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Mark Willes

Pornography a Plague—in the World and in the Church

It just dawned on me, the last devotional I spoke to was at BYU-Hawaii, so if you’ll forgive me, aloha! [Students answer “aloha”] Not bad; not impressive but not bad. Brothers and sisters, aloha! [Response] Much better. Thank you. I noticed the clock is over there on the left, and I stand between you and lunch, so I’m going to put this right here. [Places wristwatch on the stand.] You’ve probably heard the old story about the Mormon boy and the Catholic boy who decided they’d go to each other’s church just to see what it was like. The first Sunday the Mormon boy went with his Catholic friend to Mass and watched them make the sign of the cross. He said, “Please explain to me what that means,” so the Catholic boy explained what that means.
The next Sunday they went to a Mormon sacrament meeting, and the speaker got up and took off his watch and put it on the stand, and the Catholic boy said, “What does that mean?”
He said, “It doesn’t mean a thing.”
You see, I used to be a professor. You push a button; I go for 50 minutes. It’s not that hard. But we will finish before noon, so we don’t get in the way of lunch.
Could I just find out, how many of you are returned missionaries? Fantastic. How many of you served in the Hawaii Honolulu Mission? Oh, I’m so sorry for the rest of you who had to put your hands down. Sister Decker, wonderful to have you here. We’re going to talk about some things today that will allow you to qualify when you are senior missionaries to be called to Hawaii. No, no, we love every missionary; we love every mission.
Can I just say, for me personally, what a treat it is for me to be here. I would not be here or anywhere, were it not for the LDS Business College. My grandparents met here. My grandfather was the principal, and met a member of the faculty—I guess this doesn’t happen anymore—and they were married in 1909. My mother graduated in 1933, and that’s her graduation certificate. [Certificate appears on screen.] She went on to become a legal secretary, worked for a law firm in Salt Lake City, and that’s where she met my father. So without the LDS Business College, I don’t know where I would be, but I would not be here. So it goes very deep with me. What a privilege it is to be here, and what a privilege it is to be with you in this very special place.
If you’ll forgive me, I can’t get the mission president out of me. We’re going to have a little zone conference for a minute. I want to talk to you about how to listen to my talk. And we’re going to talk about the 43 rd section of the Doctrine and Covenants, where it says in part—and I love the fact that you can take notes of devotionals, I think that’s absolutely terrific—you can see 43:8,9, and 16. “When ye are assembled together ye shall instruct and edify each other … and [become] sanctified by that which ye have received, and ye shall bind yourselves to act in all holiness before me…And ye are to be taught from on high.”
There is a remarkable promise in that scripture. If you will listen to the Spirit, it almost doesn’t matter what I say. This can be an important and wonderful and critical meeting for you, if you open yourselves up to the Spirit so that you can be taught by the Spirit from on high. But then the second part is equally important. Having been taught from on high, you must “bind yourselves to act.” That is, you must commit to do whatever it is the Spirit prompts you to do.
I’ll never forget, many, many years ago, as a young member of a stake presidency, I was invited out to general conference. It was the first time I had attended general conference in an official capacity, and so I sat there through all of those sessions and took very careful notes about what was said by each of the speakers. At the end of the conference, President Kimball got up and said a very interesting thing. He said, “This has been a wonderful conference. The brethren have been inspired, and I have a long list of things I must do as a result of this conference.” And the feeling swept over me that I had not attended that conference in the way I should have. I made a list of the things that were said; the prophet made a list of the things the Spirit told him he was to do. Do you see the difference? So I would invite you to listen to the promptings of the Spirit and make a list of those things the Spirit prompts you to do.
We’re going to talk about the plague. Last summer . . . can I just say this is not what I wanted to talk about? But I’ve had as clear an impression as I’ve ever had in my life that I should. Last summer, I had one of those impressions—this was early summer, and the thought came to me very forcefully that in our media companies—we have the Deseret News, KSL TV, KSL Radio, Deseret Book, Bonneville International, Deseret Digital Media—that we should investigate what happens to women who are married to men who are addicted to pornography. We ended up doing a series of stories in the paper and on television that were very powerful, as a result of the things we had found out. And we had prepared to run conference Sunday afternoon a documentary on this issue. It ran right after the final session of general conference.
