I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

What are the best ways to fight the horrors of child pornography and the sexual abuse of children?

Richard P. Lindsay, managing director of Church Public Communications/Special Affairs. Jesus loved children and reserved his harshest condemnation for those who offend them. (See Matt. 18:6.) Surely this judgment must apply to those who exploit and injure children and who influence others to do so through child pornography.

Pornography, according to the dictionary, is written, graphic, or other forms of communication intended to excite lascivious or lustful feelings. This definition applies to so-called “adult” magazines, to at least portions of many motion pictures, and to the use of children for pornographic purposes. This commonly accepted definition of pornography is quite different from the legal definition (called obscenity), which is much more liberal and normally applies to what could be called hard-core pornography.

Pornography is big business, grossing billions of dollars annually—almost as much money as the conventional movie and record industries combined. Pornography commands a sizable portion of the home video market, and there are hundreds of “porno” magazines on the market, including a growing number involving children. Most of these children are innocent and unwilling victims of adult depravity.

As pornography has become more popular, its content has changed. Much of it now portrays violence, degradation, and humiliation. Common themes include sadism, incest, child molestation, rape, and even murder. This underscores the belief that pornography is both addictive and progressive, leading the viewer to more explicit and deviant material in an attempt to achieve the same soul-destroying “high.”

The effect pornography has on the viewer is insidious. A growing body of evidence suggests that the more pornography a viewer sees, the more likely he will be to commit sex crimes. It is no coincidence that the last ten years have been marked by a rise in both pornography sales and crimes of sexual violence. Exposure to pornography contributes to a social climate in which crimes of aggression, mainly against women and children, come to appear more acceptable.

It is little wonder that the Lord has repeatedly told us that lust and his Spirit are incompatible.

Said Elder Gordon B. Hinckley in general conference: “I believe the challenge to oppose this evil is one from which members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as citizens, cannot shrink. And if we are ever to begin, let it be now.” Elder Hinckley then outlined a four-part program for fighting pornography. The program included:

1. “Begin with yourself. … We cannot hope to influence others in the direction of virtue unless we live lives of virtue.”

2. Train a better generation. “Cultivate within [your children] a taste for the best. While they are very young, read to them the great stories which have become immortal because of the virtues they teach. Expose them to good books.”

3. Earnest voices. “The building of public sentiment begins with a few earnest voices. … Let our voices be heard. I hope they will not be shrill voices, but I hope we shall speak with such conviction that those to whom we speak shall know of the strength of our feeling and the sincerity of our effort.”

4. Strength of God. “Strength to do battle begins with enlisting the strength of God. He is the source of all true power.” (Ensign, Nov. 1975, pp. 38–40.)

In addition to Elder Hinckley’s wise counsel, may I also suggest that we teach our children at an early age and in a positive way about our Father’s greatest earthly creation—the human body—and about the sacred gift of procreation. Then, probably sometime after baptism, we should discuss with our children our feelings about pornography. By then, most children are aware it exists. Hopefully, we can short-circuit pornography’s potentially destructive impact by dealing with it in a straightforward, sensitive way—in a gospel perspective—before the images overwhelm our children’s minds. (The new Family Home Evening Resource Book has some excellent lessons parents can use to discuss the topic.)

Sexual abuse of children includes everything from a stranger exposing himself to a child to incest.

The idea that anyone, especially a parent or sibling, would sexually exploit and molest a little child is foreign and repulsive to all right-thinking people. Many believe that most of the sexual abuse of children is perpetrated by strangers. Various studies show, however, that in a majority of cases, the victim was molested by either a relative or an acquaintance—someone the child knew and would be expected to trust.

Child sexual abuse is increasing and is, therefore, increasing as a potential risk for all children.

Knowing how to protect our children from sexual abuse is difficult because we want our children to be warm and loving and spontaneous with their affection. We don’t want them to be overly suspicious and afraid of loving relationships. But children need to be taught the difference between acceptable and unacceptable ways for them to be touched, as well as who has the right to touch them. If we give them proper guidance and reinforcement, their own feelings are usually a reliable guide to the difference between normal affection and sexual molestation.

If we communicate openly with our children, hopefully they will have the confidence to come to us if they are “mixed-up” about a contact with an adult.

But what should we do if a child is sexually molested? The following ideas from some experienced experts may provide helpful guidelines:

—Give the child the benefit of the doubt if he tells you he has been molested. Children rarely make up such things. Assume the child is right unless you find irrefutable evidence to the contrary.

—Tell the child that he or she did the right thing in telling you. Most molesters threaten the child to keep the incident a secret. Simply by telling you, the child will likely relieve an enormous burden of guilt and fear.

