past." These individuals believe it is a rejection of the atonement to bring up the past. When women desire to learn about their loved one, the men often respond defensively, "Why do you keep wanting to know about the things I've repented about?"

This is a huge RED FLAG, and if it wasn't so common, I would tell you to turn and run as fast as you can. Unfortunately, it is far too common of a conversation, which means it's a tradition and myth that good people truly believe. It can be worked through and properly understood, but transparency is an absolute must! Without exception!

Clarity And Perspective

It boggles my mind that we still speak as though pornography is some type of sin of "perdition," unrecoverable and mentally damaging — a sin that turns beautiful, intelligent, amazing individuals into social pariahs. The social and self shame around this topic is unjustified. I assure you, nearly 100% of individuals, male and female have viewed pornography and 80–95% of people have masturbated. In today's information age, it is impossible to not view and even engage in pornography.

Additionally, there is a real problem with even the word "pornography." It's a nonsensical, abstract word. Let me give you a real life example. A wife demands her spouse repent to the bishop because he saw breasts in the movie "Titanic." The bishop, whom the husband will potentially confess to, went on a date with his wife to see "Deadpool." One can argue the bishop and his wife are in serious violation themselves. This is the problem; who gets to define pornography?

Recently, I was interacting with a anti-porn advocate who uses her spouse's "short comings" as a platform for her "trauma." Yet, she has a plethora of highly sensual books and movies on her own Facebook "Likes" page. Some could easily be considered "harlequin"-type material. When that was pointed out, she defended it saying there was no "nudity" in those types of entertainment. That statement wasn't entirely true, but it's an example of the double standard and confusion around the concept of pornography.

"Historically the term 'pornography' has an unreliable history of usefulness as a scientific term. Instead, it is a social construct of the human mind. Its social use is vague, inaccurate and is often co-opted for use as rhetoric by those who use it to further their social or political agendas. Over time the term has taken on negative connotations, and is now, also used as a pejorative term in expressions of disapproval. The term "pornography" is like using the term "lemon" to describe an automobile. It describes a negative quality of an object in the minds of many people.

... Now is the time for scientists to break a bad habit of using this socially biased, non-scientific term. As scientists we create problems for ourselves when we adopt unscientific terminology that has culturally evolved, and is loaded with cultural or moralistic bias. We handicap the social effectiveness of our research when we use such terms." —Mark Kim Malan, Ph.D., A New Taxonomy: Scientific Misuse of the Term "Pornography"

As I pointed out in my previous post, problematic sexual behavior is an ambiguous terminology socially defined by white middle class christian males. (See also ARP Fails Women Support Groups)

Fortunately, Elder Oaks has addressed this topic well in an Ensign article October 2015 where he embraced a more scientific and correct view. He said there are four types of pornography use: (1) inadvertent exposure, (2) occasional use, (3) intensive use, and (4) compulsive use (addiction). The Church is making great progress in defining the "problem" and eliminating the shame.

Stigma/Shame Of Sexual Sins/Behaviors

From a "doctrinal" and spiritual perspective. Our culture has traditionally lumped ALL "porn" into the same level of severity and seriousness. In spite of logic and the infinite atonement, we conceptually view — even 5 minutes of pornography — as a sexual "sin next to murder," which is not accurate.

"Corianton’s sin was a composite of several elements, specifically sexual immorality by a priesthood leader that caused him to abandon his ministry and therefore neglect the spiritual needs of his flock, thereby leading them into apostasy. In effect, Corianton metaphorically “murdered” the testimonies of those he was commissioned to bring unto Christ when he was lured away by Isabel (cf. Alma 36:14).

