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As a child with limited exposure to blatant evil, in my perspective, a harlot was the pinnacle of wickedness. I'm not sure if I was ever explicitly taught this in church, but this term was used to describe women who preyed on men with their insatiable lust. This fits well with another false concept I learned that when a woman falls from grace, she falls farther than any man ever can, because she is inherently purer. A third lesson learned through so-called virtue lessons, was women are responsible not only for their choices and actions, but also many actions of men. I was taught men are mere victims of emotions, thoughts, and physical reactions.

These principles were built upon perhaps less aggressive but no less harmful lessons about the precarious state of the virtue of young girls. I’ve included some examples from my youth.

After such strong commentary on women’s sexuality, a wave of discomfort and anxiety naturally accompanied the words harlot and whore during my preteen years in church, and still did until recently, during my Come, Follow Me and April 2020 conference study. I focused on that feeling to understand my reaction to 1 Nephi 13:6-9. These verses reference harlots as part of the identity of the great and abominable church during the latter days.

“And it came to pass that I beheld this great and abominable church; and I saw the devil that he was the founder of it. And I also saw gold, and silver, and silks, and scarlets, and fine-twined linen, and all manner of precious clothing; and I saw many harlots. And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the gold, and the silver, and the silks, and the scarlets, and the fine-twined linen, and the precious clothing, and the harlots, are the desires of this great and abominable church. And also for the praise of the world do they destroy the saints of God, and bring them down into captivity.”

I think I subconsciously defined harlot with my preteen idea of “scantily clad women who deliberately entice men for the intent to steal their eternal salvation through lustful acts.” This sounds dramatic, but I insist that a harlot was the ultimate villain to me as a child, raised as I was in my culture. In my initial perspective, God was using the idea of fallen women to describe the worst of Satan’s temptations and efforts to make the rest of us fall.

However, as I matured spiritually, I took a step back and applied new knowledge.

In 2017, I interned with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE). There, I learned from overwhelming primary research and personal accounts that contrary to this idea of a harlot as predator, most women engaged in sex as a commercial act (commonly known as prostitution) do so out of fiscal, relational, and physical desperation. For example, they are often trafficked, blackmailed, raped, drugged, and otherwise coerced and forced to begin and continue in the industry. The rate of murder is manifold times higher for women in the sex industry in comparison with those unaffiliated with it. [1]

One researcher I spoke with compared the “sex worker” movement to a reverse imitation of the Occupy Wall Street movement—"the 1%” of the sexual industry consist of privileged women with the luxury to choose the profession, and who maintain freedoms necessary to lobby for their chosen occupation. (This idea of prostitution is in line with the idea of the predatory woman in full control of her agency, wielding it with no hesitation to cause the downfall of the sons of God.) In contrast, “the 99%” women having sex for money do so out of desperation, poverty, addiction, fear, despair, ignorance, or slavery. Frequently, they are also forced to participate in the production of pornography, trafficking other humans, selling drugs, and are frequently victims of sexual and physical violence. [2] Understanding the inherent bondage that accompanies the women engulfed in sexual exploitation consciously changed the connotation of the word "harlot" for me from one of evil, fallen, degraded womanhood to a notion of stolen or bound agency.

The pieces snapped together. IF:

1) the "great and abominable church [represents] any philosophy or organization that opposes belief in God"[3],

2) Satan is the founder of any philosophy or organization that opposes belief in God, and

3) harlots, riches, captivity, and destruction of the saints of God are the desires of the great and abominable church (or philosophy) created by Satan

THEN: Nephi, Isaiah, and ultimately God were not naming prostitutes as Satan’s partners fighting against the plan of salvation, nor were they laying the blame for all sexual enticement and commerce at the feet of women. Contrary to my childhood assumptions, in these verses our Heavenly Parents clearly teach us that a hallmark sign of Satan's evil and degrading efforts on this earth is the marginalization, minimalization, silencing, abuse, slavery, and murder of women, especially for sexual power and gratification. The following chapter of Nephi, verses 16 and 17 further support this hypothesis:

“Behold, the wrath of God is upon the mother of harlots; and behold, though seest all these things—And when the day cometh that the wrath of God is poured out upon the mother of harlots, which is the great and abominable of all the earth, whose founder is the devil, then, at that day, the work of the Father shall commence, in preparing the way for the fulfilling of his covenants, which he hath made to his people who are the house of Israel.”

