Recently, I got in a discussion with my family about R-rated movies. It seemed to be unanimous in this discussion that it is LDS doctrine that you do not watch R-rated movies. Doing so could jeopardize your eternal standing with your Heavenly Father, and your ability to become exalted. Yet, it’s not asked in the temple interview questions. It’s not in any youth pamphlets, gospel doctrine books, sunday school manuals, or any other literature produced by the LDS Church. So, I raised my skepticism that this seems to be a Mormon-living-in-Utah-culture thing, like not having the ability to drink caffeine, although that seems to be less of an issue than watching R-rated movies.
Now, to be clear, I take no reservation against those who have made it a personal decision to not watch R-rated movies. An old friend of mine does not watch any rating higher that PG in his family. I commend him for his decision. No, my issue is with the judgement of those in Utah, who think to themselves that you are lesser than they, because you watch R-rated movies. So, I set out to set the record straight. What exactly is the LDS Church’s position on watching R-rated movies? Turns out, there isn’t one.
On one occasion in 1986, President Ezra Taft Benson, while addressing the youth of the church, made a reference to watching R-rated movies. His talk is titled “To the ‘Youth of the Noble Birthright'”. Taken in full context, here is what he said:
Young men of the Aaronic Priesthood, remember the scriptural injunction “Be ye clean who bear the vessels of the Lord.” (3 Ne. 20:41; D&C 38:42; see also Isa. 52:11.) Remember the story of Joseph in Egypt, who hearkened not to the wife of Potiphar and maintained his purity and virtue. (See Gen. 39:6–20.)
Consider carefully the words of the prophet Alma to his errant son, Corianton, “Forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes.” (Alma 39:9.)
“The lusts of your eyes.” In our day, what does that expression mean?
Movies, television programs, and video recordings that are both suggestive and lewd.
Magazines and books that are obscene and pornographic.
We counsel you, young men, not to pollute your minds with such degrading matter, for the mind through which this filth passes is never the same afterwards. Don’t see R-rated movies or vulgar videos or participate in any entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic. Don’t listen to music that is degrading.
It seems very clear to me, that the edict for the youth to not watch R-rated movies has a purpose: to not “participate in any entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic”. In fact, a great deal of that sermon is for the youth to pay special attention to the distractions of life, and to “not pollute your minds with such degrading matter”. It’s a clear warning shot to the youth, to understand what sort of world they live in, how impressionable they are, and how to counteract it.
There is no edict to abstain from watching all R-rated movies to the general population of the LDS Church.
Now, one could argue that many R-rated films contain this sleaze and filth, to which I agree. I would even agree that it is more likely you will find this filth and sleaze in an R-rated movie, than a PG-13. However, I would also argue that President Bensen would put PG-13 movies in that category as well. Today, we have the Internet in its full glory. The Internet doesn’t have a rating, yet it is trivial for youth to search out this sleaze and filth. Should we as an LDS Church avoid the Internet, because it is not rated (NR)?
Leaders of the LDS Church have made it very clear where they stand with regards to moral cleanliness. Pornography, masturbation, adultery, fornication, immodesty, suggestive entertainment, etc. has all been very clearly communicated over the pulpit. But R-rated movies? It’s just not there.