Gauging moral behavior

Are God's laws of behavior and morality based on public opinion or fashion?

No, as the scriptures make abundantly clear, the way to happiness has forever been linked with obedience to commandments, and those have remained constant. The prophet Mormon said, "For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity" (Moroni 8:18).

The Apostle Paul echoed this truth in his letter to the Hebrews: "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines" (Hebrews 13:8-9).

To those without the light of the gospel, however, morality often is viewed as on a sliding scale that follows the whims of popularity, apparently with little thought for the consequences of acts. But treating morality as though it were the season's latest fashion is a recipe for sorrow.

The Gallup Poll has been monitoring this sliding scale. In a recent survey in the United States, it asked respondents to consider a long list of behaviors and answer as to whether they considered them morally acceptable. Because Gallup has conducted a similar poll each year since 2001, it can plot the way people have changed their notions of right and wrong over time.

The 2013 poll offers a mix of confusing standards. Nearly two-thirds say a sexual relationship between unmarried people is OK, and nearly one-third approve of it among teenagers, while 60 percent say it is morally acceptable to have a baby outside the bonds of marriage. Also, 64 percent say gambling is moral, and 31 percent feel the same way about pornography.

In many ways, those results mirror popular culture. Many of these behaviors are presented in a positive light in movies, television shows and magazines, generally without portraying any of their agonizing consequences.

Not only have prophets consistently taught people to avoid these, social scientists and others who study behavior have compiled convincing evidence of their harm.

Recently, for example, the Heritage Foundation in Washington referred to marriage as the greatest weapon against child poverty. "The rise in out-of-wedlock child-bearing and the increase in single parenthood are major causes of high levels of child poverty," a study published by the foundation said. "In the U.S. in 2009, single parents were nearly six times more likely to be poor than were married couples."

And yet the percentage of children born to married parents in the United States has fallen from 93 percent in 1964 to 59 percent in 2010, and the trend shows signs of continuing. Gallup said the high percentage of people who view this as OK, "may be an instance of attitudes following behavior, given recent Census Bureau data showing the increasing prevalence in American society of children born to mothers who are not married."

That doesn't make the behavior any less harmful.

Gambling, meanwhile, continues to be viewed as acceptable despite evidence of the harm it causes families and individuals.

These attitudes are reflected in many other nations, as well.

It should be obvious that popular opinion is a dismal and unreliable way by which to gauge moral behavior. By contrast, prophets of the restored gospel have been clear and consistent in expressing the Lord's will on such matters.

"Down through the generations of time, the message from Jesus has been the same," said President Thomas S. Monson. "To Peter and Andrew by the shores of the beautiful Sea of Galilee, He said, 'Follow me.' To Philip of old came the call, 'Follow me.' To the Levite who sat at receipt of customs came the instruction, 'Follow me.' And to you and to me, if we but listen, will come that same beckoning invitation, 'Follow me' " ("Models to Follow," October 2002 general conference).

To follow Him, one must understand His will and His teachings, particularly as they apply to the modern world. The way to do that is through His prophet.

Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve said, "There has always been a desperate need for the steady and reassuring voice of a living prophet of God: one who will speak the mind and will of God in showing the way to spiritual safety and personal peace and happiness ("Hear the Prophet's Voice and Obey," April 1995 general conference).

There is no need for moral confusion; no need to wander into dangerous paths just because they seem to be well-worn with the footsteps of the world; no need to learn first-hand of the sorrows that have beset so many people in the world's history who have chosen destructive behavior. Follow the prophet and live in happiness.

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