This verse elevates the idea that the marginalization of women is a trademark consequence of the Satan’s malicious intent, from a hypothesis to a knowledge that the marginalization of women is his intent. Using the word mother, the Lord and Isaiah suggest the deliberate creation of enslaved women. Like a child who hasn’t played a part in their own conception, harlots are often created not of their own will, but of women acted upon by circumstances beyond their control, including others’ (often forceful) agency. Note that the wrath of God is not poured out upon the harlots, but upon their creator (or founder, mother), who is the devil.

Perhaps Lucifer’s violent pursuit of women indicates his wrath at choosing to not receive a body or jealousy arising from his forsaking the opportunity for a covenant relationship with an eternal companion. Perhaps underlying his daily and global torture of the collective figure of women is his unveiled knowledge of the majesty of Heavenly Mother and our Christ-promised potential to become as She is. Whatever his reason, the Book of Mormon clearly delineates women as central targets of the adversary’s evil work.

In soothing contrast, we know that during Jesus Christ’s mortal life, He liberated women in constricted life situations (widows, ill women, unmarried women, young girls, etc.), embraced women who came to Him weighed down by the abuse heaped on them by the politics and culture of the time, and elevated women publicly above synagogue elites and political leaders. In a few poignant and frequently cited stories, He

1) stopped the stoning of the woman caught in adultery (as is common today, the prostitute bearing the brunt of legal ramifications and the “john” bearing none) and invited her to wield her own power to change her life, [4]

2) discussed the life situation of the woman at the well without disdain and with unshakable knowledge and poignant awareness of her divine Prototype, [5]

3) lifted up the woman with an issue of blood to celebrate her powerful faith, interrupting his journey to heal the daughter of an influential male leader of the Jewish community which lead to

4) raised Jarius’ daughter from the dead, permanently answering the age-old question that a daughter is worth as much as a son, regardless of cultural belief.

Disciples can successfully combat Satan’s efforts to marginalize women by following Christ’s example: we must track, call out, and work to end the exploitation of women as the Savior did. (In light of these criteria, Dr. Valerie Hudson’s WomanStats project sprang into my mind as an excellent tool already engaged in this work as it maintains detailed global research on the wellbeing and liberty of women. [6]) When we empower women by freeing them from generational and societal bonds, Satan, the pimp behind it all, can no longer hide in the shadows. [7]

By applying our combined knowledge of eternal principles and mortal realities, we will more consciously “give place no more for the enemy of [our souls],” both in our societies and hearts. [8] As we liberate literally half of the children of God from their current horrors, we’ll experience more fully the fulfillment of President Kimball’s prophecies of women in this dispensation:

“Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world … will be drawn to the Church in large numbers…to the degree that the women of the Church…are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.” [9]
“Someday, when the whole story of this…[dispensation] is told, it will be filled with courageous stories of our women, of their wisdom and their devotion, their courage, for one senses that perhaps, just as women were the first at the sepulchre of the Lord Jesus Christ…righteous women have so often been instinctively sensitive to things of eternal consequence.” [10]


[1] Innumerable academic and other articles exploring the “web of sexual exploitation” and its consequences can be found on NCOSE’s website, https://endsexualexploitation.org/ --- [Back to manuscript].

[2] The conversation I reference was a conversation Julie Bindel had with our staff and has no public documentation, but the principles expressed are more than likely communicated in her book The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth and other resources in the linked site. [Back to manuscript].

[3] Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, March 2015 [Back to manuscript].

[4] John 8:3-11[Back to manuscript].

[5] John 4:3-42 --- [Back to manuscript].

[6] http://www.womanstats.org/ --- [Back to manuscript].

[7] “Satan as the pimp behind it all” by Dr. Valerie Hudson [Back to manuscript].

[8] 2 Nephi 4:27 [Back to manuscript].

[9] “The Role of Righteous Women”, President Spencer W. Kimball, General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1979. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1979/10/the-role-of-righteous-women?lang=eng --- [Back to manuscript].

[10] “Chapter 20: The Women of the Church,” President Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 2011. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/teachings-spencer-w-kimball/chapter-20?lang=eng --- [Back to manuscript].

Full Citation for this Article: Bell, Emilee (2020) "Harlots and the Great and Abominable Church: Marginalization of Women as a Hallmark Sign of the Devil’s Work on the Earth," SquareTwo, Vol. 13 No. 1 (Spring 2020), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleBellAbominableChurch.html, accessed <give access date>.

