There’s been a lot of discussion here about marijuana being a “gateway” drug, a fairly minor offense that leads to bigger crimes and harder drugs.  Why is this so?  There seem to be three different views about this:

  1. The gateway drug leads to escalating behavior; it is not enough over time to satisfy the lust for drug, and so it is a stepping stone to harder stuff.
  2. The criminalization itself leads to harder stuff, for a variety of reasons:  a) more access to the “seedy underbelly” of society who entice one with the harder stuff, b) a sense that “all is lost” or that once one is already tainted, why not throw all caution to the wind?
  3. The concept of a “gateway drug” is nonsense and not supported by data.  Pot heads smoke pot.  They don’t shoot heroin or die in crack dens.  Any linkages are at the dealer, not user level or are correlation, not causation.

The second view is generally held by those who would say decriminalizing pot is the way to go.  Rather than rehashing (no pun intended) the marijuana discussion, I wanted to talk about the concept of “gateway sins,” minor things at church that can either (if you subscribe to #2 or #3 above) be blown way out of proportion or (if you subscribe to #1 above) lead you quickly down the slippery slope to hell.  Here are some possible “gateway sins” you might hear decried at church:

  • Men with facial hairWhat are they hiding?  I’ve also noticed women don’t get any flack for this one.
  • Men who wear blue shirts to churchOur team wears white, so they must want to play for another team.
  • Women who wear pants to churchObviously they are trying to exert some sort of female power to undermine the priesthood.
  • Parents whose Primary age daughters wear sundresses to churchWhores in training.
  • People who use “you” instead of “thou” in prayersThis one’s a biggie with those who misunderstand that “thou” is the familiar form, not the more honorific form.
  • Swearing.  Obviously, the most righteous won’t even swear when reading it straight out of scriptures, instead substituting “h – e – double – hockey – sticks” or “that thing that beavers build.”
  • Tatoos.  Especially the dreaded tramp stamp.
  • Earrings.  3 or more in women, 1 or more in men.  Probably there to hide the sucubus scars.
  • Skipping church.  There are varying types of sinners on this one: 1) feeling obligated to explain why one’s absence was an anomaly and not indicative of less righteousness, 2) secretly hoping one was missed, and 3) not giving a crap what others think.
  • R-rated movies.  According to the MPAA, those stalwart bastions of morality whose unfailing judgment has always been an infallible guide.
  • Not reading scriptures.  Actually,  I think this one is only a private one since most fellow Mormons I know claim to read them but have never actually finished them.
  • Talking to apostates.  It clearly didn’t do Jesus any good hanging around all those publicans and sinners; he ultimately left Judaism after all.

Many of those are just “outward” things that may cause judgmentalism among members.  Some of these were listed off in a recent Sunday School class, which was interesting.  The teacher pulled one of the students to the front, a guy in a blue shirt and jeans (no less) and talked about how people might be judging him for that.  I mean, if they weren’t judging him before, now they had full opportunity to do so.  Then, to keep it gender neutral, the teacher mentioned that members might be judging a woman for wearing pants to church, at which point a woman shouted out, “Hey, I’m wearing pants right now!”  I believe it was one of the Pharisee lessons.  Some weeks it’s hard to get in a good nap during Sunday School with all the excitement.

That’s not to say that minor infractions might not lead to greater sins.  Once you stop kowtowing to silly rules, some folks find it hard to distinguish between what’s arbitrary and what’s “God’s higher way” that we just don’t understand because we can’t see the big picture.  There may be a tendency to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Which is why there seem to be two schools of thought in the church:

  1. Build hedges about the law.  This is like the seminary story about the guy who boasts he can ride his horse right by the edge of the cliff, and then the other guy says he’ll stay as far from the cliff as he can (so he gets the job or doesn’t fall off the cliff, or something like that).  Sounds great and all for cliffs, but when you start outlawing things arbitrarily, like pants, earrings, facial hair, etc., you trivialize actual sin by association.  For example, if you outlaw french kissing or staying out past midnight by putting it on par with pre-marital intercourse, then dumb kids who’ve french kissed or stayed out past midnight are already feeling naughty and sinful, so why not go for broke? 
  2. Give them correct principles, and let them govern themselves.  This one seems to be going out of vogue lately and does have the downside of diverse application.  Although the church may wish to be global, diversity is chaotic and lacks unity, and the church is a church of order.  For example, a “correct principle” might be to keep the Sabbath day holy, but that can be interpreted many different ways; of course, the strictest interpretation must be the most righteous one, at least according to those who interpret things the most strictly.

Personally, I think that some people like to try out a little sin because their heart’s just not in it – so they might get lax in some things as a way to dip their toe in.  And if it’s a passing fancy, we do have some pretty tame (or lame?) ways of being a badass.  But I also think that many people do these things without any sinful intent, instead subscribing more to a “correct principles” approach; they are following their interpretation of the spirit of the law, not trying to subscribe to someone else’s stricter interpretation of the letter of the law.  Of course, the caveat is that those who fall into the “stricter interpretation” category are also often those who aspire to lead in the church (and often their aspirations come true).  The strict ones may get more access to the mic.

So, where do your views fit?  Do you think some of these are gateway sins?  Do you think there is such a thing as a gateway sin?  What’s your view?  Discuss.