I discuss sexual assault and victim shaming in this post. If this might be too distressing to you, please move on to my “Other observations about this lesson’s reading” or skip this post altogether. Otherwise, click the button below to read the post.
If I wanted to encourage thought and try to understand devout believers better, I might ask:
“Do you think they’ve been deprived of chastity and virtue?”
Things to consider:
The Book of Mormon tells us the Nephites raped many of their Lamanite prisoners during the last war between these peoples:
And notwithstanding this great abomination of the Lamanites, it doth not exceed that of our people in Moriantum. For behold, many of the daughters of the Lamanites have they taken prisoners; and after depriving them of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue
~ Moroni in Moroni 9:9, emphasis added
Notice how the verse frames chastity and virtue as “that which was most dear and precious above all things.” All things would include life and human dignity. I think this is an unhealthy and harmful perspective as I noted in If I Could Ask … Lesson 30 about the Church’s teaching that sexual sin is comparable to murder. Since the verse above affirms the preeminence of chastity and virtue in Mormonism, it also affirms the horror it is, according to the Church, to have one’s chastity and virtue diminished.
It is in this harmful framework that this verse tells us the Lamanites were raped. Even if you assume the best and afford the author the benefit of the doubt that they did not mean what they wrote, this language is terribly problematic. The way it is written indicates that a person is not as chaste and has less virtue because of being raped.
To clarify my point, let’s look at some definitions and some explanations by the Church itself.
With these definitions and explanations of chastity and virtue, Moroni’s words, seem to be teaching that because of being assaulted, rape victims are:
less clean and somehow less pleasing unto God.
not as morally excellent.
Let me state unequivocally that these conclusions are wrong, fallacious, harmful, and dangerous; and I’m pretty sure almost anybody who reads this would agree these conclusions are horribly wrong and unwarranted, so please don’t think I’m trying to say that Mormons in general try to shame rape victims or purposely think less of them. When I was a devout Mormon, I would have rejected conclusions about rape victims like those in the bullet list above, and I’m sure you reject them too whether you’re a devout, believing Saint or not, but that’s not the point.
Each person’s reaction to sexual violence is unique, but there are some effects that are common. Though a victim of sexual assault is never responsible for that assault, these are some possible effects of the assault:
Negative self-image; feeling “dirty” inside or out
Depression and sometimes thoughts of suicide
(various sources, for example “Common Reactions” by the Counseling Center, Loyola University Maryland)
Think of the impact Moroni’s words could have on sexual assault victims. Regardless of the author’s intent, if you tell a victim of rape that they were deprived of virtue, isn’t it likely you’re communicating and reinforcing the inaccurate and harmful conclusion that somehow that victim is less righteous and less pure because of the crime committed against them?
In 2016 the Church at least tacitly acknowledged the harm of linking rape with loss of chastity and virtue when it removed a Moroni 9:9 quote from the Young Women’s Personal Progress workbooks (KUTV). The Church has edited or deleted other things from the Book of Mormon; why not do the same to the unfortunate and harmful language in Moroni 9:9 itself?
I used to be a devout Mormon who preached that the Book of Mormon was God’s word and that a person “would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” I no longer believe in any God or gods, but if there is a God, I pray They forgive me for having promoted a book that teaches such horrific rape culture. For any who believed in this book because of my efforts and were harmed by its teachings, I am so sorry.
Other observations about this lesson’s reading:
It seems to categorize people in overly simplistic terms of good or bad, and I think that’s harmful (Moroni 7:11).
Instruction on how to discern that which is good and that which is bad seems incomplete at best (Moroni 7:16-17).
The foreknowledge of a God who knows all seems indistinguishable from predestination (Moroni 7:22).
I find Moroni’s discussion about faith, hope, and charity interesting and potentially helpful (Moroni 7:40-44, 47).
Moroni teaches a doctrine of redemption and baptism that seems incongruent with modern Mormonism (Moroni 8:10, 22-24).
The ambiguous word “endless” is used to describe torment (Moroni 8:21).