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A young couple holding hands in a garden, representing the beauty and purity found in the law of chastity.

Between Sacred Bonds: Understanding Sexuality Through the Lens of Eternity

How can sexuality be sacred? Through covenant and commitment, reflecting God's plan for eternal families.

A few months ago, we wrote an article about the importance of teaching the “why” of the law of chastity with a call to do better in teaching our youth and young adults. After talking with youth leaders in the Church, some feel like this is too hard a topic to approach with the young men and women in their wards. This article aims to expound even further upon the principles we discussed in our previous article and to address how we can more comprehensively approach teaching this law, starting with a more in-depth “why.” Emily Reynolds, a prominent figure at the Wheatley Institute at BYU, said

“Meaningfulness is everywhere in the plan of happiness—The rightness or wrongness of things in the context of our relationships with God and one another is foundational … We should expect a truthful account of sexuality to have meaningfulness woven throughout it and the moral/relational meaning of sexual behavior at its heart.” 

Essentially, any righteous account of human sexuality will ultimately have inherent meaning within the plan of life itself. To start, then, we need to review and discuss the purpose of this Earth life which will ultimately set the stage for understanding the law of chastity.

 Understanding Marriage

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we can often take for granted the very different doctrine that families can be together forever. In part, this could be because, in recent years, the prophet and apostles have focused on how we are ‘alike’ with other religions to foster inter-religious understanding. While that effort is extremely important, we also cannot lose sight of how the gospel provides further light and knowledge about the meaning and purpose of our lives, specifically within the context of marriage and family. To begin understanding the law of chastity, we must understand what marriage is.

Marriage has been redefined.

Marriage is obviously not a new concept, but it is the case that many people in our world today find it an outdated concept. More recently, at least in the United States, marriage has been redefined from what it has traditionally been known as. In the legal sphere as well as many social ones, marriage has been redefined as a revisionist model mostly grounded in emotion or feelings of love. To celebrate a marriage means to have people declare their love to one another in front of their family and friends. From this perspective, marriages have what other relationships have, just more of it. You love your family and friends, but you really love your husband.

While perhaps vows have not changed between couples to love each other in times of difficulty and times of happiness, it seems like those sorts of vows can be negated by “falling out of love.” This partly may come from the socially acceptable precedent of using emotions as a universal guiding principle rather than a supplemental, informational add-on. However, change is inevitable (particularly within flighty feelings), in which case, divorce may be as well. This is, perhaps, why it is important to have an understanding of marriage that goes beyond feelings alone.

According to Ryan T. Anderson, a prominent figure in the marriage discussion, the traditional view of marriage is a “version of marriage as a bodily as well as an emotional and spiritual bond, distinguished [from other relationships] by its comprehensiveness … flowing out into the wide sharing of family life.” This is known as the conjugal view of marriage, a view that says marriage is between a man and a woman, forming a bond for the establishment of families. This sort of perspective emphasizes fidelity, commitment, loyalty, family life, as well as feelings of love. Within this understanding, marriage is, as Elder Holland puts it, the “union of their hearts, their hopes, their lives, their loves, their family, their future, their everything.” A conjugal union helps us understand that marriage is more than a declaration of love; it is a complete unifying of lives and purposes.

Relating Marriage to Divine Identity

This part is where we tend to diverge from other Christian denominations. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe we are literal spirit children of a Father (and Mother) in heaven. President Boyd K. Packer said, “You are a child of God. He is the father of your spirit. Spiritually, you are of noble birth, the offspring of the King of Heaven.” Even further, the Young Women’s theme reads: “I am a beloved daughter of heavenly parents, with a divine nature and eternal destiny [emphasis added].” We emphasize the word “parents” because we believe we have both a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. Our eternal destiny is to become as God is, to eternally progress and inherit all that He has. The pattern He has created for us to achieve this is through covenant relationships, specifically, the sealing covenant, where man and woman are sealed for time and all eternity with the purpose to create families and to teach them the gospel. This is an essential part of exaltation and continuing progression.

Our eternal destiny is to become as God is.

Other denominations believe that marriage is only for this life and that, while we may know each other, we will leave these earthly relationships behind and be in ‘oneness’ with God through worship. In Latter-day Saint theology, we do not believe that we need to give up these relationships to be with God again. While God is the focal point of our worship, we believe we come to him through our covenant relationships. One of the best lines in Les Miserables is at the end when they sing, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” We find this echoed in Latter-day Saint theology. We become like Him by living as He does.

