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Thursday, August 26, 2010

The question of oral sex in LDS marriage: Part 2

There’s more to say about the mysterious 1982 letter on oral sex from the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

There is no way to view the original document. It cannot be retrieved from LDS Church Headquarters without proper authorization. A copy of the letter can be found online, but be aware that this letter was not intended to be released to the public and any copies found may have been doctored. Most importantly, it was never canonized as any kind of scripture.


After analyzing a more complete copy of the letter that is being circulated, it is my personal conclusion that the letter itself may have been tampered with.

Grammatically the whole sentence starting with “The First Presidency has interpreted…” seems to come out of nowhere. It reads too much like it was added after the fact. The very next sentence “If a person is engaged in…” picks up like the previous one never existed. The whole document is structurally congruent except for that one sentence.

Another inconsistency that I observed was that the sentence right before “The First Presidency has interpreted…” emphasizes to the leaders to give “counseling without going into clinical detail”, and then the very next sentence jumps right into a very intimate, clinical detail. It was a very jarring contradiction. As I was reading it, I was hearing that Sesame Street song going through my head – “One of these things is not like the other, c’mon now, can you tell which one?”

When dealing with apocryphal documents of this sort being circulated, one thing that we have to keep in mind is the example of the missing 116 pages from the Book of Lehi. The 116 pages of translation were stolen while in the possession of Martin Harris. This account can be found in the book “Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” on page 8.

Joseph Smith was commanded by God not to re-translate those pages. Now that they were potentially in the hands of those that wanted to destroy the church, they could be manipulated in a way that would be used to discredit the work that Joseph Smith had done. (Doctrine and Covenants 10:10-12) Since this letter has been circulated on the Internet by questionable sources, I have to conclude that a similar situation could exist in this case. Manipulating the letter with today’s technology would be easy to do.

Even if I’m wrong, there are other factors to consider here. After reading this letter, my memory was jogged to another inconsistency. If oral sex in marriage was even a minor sin, President Kimball (who’s shown as having signed the letter) would have mentioned it in “The Miracle of Forgiveness.”

Spencer W. Kimball was the champion of the law of chastity in the 70’s and 80’s. If President Kimball felt that oral sex in marriage was immoral, unnatural, unholy or impure in any degree, why wouldn't he spell it out in his book.

It was not in his book, nor is the denouncement of oral sex in marriage found in any Church Conference talk anywhere, at any time.

Reason causes me to conclude that the part of the letter that says, “The First Presidency has interpreted oral sex as constituting an unnatural, impure and unholy practice.” is suspect, to say the least, and thus cannot be taken as official Church doctrine on the subject.

For those who may want more historical background on the “oral sex” letter and what happened afterward, as well as the Church’s current stand on sexual practices in marriage, this link gives good clarification:
http://content.lib.utah.edu/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/dialogue&CISOPTR=13795&CISOSHOW=13657&REC=4

This is an article written by Romel Mackelprang, a former professor at BYU. His article talks about a follow up letter that was sent by the first presidency that essentially rescinds the first. It also concurs with my belief and understanding of the Church’s current position on sexual practices in marriage - including oral sex. I would especially recommend reading pages 60-61 of the article, entitled “And They Shall Be One Flesh: Sexuality and Contemporary Mormonism.”

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I recall the letter when it first came out. My Stake President actually read it during a Stake Priesthood meeting! Even though it was not intended to be read to the congregation.

The fact is, this was, as you pointed out, the opinions of the 1st Presidency at the time. It was not doctrine, but did cause a lot of problems for those who were aware of the letter.

As you have pointed out, doctrine is consistently taught to the members. There have been no comments/statements by any of the GA's (that I have been able to find) that have upheld the 1982 letter. You didn't mention it, but another letter followed about 6 months later (funny that the anti's don't mention this letter), which basically retracted the 1st letter and told the priesthood leaders to stay out of the bedrooms of the members.