This understanding of Corianton’s particular situation is strengthened by of the fact that in Alma 39:5, Alma speaks of “these things” (plural) being “an abomination in the sight of the Lord.” Apparently, “these things” included not only Corianton committing sexual sin, but purposefully neglecting “the ministry wherewith [he] wast entrusted” (v. 4). Perhaps, then, “the more serious infraction was the resulting spiritual damage inflicted upon others who had witnessed Corianton’s sinful actions.” —Michael R. Ash and B. W. Jorgensen, "Knowhy #147"

Let me be clear, the prevalence of a sin or behavior doesn't make it right (just because everyone is doing it). However, we treat pornography and masturbation with such rejection, that emotionally we loath ourselves and others for engaging in it. In the great words of Elder Uchtdorf, "STOP IT."

Doing it Right

We must stop it; stop being ashamed and own it. The fact that people view it with such seriousness makes this a landmark conversation in the relationship. My suggestion is to go into a relationship with the assumption that the other has engaged in these behaviors. As the relationship matures, it will provide appropriate opportunities to discuss the history and severity of the behaviors.

Every relationship is different and there is no fast and set rule on when to divulge your past. You cannot control your partner’s responses, but you can begin to view yourself in the loving context of the atonement. Their response is a reflection of their spiritual and emotional maturity. In fact, your sharing and their response can be an excellent indicator of their marriage readiness.

Christmas Sabbath

Over the years, I have been blessed to work in careers that provided me with a significant amount of time off during Christmas. This time of year is a type of Sabbath to me, to reflect on the tender mercies Christ’s life has brought me in my life — His marvelous redemptive power and the gratitude I have for His birth and life and restoring His Church in these latter days.

"Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began." (Acts 3:21)

He is an all-powerful God who keeps his promises and has provided us a sure way in this time of confusion by establishing his church as he said he would:

"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:" (Ephesians 4:11-15)

In these latter days, He has restored his Church through Joseph Smith, that same organization that he established in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago.

Recently, I have made again, a study of Joseph's life and the miracles associated the establishing of Christ’s church.

The hand of God was in Joseph’s life in the establishing of His church. The faith of Joseph in Christ is profound and only comparable with those who have shared that holy calling as prophet. It is a great mercy for which I am thankful for, that Christ continues to reveal and guide us through his words and a living prophet today.

An Unspoken Struggle: Things As They Really Are

“Behold, my brethren, he that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men; for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls. But behold, we are not witnesses alone in these things; for God also spake them unto prophets of old.” (Jacob 4:13)

One of the biggest hurdles in working through our weaknesses is overcoming disabling and destructive thought patterns, especially when working with those who struggle with sexual-related issues. It’s embarrassing, frustrating and private. Unfortunately, almost all embrace thoughts and emotions they believe are appropriate in these struggles but are actually preventing them from progressing and finding hope and joy in the moment. These thoughts and emotions sway from pessimism to optimism. But neither are helpful in healing, self-mastery and embracing the atonement.

Optimism can be as dangerous and destructive as pessimism; it can prevent spiritual growth and self-mastery. Optimism and pessimism are two emotional sides of the same coin. There doesn't appear to be any doctrinal basis for optimism in the gospel. The Lord never chastised Job for complaining or needing to be more happy in his trial, or Joseph Smith for complaining there were too many churches. But you might say, “Job’s proving and Joseph Smith restoring the Gospel were a part of God's plan. Like Laman and Lemuel, we are rebelling and sinning against God.”

I assure you most, if not all those I see, are no Laman and Lemuel. The moment we sin or transgress, we see ourselves as Laman and Lemuel, and the moment we repent we are Nephi. This is the dichotomy we unfairly place ourselves into and is harmful to our progression. Those who approach sin and self-mastery with optimism and pessimism are slowly losing hope. Our weaknesses don't make us like Laman and Lemuel; our lack of desire to love and trust God and refuse the atonement make us more like Laman and Lemuel. This idea was captured perfectly in a meme I found recently:

I understand this can slide easily into a topic of semantics. You might be recalling talks over the years that you've heard or read encouraging optimism. President Gordon B. Hinckley gave a talk in General Conference in 2001, "Words of the Prophet: The Spirit of Optimism." More recently, T. Jeffrey Wilks of the Marriott School of Management at BYU gave a devotional "Optimism and Joy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ." Both messages are spot on and insightful. I am confident that you can think of many other messages that encourage optimism. 

