The following is a talk I gave on pornography in sacrament meeting on October 11, 2009.
Brothers and sisters, it is an honor to serve you as bishop. Over a period of months, I have felt strongly impressed to talk to you about an important matter. Our ward goals this year have included the goal of understanding repentance more fully, and my talk will address an aspect of that.
One thing that has troubled me deeply as bishop is the use of pornography. Since I have been called, this topic has been discussed frequently during private interviews in my office. I am aware that, in very rare instances, pornography is used by women, though no woman has ever come to me to discuss this issue. The great majority who view it are men. [Men by nature have a visual orientation which allows them to be instantly stimulated by something they see, whether real or on the printed page or represented as pixels on a screen.]
Elder Richard G. Scott spoke of pornography at general conference last weekend.
“Satan has become a master at using the addictive power of pornography to limit individual capacity to be led by the Spirit. The onslaught of pornography in all of its...forms has caused great grief, suffering, heartache, and destroyed marriages. It is one of the most damning influences on earth.
“Whether it be through the printed page, movies, television, obscene [song] lyrics, vulgarities on the telephone, or [on a] flickering personal computer screen, pornography is overpoweringly addictive and severely damaging. This potent tool of Lucifer degrades the mind, and the heart, and the soul of any who use it.
“All who are caught in its seductive...web and remain so will become addicted to its immoral, destructive influence. For many, that addiction cannot be overcome without help. The tragic pattern is so familiar. It begins with curiosity that is fueled by its stimulation and is justified by the false premise that when done privately, it does no harm to anyone else. For those lulled by this lie, the experimentation goes deeper...until the trap closes and [the] addictive habit exercises its vicious control.
“Participation in pornography in any of its...forms is a manifestation of unbridled selfishness. How can a man, particularly a priesthood bearer, not think of the emotional and spiritual damage caused to...his wife, by such...activity?
“Well did inspired Nephi declare, ‘And [the devil] will . . . pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, . . . and thus [he] cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” (2 Nephi 28:21.)
Trouble with pornography usually begins during the teenage years, though sometimes even in childhood, and often, when viewed over long periods, what starts out as boyish curiosity develops into an addiction.
When a man believes that he can overcome this problem all by himself, the hungry lion of addiction may be subdued for a time, only to come roaring to the surface again when he encounters some unresolved feeling or emotion, when, solitary and late at night, the beast comes to devour its prey once again.
One of the hallmarks of the use of pornography is secrecy—the rush of risky behavior is part of the thrill. With desktop computers, laptops and even handheld devices, viewing vulgar and torrid imagery is convenient and easily kept under wraps, especially by the technically savvy.
One disheartening pattern I’ve observed in the cycle of addiction goes like this: A man comes humbly forward seeking help. As he reaches out for it, the help most surely comes. Confession may be painful and difficult, but more often than not, he finds that he is fully supported by his bishop, a patient, loving wife and often parents. After several months, when the issue appears to be under control, the man stops meeting with the bishop or seeking other help, and considers himself free of the addiction.
Then when that hungry lion comes to pay a surprise visit once again, the man or boy is understandably ashamed and is loath to confess his behavior to his bishop, wife or parents. With clenched fists, this determined soul pulls himself away from the great maw of the lion, and, rather than stirring up shame or suspicion, he tries to go it alone. He prays desperately for strength and finds it to a degree. “I can do this,” he tells himself. “No one needs to know so no one will be hurt except me.”
He may be successful for a time, for months or even years, in keeping the lion at bay, only to be suddenly overcome and mauled once again. The cycle of shame and secrecy continues as the man does his best to hold his head up, functioning in the Church, but with eyes that often look downward, a diminished spirituality, a reluctance to use his priesthood, and as the gap widens, he snarls at authority and his anger is set off by mere sparks.
The on-again/off-again use of pornography encourages what I think of as circumstantial obedience. The temptation is that one can clean up his act long enough to feel good about performing a baptismal ordinance or going to the temple to witness a marriage, only to be clawed to shreds again after the pressure lets up.
Circumstantial obedience cannot save us. It will never save any of us. It will only weaken us at the joints, so that when the wind blows with terrific force, we won’t be able to stand: it will flatten us. And in the near future, we will see that wind blow harder than we have ever seen it blow before.