—Help the child clearly understand that the responsibility and the blame rest with the molester. Spend time with the child to help restore or improve self-esteem.

—Report the molester to the police, even if the molester is a friend or a relative. Let the child know you are going to do this. In most areas, the law requires that even suspected cases of sexual abuse be reported and that those who report them be protected. Sexual molestation is seldom a one-time offense; trying to protect a molester almost always worsens the situation and validates the molester’s behavior. In the long run, being caught may be the best thing for the molester himself. He may then be in a position to receive counseling and rehabilitation.

What limitations are placed on Satan? Can he put thoughts into our minds? Can he perceive our thoughts?

Lawrence R. Peterson, Jr., high councilor, Salt Lake Brighton Stake. One of the most impressive doctrines found in the Book of Mormon is that Satan’s power over a person increases as that person becomes more wicked, until eventually the person is “taken captive by the devil” and bound with the “chains of hell.” (Alma 12:11.) Satan’s method is to influence the thoughts of men, tempting them and enticing them, always working “in the hearts of the children of men.” (2 Ne. 28:20.) Nephi chillingly describes the method: “He whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.” (2 Ne. 28:22.)

But Satan’s power is not unrestrained. Joseph Smith taught that Satan has no power over us unless we give it to him. (See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 181.) And Nephi explained that the righteousness of a people deprives Satan of his power, “for he hath no power over the hearts of the people, for they dwell in righteousness.” (1 Ne. 22:26.)

Between the extremes of Satan’s power to captivate and of his utter powerlessness stretches the spectrum of his ability to entice or tempt. As a being of spirit, he works in the realm of spirit, counterbalanced by the Spirit of God. In this way, free agency is preserved, giving us a choice between good and evil. As Lehi taught, “Man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.” (2 Ne. 2:16.) If Satan entices us to do evil, so the Holy Spirit “entices” us to virtue. (See Mosiah 3:19.) Free agency demands that neither the Holy Spirit nor the evil spirit have power to control the person against his will.

Each of these forces, being spiritual, works directly on the mind of man—or the heart, as the scriptures call it—until the individual willfully chooses to obey one and ignore the other. Then the balance of power shifts and the person begins to move upward to eternal life or downward to destruction and misery. A person who has elected baptism and received the gift of the Holy Ghost has shifted the balance greatly in favor of God’s influence, whereas a person whose wickedness has caused his conscience to be “seared with a hot iron,” as Paul says (1 Tim. 4:2), may have put himself wholly within the realm of Satan’s influence. The spirit of the Lord may cease to strive with such a person. (See 1 Ne. 7:14.)

In his effort to entice, Satan has great power. As Elder Joseph Fielding Smith taught, “We should be on guard always to resist Satan’s advances. … He has power to place thoughts in our minds and to whisper to us in unspoken impressions to entice us to satisfy our appetites or desires and in various other ways he plays upon our weaknesses and desires.” (Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., 5 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957–66, 3:81.) The temptations we all are subject to often take the form of whisperings and promptings to our minds and hearts.

The question of whether Satan can perceive our thoughts is not so easily answered. In a statement in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord says to Oliver Cowdery, “There is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart.” (D&C 6:16.)

Some have interpreted the statement to mean that God is the only being who can know another’s thoughts. As support, they point to Moses 4:6 in the Pearl of Great Price, which says that Satan does not know the mind of God. Others suggest that in D&C 6:16 (and D&C 6:24) the Lord may be referring to man’s inability to know another’s thoughts, and that Moses 4:6 doesn’t say anything about Satan knowing man’s thoughts. The question is thus not addressed as to whether or not Satan can directly discern the thoughts and intents of our hearts.

Whatever the answer may finally be, it is possible that Satan can at least determine our susceptibility to a particular temptation from our words and actions, which reveal our thoughts. As the Savior taught, a tree is known by its fruit and “of the abundance of the heart [the] mouth speaketh.” (Luke 6:45–46.) Satan can see our fruits as well as any person—and we can be certain that he’ll be quick to take advantage of the weaknesses we exhibit.

The question of Satan’s ability to know our thoughts is an interesting one. But in the end, it probably doesn’t make much difference what seeming opportunities Satan has. We’re promised that we won’t be tempted beyond our ability to withstand (see 1 Cor. 10:13); we can consistently choose to resist all forms of temptation, if that is our desire.

President Kimball has written, “Temptations come to all people. The difference between the reprobate and the worthy person is generally that one yielded and the other resisted.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969, p. 86.)

By desiring to serve God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, we can eliminate Satan’s power over us—which is the power to cause us misery. The battle for the souls of men is fought within every heart, and each of us has the power of victory. As we seek to follow the Savior, we should strive to have such pure thoughts that it will make little difference who knows them.