However, what I have found is that these talks use the words "optimism" and "positive thinking" interchangeably with hope and happiness. Technically, this is not what optimism means and is not how most interpret its meaning. 

The Webster dictionary defines optimism as "an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome."

I believe that this is the definition used by most people and those with whom I have worked. It is the inclination to expect the most favorable outcome as opposed to seeing things as they really are, the "positive" approach to life. 

What if Joseph Smith was an optimist? How different do you think his prayer would have been? "Father there are so many churches; it's confusing but thank you for blessing us with so many options to worship thee." He would have missed out on the First Vision experience, lessons of eternity, and the building up of an individual courageous enough to lead the Restored Church into a new dispensation.

Where in scripture does it tell us to be optimistic? It doesn't. But rather, the scriptures teach us to see things as they really are: "Wherefore, it [the spirit] speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be." The scriptures also teach us to take our concerns — even complaints — to the Lord.

In an often misread scripture, Sariah provided an excellent lesson in the need to complain:

"For she had supposed that we had perished in the wilderness; and she also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness. And after this manner of language had my mother complained against my father." (1 Nephi 5:2-3)

I have attended many meetings where individuals interpret Sariah's murmuring and complaining as an issue with her faith and use it as a cautionary tale. However, I see Sariah's actions as an example of faith, authenticity and seeing things as they really are.

Camille Fronk Olsen, professor of ancient scripture, offers additional insight to Sariah's experience:

"I suggest a different explanation. To establish Lehi and his family in a new land where they would inspire and instruct later generations to come unto Christ, God needed more than a father and a son (as successor) to possess a testimony tried in the fire of affliction. God also needed a matriarch, weathered by her own trials of faith and armed with her own unwavering witness, to stand steadfast with her prophet-husband.

When her sons failed to return, Sariah feared, giving evidence that her present faith, though admirably strong, was not yet strong enough to continue the difficult journey, let alone to establish a God-fearing family in a new land. The content of 1 Nephi 5 is therefore especially significant because it shows how crucial a mother's preparation is to the Lord. God desired not only that the family possess the brass plates for the journey, but also that both the mother and the father have unshakable faith before they continued.

... Sariah's reunion with her sons was additionally charged with the spiritual witness and stronger faith she received as a result of her trial. At that moment Sariah gained a deeper testimony than she had previously known. Notice the power and assurance in Sariah as she bore witness to her reunited family: "Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them." (1 Nephi 5:8)" —Camille Fronk, Desert Epiphany: Sariah and the Women in 1 Nephi

Sariah is a wonderful example of how voicing concern or complaint can strength faith and even be a form of expressing faith.

Consider Joseph Smith's complaint and concern while locked away in Liberty Jail:

"O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?" (D&C 121: 1-2)

What followed was a powerful and calming revelation that would not have occurred if his fears and concerns were glazed over with optimism. Like Sariah's complaining, he expresses faith in a loving Father in Heaven who answers prayers. To some degree, each prayer we offer is a complaint to God and should be. It is important to offer gratitude and recognize His hand in our lives. But it is equally important to see things as they are, recognize our weakness and, well, complain. Complain with hope and faith in the atonement.

Those who struggle with sin, especially sexual issues, often take a pessimistic or optimistic approach to healing. When they give into their weakness, they often shame themselves, which is not sorrow but guilt and negative self-talk and thinking. For some reason, they feel the ease and power of the atonement are not enough. Also, they fear that if there is not enough self-punishment and shame, they will repeat the undesired behavior, a form of scaring themselves out of the behavior. Others, on the other hand, will over-compensate and take on an optimistic or positive thinking approach. The pain, shame and embarrassment are too much to deal with, and feelings that they are not worthy of the atonement are too overwhelming. Therefore, to avoid or cope with that pain, they put on a smile and repeat gospel positive phrases such as, "I know God loves me," "If I fast and pray more, I will overcome this," and "All I need is more faith," or some other form of positive gospel affirmation. These are those whom we sometimes see as dedicated example Saints who seem to never have a negative thought and all the right answers.

