Chastity before and after marriage is a critical component of building good marriages and stable societies. But why? What is it about chastity that caused prophets and apostles to tie it to the breakdown of the family and calamities? Paragraph 8 of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” states:
We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
This is a heavy paragraph that needs some unpacking to find out why this connection was specifically mentioned.
To start, let’s look at teachings found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. First, sexual intimacy is an essential component of marriage because it has the potential to create bodies for the spirits of Heavenly Father’s children. Second, not only is it tied to creating children, but it simultaneously creates powerful physical, emotional and spiritual bonds between a husband and wife.
Perhaps one of the greatest lessons taught on this subject in more recent decades comes from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in his landmark BYU devotional titled “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments.” Here, he teaches us the “why” behind chastity and sexual intimacy:
Human intimacy, that sacred, physical union ordained of God for a married couple, deals with a symbol that demands special sanctity. Such an act of love between a man and a woman is—or certainly was ordained to be—a symbol of total union: union of their hearts, their hopes, their lives, their love, their family, their future, their everything.
Sexual intimacy is cradled safely in the permanence of the marriage covenant, a union where husband and wife are united with all they possess; “their very hearts and minds, all their days and all their dreams. They work together, they cry together, they sacrifice and save and live together for all the abundance that such a totally intimate life provides such a couple. And the external symbol of that union, the physical manifestation of what is a far deeper spiritual and metaphysical bonding, is the physical blending that is part of—indeed, a most beautiful and gratifying expression of—that larger, more complete union of eternal purpose and promise.
Elder Holland explains that a deeper understanding of the role of human intimacy in God’s plan of happiness will do more to change behavior than perhaps anything else will. In other words, as a philosopher once said, “Tell me sufficiently why a thing should be done, and I will move heaven and earth to do it.” Elder Holland’s “why’s” can be enough to make us move heaven and earth to be faithful to chastity.
With so many today suffering the individual calamities and yearning for personal peace and happiness, it’s interesting to see that the family proclamation directs us to three key points of human behavior that will most impact the happiness and stability of individuals and nations: chastity, husband and wife relationships, and the fulfillment of family responsibilities.
Making the Chastity-Calamity Connection
One of the questions that often comes up with the eighth paragraph of the family proclamation is: Why did the prophets and apostles specifically tie chastity to 1) the breakdown of the family; and 2) global calamities? The calamities foretold are before our eyes and validate the prophetic warning of paragraph eight of the family proclamation. The disintegration of the family is measurable in social science data from paragraphs 4, 5, 6, and 7 of the annotated proclamation:
- In non-married parental households, there is more physical and sexual abuse of women and children.
- In the absence of marriage, there is more loneliness and less essential support.
- There are higher levels of depression and anxiety, more obesity, more addictions to drugs and alcohol, more STDs and their associated or accompanying health consequences, and more accidents and shorter lifespan. In short, married family life is the safest place for men, women, and children.
- Less marriage is bad economically. Studies show that singles are not as productive overall and that married men with three or more children are the most economically productive individuals.
- The retreat from married sexuality has correlated with less religious practice in general, and religious practice is a universal ingredient to thriving on every outcome measured in the federal data system: health, mental health, happiness, education, marriage and child well-being.
- Out of wedlock birth is one of the great calamities of our times. There were 15.6 million single mother-headed households in the United States in 2019. This is 3x the number in 1960. In 2018, 40% of all births in the United States were to unwed mothers and 21% of U.S. children live primarily with a single mother. More than 50% of births to mothers under age 30 were out of wedlock.
- From the very beginning, children born outside of marriage have life stacked against them. It is amply documented in professional literature that the absence of married parents is related to poor health at birth, delayed development in early childhood, poor academic performance in school, and higher prevalence of emotional and behavioral problems during childhood. The impact of out-of-wedlock birth and growing up in a single-parent family on the child is significant and can be permanent. Many of these problems exist even after controlling for family income and education. Hence, the decline of intact married family generates social and monetary poverty for future generations. (See Effects of Out-of-Wedlock Birth, Marripedia.Org)
- “These trends do not bode well for the development of the rising generation. A wide range of social ills has contributed to this weakening of marriage and family. These include divorce, cohabitation, non-marital childbearing, pornography, the erosion of fidelity in marriage, abortion, the strains of unemployment and poverty, and many other social phenomena.”(See The Divine Institution of Marriage, LDS Topics)
Of course, these are only a handful of statistics that give us a window into the sobering prophetic warnings. Because these calamities brought about by the disintegration of the family are both individual (private) and collective (changing societal norms), we sometimes don’t notice the connection. But it’s definitely there. As Albert Mohler observed:
The interconnectedness of strong marriage and family life is intrinsically connected to the stability of communities and nations. The family proclamation helps us understand these indivisible connections in a way that no other 600-word document can.
The Antidote? Chastity
Between the prophetic warning of paragraph eight of the family proclamation (which are being fulfilled before our very eyes) and an awareness that strong marriages and families create strong communities and nations, we can work in our own family and our local community to help stave off the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets. This is incredible motivation to embrace the doctrine of chastity, marriage and eternal families. The antidote is simple and profound: keep commitments of chastity, marriage and family responsibilities in love.
We can also focus on the great blessings that we can lay hold upon when we succeed rather than focusing entirely on the promised calamities. Elder Holland’s teachings about the connection between sexual intimacy and the divine relationship of marriage (Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments) gives us one of the best explanations about why we should be chaste. Teaching the “why’s” of chastity to future generations can be a powerful tool in pushing back against the world and helping them understand the chastity-calamity connection taught in the family proclamation.