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See how LDS Church warnings about pornography have evolved

In harsh sermons, leaders used to say porn consumers were “addicted”; now, they downplay talk of addiction and seek to help those who view in softer tones.

(The Salt Lake Tribune) Apostle Dallin H. Oaks, shown in 2015, said that “not everyone who uses pornography willfully is addicted to it. In fact, most young men and young women who struggle with pornography are not addicted."

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Shun pornography.

That command hasn’t changed in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What has shifted is the way the faith’s leaders have addressed the issue.

Gone are the fiery sermons about the deviant, damnable and destructive effects of porn “addiction” — replaced by kinder, gentler and more focused counsel to help affected members (most of whom “should not be considered addicted”) stop consuming it.

See how the rhetoric has evolved:

• In a special message printed in the November 1980 Ensign magazine (an official church publication), then-church President Spencer W. Kimball wrote of “false teachers everywhere, using speech and pornographic literature, magazines, radio, TV, street talk — spreading damnable heresies which break down moral standards, and this to gratify the lust of the flesh.”

In another section of the same address about the “unholy transgression of homosexuality,” he said “the church will excommunicate as readily any unrepentant addict” of this or other sexual acts.

(The Salt Lake Tribune) Spencer W. Kimball, right, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with counselor Marion G. Romney, in 1978. Kimball offered stern warnings about the dangers of viewing pornography.

• In the April 1984 Ensign, clinical psychologist Victor B. Cline wrote that he saw four things happening to people viewing pornography: They become addicted to it, their desire for it escalates, they become desensitized to it, and then they act out what they witnessed.

“Becoming addicted to pornography can lead to a loss of control,” Cline warned, “and eventually to the loss of moral agency.”

• In the October 1986 General Conference, then-church President Ezra Taft Benson asked: “How can any man indulge himself in the evils of pornography, profanity, or vulgarity and consider himself totally virtuous?”

(The Salt Lake Tribune) In 1986, then-church President Ezra Taft Benson asked: “How can any man indulge himself in the evils of pornography, profanity, or vulgarity and consider himself totally virtuous?”

• In 1992, the church released a publication titled “Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems.” It maintained that viewing pornography “almost always” accompanies homosexual behavior.

“Pornography is very dangerous and addictive,” the publication stated. “Viewing or reading pornography arouses sexual fantasies and urges that lead to deviant behavior.”

• “Pornography is as addictive as many substances we would not even consider taking into our bodies,” then-Presiding Bishop H. David Burton cautioned at the April 2000 General Conference. “The consequences of pornography are catastrophic.”

• In another April 2000 sermon, apostle Richard G. Scott said “one of the most damning influences on Earth, one that has caused uncountable grief, suffering, heartache, and destroyed marriages is the onslaught of pornography in all of its vicious, corroding, destructive forms. … Pornography is overpoweringly addictive and severely damaging.”

(The Salt Lake Tribune) Apostle Richard G. Scott, shown in 2013, called pornography “one of the most damning influences on Earth."

• A decade later, the church’s language surrounding pornography use and addiction softened considerably. In the October 2015 Ensign, apostle Dallin H. Oaks wrote that “not everyone who uses pornography willfully is addicted to it. In fact, most young men and young women who struggle with pornography are not addicted. … If behavior is incorrectly classified as an addiction, the user may think he or she has lost agency and the capacity to overcome the problem.”

• In August 2017, an Ensign article titled “Eight Strategies to Help Children Reject Pornography” warned parents against jumping to the conclusion that any involvement with pornography amounts to an addiction. It also urged parents to address the emotional difficulties behind a child’s porn use and not to react with anger when a child comes to them about it.

“In talks, lessons, and reading materials, youth receive the clear message that pornography is a dangerous evil,” the article stated, “but we need to give additional emphasis to the doctrine of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

• And, in the “Counseling Resources” section of the church’s website, an article said leaders should “be cautious in labeling individuals as addicts” and that “the majority of individuals who use pornographic materials should not be considered addicted, especially those who are adolescents.”

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