Sunday, March 10, 2013

Modesty, Purity, and Tolerance

Last week, I brought you the story of my friend Angela who recently testified about the true nature of families in front of the New Zealand Parliament.  After reading about her experience, many of you expressed a desire to be more courageous in defending truth. 
Today, in order to nurture the desire that lies within all of us to stand for truth and righteousness, I have a sacrament talk for your reading pleasure, given by my good friend Alana Lee.  Alana and I grew up together in the Cleveland, Ohio Stake.  (She has also shared here in the past.)
The funny thing about youth from the Cleveland Stake (at least from the 1990's) is that we all know the words to the song "True to the Faith."  Why, you ask?  Because every month, at the stake youth firesides, we sang that song.  Every month.
The song asks the question:  "Shall the youth of zion falter in defending truth and right?"
"While the enemy assaileth, shall we shrink or shun the fight?"  "NO!!!"
"True to the faith that our parents have cherished.  True to the faith for which martyrs have perished.  To God's command.  Soul, heart, and hand.  Faithful and true, we will ever stand."
Years later, it's rewarding to see my old friends, like Alana, living out their testimonies.  Those youth of yesteryear, whose faces come to mind whenever I sing that song, truly did not shrink or shun the fight.  They are right in the thick of it, defending truth and right.  God bless those youth leaders who inspired a generation of us to prove this song right!
Here's Alana: 

Modesty, Purity, and Tolerance 
(Sacrament Meeting talk, delivered March 10, 2013)
by Alana Lee

I would like to start my talk with a powerful quote from Elaine S. Dalton, YW General President, spoken during a CES fireside in 2009.
“In the premortal realm you participated in a war. You fought with your faith and testimony to accept and sustain the plan that was presented by God the Father. You knew it was right, and you knew that the Savior would do what He said He would do, because you knew Him! There were no neutral spirits in the War in Heaven, and there can be no neutral positions now where choices between right and wrong are to be made. The Lord Himself said, “He that is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30). You stood with Him! You were eager for your assignment. You knew what was going to be required of you. You knew how difficult it would be, and yet you were confident you could not only accomplish your divine mission, but that you could make a difference. As one prophet said of you and your day:
            'For nearly six thousand years, God has held you in reserve to make your appearance in the final days before the Second Coming of the Lord. … God has saved for the final inning some of his strongest children, who will help bear off the Kingdom triumphantly. And that is where you come in, for you are the generation that must be prepared to meet your God.
'All through the ages the prophets have looked down through the corridors of time to our day. Billions of the deceased and those yet to be born have their eyes on us. Make no mistake about it—you are a marked generation.'9
Although she was addressing young adults, what she said applies to each of us. She was making an important point about our role as disciples. Discipleship is not passive. Our faith and commitment require action.
My heart and mind have been heavy this past week because of inappropriate media that my friends and I have recently seen. Check-stand magazine covers are becoming increasingly pornographic. Television commercials are doing Satan's work, spreading lies, and doing it at a time when children are watching. And I feel the weight of my burden as a mother of three girls. It is for this reason, and having obtained my errand from the Lord, that I am speaking today on modesty, sexual purity, and tolerance.
Because we can't teach purity without having taught modesty, I will start with modesty—because those two virtues are companions. One way we, as disciples, can show our faith and commitment to Christ is by dressing modestly.
The Church’s web site defines Modesty as: “an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves. Instead, we seek to "glorify God in [our] body, and in [our] spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:20).”
Sister Silvia Allred, former member in the Relief Society General Presidency, said: One of the challenges members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints face today is obeying principles of modesty in an increasingly immodest world.”[i]
From the beginning, the Lord has asked His children to cover their bodies. After Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened and they became aware that they were naked. Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with simple aprons made of fig leaves. But the aprons were not enough, so the Lord made them more modest coats of skins. God had a higher standard then, just as He does now. His standards are not those of the world.”
Modesty is a timeless principle of the gospel.
