I’d like to address a question I have gotten from time to time regarding law of chastity violations and the ability to later go on a mission. Many young people who have had issues with sexual morality want to repent and go on a mission, but frequently they don’t know if their prior actions will prohibit them from ever serving.
While it is far better to never engage in these transgressions, let me reassure you that they can repented of, and generally these young people can eventually go on a mission. Law of chastity issues are very serious in the sight of the Lord, though, and if serious enough, or if not fully repented of, may disqualify you from going on a mission.
The law of chastity is the Lord’s commandment that we keep ourselves sexually pure. For young people preparing for a mission, sexual purity means refraining from sexual relations and other sexual perversions such as homosexual activity, masturbation, viewing pornography, and heavy petting (inappropriate touching). Here is a concise definition of chastity from the LDS.org Gospel Topics section:
Chastity is sexual purity. Those who are chaste are morally clean in their thoughts, words, and actions. Chastity means not having any sexual relations before marriage.
…In the world today, Satan has led many people to believe that sexual intimacy outside of marriage is acceptable. But in God’s sight, it is a serious sin. It is an abuse of the power He has given us to create life. The prophet Alma taught that sexual sins are more serious than any other sins except murder and denying the Holy Ghost (see Alma 39:3–5).
Sometimes people try to convince themselves that sexual relations outside of marriage are acceptable if the participants love one another. This is not true. Breaking the law of chastity and encouraging someone else to do so is not an expression of love. People who love each other will never endanger one another’s happiness and safety in exchange for temporary personal pleasure.
Our Heavenly Father has given us the law of chastity for our protection…Those who keep themselves sexually pure will avoid the spiritual and emotional damage that always comes from sharing physical intimacies with someone outside of marriage.
For more information, check out my article that discusses the “Why” of Keeping the Law of Chastity.
As much as I want to and try to help young people who email me with law of chastity concerns, these issues must be worked through with priesthood leaders before a potential missionary can be declared worthy to serve. Elder M. Russell Ballard, in a talk called The Greatest Generation of Missionaries (Ensign, November 2002) said, “as divinely appointed judges in Israel, the bishop and the stake president determine worthiness and resolve concerns on behalf of the Church.” So if you are struggling with sexual sin, please, talk to your parents and make an appointment to go see your bishop or branch president. They will love and support and help you through.
In that same talk, Elder Ballard went on to say, “Please understand this: the bar that is the standard for missionary service is being raised. The day of the ‘repent and go’ missionary is over. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you, my young brothers? Some young men have the mistaken idea that they can be involved in sinful behavior and then repent when they’re 18 1/2 so they can go on their mission at 19. While it is true that you can repent of sins, you may or you may not qualify to serve. It is far better to keep yourselves clean and pure and valiant.”
Raising the bar
Our former prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, also spoke of the need to raise the worthiness standards for missionaries. In fact, he commented on Elder Ballard’s talk saying, “Elder Ballard has spoken to you concerning missionaries. I wish to endorse what he said. I hope that our young men, and our young women, will rise to the challenge he has set forth. We must raise the bar on the worthiness and qualifications of those who go into the world as ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ” (“To Men of the Priesthood,” Liahona and Ensign, Nov. 2002, 57).
President Hinckley further said, “the time has come when we must raise the standards of those who are called … as ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ. … We simply cannot permit those who have not qualified themselves as to worthiness to go into the world to speak the glad tidings of the gospel.” (“Missionary Service,” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Jan. 11, 2003, 17).
Elder L. Tom Perry has also spoken on missionary worthiness, comparing these standards with those needed to enter the house of the Lord, the Holy Temple. Said he, “Personal worthiness is the minimum spiritual standard for serving a mission. This means that you are worthy in every way to make and to keep sacred temple covenants.” (Raising the Bar, Ensign, November 2007)
As I mentioned above, and as I talked about in my other posts on the Mission Application Timeline and the application process for Mission Papers, only a bishop (or branch president) can interview missionary candidates and recommend them as worthy to serve a full-time mission. In this interview, your priesthood leader will ask you if you meet the qualifications for missionary service revealed in section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants: faith, hope, charity, love, an eye single to the glory of God, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, and diligence.
Full-time missionary service is a privilege, not a right, and therefore, potential missionaries must be worthy in every respect in order to receive that privilege. If you have had law of chastity violations, your bishop and stake president (or branch president and district or mission president) will need to confirm that your repentance is complete prior to submitting your application. They will make sure that you are prepared spiritually for your mission call and that you have been free of transgression for a sufficient time to manifest genuine repentance. If you have had multiple or serious violations of the law of chastity, this time period will likely be at least one year from the most recent occurrence.
If you have had problems with the law of chastity, to prepare for a mission you will need to become worthy, and you will need to go through the repentance process. Complete repentance of law of chastity violations is necessary before a potential missionary can submit the paperwork. If you are afraid or unsure how to begin the repentance process, start by going to see your bishop. He will guide you through the steps of repentance and give you support along the way.
My young brothers and sisters, the Lord loves you. If you have fallen into sexual transgression, He has provided a way back. The road of repentance is available thanks to the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Lord, your family, and Church leaders will help you repent and fully prepare for your mission.
For those of you striving and succeeding at keeping yourself clean and pure in spite of this increasingly sex-obsessed world in which we live, I applaud your faith and courage. If you always obey the law of chastity, you will be spared the hardships that inevitably come when we violate God’s commandments. You will keep yourself worthy to become one of the Lord’s chosen representatives, and you will have immense joy and eternal blessings for the missionary work you will perform.