I knew that documentary was coming, so you can imagine how interesting it was to me when I heard President Packer and Elder Cook make the following comments in general conference:
President Boyd K. Packer: “In our day  the dreadful influence of pornography is like unto a plague sweeping across the world, infecting one here and one there, relentlessly trying to invade every home, most  frequently through the husband and father. The effect of this plague can be, unfortunately often is, spiritually fatal. Lucifer seeks to disrupt ‘the great plan of redemption,’  ‘the great plan of happiness.’
“Pornography will always repel the Spirit of Christ and  will interrupt the communications between our Heavenly Father and His children  and disrupt the tender relationship between husband and wife.” (“Cleansing the Inner Vessel,” Ensign, Nov. 2010, 75)
Elder Quentin L. Cook: “An ever-present danger to the family is the onslaught of evil forces that seem to come from every direction. While our primary effort must be to seek light and truth, we would be wise to black out from our homes the lethal bombs that destroy spiritual development and growth. Pornography, in particular, is a weapon of mass moral destruction. Its impact is at the forefront in eroding moral values.” (“Let There Be Light!,” Ensign, Nov. 2010, 27-28)
When I heard these two members of the Quorum of the Twelve speak, even though I was working on an entirely different subject—I’ve collected over the years some really wonderful stories that young adults seem to really quite like, and when we have an occasion like this and I tell those stories, and they’re happy and excited and they go away feeling uplifted—and I had come to me as clear an impression as I’ve ever had that I was to put that aside and that I was to talk about this subject. When the president of the Quorum of the Twelve says “it is a plague,” that gets my attention. When a member of the Quorum of the Twelve says, “it is a weapon of mass moral destruction,” that gets my attention. Sadly, as we will find out, there are some in this room who need this warning and help. So having heard that, I followed the instruction of the 43 rd section of the Doctrine and Covenants, and bound myself to act, to make this the subject of this devotional today.
If you will listen with your heart and your mind, the Spirit will whisper to you what you should do about this problem. Either you or somebody you know has this problem, and the Lord is counting on you to help stem the tide of this plague.
Now, as you think about what you might do, let me share with you some of the things we’ve learned from the research that we’ve done. The first is that most men—and I’m going to look you in the eye and watch you squirm a little bit, because you know it’s true for you too—were exposed to pornography when they were relatively young. You’re going to hear in a minute two men who are actually on this video, talking about their problem. One was exposed when he was six, the other when he was eleven. This is a problem that increasingly comes early and viciously. This means that most men bring the problem to their marriage.
First man: I was about six, and I remember very distinctly when I found it, I knew that it wasn’t right, but I looked at it. It was something that was so different than anything I’d ever experienced before.
Narrator: Pastor Anderson stumbled onto pornography at a relative’s house when he was nine. As he got older, looking at pornography with friends just seemed like part of growing up.
Pastor Anderson: It was almost like the seed had been planted, and in times when there was opportunity, when you just sort of had this free time, it was like, “Wow, there’s nobody around, and I can go do whatever I want.”
Because men bring the problem to the marriage, there is often the hope that marriage will solve the problem. It does not. If the problem is not solved before marriage, the risk is very high that it will ruin the marriage. I actually saw something similar to this with a very small number of our missionaries, who had been involved with pornography before they came. They could not get the images out of their heads; therefore, they could not have the Spirit, and it fundamentally ruined their missions. It’s critical to solve the problem before one is married.
Man: I really felt like marriage would satisfy all of my desire for sexual need or satisfaction, and so I went into it with a feeling that was going to be the case. And that was not the case.
The adversary will tell you that pornography is a victimless sin, and it turns out just the opposite is true. Pornography hurts you; pornography hurts those that you love. May I say particularly to the young men, you have no right to cause the heartache and the hurt that you will see in this next clip.
First woman: Almost immediately I felt like there was a disconnect in our relationship. And then I thought it was just that I had such huge romantic expectations that they could never be fulfilled.
Second woman: I couldn’t get out of bed; I was in serious depression. I felt like such a victim of this and my husband and life. To me as a woman it just made our whole relationship kind of like a lie.
Third woman: I cried bitter tears. I remember being on my face, just sobbing and sobbing, and thinking “something is really wrong here.”
You’ll notice in those videos that all of those women are attractive, and they all felt initially that their husband’s problem was their fault. It was not. It is not the woman’s fault. Satan will try to get young men to rationalize, as he does with all transgressions, and somehow say it’s okay, or somebody else is to blame. My dear young sisters, don’t let anyone rationalize his transgression by putting the blame on you. You don’t deserve to be treated that way.