I grew up in a house of five girls—you can imagine that I’ve heard more than a few lectures on modesty from my father. However, my mother was more subtle. She taught by example and she placed scripture verses and quotes strategically throughout the house. She framed the virtue sermon found in Proverbs 31 and put it in a place where girls tend to spend a lot of time—the bathroom. I read those verses nearly every time I went into the bathroom.  Some of my favorites were: “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.” (10, 29-30)
I found myself trying to memorize the verses, and it forged in me a desire to be virtuous and modest, like my mother.
Elder Robert D. Hales said, “Some Latter-day Saints may feel that modesty is a tradition of the Church or that it has evolved from conservative, puritanical behavior. Modesty is not just cultural. Modesty is a gospel principle that applies to people of all cultures and ages. In fact, modesty is fundamental to being worthy of the Spirit. To be modest is to be humble, and being humble invites the Spirit to be with us.”[ii]
Like charity, modesty “vaunteth not itself, … doth not behave itself unseemly.” (1 Cor. 13:4–5.) Vaunt means to boast or act boastfully. John S. Tanner explains: “Modesty does not seek undue attention, does not flaunt itself, but shows respect for the feelings of others. Though it means much more than merely good manners, modesty belongs among the social virtues because it requires sensitivity and tact.”[iii]
Sister Silvia Allred has said: “Girls might not recognize that the physical display they create when they dress immodestly affects boys more than it does them. Help children, especially daughters, understand that attracting someone of the opposite sex solely by physical means does not create a lasting relationship.”
The bottom line is this: We either follow the prophets or we don’t. There is no in-between. And the prophets have repeatedly commanded us to dress modestly.
We all need a testimony of the importance of modesty and the sacredness of our bodies.  And if we don’t have one, we should seek our Father’s help in prayer that He will plant that desire and testimony in our hearts.
Too many people mindlessly mimic the vain world around them. To a degree, some of it is unintentional. Yet some aim below their potential just to be different. Either way, they succumb to a sphere of barely-existent standards. 
Immodesty is arousing to human nature and shows a lack of respect, not only for your sacred body, but for others. Many times a person has to see something immodest before they can know not to look at it, and then the image may be emblazened in his or her mind. Immodesty is placing temptation in other's paths.
Many who dress and behave immodestly falsely believe they're not hurting anyone. What are the consequences of immodesty? Some of you might know people who think, “It’s who I am on the inside that counts.”  I am going to share with you 3 perils of immodesty: 1) Pride, 2) Permissiveness or Promiscuity, and 3) Pornography.
The first peril is Pride
People either dress and behave immodestly because of ignorance or pride.
President Ezra Taft Benson warned us in his hallmark address, “Beware of Pride.” “The Doctrine and Covenants tells us that the Book of Mormon is the “record of a fallen people.” (D&C 20:9.) Why did they fall? “Behold, the pride of this nation...hath proven their destruction.” (Moro. 8:27.)”[iv]
He continues, saying, “The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.” It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.”
“Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of “my will and not thine be done.”[v]
Dressing modestly shows humility. Whether we like it or not, how we dress also sends a message to others about our values and attitudes. And dressing immodestly attracts immodest, and often immoral, people to you. But dressing modestly attracts virtuous people and the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
The second peril is Permissiveness or Promiscuity
When we dress immodestly, our behavior soon follows. Immodest behavior paves the path to permissiveness, which runs into the road of promiscuity. President Spencer W. Kimball said: “One contributing factor to immodesty and a breakdown of moral values is the modern dress. I am sure that the immodest clothes that are worn by some of our young women, and their mothers, contribute directly and indirectly to the immorality of this age. Even fathers sometimes encourage it. I wonder if our young sisters realize the temptation they are flaunting before young men when they leave their bodies partly uncovered. …  
“I am positive that the clothes we wear can be a tremendous factor in the gradual breakdown of our love of virtue, our steadfastness in chastity” (Faith Precedes the Miracle [1972], 163, 168).
The third peril is Pornography
President Thomas S. Monson, has declared: “When I consider the demons who are twins—even immodesty and immorality—I should make them triplets and include pornography. They all three go together.