One such client came into session each week and after briefly sharing their status immediately engaged in positive gospel self-talk. "I know I failed this week because I didn't read 30 mins each day. If I increase my scripture studies, I will not repeat the sin." They were very literally not seeing things as they really were. They jumped immediately into supposed solutions to their failure. They thought that if they dwelt on it too long or "complained," they would be lacking faith in the process. But what they are doing is denying themselves insights specific to their needs and self-mastery. What eventually happens is that the gospel positive self-talk runs out. Doubt takes over and faith is diminished. No matter how much they pray, read and do good works, they repeat the undesired behavior. As a result, they question their faith and experience a spiritual fatigue. Many give up after years of repeated visits to their bishop and prayers of repentance. They begin to no longer believe that the Lord doesn't give temptations and struggles greater then we can bear (1 Corn 10:13), or if it were true, it must be they are too sinful to be blessed.

Hogwash! It's because we glossed over the atonement with pessimism and optimism. It's not always about more prayer or scriptures but rather a need to see things as they really are. Although our struggles are in no way easy, it is easier to focus on more scriptures, more prayer, and more faith. If Sariah or Joseph Smith glossed over with optimism, would they have expressed their hard concerns and complaints? Would they have learned and been prepared to bring forth greater faith and revelation by laying their fears on the altar?

Even with those who have struggled with their sins for 40 years, I have seen almost immediate success when we begin to voice their complaint to the Lord. It's scary to be accepting of your weaknesses and discuss them with the lord.

But as Kathryn Kirk as pointed out in her struggles, the gospel is a place of healing, not hiding.

I have even heard many say, "Before I see the bishop or a therapist, I want to work through this to a certain point." Sometimes, we in the faith put too much emphasis on our own works and not enough on trusting the atonement. You no longer have to be afraid of your struggles, but embrace them and see them as they really are without guilt or shame. Eliminating shame and seeing things as they really are is essential to self-mastery and to making your weaknesses strong before the Lord.

When we can stop treating our undesired behaviors with optimism or pessimism and face them with courage, we can bravely lay them on the altar to have our weaknesses made strong. Let's replace the optimism, gospel self-talk and pessimism with hope! I love the words of Pope Francis in making this very same point:

“I do not like to use the word optimism because that is about a psychological attitude,” the pope says. “I like to use the word hope instead, according to what we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 11, that I mentioned before. The fathers of the faith kept walking, facing difficulties. And hope does not disappoint, as we read in the Letter to the Romans. Think instead of the first riddle of Puccini’s opera ‘Turandot,’” the pope suggests.

At that moment I recalled more or less by heart the verses of the riddle of the princess in that opera, to which the solution is hope: “In the gloomy night flies an iridescent ghost./ It rises and opens its wings/ on the infinite black humanity./ The whole world invokes it/ and the whole world implores it./ But the ghost disappears with the dawn/ to be reborn in the heart./ And every night it is born/ and every day it dies!” These are verses that reveal the desire for a hope. Yet here that hope is an iridescent ghost that disappears with the dawn.

“See,” says Pope Francis, “Christian hope is not a ghost and it does not deceive. It is a theological virtue and therefore, ultimately, a gift from God that cannot be reduced to optimism, which is only human. God does not mislead hope; God cannot deny himself. God is all promise.” —Pope Francis, A Big Heart Open to God

It is tempting to run from our undesired behaviors, to hide them, or to — in some form of karma — do more good to prevent the bad. Recognize your weaknesses courageously, learn from them, and make them strong.