The statement "if a certain action concerns you enough that you would inquire about it to your Bishop, then you should probably discontinue the act (paraphrased)", could be good advice to some members, but damaging to others. Suppose that a member struggles with some of the aesthetic teachings of their parents, and feels that anything other than missionary position is carnal, or that sex is just for having kids, and therefore feels guilty for having sex other than for procreation... the advice given in the letter would give that person the support that they need in order to continue to feel that their feelings are right. After all, the statement did come from the 1st Presidency.

Anonymous said...

I was in a temple interview in that time period. My bishop asked if I had participated in oral or anal sex or any other unholy or impure practice. In later years, i had occasion to speak to an LDS marriage counselor about that very question in the temple interview. He verified that it was an authorized temple question but was short lived. It caused so much distress within the membership of the church that it was removed soon after it's appearance.
As recently as 2009, my stake presidents 2nd counselor, in an interview, declared to me that he "could ask me ANY question (he) wanted".
Sent chills down my spine! Unrighteous dominion STILL reins rampantin the church.

Check out The Gospel Perspective on Morality, BYU Student Manual 1998 ed. You'll find more about oral sex and other unholy or impure practices.

Quicksilver

CoachSam said...

Dear Quicksilver:

Thank you for your comment. On matters of moral cleanliness for the single students, I believe it was appropriate to put that in the BYU student manual. Oral sex is still an unholy and impure practice…OUTSIDE of marriage.

INSIDE of marriage, it is left to the discretion of each married couple whether or not any sexual practice is appropriate for them. Joseph F. Smith stated that sexual intimacy in marriage is the very definition of what is holy and pure. The Church will not decide matters of sexual intimacy for married couples.

You give a perfect example from your own experience why it was necessary for a second letter to be issued after the “oral sex” letter to the bishops and stake presidents. It was vital to reemphasize the necessity of the leaders’ staying out of the married members’ sex lives and practices.

I wouldn’t categorize your second counselor’s statement as “unrighteous dominion” necessarily. I would prefer to consider it ignorance. Church leaders are human beings. Typically, they’re not professionally trained ministers or counselors. They are, however, required to read their Handbooks of Instruction and to follow them, and to attend their leadership training. There’s a lot to learn in a calling like that.

A member of the bishopric or stake presidency in a temple recommend interview can ask you any question, if he’s just making conversation during the interview. He can generally answer questions using the scriptures or official doctrine of the Church.

When it comes to worthiness, according to the Handbook of Instructions 2 which can also be accessed at this link to the official Church website:

http://lds.org/handbook/handbook-2-administering-the-church/uniformity-and-adaptation?lang=eng

Item 17.1.2 states “The commandments of the Lord and the worthiness standards of the Church are given in the scriptures and in official communications from the First Presidency. Local leaders should not alter these commandments and standards. Nor should local leaders teach their own rules or interpretations regarding the commandments.

The worthiness standards for temple attendance are detailed in the interview questions found in the temple recommend book. Local leaders should not alter these.” (emphasis added)

I interpret this to mean that Church leaders are not allowed to deviate from the temple recommend interview questions as they are written, nor give their own interpretation of what they mean. They can answer questions members ask about sexual practices using the scriptures or official Church doctrine, but should not probe for details.

Again, for those who may want more historical background on the “oral sex” letter and what happened afterward, as well as the Church’s current stand on sexual practices in marriage, this link gives good clarification:
http://content.lib.utah.edu/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/dialogue&CISOPTR=13795&CISOSHOW=13657&REC=4

This is an article written by Romel Mackelprang, a former professor at BYU. The article concurs with my belief and understanding of the Church’s current position on sexual practices in marriage, including oral sex. I would especially read pages 60-61 of the article, entitled “And They Shall Be One Flesh: Sexuality and Contemporary Mormonism.”

I would also recommend reading my blog post, “Is the Bishop In Your Bedroom?”

http://ldsmarriagebed.blogspot.com/2011/02/is-bishop-in-your-bedroom.html

This article gives further information on the local leader’s role in counseling married members about their married sexual practices.

Please let me know if you need further clarification or addition official Church references from the scriptures or www.lds.org.