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The Gospel and Sexual Assault

The plan of salvation shapes the way we respond to sexual assault.

As society grapples with sexual harassment and sexual assault, Latter-day Saints join with others in condemning such offensive behavior. In a devotional address given at BYU, Benjamin M. Ogles, dean of the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, explains this ugly phenomenon through the lens of the plan of salvation and recommends principles to remember as we approach the subject. Although Ogles had not asked to speak on sexual assault, he felt “an urgency to address this delicate topic.”

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we can extend the healing power of the Atonement to those who have suffered.

Photo by Dawid Sobolewski

  1. Agency. Ogles first reviews the principle of moral agency, our ability as humans to make our own decisions. Ogles says that “not all suffering or adversity in life is the result of our mistakes, transgressions, or sins . . . some of the most complicated ­problems in life are the direct result of injuries caused when our fellow human beings unrighteously exercise their agency to hurt, control, coerce, or use others.” This is the case with sexual assault.
  2. Accountability to God. Being accountable to God is the twin principle of agency. “While our Heavenly Father recognizes and cares about the evil and pain we experience in this world at the hands of others,” Ogles teaches, “He will not remove their agency, because doing so would violate the boundaries that promote our progression. . . . To preserve moral agency, the Lord does not restrain individuals from improper use of that agency.” Nevertheless, every person will stand before God to be judged for his or her desires, thoughts, and actions, and those who abuse the agency of others, such as perpetrators of sexual assault, will face the wrath of God if they don’t repent.
  3. The Atonement. Ogles describes the Atonement of Jesus Christ as the essential element of healing for survivors of sexual abuse and the only path to forgiveness for perpetrators. While speaking about repentance, Ogles emphasizes that the victims of sexual assault are not guilty of sin: “you are not responsible for that to which you did not consent! That is the essence of agency.” To illustrate the point, Ogles uses the example of a thief stealing from his unlocked car. He was not responsible for the thief’s selfish actions, even if he had left his car unlocked.
  4. Creative powers. Ogles also discusses the joy that comes in responsibly using our procreative powers within the bonds of marital intimacy. While speaking of romantic relationships, Ogles says he wishes “all people knew how to ask first” for consent. “Instead of guessing or assuming, we can rely on direct information” by asking before making an advance.

Finally, Ogles mentions some of the resources available for victims of sexual assault and offers advice on what we can do to help, even if we haven’t experienced sexual assault ourselves.

Sexual assault is a reprehensible sin. Although some people will use their agency to hurt others, as disciples of Jesus Christ we can stand up to such behavior by extending the healing power of the Atonement to those who have suffered.

Read, watch, or listen to Benjamin M. Ogles’s devotional address “Agency, Accountability, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ: Application to Sexual Assault for more information on this issue.

Source: BYU Speeches

—William Adams, Mormon Insights

feature image by andrew neel

Find more insights

Watch, read, or listen to Elder Quentin L. Cook’s general conference address “Let There Be Light!” to see how we can advocate for righteous living in society.

Read Sarah Brown’s Mormon Insights article “The Atonement: How We Can Heal and Forgive” for examples of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

Read Jess Verzello’s Mormon Insights article “Learning to Love Ourselves” to learn how we can see ourselves as God sees us.

Read Faith Sutherlin’s Mormon Insights article “Fleeting or Forever—What is Love? to see how agency and love interact.

Read Elicia Cheney’s Mormon Insights article “It Is Well with My Soul: Reclaiming the Sanctity of Sex” for an explanation of the doctrine behind healthy human intimacy.

Watch, read, or listen to Elder David A. Bednar’s general conference address “We Believe in Being Chaste” to learn the doctrine of the law of chastity.

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