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The Counsel Against Rated R Movies

Tonight for Family Home Evening we established our family goals for the year. One goal was to purify our media intake. My wife pointed out that the last movie we saw (even though it was PG-13) probably was not suitable for our home. It is a real struggle in our day and age to keep filth from seeping through the cracks of our home’s walls.

I often think about how our society has become similar to ancient Rome and the entertainment of the Christian martyrs in the colosseum. Our gory entertain isn’t as real as the Roman lions, but it has the same effect—a desensitized soul and a moral destitute society.

Seedy television shows, Internet sites, music lyrics, and many other forms of media are constantly working to engage us and sever us from the spirit. Yet, it has become so easy to justify media that does so well in entertaining us.

I remember as a teenager pleading with my parents to let me see a rated-R movie. It had all the great aspects of becoming an epic movie, but my parents didn’t care since it also had an R rating. I remember stating to my mom that the Church leaders had never come out and outright said that we couldn’t watch R movies. Avoiding bad movie ratings were only guidelines and not a commandment.

Needless to say, this line of reasoning didn’t work, but my mom also couldn’t refute my argument (this was at the dawn of the Internet and we didn’t have it in our home). So, for my own future teenagers I compiled the below quotes showing the brethren indeed counseling (and commanding) us to avoid not only rated R movies but anything that offends the spirit.


The bolded red text highlights the direct counsel to not watch rated R movies.

Robert L. Simpson, Ensign, 1973
How about taking a few minutes, for example, to voice objection to the local supermarket manager about easy availability and prominent display of unacceptable material on his periodical display rack.

How about taking just five minutes each week to review the TV log and then establishing a few rules that all the family agrees to concerning viewing time and on which channel.

Why not make some effort to find out something about the next movie that will engage your family’s undivided attention for two and a half or three hours and will probably cost you far more than you contributed to the poor and the needy that month. It goes without saying that all X- and R-rated movies are automatically eliminated.

Marvin J Ashton, Ensign, November 1977
We have a tendency to rate or grade others, and they do the same to us. If our perspective is proper, we use these ratings or gradings to motivate us to reach high levels of achievement and self-discipline. The whole concept of ratings enables us to set high goals and provides the challenge to us to achieve them.

In spite of this inborn desire to achieve, there remains an area where the attainment of high or good ratings seems to be ignored. I speak of the growing numbers of movies, books, magazines, theatrical productions, and television programs where efforts to glorify immorality or violence have become predominant. “Rated R’ or “Rated X’ has replaced the idealism of being “Rated A.’

I know that free expression is a vital part of the eternal principle of free agency and must be preserved and protected. I also know how certain forces use the freedom of speech to degrade or debase, and this constitutes perversion and enslavement. Because I recognize that there will always be opposition in all things, I suspect that we will not soon see the day when obscenity in its various forms will be entirely eliminated. But I have faith that it can be fully eliminated in the lives of quality individuals. I firmly believe that most thinking people can be inspired to strive for the A rating by choosing wholesome, worthwhile literature, art, and habits.

As each of us uses our free agency to choose the material that enters our lives, we ought to recognize that the battle between “Rated A’ and “Rated X’ is part of the war that began in heaven and is still being fought today. The enemy seeks any strategic or tactical foothold he can gain, and any bridgehead he attains becomes the launching point for the next encounter. The number of victories we allow him can seriously affect the final outcome of the struggle.

How does the adversary wage this battle? What are his tactics? Those who are fighting pornography and obscenity have helped us recognize some of his battle plans. They tell us that a person who becomes involved in obscenity soon acquires distorted views of personal conduct. He becomes unable to relate to others in a normal, healthy way. Like most other habits, an addictive effect begins to take hold of him. A diet of violence or pornography dulls the senses, and future exposures need to be rougher and more extreme. Soon the person is desensitized and is unable to react in a sensitive, caring, responsible manner, especially to those in his own home and family. Good people can become infested with this material and it can have terrifying, destructive consequences.

Mark E. Peterson, Ensign, Febuary 1972
And speaking of maintaining discriminating values, were you not shocked recently by the announcement of the changes in the movie ratings, wherein X and R movies are now to be released as though they were GP [General audiences, parental guidance suggested]? When Life magazine commented on this trend, it quoted one of the movie producers as saying, “The game these days is to bring in a movie that gets away with as much as possible and at the same time inveigles a GP rating which insures you more or less widespread distribution.’

The public is being deceived by the ratings, many people not knowing even what the letters GP stand for. It is certainly no wonder that the movies are failing as a means of public entertainment and that they now have only 4 percent of the entertainment dollar in the United States.