We did find out that healing is possible. It is often difficult and challenging, but it does come.
Pastor Anderson: When I made the decision that I would come forward, I knew that I had made it in my heart because the feelings that I had in my heart changed. They changed from fear to hope, and they changed from the attitude of can’t do to can do, and that I must do.
Narrator: Pastor Anderson said the real healing and recovery did not come until he shared his story with qualified therapists, extended family, and eventually, his congregation.
Pastor Anderson: For the most part, people understood it. They said, “Hey, you’re not perfect, and we understand that. And we’re glad you’re getting help, and we’re glad you’re on the right track now.
Man: Magical things happen; we see miracles happen in people’s lives, but it’s important to know that the miracles don’t happen until after the hard work.
If your involvement with pornography is limited, prayer and priesthood leaders can most likely help you throw off the shackles. If your involvement with pornography is extensive, then often you will actually need professional help to overcome that enormous challenge. Let me read you an e-mail sent to one of our reporters after he read a story she had printed in the paper:
“I loved reading the recent series of articles about pornography. I am an LDS bishop who recently—eleven months ago—came clean about my own addiction of some 35 years. My first look was, of course, old-school porn, when I was about 11 years old. It was all I needed. I served a full-time mission, married in the temple, and did everything else I knew was right. These things were not enough. While prayer and a multitude of other spiritual fixes are all great and necessary, it wasn’t until I was honest with myself, my family, my priesthood leader and my Heavenly Father that I began to feel whole. I started attending the Church’s addiction recovery program, and went faithfully until just recently, when I felt comfortable enough to start tapering off. I have a married son who, when I discussed my addiction with him, indicated that he too had struggled. I believe that it isn’t a matter of if our young men will have struggles, but whenand how they will handle it.”
Why is pornography so dangerous? First, it is highly addictive. If you are even moderately vulnerable, limited exposure can lead you into a very deep hole. Once you’re addicted, you can never get enough, and you often turn to more deviant kinds of pornography as your addiction progresses. As your addiction increases, people often turn their backs on families and friends, even their careers. Let me again read you from one of our reporters:
“One woman called me and offered to be part of the series of stories. When she told me her name, I realized that I had just interviewed another couple with the same last name a few days earlier. During the interview, I confirmed what I had suspected: The men were brothers. Each had been referred to me by different therapists. Although I did not say anything to either family because I had promised confidentiality and wasn’t sure who they had shared their stories with, I have thought about these brothers often since. They both were exposed to pornography at a young age. They both married women from prominent Church families. They both served in high church callings—bishops, stake presidencies. They both went to prominent and successful counselors for help. One is doing well. His marriage and business are thriving. His church membership has been restored to him. Sadly, his brother has lost everything—his marriage, his job, the trust of his children. His wife is literally heartbroken. He is living in a trailer, and his wife thinks he still regularly hires prostitutes—a former priesthood leader having lost everything because of the power of this horrible addiction.
Because pornography is evil, you lose the guidance and comfort of the Spirit. You bring blackness into your life. The Lord brings light and hope. The adversary, through pornography, brings darkness and despair. Sadly, this is not a small problem. Nationally, 40 percent of U.S. households have indicated pornography affects their family. I have yet to talk to a priesthood leader who hasn’t told me that he believes the same thing is true in his ward or his stake.  This is a problem that is in the Church as well as outside of the Church. I talked to some who are responsible for student wards at BYU. They believe that in their ward, often with returned missionaries, often with those married in the temple, up to 50 percent of the young men suffer from this problem. This is why President Packer said it was a plague. This is why Elder Cook said it is a weapon of mass moral destruction.
The question is, what do you do? Going back to D&C 43, may I suggest that the first thing you should do is to bind yourself to act, and take the pledge. Now you say, what is the pledge? We will have for you, as you leave today, this card—so you don’t have to write all of these things down. Yes, I know that’s a relief. And we’re giving this to you because it not only has the pledge on it, but it has a place for you to sign if you’re willing to commit to these things. And let me read what they are:
“I commit that I will not be part of the pornography plague. I will do this by:
  • Educating myself on the harmful effects of pornography to self, spouse and future family,
  • Learning to recognize the red flags associated with pornography use, so I can enter into relationships that are pornography-free,
  • Engaging in an open and honest conversation about pornography with those I choose to seriously date,
  • Choosing to date only those who are willing to help and purge their lives of pornographic materials,
  • Seeking help from my ecclesiastical leaders if I am involved in pornography use;
  • Refraining from engagement or marriage until a pornography problem is resolved.