“A modern-day Apostle, Hugh B. Brown, has declared, 'Any immodesty inducing impure thoughts is a desecration of the body—that temple in which the Holy Spirit may dwell.' 8
President Monson continues, “I commend to you...a jewel from the Improvement Era. ... 'The current and common custom of indecency in dress, the flood of immoral fiction in printed literature, in the drama, and notably in [motion] picture[s] … , the toleration of immodesty in every-day conversation and demeanor, are doing deadly work in the fostering of soul-destroying vice.'” (“Peace, Be Still,” Ensign, Nov 2002, 53)
Today's definition of pornography is complicated and confusing. My childhood friend, who spent time as journalist for CNN, now uses the internet to help teach truth. The other day she posted on Facebook about a magazine with a pornographic cover near the checkstand at a popular store that was placed at eye-level for a child. While many shared her outrage, a few said it wasn't pornography, it was just salacious, and therefore amusing, just like dangling keys in front of a baby. Similarly, my husband knows a few men who think pornography is only pornography when in the form of a video. Let's define pornography right now, according to Gospel standards.
The Church defines pornography as “any material depicting or describing the human body or sexual conduct in a way that arouses sexual feelings. It is distributed through many media, including magazines, books, television, movies, music, and the Internet. ...It can lead to other serious sins. Members of the Church should avoid pornography in any form and should oppose its production, distribution, and use.”

Be bold in your refusal to look at pornography. Raise your banner and set your standard high when it comes to impurity and pornography: “Not even once.”

In the August 1989 Ensign, it teaches that “something is obscene if it is “offensive to chastity or to modesty....Chastity has to do with the sacredness of the power of procreation. This is an especially sacred power, to be used only within the bonds of marriage.
“The Lord has referred to the human body as a temple. (See D&C 93:35.) ...Like a temple, the body is sacred; and its most sacred power—procreation—may be likened to the celestial room in the temple. The temple walls and veil provide multiple layers of protection for this sacred place, to keep it holy. In like manner, the power of procreation should also be protected by multiple layers—layers of modesty.” (R. Gary Shapiro, “Leave the Obscene Unseen,” Ensign, Aug 1989, 27)
Immodesty contributes to the breakdown of virtue, chastity, and thus the family.  And according to Dallin H. Oaks it also contributes to the growing problem of pornography addiction. He states, "...And young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you." - General Conference Report, April 2005
Pornography and immorality are poisons that we need to guard our families against. Would you intentionally feed your children a small dose of rat poison because just a little won't hurt?
Just because we dress and behave modestly, does not mean that we won't be tempted, and it doesn't mean that we still won't be bombarded with philosophies and pressures and images that are contrary to revealed truth.
What is the most effective technique that Satan uses to destroy souls? Sexual impurity. Let me first say that it is NOT a sin to be tempted. However, it is a sin to dwell on or relish the thought, or act upon temptations. Jesus “suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them.” (D&C 20:22.)
When a temptation sneaks in, shun it! Do NOT entertain sinful thoughts. As soon as they enter your mind, replace them with virtuous thoughts. Else 2 Nephi 26:22 comes true:  And there are also secret combinations, even as in times of old, according to the combinations of the devil, for he is the founder of all these things; yea, the founder of murder, and works of darkness; yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.
