The “revelation of the week” is that Moroni 9:9 has been removed from the Young Women’s Personal Progress program, which offered the verse to Mormon teenage girls as a supporting scripture in the section, “Virtue.” Of course, this is significant because Moroni 9:9, 10 tells us that the daughters of Lamanites were taken captive, raped, tortured, and killed; it emphasizes that rape deprived these daughters “of that which is most dear and precious above all things.” In other words, the violent “loss” of their virginity is equated to a loss of virtue and is dubbed more tragic than either their torture or their murder. Fortunately, the verse had already been removed from “For the Strength of Youth,” but somehow lingered in the Personal Progress program. I suspect Elizabeth Smart’s public outcry against toxic chastity lessons was the match that lit the rather long wick prepared across decades by feminist outcry. The deletion of the verse is gratifying and a relief, but also signals something much more. Its removal is an acknowledgment that our sacred canon is fallible, that the views of the men who wrote, abridged, or recapped the events within that canon do sometimes pass on the biases and bad information of their eras—and that, when we know better, we should do better. The deletion reaffirms the pre-correlation notion that we are to learn truth from any source that brings it forward, and reject all untruth, no matter where it be found, including (as in this case) in our sacred writ.
The Church has taught that the Book of Mormon is not a perfect book and that its flaws are the flaws of man, not of God. The proof of this fallibility, to date, has come in tweaking words here and there in order to better represent the intent of a given passage. To be clear, the Church has neither reworded nor removed Moroni 9:9 from the Book of Mormon, nor do I think it should, though some may demand it.
While I empathize with those who call for its deletion (the message is reprehensible), I submit that there is more truth and power in leaving the scripture intact within the Book of Mormon, provided forthcoming Church teaching and literature acknowledges that Moroni 9: 9, 10 represents the fallibility of human beings and the historical wrong-headedness that endangered women by placing our value squarely on sexual purity. Our choice is to bury this reality through deletion or rewriting, or to embrace it.
I’d champion the addition of a footnote on the verses that clearly states that Mormon’s understanding was incorrect, that virtue is never lost through rape, and that the life of all human beings is most dear and precious above all. Such a footnote would represent an acknowledgment that even the prophets sometimes miss the complete truth because of the influences of their day. It would affirm that we are both a church and a people who will grow in wisdom, light, and understanding, and, when needed, will correct our course. If the Book of Mormon is a book written for our day, we ought not ignore this essential lesson.
Of course, such a footnote would likely be as scandalous as revolutionary, considering the implications it would hold for other ancient scripture. We can’t reasonably reject the teaching of Moroni 9:9, 10 for being out of sync with God’s feelings about rape and virtue, and, at the same time, fail to consider whether or not other ancient scripture is, likewise, off-track in light of additional light and knowledge currently possessed. We know through both anecdote and science that valuing women primarily for their “purity” is detrimental to the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being of women. We also know through anecdote and science that current church teachings are detrimental to the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual health of LGBTQ people. This is significant.
Perhaps equally important, such a footnote and redirection of our teaching of the verses could set a precedent that would free our top leaders from the expectation—the burden—that their words must, at all times, be a perfect representation of God’s will. This expectation is a cruelty, even if its arguably self-inflicted. It would also emphasis, within the membership, an increase in the reliance upon the gift of the Holy Ghost.
I rejoice that the Church officially removed Moroni 9:9 from the Personal Progress program. It’s another improvement for women and a reduction of the pedestal’s height upon which Mormon women live and worship. I’m pleased to think its removal may signal a step toward contemporary acknowledgment that our prophets needn’t be perfect, that all our canon comes through a lens of human fallibility, and that we, as a people, are striving to do better. More of this please.
Victims of rape, incest, or other sexual abuse are not guilty of sin. If you have been a victim of any of these crimes, know that you are innocent and that God loves you. Seek your bishop’s counsel immediately so he can help guide you through the process of emotional healing. “For the Strength of Youth”
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