I recognize resolving the problem must be accompanied by a change in attitude and behavior, including seven to twelve months of sobriety. I recognize these choices will lead to healthier and happier relationships with my future family.”
And then there’s a place for you to sign it at the bottom. I am not your priesthood leader. I can’t tell you to do this. For everybody who serves as your priesthood leader, I think it would be wonderful if you took this into them and showed them that you have signed it, that you have committed to doing that.
Second, after the pledge—part of that pledge, as you can see, is to get information. You need to understand this problem. You need to get the information you need. One place to go is a website that we’ve established called You will see on that website the complete documentary that we’ve shown segments from here. We have webisodes where it talks about various things that you can do to help overcome the problem, and it links you to partners that we have that can help provide professional help if you need it, including of course, Church resources.
The next thing you can do is to bind yourself to ask probing questions before you marry. We have a granddaughter at BYU. I thought about her as I watched the documentary we put together, and I thought, “Oh my goodness, how can I help her make sure that she does not marry somebody who has this problem. I never want to make a video of her sobbing because her marriage was ruined by somebody who has this addiction.” And it occurred to us that, as awkward as that conversation is, if you don’t have the conversation, you don’t know. And therefore, you have to find a way to have this very awkward conversation.
On the back of the card that we’re going to give you is a list of those questions. And if you’ll look at those, they go from being somewhat general to being very specific. Now let me suggest how you—having interviewed young men and young women for decades now, let me tell you how you do it. You don’t do it from across the room; you don’t do it via text. You sit there and you look into their eyes. That’s the best part of it, I have to say, looking into their eyes. And then you ask these questions: “What do you think about pornography? When was the first time someone introduced you to pornography, and how did you feel?”
If they say, “I’ve never seen it,” they’re ready to be translated, or they’re a liar. You can’t go through life—those of you who have served missions in Europe, you can’t walk down the street in some of those cities without seeing it on the street. You can’t go into a supermarket in Hawaii without seeing it. It’s just all over.
“What do you think today? Do you have family and friends who struggle with this? Have you ever struggled with pornography? If so, what have you done to conquer it? Do you currently struggle with pornography? If so, are you seeking help? How many times in the last six months have you viewed a pornographic image? When was the last time you viewed a pornographic image?”
And as you ask those questions, no matter how much you care about them, no matter how much you love them, make sure you are open to the Spirit. The Spirit will tell you whether or not your friend is telling the truth. If he or she is telling the truth, that’s wonderful. If they are not, may I suggest—I’ll probably get released for suggesting this, but I’ll suggest it anyway—don’t marry them. A very interesting counselor once said, “Marriage is not compassionate service. That is, you don’t marry them to save them. Make them save themselves first, so that when you are married, you can trust them.”
If you have a problem, you might bind yourself to act by seeking help from your priesthood leader. He loves you. His purpose is not to punish you; his purpose is to help you. With his advice and counsel, you should make sure that you are listening to the Spirit so that you bind yourself to act and do what the Spirit directs you to do.
Before I give a talk to a group that I don’t know, I ask the Lord to help me see you as He sees you, to help me feel about you the way He feels about you. He loves you, and will do all He can to help you, if you will allow Him to do that.
In the last general conference, President Packer promised, “Paul promised that ‘God [would] not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will, with the temptation also make a way [for you] to escape, that you may be able to bear it.’ You can, if you will, break the habits and conquer [an] addiction and come away from that which is not worthy of any member of the Church.” (“Cleansing the Inner Vessel,” Ensign, Nov. 2010, 75-76)
He will give you the power to do it. I love this quote from Isaiah: “But they that wait upon the Lord”—that is, those who are obedient to the Lord—“shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings, as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Finally, in Moroni: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.” (Moroni 7:48)
This morning, I sought for one last confirmation that I should actually talk about this subject. It is not an easy subject to talk about. It is an awkward subject. It is not the kind of thing I like to talk with young men and young women about. And as I sought for that confirmation, I started to weep. And I could feel the love the Lord has for you, and His urgency about this matter. The adversary has only one desire, and that is to hurt you. The Lord has only one desire, and that is to give you hope and give you strength, that you can soar like eagles. I hope and pray you make the latter choice. You deserve it. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


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