And 2 Nephi 28:21 And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; ...and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
In a CES Fireside last month, Dallin H. Oaks said: “Our young people are amazing in their faith and their devotion to what is good and right.  Measured by any righteous criteria, they are superior.  For example, a recent study showed that the percent of young Mormons who stay true to their faith and regularly attend Church services is the highest of any faith-group in America.[1]  I believe our youth and young adults are better than any earlier generation.  Yet they still need our help to reinforce them against the diversions and evils that surround them, which are intense and persuasive.     ...President Boyd K. Packer observed that “The world is spiraling downward at an ever-quickening pace.”[2]  And in rededicating the Boise Idaho Temple last November, President Thomas S. Monson declared that our young members “walk in a world saturated with the sophistries of Satan.”[3]

This quote from Elaine S. Dalton illustrates the troubling paradox of our current world:
“We live in a world that is concerned about cleanliness and purity—the cleanliness of our air and the cleanliness of our environment, our water, and even our food. In some places we legislate against pollution and even have government-funded environmental protection agencies to ensure that we are not made ill by contaminants that get into our air, our water, or our food supply. Yet society tolerates moral pollution in the form of pornography on billboards, television, and the Internet and in entertainment and other media. We tolerate filth that invades our minds through suggestive lyrics, music, and language. In some respects we are an organic generation ensuring purity and quality in our lives, and yet we are polluting our moral fiber. I believe that the lack of virtue in our society is directly responsible for many of our social, financial, and governmental ills. I believe that the disintegration of faith and families and the financial unrest are directly related to a lack of virtue in our society. And I believe that a return to virtue could save an entire nation.”
Sister Dalton continued, saying: “We call for a social reform, but what is really needed is a moral reform—a call for a return to virtue. You were leaders in the premortal world and stood for everything that is now threatened in society. You who are preparing to be influential in every sector of society, the young adults of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, can and must lead this return.”
I believe what she says is true. A return to Virtue could save a nation! Our world is in need of change agents. The rapid demise of the family and the similar destruction of goodness stem from the selfish, immoral behaviors of others. The world will not become a better place until we, as individuals, foster a sense of respect for God and for self. And once we, as individuals,  have risen above the filth of gluttonous immorality, our world has changed. As Ghandi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Now I would say a few words on tolerance. We must abhor sin. But we must still love the sinner. We must be cautious not to be persuaded away from truth because we are trying to practice tolerance of other lifestyles.
Alexander Pope describes what it means to be persuaded away from truth, or as Mormon describes it, “poisoned by degrees.”
Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, (mien means character)
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
How can we balance our love of truth, our love of others, and our abhorrence of sin? The best sermon that I have read on tolerance is found in last month's Ensign (Feb 2013), entitled “Balancing Truth and Tolerance” by Elder Dallin H. Oaks. He defines tolerance as: “...a friendly and fair attitude toward unfamiliar or different opinions and practices or toward the persons who hold or practice them.”
This attitude of tolerance goes both ways: toward others with different opinions, and from others towards us. Elder Oaks also states:
We live in a world where more and more persons of influence are teaching and acting out a belief that there is no absolute right and wrong....
The philosophy of moral relativism, which holds that each person is free to choose for him or herself what is right and wrong, is becoming the unofficial creed for many in the United States and other Western nations. At the extreme level, evil acts that used to be localized and covered up like a boil are now legalized and paraded like a banner. Persuaded by this philosophy, many of the rising generation are caught up in self-serving pleasures, pornography, dishonesty, foul language, revealing attire, pagan painting and piercing of body parts, and degrading sexual indulgence.
In 1976, Elder Neal A. Maxwell said this of moral relativism, using his trademark alliteration: “Relativism has sometimes been a small, satanic sea breeze, but now the winds of relativism have reached gale proportions. Over a period of several decades relativism has eroded ethics, public and personal, has worn down the will of many, has contributed to a slackening sense of duty, civic and personal. The old mountains of individual morality have been worn down. This erosion has left mankind in a sand-dune society, in a desert of disbelief where there are no landmarks, and no north, no east, no west, and no south! There is only the dust of despair!” (Some Thoughts on the Gospel and the Behavioral Sciences)
Now back to Elder Oaks Ensign article: [A]ll of us—especially the rising generation—have a duty to stand up and speak out to affirm that God exists and that there are absolute truths that His commandments establish.
Unfortunately, some who believe in moral relativism seem to have difficulty tolerating those who insist that there is a God who should be respected and that there are certain moral absolutes that should be observed.
