The idea of romantic love, so commonplace that it is touched upon in virtually every book or movie or magazine, is also at the very center of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As President Boyd K. Packer put it, “Romantic love is not only a part of life, but literally a dominating influence of it. It is deeply and significantly religious. There is no abundant life without it. Indeed, the highest degree of the celestial kingdom is unattainable in the absence of it” (BYU Fireside, Nov. 3, 1963).
The other side of this coin, of course, is represented by what Alma told his wayward son, Corianton, who had gone after the Lamanite harlot Isabel. He said to his son: “Know ye not, … 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?” (Alma 39:5).
Sometimes we give as reasons for the law of chastity the risk of pregnancy or abortion, the possibility of an unwanted or embarrassing marriage, or the chance of a terrible venereal disease. With adultery, we talk about the damage of destroying an existing marriage or family. As serious as these things are, I’m not sure they are the fundamental reason for the Lord’s having placed this commandment ahead of armed robbery and fraud in the seriousness of sins.
Think of it—unchastity is second only to murder. Perhaps there is a common element in those two things—unchastity and murder. Both have to do with life, which touches upon the highest of divine powers. Murder involves the wrongful taking of life; sexual transgression may involve the wrongful giving of life, or the wrongful tampering with the sacred fountains of life-giving power.
I have been around enough to know that this is not the first time you have ever heard this subject mentioned. But I have also been around enough to know that no matter what you have heard and no matter how often, today we live in a world so completely soaked through with tragically wrong and evil ideas about sex that you must be warned—in love and kindness, but warned—lest the moral sleeping sickness that is overcoming the whole world calm you into deadly slumber.
It’s now simply a fact that most of those who write and most of those who produce today’s movies, TV programs, and popular music, as well as those who set the editorial policies of many magazines, believe that sex outside of marriage is really quite harmless. On this particular subject of sexual morality, I honestly believe our society is within the grip of the evil one.
Can you see why the Brethren tell us to stay away from X- and R-rated movies? Can you see why they plead with us to avoid drugs, alcohol, vulgar music, and the other products of the carnal environment that now surrounds us almost as water surrounds the fish of the sea? These aren’t trivial things. If the H-bomb symbolizes our age, we are playing now not just with fire, but with nuclear power. The prince of darkness has dragged out the heavy artillery.
Let me talk now, on the other hand, about the more positive aspects of the law of chastity, because that part of the law is fundamental and important. President Packer said:
“Oh, youth, the requirements of the Church are the highway to love, with guardrails securely in place, with help along the way. How foolish is the youth who feels the Church is a fence around love to keep him out. How fortunate is the young person who follows the standards of the Church, even if just from sheer obedience or habit, for he will find rapture and a joy fulfilled.”
Properly understood, then, the scriptures counsel us to be virtuous not because romantic love is bad, but precisely because romantic love is so good. It is not only good; it is pure, precious, even sacred and holy. For that reason, one of Satan’s cheapest and dirtiest tricks is to make profane that which is sacred.
May I suggest now eight brief, practical steps for those who would one day be true sweethearts, based on a foundation of righteous living.
1. Have reverence for the human body and the life-giving powers of that body. Your body is a temple. It is sacred and holy. It is also the dwelling place of the seeds of human life, the nurturing of which, with your chosen companion, within the bounds set by God himself, is lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy (see A of F 1:13).
2. During the time of courtship, please be emotionally honest in the expression of affection. Sometimes you are not as careful as you might be about when, how, and to whom you express your feelings of affection. You must realize that the desire to express affection can be motivated by other things than true love.
In short, save your kisses—you might need them someday.
3. Be friends first and sweethearts second. University professor Lowell Bennion once said that relationships between young men and young women should be built like a pyramid. The base of the pyramid is friendship. And the ascending layers are built of things like time, understanding, respect, and restraint. Right at the top of the pyramid is a glittering little mystery called romance.
Now, you don’t have to be very smart to know that a pyramid won’t stand up very long if you stand it on its point instead of its base. In other words, be friends first and sweethearts later, not the other way around. Otherwise, people who think they are sweethearts may discover they can’t be very good friends, and by then it may be too late.
4. Develop the power of self-discipline and self-restraint. Please remember that nobody ever fell off a cliff who never went near one. You’ve got to be like Joseph, not like David. When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him, the scripture says, Joseph “fled, and got him out” (Gen. 39:12). Joseph knew that it is wiser to avoid temptation than to resist it.
In your courtships, even when you feel there is a growing foundation of true love, show your profound respect for that love and the possibilities of your life together by restraining your passions. Please don’t be deceived by the false notion that anything short of the sex act itself is acceptable conduct. That is a lie, not only because one step overpoweringly leads to another, but also because the handling of another’s body is in an important sense part of the sexual act that is kept holy by the sanctuary of chastity.
If ever you are in doubt about where the line is between love and lust, draw the line toward the side of love.
5. Live for the presence of the Holy Spirit, that you may have it as your constant guide. Don’t date someone you already know you would not ever want to marry. If you should fall in love with someone you shouldn’t marry, you make it more difficult for the Lord to guide you away from that person after you are already emotionally committed. It is difficult enough to tune your spiritual receiver to the whisperings of heaven without jamming up the channel with the loud thunder of romantic emotion.
The key to spiritual guidance is found in one word: worthiness. Those who garnish their thoughts with virtue have the Spirit and have confidence in God’s presence (see D&C 121:45–46). Those who have lust in their hearts can’t have the Spirit (see D&C 63:16–17).
6. Avoid the habit of feeling sorry for yourself, and don’t worry excessively about those times when you feel socially unsuccessful. Everybody in the world doesn’t have to marry you—it only takes one. Remember: “Worry not that you are not well known. Seek to be worth knowing.”
There are times when we wonder if the Lord loves us; we wonder if other people love us. And so we mistakenly seek the symbols of success—whether that is being popular or being rich or being famous within our own sphere. You might be tempted to let someone take improper liberties with you, or you may indulge yourself in some practice that seems to bring temporary relief but only makes you feel worse in the long run.
Ultimately, however, only the Lord’s approval of our lives really matters. If you seek to be worth knowing and seek to do His will, all the rest will take care of itself. Never forget that all things work together for good to them who love God (see Rom. 8:28).
7. Avoid at all costs, no matter what the circumstances, abortion and homosexuality. As serious as is fornication or adultery, you must understand that abortion and homosexuality are equally wrong and may be worse. Even persons who only assist others, much less pressure them, to have an abortion are in jeopardy of being denied the privilege of missionary service. They may also be called upon to face a Church disciplinary council, at the peril of their membership in the Church.
8. If, through some unfortunate experience in your past, you have committed a moral transgression of this kind, there is a way by which you may receive full forgiveness. There is no more glorious language in all scripture than the words of Isaiah, speaking as if it were by the voice of the Lord himself:
“Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
“If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land” (Isa. 1:18–19).
If your transgressions are of the serious kind, you will need to see your bishop and voluntarily offer a full and complete confession. As frightening as that experience may seem to you, by this means you will find purpose and a peace of mind more hopeful and uplifting than you can now imagine.
For all that I have said by way of warning about the social conditions of the day or the limits we must place on ourselves, I’d like you to remember that the teachings of the gospel about romantic love are full of hope and peace and joy of the most uplifting and everlasting kind.
I testify to you with all my heart that the commandments of God are designed for our ultimate happiness, and that being sweethearts in the way the Lord intended it is worth waiting for.