So what is to be done? What can we do to break this cycle once and for all and to starve the lion to death?
We all know the answer: the answer lies in our Savior and His atonement. We know that, but we do not fully subscribe to the power by which He can and will help us to overcome any addiction, any sin, any burden whatsoever.
When we think that we can work out our salvation and gain the strength to overcome great obstacles all on our own, in the privacy of our own souls, we are misled. To overcome this misconception, we must understand and follow the true steps of repentance in faith. I find that it is not so much the sin but the refusal to properly repent that steers us off the path. Some of the steps of repentance include:
1. Full recognition of and accountability for sin.
2. Genuine, sincere sorrow for the sin. Godly sorrow is being sorry for offending God and loved ones.
3. Full and voluntary confession to God, and, when serious, as is the case with pornography, to your bishop and to other persons involved, including spouse.
4. Forsaking the sin and never returning to it.
5. To the best of your ability restoring what has been lost or stolen, whether it be money, property or trust.
6. Enduring to the end in faith and obedience.
I’ll focus on just the first aspect of repentance here that will likely help anyone among us who is struggling with an addiction to pornography or other serious sin. It is full recognition and accountability.
We sometimes try and try to forsake a sin, only to have it tear us open again. Sin has power over us when we leave something out of our spiritual lives. One step that will help a great deal is full and complete accountability—accountability to God, to ourselves, to our wives, parents, close associates, at times to our children, and in the case of serious transgression, our bishop.
Only by being fully accountable and aware of the lion and its enormous claws can you begin to escape from it. Turn to the Lord and plead for His help, “casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
We all need help—we all do in one area or another—and we know as members of the Church where to turn for it. Don’t deny yourself the privileges to which you are entitled, that is, the opportunity, with the help of the Lord, and others, to be clean and to make all things right again. Move towards your Heavenly Father, not away from Him. Turn up all the lights to full power. Lock the lion in his cage and stop feeding him.
Pornography strikes fiercely at trust, the very root of the marriage relationship. Accountability is part of the foundation of that trust. President Munk has advised all the bishops in the stake to encourage young women preparing for marriage to ask their fiancé whether or not he has had any exposure to pornography and to what extent. Any wife, especially a wife of a man who holds the holy priesthood and to whom she is sealed in the temple, is fully entitled to know if her husband has viewed or continues to view pornography.
The relationship between a husband and wife is preeminent. It is the most important of any relationship we will or can ever have. Parents and children may remain together for many years, but the ultimate goal is for each of our children to marry and to move out of the home. If uninterrupted by death, transgression or divorce, the marriage relationship continues for life and into eternity.
President Hinckley has taught:
“Let us not live a life…that would bring regret...It is not going to matter very much how much money you made, what kind of a house you lived in, what kind of a car you drove, the size of your bank account—any of those things. What is going to matter is that dear woman who has walked with you side by side as your companion through all of the years of life and those children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and their faithfulness and their looking to you…with respect and love and deference and kindness.” (“Inspirational Thoughts,” Liahona, Mar. 2006, 3–4.)
The quality of your marriage relationship can and should have a protective influence for both of you. If husband and wife are fully committed to each other, no matter how bad the weather gets, that commitment will protect them and their happiness
Elder Dallin H. Oaks said at a recent conference:
“Latter-day Saint spouses should do all within their power to preserve their marriages...they should be best friends, kind and considerate, sensitive to each other’s needs, always seeking to make each other happy. They should be partners in family finances, working together to regulate their desires.” (“Divorce,” Ensign, May 2007, 72.)
Finally, let me close by giving you my assurance that this ravenous lion can be completely subdued if husband and wife work together, hand in hand, and in partnership with your bishop. All the help you need is readily at hand for the taking. The check has already been written; it is up to you to cash it.
Husbands, recognize what you must do to be free. Be accountable to yourself, to your wife, your bishop and your Heavenly Father. Wives, make it safer for you husbands to deal with their shame and to be accountable to you. If together you create an environment where you can communicate all your feelings in safety, without recrimination, progress will be readily made. While trust is conditional, your love need not be, and your willingness to forgive one another is an important doorway to eternity that only you may open for each other. A wife’s confidence in her husband can be the most motivating influence he will ever have.
May we, before the Lord our Maker, be true to ourselves and to one another always, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.