Sisters of the Relief Society, you must learn increasingly to be discriminating about conditions in the world. Of necessity we live in the world and hence must face its issues. The Relief Society helps you mothers to develop this discriminating sense of values so that you can intelligently choose the right from the wrong. The study courses provided in the weekly meetings of Relief Society will do this for you, and thus help you to fight these evils and save your families and your homes.

The time has come when righteousness must be made a fighting force in the world; not a passive thing as it so often is, but a power that will combat evil on its own ground.

Vice has increased so rapidly in the past few years that if it is not stopped, it will engulf us. The silent majority of good-living people–and they still are in the majority, I am thankful to say–can no longer recline as a sleeping giant in a circle of self-content. This silent majority of righteousness must now assert itself with power. First and foremost, each one of us must put our own homes in order. Each one of us must drive from our own homes every invitation to sin, every vestige of pornography, every evil TV or radio program, and every unclean book or magazine.

Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, May 1986
Consider carefully the words of the prophet Alma to his errant son, Corianton, “Forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes.’ (Alma 39:9.)

“The lusts of your eyes.’ In our day, what does that expression mean?

Movies, television programs, and video recordings that are both suggestive and lewd.

Magazines and books that are obscene and pornographic.

We counsel you, young men, not to pollute your minds with such degrading matter, for the mind through which this filth passes is never the same afterwards. Don’t see R-rated movies or vulgar videos or participate in any entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic. Don’t listen to music that is degrading.

Remember Elder Boyd K. Packer’s statement: “Music, once … innocent, now is often used for wicked purposes. … “In our day music itself has been corrupted. Music can, by its tempo, by its beat, by its intensity [and I would add by its lyrics], dull the spiritual sensitivity of men. …

“Young people,’ Elder Packer goes on to say, “you cannot afford to fill your mind with the unworthy hard music of our day.’ (in Conference Report, Oct. 1973, pp. 21, 25; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, pp. 25, 28.)

Instead, we encourage you to listen to uplifting music, both popular and classical, that builds the spirit. Learn some favorite hymns from our new hymnbook that build faith and spirituality. Attend dances where the music and the lighting and the dance movements are conducive to the Spirit. Watch those shows and entertainment that lift the spirit and promote clean thoughts and actions. Read books and magazines that do the same.

H. Burke Peterson, Liahona, November 1993
In magazines and books, on CDs and tapes, on our television and theater screens is portrayed more and more often a lifestyle that might even rival the excesses of those who lived in Sodom and Gomorrah. The screens, music, and printed materials are filled with a profusion of sex, nudity, and vulgarity.

In Moroni 10:30 we read:
“And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing‘ (emphasis added).

One of the great tragedies is that too many Latter-day Saints are watching and listening to this type of so-called entertainment. Some do it only casually at first. They think they are spiritually strong and will be immune to its influence. This trash is nothing more nor less than pornography dressed in one of its many imitation robes of splendor–one of the master counterfeiter’s best products. Satan has slyly and slowly lowered the social norms of morality to a tragic and destructive level.

Part of the tragedy I speak of is that many do not recognize they are trapped or soon will be. They see this as a form of entertainment that serves as a relief from the troubles of the day. In reality, it is only relieving them of their spirituality and their capacity to draw on the powers of heaven in times of need.

We must come to understand fully the consequences of having an appetite for such entertainment. Such an appetite can lead to an eternal penalty. No person can look at, read about, or listen to such explicit vulgarity, even in its mildest form, without bringing sorrow to a loving God and injury to one’s own spirit. We cannot look at or listen to these unholy depictions in our own living room or wherever they are shown without suffering the consequences–and those consequences are very real.

We must remember that our rewards for righteous living are only partially enjoyed in this mortal life. Likewise, our miseries for breaking the commandments of God will not all be realized fully as we live here on the earth. Eternity is a long, long time.

I plead with you to leave it alone. Stay away from any movie, video, publication, or music–regardless of its rating–where illicit behavior and expressions are part of the action. Have the courage to turn it off in your living room. Throw the tapes and the publications in the garbage can, for that is where we keep garbage.

The Doctrine and Covenants gives a warning and a promise. The promise says, “If your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things’ (D&C 88:67).

