Zelophehad’s Daughters

Secrecy and the Economics of Religious Devotion

Posted by Kiskilili

Religious secrecy is nothing new; ancient mystery religions enjoyed a long history and vital following, and even some early Christian groups apparently did not reveal key doctrines to catechumens until after baptism. A number of instantiations of institutional secrecy in the Church can be identified, among them the veil over the handbook of instructions and the lack of public information on how tithing dollars are spent. But what interests me here is the significance to community dynamics of the conducting of secret ceremonies.

The first hurdle in examining the implications of the practice is acknowledging that there is in fact any secrecy involved. Naturally such ceremonies are sacred, and the prohibition against discussing them in profane environments is one important way of shielding their sacred character. Just as they are delimited physically by buildings deliberately setting them apart from the rest of the world (and even from other church activities), so are they delimited conceptually by the admonition that they not be discussed in profane environments: thus both physical and conceptual barriers paralleling each other serve to patrol this relationship between sacred and profane. But in effect this functions as a form of secrecy. (Furthermore, the discussion of other religious knowledge deemed “sacred” is not formally restricted to any particular physical environment–even information which such rituals treat (i.e., Adam and Eve can be discussed in one’s living room during a family home evening lesson). So secrecy/restricted access is not a necessary precondition to the LDS concept of sacrality.)

Secrecy may protect the sacred nature of certain church activities, but in addition it inevitably influences community dynamics, effectively creating a distinction between insiders and outsiders. Church culture, familiarity with doctrine and practice, and idiosyncratic Mormon parlance no doubt similarly reinforce the distinction between Church members and others. But restricted access to the Church’s holiest circles of ritual activity and knowledge arguably functions more to sift full members from “partial” members within the Church itself than erect a barrier between members and non-members, since at this point the information is primarily being kept secret from people in the community. (Nonmembers who are aware that Mormons engage in secret rituals and are interested have likely investigated them, since they’re readily available online; it’s uninitiated believers who have reason to respect the boundary that shuts them out, just as it’s these same believers who are invested and involved enough to be excluded.)

This boundary between initiated and uninitiated is reinforced in a number of ways, both explicit and implicit: by hints and allusions, by deliberately coming up short in explicating a gospel principle, by invoking temple covenants or recounting who was in attendance at a particular service–undoubtedly with no malicious or exclusionary intentions but in such a way that those outside the circle are continually reminded of its existence.

Social scientists recognize that, far from being wholly irrational, religious behavior (which not infrequently involves self-abnegation) confers certain tangible rewards. Denying oneself pleasurable experiences involving promiscuos sex, alcohol, greed, and dishonesty no doubt bestows the satisfaction of participating in a moral lifestyle and brings one closer to the Spirit, effects which are not to be discounted. But in addition, it makes possible one’s integration into the community of adherents, with all the social benefits that fully belonging to a community entails. It’s interesting that the Church has explicitly paired its list of minimum requirements for acceptable standing with access to secret activities; effectively, participation in those activities serves as a reward for meeting the requirements. Certainly there are religious rewards for meeting these stipulations: one may be closer to God, may be specifically blessed by him, and enjoys the peace of mind of being prepared to enter heaven. But here I’m interested in examining potential social rewards: those who meet the requirements accrue a certain amount of religious capital, and one of the ways in which that capital makes itself manifest in the community is through one’s access to secret knowledge.

To summarize: secrecy is a form of exclusion, exclusion creates status for those included, and status serves as a potential reward. There are social benefits to adhering to the Church’s standards of behavior, one of which is a certain status in the community that is reinforced by one’s access to and familiarity with the secret knowledge and activities that mark one as a full member of the community. Ironically, the temple is frequently touted as the primary mechanism whereby social hierarchies are eroded, and yet (in addition to the fact that intergender hierarchies are reinforced) it can also be used to create and reinforce distinctions in social echelons in church interactions.

20 Responses to “Secrecy and the Economics of Religious Devotion”

  1. 1.

    (Secrecy no doubt also produces a number of other effects: it can make information more enticing but also more anxiety-inducing. Additionally, because of the taboo on discussing it, it is difficult to hold the Church accountable to what it teaches non-publicly.

    The logical theological reason for keeping certain rituals secret is that the information itself serves as a sieve in the next life enabling those who have it to enter heaven where those who don’t know it are barred. This poses a number of problems, among them the lack of ultimate control on the information: the righteous and initiated may forget the necessary knowledge, whereas others have relatively easy access to it, should they choose to investigate.)

