In what some undoubtedly view as a hard-hitting video on YouTube—complete with sinister music—a critic of the Church asserts that Mormons belong to a cult because we teach that “DEATH is better than any form of immorality.” (Yes, the capital letters are in the video. Perhaps the video’s producer is doing his best to channel Jerald Tanner.)
The video (embedded at the end of this post) pulls together a few quotes about how some Mormons would rather their children give up their lives than give up their virtue (their chastity). It tries to imply that such teachings are Church doctrine, but no smoking gun is produced.
But how, then, is one to deal with the quotes provided in the video? Because they are stated by a few Mormon leaders, doesn’t that make them Mormon doctrine? Quite frankly, no it doesn’t. Mormons, as a group, fall into two general schools of thought when it comes to the idea of “better dead than unchaste.”
Some people—both in and out of the Church—feel that there are things more precious than life itself. It is up to the individual to determine what those things are. Some people would gladly die protecting their country. Some would gladly die protecting their families. Some would gladly die protecting their property. Some would gladly die protecting the rights of another. Some would gladly die to protect their own sense of honor. For example, a common phrase among some groups in the military is “death before dishonor.” (It is interesting that I can find no video by the critical producer asserting that the military is a cult because they promote the idea of “death before dishonor.”)
Each individual must make the decision of what—if anything—is more valuable than life. Some people may answer that there is nothing that is worth a human life. Both answers are fine; both are understandable.
Some LDS have come to the conclusion that personal purity—their own chastity—is more important than life. Other LDS do not agree, and think that such a determination is OK for the individual, but it should not be taught to others—particularly young people—because it leaves them feeling that their life is, indeed, worthless if they happen to lose their chastity. Both positions are understandable.
In the Church these days, both feelings can be found, both are accepted, and the determination of which is correct is left up to the individual. Despite what is shown in the critic’s YouTube video and what is presented in the quest for a good story in Richard Dutcher’s movie States of Grace, the “chastity is more important than life” school of thought has not been as noticeable in the past 25 or 30 years; indeed, it was at its height of viability in the first half of the twentieth century. These days it is seldom mentioned, unless it is taught within individual families.
That doesn’t stop the video’s producer from presenting dated quotes and asking “Would you rather that your sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, grandkids were dead in a pine box or casket, instead of immoral? Are these the teachings that you want to teach your children?”
Mormons in good standing can answer these questions in the positive or negative because this isn’t a Mormon doctrine. But the video doesn’t tell you that. Instead, it makes the following culminating statement:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, better known as “The Mormons”, is a cult that teaches DEATH is better than any form of immorality.
This is, of course, false. The teachings presented in the video are not the teachings of the Church, but of some in the Church. Have some taught it? Yes, they have. Is it doctrine? No, it is not.