In an application of this scripture today, it is my understanding that anytime we look at or listen to this kind of material–even in its mildest form–the light inside of us grows dimmer because the darkness inside increases. The effect of this is that we cannot think as clearly about life’s challenges–be they business, church, school, family, or personal. We have cluttered the channel to the source of all light with various unclean images. Our entitlement to personal revelation on any subject is severely restricted. We don’t do as well in school or at work. We are left more on our own, and as a result we make more mistakes and we are not as happy. Remember, our mind is a wonderful instrument. It will record and keep whatever we put into it, both trash and beauty. When we see or hear anything filthy or vulgar, whatever the source, our mind records it. As it makes the filthy record, beauty and clean thoughts are pushed into the background. Hope and faith in Christ begin to fade, and more and more, turmoil and discontent become our companions.

Brothers, sisters, and parents are not as happy together as they used to be. We find less peace and contentedness in our hearts and homes. We do things that later we wish we had not done. Contention raises its vicious head, and when contention is present, the Spirit of Christ departs from us.

Again I say, leave it alone. Turn it off, walk away from it, burn it, erase it, destroy it. I know it is hard counsel we give when we say R-rated movies, and many with PG-13 ratings, are produced by satanic influences. Our standards should not be dictated by the rating system. I repeat, because of what they really represent, these types of movies, music, tapes, and other products serve the purposes of the author of all darkness.

H. Burke Peterson, Ensign, November 1974
You know it isn’t hard to recognize a real warrior for the priesthood. You meet him at every turn. He is the one who says no when others say yes to movies on Sunday, to R- or X-rated shows at any time (he knows he must not fall to this temptation). He’s the one who says no to immoral books or magazines or pictures or stories at any time. He says no to fishing or swimming or boating on Sunday. He’s the one who says no when others say, “Just try it,’ to a beer or a cigarette–even if it’s just one. This courageous warrior is also the one who says yes when others say no to priesthood meeting Sunday morning, to sacrament meeting, to tithe paying, to prayers each day, to seminary or institute classes. This stalwart young man is one who says yes when others say no to a mission.

Joseph B. Wirthlin, New Era, May 1988
These little rationalizations prompted by Satan will become great detriments to our spiritual growth. Pornography in all its forms–found at the movie theater, on television, and in printed form–constitutes a spiritual poison that is addictive and destructive. Every ounce of pornography and immoral entertainment will cause you to lose a pound of spirituality. And it will only take a few ounces of immorality to cause you to lose all of your spiritual strength, for the Lord’s Spirit will not dwell in an unclean temple.

Our prophet, President Ezra Taft Benson, gave us excellent counsel when he said:
“We counsel you … not to pollute your minds with such degrading matter, for the mind through which this filth passes is never the same afterwards. Don’t see R-rated movies or vulgar videos or participate in any entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic. … Watch those shows and entertainment that lift the spirit and promote clean thoughts and actions. Read books and magazines that do the same’ (“To the Youth of the Noble Birthright,’ Ensign, May 1986, p. 45).

Hartman Rector Jr., Ensign, January 1973
Potiphar’s wife became particularly insistent, even to taking hold of his coat and attempting to draw him to her. But Joseph did the very best thing he could do under the circumstances. The scripture records, “… he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.’ (Gen. 39:12.) Or, in today’s language–he ran.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like a very sophisticated thing to do, but sometimes running is the only thing to do. This was such a time. I am sure that Joseph did not know he was going to be alone with her, or he would not have gone into the house. I have great faith in Joseph.

It is more important that we beware of compromising situations than anything else we can do. We must avoid them. If we don’t, we will run the great risk of being overcome.

In my experience, I have found that it is very, very dangerous to fly just high enough to miss the treetops. I spent twenty-six years flying the navy’s airplanes. It was very exciting to see how close I could fly to the trees. This is called “flat hatting’ in the navy, and it is extremely dangerous. When you are flying just high enough to miss the trees and your engine coughs once, you are in the trees. Now let’s pretend that the navy had a commandment–“Thou shalt not fly thy airplane in the trees.’ As a matter of fact, they did have such a commandment. In order to really be free of the commandment, it becomes necessary for me to add a commandment of my own to the navy’s commandment, such as, “Thou shalt not fly thy airplane closer than 5,000 feet to the trees.’ When you do this, you make the navy’s commandment of not flying in the trees easy to live, and the safety factor is tremendously increased.

Admittedly, the latter commandment is your own addition, and care should be exercised that you do not get it mixed up with the law and expound it as the law. Rather, it is your own commandment, invented by you for your own self-preservation; and, if you are going to preach it, it should be expounded as such. We should studiously avoid placing ourselves in positions where we could be overcome by temptation. Paul’s admonition that we avoid even the appearance of evil certainly represents an addition to the Lord’s commandment, which is, to “forsake all evil’ and “entangle not yourselves in sin.’ (See D&C 98:11; D&C 88:86.) But if we follow Paul’s admonition, we will find the Lord’s commandment much easier to live.

