Note: This post has partly been prompted from the trending topic of Elizabeth Smart saying that LDS teachings on morality kept her from running away from her captors.
Next month I’m going to EFY for five weeks. It’s a non-stop party of fun, kids, friends, boys, God, learning, hurting, and growing. I mostly look back on my EFY memories with fondness, but there a few that I still cringe at, most of which had to do with excessive efforts to try to “dress up my too-big jewel-toned polyester polo.
But there’s one instance that I don’t just feel embarrassment over, but guilt.
One part of the program consists of counselors giving 10 minute lessons on a topic from For the Strength of Youth to the participants, who get to choose which ones they want to attend. I was once casually exchanging lesson plans (post lesson) with another counselor who was teaching on the topic of “sexual purity”. She was going to use the gum analogy, which normally goes like this:
1. The teacher offers the class a stick of gum. There is only one piece of gum and many willing recipients The teacher arbitrarily decides who will get the gum.
2. The lesson continues with quotes, scriptures, etc. pertaining to the Law of Chastity.
3. The teacher somehow displays the stick of gum that had been chewed on throughout the lesson, either by having the chewer stand in front of the class or asking them to spit it out onto something. The teacher then asks who wants the gum.
4. The gum is then equated to a person who has had inappropriate sexual experiences- where they once were wanted by many, they are now trash. The idea of being with them is just disgusting.
At the conclusion of her sharing, she said, “it’s harsh, but it’s true, y’know?”
And I said, “WHAT? No, it’s not! It’s a giant lie! You aren’t teaching them the truth! You’re not teaching them the gospel!” This was all exclaimed vehemently and passionately in my mind.
With my actual mouth, I probably said something like, “Oh yeah, for sure. Sounds like a good lesson.” I have been kicking myself for it ever since, but I hope writing this will be repentance enough.
The gum analogy is deplorable. The definition of “deplorable” is “worthy of harsh criticism”, and that is exactly how I feel about it. I really believe that it is of the devil. This teaching tactic (and others like it) are wonderfully effective- effective at teaching young people wrong principles about the nature of god and the nature of their own bodies and
Here are five of the reasons why you should never teach that a person who has had sex outside of marriage is like a pre-chewed piece of gum:
1. The measure of the gum’s creation is to be chewed and thrown away. The measure of a person’s creation is much more than that. Gum has one purpose only- to be chewed. Human beings have many purposes, to love, to be loved, to learn, to grow, to enjoy, to repent, to progress. A piece of gum has become purposeless once it has been chewed. But a person’s sexual morality is only a part of who they are, and so if something is amiss in that area in their life, there is no reason for them to feel like their whole being has lost it’s value.
2. Having sex does not actually make a person gross. I find a worthy and obedient heart more attractive than a rebellious one, but I don’t find virgins more attractive or desirable than non-virgins. Having sex won’t keep people from finding you attractive and likable. It’s a wrong idea that our bodies become “dirty” from sexual activity. Being defiled has everything to do with your heart and nothing to do with your hymen.
3. “Not being wanted” is a terrible reason to not do something. The gum analogy teaches the learned that they should remain chaste so that others will approve of them, find them worthy, and want them. In a world where judgement fly into our minds from every direction, it is imperative that we remember (and help those we teach remember) that the only judgments that matters is God’s. If you are acceptable to him, you are perfect and whole.
4. You will be doing more harm than you realize. I think that these lessons are usually taught with the assumption that most or all of the students have lived a chaste life, and that the gum analogy will scare them into keeping it that way. But nobody lives a perfectly chaste life, and there are likely students who have committed serious sexual sin. You are telling them that they are dirty and done for. I am imagining a beehive who “tongue-kissed” a boy getting her guilt chiseled into stone and her sense of self-worth withering.
5. You aren’t teaching them the gospel. The gospel is the “good news”! What part of “you’re like a stiff, sticky, grimy piece of gum” sounds like good news to you? People sin, it happens, it’s an essential part of life. But the gospel isn’t about sin, the gospel is about redemption, and the fact that:
If you feel like the chewed up gum, know that Jesus is raising his hand, screaming “ME! I want it!” He wants to not only have you, but he wants to chomp you right up, blow you into wonderful bubbles, and swallow you so that you will be a part of him forever.
Guilt and shame are natural consequences of sin, but there is no need to use the satanic principle of shaming people into damnation by telling them that they like a chewed up piece of gum, a used tissue, or a piece of cake that someone put their dirty hands all over.
Here is a great clip from Matt Chandler titled Jesus Wants the Rose. His message is a whole lot like mine, but he is more eloquent and more powerful- I highly recommend taking a look.
Living the law of chastity is an incredibly powerful and wonderful thing. But I really believe that the atonement is even
more powerful and more wonderful. Christ is so eager to forgive, and we are so precious to him. There is no amount of chewing, beating, battering, smothering, ruining, or degrading that can either (1) make him love us less or (2) decrease the divine nature of our spirits.
There are ways to teach this principle that are inspiring, uplifting, and fortifying. Fear and shame never drive people to Christ and never drive people to true righteousness.
If you ever are subjected to this lesson or something similar to it, I give you permission to stand up for the truth, stand up for God, and stand up for every precious soul within the sound of that teacher’s voice. Be the reminder of Isaiah 1:18:
Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be as wool.
And your bubblegum? It shall be as if it was never even taken off the check-out stand.