As I’ve written, spoken and taught LDS audiences about the topic of Internet safety, I have continually been struck by a fundamental instructional dilemma: How do you teach about the corrosive dangers of technology without fostering a prurient curiosity on the part of the individual receiving instruction?
As Joseph F. Smith said, “The knowledge of sin tempteth to its commission.”1 Lest any of us feel immune from spiritual danger in these areas, we should remember several high profile cases over the years in which ecclesiastical leaders have been arrested for criminal sexual behavior, sometimes involving minors. How can otherwise good men fall so far so fast? In some of the cases, the individuals began their descent by exploring inappropriate material online, purportedly to better understand the problems that their ward or stake members were having with pornography and sexual transgression. Of course, we have no way of telling whether the individual in question did so naively and innocently, or with some predisposition to explicit sexual content already driving their “research.” In any case, despite their priesthood stewardship and spiritual maturity, these individuals experienced a rapid spiritual descent, culminating in the embarrassing public spectacle of a stake president or bishop in police custody for crossing state lines to arrange a meeting with a minor for sexual relations.
The flip side of the issue is equally straightforward: if you don’t bring the issues up at all and reinforce the criticality of the dangers, how are individuals, parents and leaders to understand that a problem exists in the first place? Fortunately prophets and leaders have dealt with these issues in the past, and we can learn from their counsel.
In the Book of Mormon, Jacob was constrained to teach the people of Nephi about their transgressions, including gross sexual sin. His extreme caution in approaching the subject is evidenced in his introductory remarks in which he stated,
7 It grieveth me that I must use so much boldness of speech concerning you, before your wives and your children, many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God, which thing is pleasing unto God;
8 And it supposeth me that they have come up hither to hear the pleasing word of God, yea, the word which healeth the wounded soul.
9 Wherefore, it burdeneth my soul that I should be constrained, because of the strict commandment which I have received from God, to admonish you according to your crimes, to enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds; and those who have not been wounded, instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds.2
Jacob’s deep and sincere conflict is evident in his language. Discussing difficult moral topics is distasteful and burdensome. How much more pleasant to “[feast] upon the pleasing word of God” rather than being constrained to “[place] daggers … to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds”?3
As a teacher, a father and a church leader, I have felt the burden that Jacob describes. That difficulty notwithstanding, I have felt constrained to communicate as clearly as possible where spiritual dangers lie in the intersection between technology and our moral lives. However, it’s imperative that we take counsel from the Lord in how to deliver that material with the appropriate balance between inoculation and indoctrination.