It is so important that young people who are unmarried erect barriers against temptation to help them avoid the compromising situations. May I suggest a few barriers.

1. Never go into a house alone with one of the opposite sex.
2. Never, never enter a bedroom alone with one of the opposite sex.
3. Do not neck or pet. Now, admittedly there is no place in the scriptures where the Lord has said, “Thou shalt not neck or pet.’ I know that, but he has said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery, or fornication, or anything like unto it.’
4. Never park on a lonely road with just the two of you alone.
5. Do not read pornographic literature.
6. Do not attend R- or X-rated movies, and avoid drive-ins

David B. Haight, Ensign, November 1986

Spiritual crevasses symbolize the temptations and pitfalls that too many of our youth are tragically encountering: alcohol, with its wine coolers and keg parties, drug tampering and dependency, R- and X-rated films and videos, which often culminate in sexual immorality. On the edge of those ominous crevasses are parents and others who, with fervent prayers, cry for help and assistance. Like Cannon’s father, they, too, pray that their sons or daughters will hold on to the extended lifeline. Their love, and the teachings of the scriptures and the assurance of the eternal blessings of the Savior’s atonement, are sure lifelines to safety.

Bruce C. Hafen, New Era, Febuary 2002
It’s now simply a fact that most of those who write and most of those who produce today’s movies, TV programs, and popular music, as well as those who set the editorial policies of many magazines, believe that sex outside of marriage is really quite harmless. On this particular subject of sexual morality, I honestly believe our society is within the grip of the evil one.

Can you see why the Brethren tell us to stay away from X- and R-rated movies? Can you see why they plead with us to avoid drugs, alcohol, vulgar music, and the other products of the carnal environment that now surrounds us almost as water surrounds the fish of the sea? These aren’t trivial things. If the H-bomb symbolizes our age, we are playing now not just with fire, but with nuclear power. The prince of darkness has dragged out the heavy artillery.

Joe J. Christensen, Ensign, November 1996

Satan has made great inroads into the lives of some Latter-day Saints through the evil in the media. I am confident that the great majority of you have not been guilty of serious sexual sin, but many are placing themselves in a path that could lead to it. A bishop reported that he had observed that the spiritual level of the young priesthood bearers in his ward was declining. Through his personal interviews with them, he discovered that many of them were watching R-rated movies. When he asked them where they went to see such trash, they said, “We don’t go anywhere. We watch them at home. We have cable television, and when our parents are gone we watch anything we want to.’

Fathers, you may want to reconsider having unrestricted cable or unsupervised television sets in your home and particularly in your children’s bedrooms.

It is very unreasonable to suppose that exposure to profanity, nudity, sex, and violence has no negative effects on us. We can’t roll around in the mud without getting dirty.

It is a concern that some of our young Latter-day Saints, as well as their parents, regularly watch R-rated and other inappropriate movies and videos. One more reason why the “devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice’ (3 Ne. 9:2).

Just a few months ago the Lord’s prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, shared with the youth, and with all of us, this clear and unmistakable counsel:

“Be clean. I cannot emphasize that enough. Be clean. It is so very, very important, and you at your age are in such temptation all the time. It is thrown at you on television. It is thrown at you in books and magazines and videos. You do not have to rent them. Don’t do it. Just don’t do it. Don’t look at them. If somebody proposes that you sit around all night watching some of that sleazy stuff, you say, ‘It’s not for me.’ Stay away from it’ (Denver, Colorado, youth meeting, 14 Apr. 1996).

The Lord and his living prophets are counting on you to avoid the trash that surrounds you in the media. When anyone chooses to ignore or defiantly go against the counsel of the living prophet, he is on very shaky ground.

Richard G. Scott, Liahona, March 2001
I know that you will find the same response as you consistently choose to obey your principles. You are establishing a reputation. When you make it clear that you will not vary from your standards, you will be led to individuals like yourself and the criticism from others will become less intense. Often those who publicly deride you for your high standards privately do not want you to violate them. They need your good example. Whether it be turning your back on an off-color joke, refusing to see an R-rated movie or videocassette, or walking out of a party that is moving in the wrong direction, make your standards clear to others by quietly making the right choices when the temptation is first presented. A decisive, correct choice made once and consistently kept thereafter will avoid much heartache. You then can use your energy in keeping your resolve rather than repeatedly wrestling with the same challenge. Also, you will greatly reduce the possibility that you will be overcome by temptation.