President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) expressed this idea for Latter-day Saints: “...Each of us is part of a great family, the human family, sons and daughters of God, and therefore brothers and sisters. We must work harder to build mutual respect, an attitude of forbearance, with tolerance one for another regardless of the doctrines and philosophies which we may espouse.”3
Our Savior also taught that His followers will have tribulation in the world, that their numbers and dominions will be small, and that they will be hated because they are not of the world. But that is our role. We are called to live with other children of God who do not share our faith or our values and who do not have the covenant obligations we have assumed. We are to be in the world but not of the world.
...We must seek tolerance from those who hate us for not being of the world. As part of this, we will sometimes need to challenge laws that would impair our freedom to practice our faith, doing so in reliance on our constitutional rights to the free exercise of religion.
Our tolerance and respect for others and their beliefs does not cause us to abandon our commitment to the truths we understand and the covenants we have made. We are cast as combatants in the war between truth and error. There is no middle ground. We must stand up for truth, even while we practice tolerance and respect for beliefs and ideas different from our own and for the people who hold them.
While we must practice tolerance and respect for others and their beliefs, including their right to explain and advocate their positions, we are not required to respect and tolerate wrong behavior.
Our obligation to tolerance means that ...behaviors...we consider deviations from the truth—should [n]ever cause us to react with hateful communications or unkind actions.
Finally, the spirit of our balance of truth and tolerance is applied in these words of President Hinckley: “...There may be situations where, with serious moral issues involved, we cannot bend on matters of principle. But in such instances we can politely disagree without being disagreeable. We can acknowledge the sincerity of those whose positions we cannot accept.”10
Elder Oaks counsels us to use wisdom when it comes to tolerance. We don't just bend because the world asks us to bend. Rather, we remain steadfast and true to our covenants while practicing the pure love of Christ. We must be models of virtue.
Sister Dalton explains what it means to be a virtuous people “Virtuous people are committed to the sanctity of life. They respect God’s counsel on how life is to be conceived, protected, and nurtured. There is no strength that is greater than the strength of virtue, nor any confidence that is more sure than the confidence of a virtuous life.”
We all leave our marks, and what we do will affect other people, for better or for worse. The smallest actions can have very grand and profound effects. There are still millions of good, honorable around the world, but those in opposition to absolute truth are often more outspoken. The responsibility to stand up for absolute truth lies with us.
In Doctrine and Covenants 60:2, the Lord said: “But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man. Wo unto such, for mine anger is kindled against them.”
I would like to end with another quote from Elaine S. Dalton's CES Fireside in 2009:
During the critical days of World War II, Winston Churchill aroused an entire nation when he said: “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory. Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”11 ...I echo that call for the war in which we are engaged today by paraphrasing the words of Winston Churchill for you: You ask, what is our aim? I can answer with one word: virtue. Virtue at all costs, virtue in spite of all opposition, virtue, however long and hard the road to repentance may be; for without virtue, there can be no victory.
In the words of a familiar hymn, I ask: “Who's on the Lord's side? Who? Now is the time to show. We ask it fearlessly: Who's on the Lord's side? Who?” (Hymn 260)
It is my prayer that we can be examples of modesty and purity, and that we will stand as guardians of virtue within our community and within society, willing to open our mouths when the loudmouths of moral relativism seek to destroy God-given absolute truths, however subtle their tactics may be. We are on the Lord's side, and the Lord's side will rise triumphant in the end, with the help of virtuous covenant-keepers. To any who have strayed, no matter how far, there is still hope. I testify to you of the reality of the cleansing and healing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I testify to you of the absolute truths I have spoken of today. Heavenly Father lives, Jesus Christ is our Redeemer, and both love us infinitely and perfectly, no matter our temptations or weaknesses.
Of this I testify, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

[i]           Silvia H. Allred, “Modesty: A Timeless Principle for All,” Ensign, Jul 2009, 28–32
[ii]           Robert D. Hales, “Modesty: Reverence for the Lord,” Ensign, Aug 2008, 34–39
[iii]          John S. Tanner, “To Clothe a Temple,” Ensign, Aug 1992, 44
[iv]   Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989, 4
[v]    Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989, 4