Today’s post is from Guest Blogger TommyT. We are relieved it’s not about the election!
Alma 39:5 – “Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?”
The predominant LDS theology about sexuality is that anything sexual outside of marriage is a sin nearly as serious as murder. This fallacious interpretation does a great disservice in understanding what is “most abominable.” On one hand this law of chastity theology honors and sanctifies procreation and sexual intimacy between a husband and wife. On the other hand, it also demonizes sexual intimacy outside of marriage as dirty, horrible, abominable, destructive and nearly as serious as murder. This takes something beautiful and divine in one context and associates it with things that are abominable just by changing the context.
But wait, what about Alma 39:5? It couldn’t be more clear, could it? Yes, it could. Alma doesn’t say what happened—just that it was abominable. So, what Corianton did is not known, but we all assume we know what happened. The lessons we hear in Sunday school, talks at general conference, and articles in the Ensign don’t explore the specifics. They refer to the passage and infer that sexual intimacy outside of marriage is what is abominable and above all sins except murder. I am not saying the power of procreation isn’t sacred–it is, but I think we need to revisit the Book of Mormon, find out what could have happened, and talk about what is an “abomination.”
Sexual Sins and Abominations:
So, I think it is important not to lump all sexual sins in the same basket, nearly as serious as murder. For example, there are a lot of things worse than consensual petting. Really, there are. To illustrate that all sins are not equal let’s compare a few examples:
- A 12-year-old boy who looks at a picture of a naked woman is not in the same category as the pornographer.
- Couples who get involved with petting are not in the same category as molesters.
- A couple who fornicates the day before their temple wedding is not in the same category as a prostitute.
Clearly there are differences between each of those situations. So, referring to chastity, where does sin end and “abomination” begin?
The bible dictionary defines abomination as an object that excites loathing like an idol, an immoral practice or the flesh of prohibited animals. The Topical Guide says to “See also Vile; Wickedness.” These definitions are not very helpful. A quick review of the topical guide seems to indicate that generally an “abomination” is a bad “sin.” Still, could we get a clear example of something abominable?
Mormon is more clear about the abomination of the Nephites. Mormon (Moroni 9:9) explains that the Nephites’ abomination “far exceeds” that of the Lamanites’ in “depriving them (the women) of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue.” Mormon doesn’t say rape but that is the vernacular we would use today for what he is describing. Substituting the idea of rape gives a lot of clarity when the Book of Mormon refers to something as an abomination.
So, the clearest example the Book of Mormon gives us (though not graphic) is that a sexual sin is abominable when there is rape. I would assume the actions of sexual predators, molesters and those who sexually assault others qualify in the “abomination” category. So, is petting outside marriage an abomination? No. Is it inappropriate outside marriage? Yes. Do you see the difference?
Corianton and Isabel; what happened and other conjecture
Let’s return to Corianton and Isabel. First, what do we know?
Alma 39: 3- 4
3 And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.
4 Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted.
To summarize; Corianton left the ministry and went to Siron after a harlot named Isabel. We like to think she stole his heart, though even that is conjecture.
We don’t know much more than that. We don’t have the full story. We don’t know if Corianton hired Isabel for sex as a whore? We don’t know if Corianton fell in love with Isabel and ran away with her. We don’t know how long this relationship lasted. Was it over a day, weeks, maybe months? What was the nature of the relationship between them? We don’t and can’t know; it is not in the record. We do know that Corianton left and returned home.
I could see a lot of scenarios about how this played out. On an extreme example, it’s possible that Corianton thought prostitution was a good business and left to set up a whore house with Isabel. Another extreme is that Corianton fell in love and went to marry his sweetheart. Since we don’t know, I’d like to imagine a few other scenarios even though they are pure conjecture.
Let’s list a few of the possibilities. This conjecture doesn’t really matter, but it does illustrate some helpful points.
A few possible scenarios are:
- Corianton fell in love and fornicated
- Corianton hired Isabel as a whore and fornicated
- Either Isabel or Corianton was a sexual predator
Scenario 1: Corianton fell in love and fornicated
This doesn’t seem to fit in the definition of “abominable” that the Book of Mormon describes. Poor decision making, to be sure, but “abominable”? I think not. Falling in love with a prostitute doesn’t justify the “abominable” title. We don’t even know if Corianton had sex with Isabel. He could have been a poor judge of character who got to Siron, realized what a dumb idea this whole business of running away was, and then got out of dodge. Although we don’t know, I doubt this is what happened.
Scenario 2: Corianton hired Isabel as a whore and fornicated
This doesn’t seem to fit the story line either; maybe it is true, but I don’t think so. Sometimes the scriptures tell us how much a whore is worth or how much someone paid for a whore, yet Alma doesn’t say. The record doesn’t even say if Corianton hired Isabel as a prostitute. Also, if Corianton had a prostitute habit, then Alma might have said something like “Thou hast done this before” or “Again, and again thou goest off awhoring”. Maybe this was a one-off thing, and Corianton just couldn’t get the idea of awhoring with Isabel off his mind. In a free exchange, prostitution is neither rape nor molestation.
But is prostitution “abominable”? Prostitution has a lot in common with one night stands. Either party in this exchange could use prostitution as a sexual predator. A sexual predator is a person seen as obtaining or trying to obtain sexual contact with another person in predatory or abusive manner. That leads me to scenario 3.
Scenario 3: Isabel or Corianton was a sexual predator
As odd as this sounds, this seems like an equally likely scenario as scenario 2. I would lean towards Isabel as the sexual predator because; “she did steal away the hearts of many,” though this is not necessarily the case. Corianton may have been the sexual predator but we know he left the situation. We don’t and can’t know.
I also think sexual predation is a likely scenario because Alma didn’t say; “Corianton! Thou hast fornicated! Thou hast lost that which is most precious and pure!” No, he simply said, “Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the lord.” That could be interpreted that as; “Dude, my son! She is a sexual predator! I warned you about that!”
I also wonder what “steal away the hearts of many” means. A couple of options exist. One suggestion is that Corianton fell in love. Maybe Corianton truly fell in love, in that case refer to scenario 1. On a side note, we all know of instances where an innocent person is in love with their abuser. Another suggestion is that Isabel took something that didn’t belong to her, Corianton’s heart. This second scenario could suggest that Isabel was a sexual predator.
That’s it for the conjecture.
My conclusion is this–the “abominable” act Alma was referring to between Corianton and Isabel was some sort of rape, molestation or sexual predation. These actions are abominable because they force, coerce, violate and/or deceive someone into unwanted and harmful sexual contact. Maybe prostitution is “abominable.” It is certainly far from divinely appointed, so maybe this is what Alma referring to. At least now we are trying to be more honest about what happened and not claiming that every act that breaks the law of chastity is “abominable” without nuance or gradation.
Sexuality is a divinely beautiful gift that we should not demean by association with “abominable” acts. These have their own category: abominations. We need to stop looking at the majority of sins that involve sexual intimacy outside marriage as abominable because they are not. There are things worse than NICMO, necking, Levi loving, petting and fornication. These include torture, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and abandoning children. At minimum, I think we can all agree on these.
- What do you think is the rest of the story?
- Is all sexual activity outside marriage an abomination or just some? Where do you draw the line between inappropriate acts, sin, and abomination?
- Would the church benefit from more clarity on these points?