Further endorsing the importance of our marital relationships, the church website states

A husband and wife who are sealed in the temple make sacred covenants with the Lord and with each other. These covenants assure them that their relationship will continue after this life if they are true to their commitments. They know that nothing, not even death, can separate them. Those who are married should consider their union as their most cherished earthly relationship.” 

Doctrine and Covenants 42:22 states, “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else.” The importance of eternal marriage in Latter-day Saint theology cannot be overstated. Frequently, apostles have recognized that the most important day of their lives was the day they were sealed to their eternal companion. Earthly life is ultimately to prepare for this sacred ordinance which points back to God and the manner in which He lives.

Connecting Marriage and Divine Identity to the Law of Chastity

With all this foundational information we can then ask the question: “If marriage and family is the pattern of heaven, what is the ultimate purpose of the law of chastity?” This type of questioning allows us to look beyond simply abstaining from sex before marriage. It allows us to look at the purpose of our lives and see how the law of chastity provides us with a way to achieve that eternal destiny. As President Nelson has told us, we should place our identities as children of God, disciples of Christ, and children of the covenant before all else. The law of chastity reflects this identity. If we are destined for eternity, we must live after the pattern of eternity. With this perspective, the law of chastity is not simply a list of “do nots”; it is a powerful covenant that we make in the temple which points to the kind of life that God has. Therefore, when we sin or break the law of chastity, it is not simply breaking a list of rules; we are saying that we do not want to live after the manner of heaventhat we do not want to live as God Himself does.

We should teach that sex is a wonderful thing.

Sometimes, though, in teaching the law of chastity, we leave out important information about what comes after marriage beyond marital fidelity. I (Brianna) have worked with women who struggle to engage in sexual intimacy with their husbands even after they are married. They feel that sex is a “dirty” or “bad thing.” Often, this related to how they were taught the law of chastity. They were taught that “sex is bad,” not “wait on the Lord’s timing.” On their website, we can find how the Church talks about physical intimacy. It reads: “It[sex] is an expression of love within marriage and allows husband and wife to participate in creation of life.” The Church does not teach that sex is only to create children. They do not teach that it is an inherently ‘bad’ thing. Indeed, they say that “it is an expression of love” as well as meant for creating families. This intent, however, can get lost in translation if we only talk about the law of chastity in terms of “do nots.”

Rather, we should teach that sex is a wonderful thing that can facilitate and solidify connections between husband and wife. However, it is meant to be kept within marriage. A useful example for teaching the youth might be getting a driver’s license. It is against the law to drive a car until you have taken a class, passed a test, and received the “right” and “privilege” to drive. Similarly, you should wait until marriage when you receive the rights and privileges associated with that covenant marriage ordained of God, which include physical intimacy. To quote Elder Holland again:

“Physical union ordained of God for a married couple deals with a symbol that demands special sanctity. Such an act of love between a man and woman is—or certainly was ordained to be—a symbol of total union …”

Perhaps it would be helpful to think of sex as the act of marriage, an action that serves as a symbol of covenant making and keeping, just as the weekly partaking of the sacrament serves as a symbol that we keep our baptismal covenants. 

Conclusion

It can feel hard to teach youth and young adults about the law of chastity, especially in today’s day and age when sex is casual and transactional. However, if we can root the law of chastity in the Lord’s plan of happiness and connect it with divine identity, it becomes much more than abstaining from sex before marriage. It becomes an essential component of God’s plan for our lives and the pattern in which we should live. Additionally, we can teach that sex is an incredibly good thing, just at the right time and with the right person. And importantly, we can teach the youth that they are worth waiting for and that they are worth the commitment that comes from covenant relationships. 

 

About the authors

Brianna Holmes

Brianna Holmes graduated with a degree in Marriage, Couples, and Family Counseling and is currently a practicing counselor in Utah. Her area of interest is how professionals can focus on the agentic nature of human beings in therapeutic practices. She and her husband are parents to four beautiful children.

Jacob Tubbs

Jacob Tubbs is in the Psychology Ph.D. program at the University of West Georgia. His dissertation is on the nature of joy and how classic children’s literature can aid people in experiencing joy in their lives. He and his wife have three beautiful girls.
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