Joe J. Christensen, New Era, January 1998,

In addition to making a resolution that we will read only the best in print, it would be very beneficial if now we resolved not to watch even one R-rated or NC-17 movie, or television shows with questionable content. That may sound extreme, but I assure you that much of our future happiness and success depends on it. We cannot justify mentally shifting into neutral and failing to exert our efforts to progress intellectually. Whether or not you are in school, the challenge is the same. We should continue learning throughout our lives.

Joe J. Christensen, Ensign, Dec 1994
It also would be very beneficial if we resolve not to watch even one movie, video, or television show of R-rated quality or worse–from now on. I assure you that much of our future happiness and success depends on that choice.

David A. Bednar, Ensign, May 2006
The standard is clear. If something we think, see, hear, or do distances us from the Holy Ghost, then we should stop thinking, seeing, hearing, or doing that thing. If that which is intended to entertain, for example, alienates us from the Holy Spirit, then certainly that type of entertainment is not for us.

Comment(s) on this post:

  1. John

    Do you really think we are similiar to the Romans? I teach film, and films have become more family friendly as a whole than any time in the history of cinema. While it is true that there are exceptions, they don’t sell, and the studios know this. Audiences don’t seek out gory entertainment–They seek out the most available.

    Violence in American society is at its lowest point in recorded urban society. We are far from a desensitized society–if anything, our children are more socially conscious than ever before (teenage pregnancies are also at an all time low).

    I have many students in the church who have very strict rules about films, values, and ratings. The problem is that they simply accept that these films are “bad.” All of these films in my class are well-made, fantasy (none of it ever happened), and they tend to show less than imagined. I allow students to make choices in their viewing habits, but members of the church are so zombie-like in their obedience. We want people to make moral choices–not simply do blind obedience. Yet, most members never “think” about the choices–they just do what they are told. Sad.

  2. Paul W.

    @John: Thank you for your in depth comment. It’s always nice to have people share their opinions, even if it is in disagreement with mine. Being a professor I am sure you are quite aware of how easy it is to spew statistics. I can show that teen pregnancies are actually on the rise and that violence in America is among the worst in 1st world countries (and to also say that “films have become more family friendly as a whole” really does not mean much when the media gives us shows like Family Guy and Glee as “family friendly”).

    However, the more important part of this discussion is that we have been counseled to not watch R rated movies or anything that “alienates us from the Holy Spirit.” Understanding this, I would then state that heeding the counsel of the Prophet is a far cry to “zombie-like” obedience. To know that Thomas S. Monson, and the many holy men before him, speak with God is power within itself. It takes serious reflection and searching to even consider this notion to be true. Not to mention, a sincere belief in its truth to even follow it.

    Generally, my experience shows that the “zombie-like” followers you speak of rarely follow the prophet’s counsel. Often, these “believers” have not developed the spiritual conviction to search, ponder, pray, and obey. As long as the counsel doesn’t interfere with their lifestyle than obedience to God’s laws are no problem, but once it becomes hard their “moral choice” is to take the path most traveled.

    Francis Bacon once penned, “Homo minister et interpres naturae” or “Man, the servant and interpreter of nature.” Lord Bacon further wrote, “[Man] can do and understand so much and so much only as he observed in fact or in thought of the course of Nature: beyond this he neither knows anything nor can do anything.” Man honestly believes he can accurately be the “interpreter of nature.” However, it is the “beyond this” that he does not know and thus makes his “facts” often fallacious. The absolutism behavior you abhor in your LDS film students doesn’t come from blindly following, but rather it comes from knowing that man’s facts are rarely God’s truths.

  3. Chriccha

    I think it is hillarious that my sisters 2 year old daughter can watch a movie that is Rated “G” in Sweden but that I, living in the US, can not watch the same movie – because it is Rated “R” here.

  4. @Chriccha: I think there is a serious disconnect in values if a movie in Sweden is rated G, while it is considered R in the United States. According to the Motion Picture Association of America a movie is considered R if it, “. . . include[s] adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements. . .” If these are things that are found in a Swedish rated G movie then there is something wrong with Sweden’s movie values not the U.S.

  5. As far as I can tell, no president of the Church has ever counseled LDS adults never to see an R-rated movie.  President Benson’s counsel was to young men only and was in the context of avoiding movies with sexual content. Some great R-rated movies include Schindler’s List, The King’s Speech and Crimson Tide.  

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