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COMMENTS: 2 Comments

I. V.H. Cassler

Thanks to Emilee Bell for this wonderful essay! This is a fabulous example of how the meaning and interpretation of scripture can change dramatically when we are able to hear the perspectives of women! The usage of "harlot" has always bothered me, as well, because a list of those who have caused the most suffering and death in this world would be a list made up almost exclusively of men--so how could harlot-y women be behind it all? No, as Bell persuasively explains, it is those persons who desire that women play the harlot for their own commitment-less sexual gratification who are Satan's top lieutenants, and those persons are overwhelmingly male. It is the pimps and johns, not only in a temporal sense but also in a spiritual sense, who have forced women to prostitute themselves in so many ways, who are very rightly the primary focus of the Lord's wrath.


II. Tom Nibley

As I was reading Sis. Bell's article my mind went to Jacob chapters two and three. These chapters are usually used in the church as recrimination and commandments about the evils of polygamy. They fit very well into such discussions and will undoubtedly be used that way into the future. But while we examined these chapters as our Sunday school lesson some weeks ago I noticed something. While the lesson often referred to polygamy Jacob never used that word. What he spoke about was whoredoms (Jacob 2:23. 28. 33; 3:5). "Whoredom" implies financial exchange, and all the depravity that Sister Bell references in her article. And notice that the women are not portrayed by Jacob as sultry seducers (although that is the default assignment many give them, as seen in the new Book of Mormon video on the chapter.) No, Jacob makes it very clear that they are captive victims of men's avarice. Jacob 2:31 "For behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people in the land of Jerusalem, yea, and in all the lands of my people, because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands. 32 And I will not suffer, saith the Lord of Hosts, that the cries of the fair daughters of this people, which I have led out of the land of Jerusalem, shall come up unto me against the men of my people, saith the Lord of Hosts.33 For they shall not lead away captive the daughters of my people because of their tenderness, save I shall visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction; for they shall not commit whoredoms, like unto them of old, saith the Lord of Hosts.35 Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, our brethren. Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you. And because of the strictness of the word of God, which cometh down against you, many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds."

Throughout Jacob chapters two and three Jacob pointedly addresses "my brethren" as the malefactors and mentions the women and children only as victims. I think it would be wise to read these chapters more carefully.

While I'm thinking on this and related issues I am reminded of Orson Hyde's discourse on Christ being married to Mary Magdalene. There was a time when this was accepted as a fact in the church, although it was never approved as doctrine. When Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" came out some years ago there was quite a stir about the possibility of this marriage. A number of studies were written, most including some sort of proclamation that Mary would never have been a prostitute because the Lord would never allow so unsavory a character to attach herself to Him. As I pondered on this, I was reminded of something from my distant past. Years ago I was reading about the life of Abraham and how his life was a type of Christ's. There was quite a bit about the idea of the 'arrested sacrifice', how Abraham was bound, laid on an altar, and was at the point of death when God intervened to save him. This was compared to the trial and sacrifice of Christ which wasn't arrested but was carried through and beyond, past the bitter end to a new beginning.

Then the study went on to examine Sarah's arrested sacrifices. Where Abraham's life was threatened, in Sarah's case it was her virtue. As I read the thought struck me, “If Abraham's sacrifice, is a type of Christ's-- except it was arrested, wouldn't it be right and proper for there to be a type of sacrifice that typified the wife, the other half of Jesus that made Him whole? Otherwise there would be no point in Sarah going through all that nastiness. She must have been the type for Jesus' wife.” If this were the case then that would indicate that Mary Magdalene at some point in time (since Sarah was already married it would have been after Mary was wed) was abducted, probably beaten and held against her will, then sold/rented out as a prostitute. As Sister Bell made clear, this is the way most prostitutes become prostitutes. Most cultures through the ages have been profoundly misogynistic, and being what they were, the victim was immediately branded and shunned as the perpetrator. I've lived in societies where if sexual assault happened it was always blamed on the woman. Always. In such societies the possibility of Mary Magdalene becoming a prostitute could only have come about, according to the received wisdom of the day, in Talmage’s unfortunate and highly judgmental phrase, because she “burned with unholy lust”.

Anyhow, if this scenario had come about it would put Mary nearer the same level as Christ, whose holiness came through suffering. It could be, and has been, argued that Jesus couldn't really be holy or He would have never suffered Himself to be so humiliated. But He had to descend below all things in order to rise above all things. (see D&C 122:7-9). Then why should His other half not also descend? And if she did descend and then, by the power of God ascend with her husband above all things, what a team of conciliators they would be! Yes, they know your pain, they've been there!

Orson Hyde discourse; The Marriage Relations. Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, No. 18 (Oct. 6, 1954)

Article on Sarah's sacrifice;