  2. 2.

    In my own experience, I haven’t seen a lot of social hierarchy involved in who has attended the temple. There are certainly structural hierarchical implications (i.e. you have to have a temple recommend to hold certain callings), but I haven’t seen any social ones. Maybe that’s because I’m one of the “included.” But I know that I automatically assume that every adult I meet in the church is also one of the “included.” I don’t know that they are, but that’s always my assumption.

    How do you see this social hierarchy influencing actual social interactions within the community? (Maybe you could try and answer this from both the perspective of the “included” and the “excluded.”)

  3. 3.

    Just today, I wrote a draft article on “the secrecy of patriarchal blessings” to be published tomorrow on my own blog. (The topic just popped into my head, of a sudden.) Then, I come in here and what do you know! another article on secrecy! Mere coincidence? I’m not sure, but it certainly is interesting how things like this happen.

    Great post, btw.

  4. 4.

    I have experienced this hierarchy mostly as it has effected my family. Back when all ten of us, were young enough to be included in temple ritual, it was great and I never would have imagined an exclusionary aspect. Over the years, however, spouses and now some of us siblings have found ourselves among the excluded. Not because we wanted to live a life of sin, or ceased to love God, but because we have lost our faith that the church is what it claims to be. The last time I attended a temple wedding, my sister’s, it felt so hollow to me because instead of feeling the joy of being with the ones who were there, I felt the painful absence of the ones who couldn’t be there. I actually felt a tinge of shame that I was part of the “righteous group”.

    Your observations really hit home with me, because I have been on both sides. I felt the pleasure of being part of the elite in the church, I even served as one of the only young temple workers for many years. I also know how it feels to be on the outside and realize that those I love most will be hurt and judge my life when I tell them I can’t go to the next temple wedding.

  5. 5.

    Fun post, K. But I think you’re selling secrecy short. Really, is this the only potential reason for secrecy?

    It seems that there are a lot of potential reasons to keep some sort of information secret, right? I mean, to step back and look at different kinds of information that is typically viewed as secret, we can come up with all sorts of things.

    The schematics of military bases in wartime. The recipe for making Coca Cola. My client’s information if I’m her attorney. (I see the company financial records, but I don’t disclose everything I see.) My journal. My knowledge that my neighbor is having an affair. The details of my sex life with my wife. My knowledge that Bro. X really hates Bro. Y. My cards in a poker game. The password to my e-mail.

    In some instances, disclosure of secrets is itself viewed as a really bad thing. If I disclose privileged and confidential information that I obtain as an attorney, I’m subject to sanction and disbarment. If I disclose the recipe for Coca Cola, the company loses millions. If I share the details of my sex life in public, people yell TMI and stop reading my blog. If I give my bank account info to the Nigerian spammer, I lose the house.

    Yes, secrecy may create forms of exclusion. On the other hand, sometimes we _want_ to be excluded (please, don’t tell the details of your hemorrhoids in fast and testimony meeting). Sometimes society wants us to exclude others from information — my attorney information; my bank password — and we tend to think that kind of exclusion is just and proper.

    What is it about temple secrecy that makes it different to you from other, more mundane forms of secrecy?

  6. 6.

    Of course, there are reasons for secrecy other than social stratification. However, an analogy between Kaimi’s examples and the function of the temple ceremonies is a stretch. It certainly is not sufficient to throw out lists without as much as a hint to their relevance.

    A charitable but realistic reading of Kaimis’s line of argument might begin with the observation that there seems to be different reasons for the secrecy of the endowment and weddings.

    Joseph Smith plagiarized the endowment from the Masons, which has always been a secret society. By contrast, he needed to marry secretly because neither Emma nor society tolerated his escapades with multiple women but temple marriage would obtain the acquiescence of his brides and followers.

    In the case of temple marriage, it may be reasonable to draw an analogy between Kaimi’s secrets that are about protecting an individual’s interest. Although Kaimi’s examples are all legitimate while marrying the wives of other men is not, I am willing to ignore that difference momentarily for argument’s sake.

    However, the endowment secrecy cannot possibly compare to attorney-client privilege or banking secrecy. The endowment has always been about demarcating in- and out-groups within Mormon society.

    My impression is that the discriminatory function of the temple might be weakening. The McTemples and the frantic efforts to herd people into the temple at ward and stake temple nights trivializes the sacred nature of temple rituals.

    To a lesser degree that is also true of mainstreaming the content of the temple ordinances.

    The more trivial, cheap, and profane, the less exclusive the temple rituals become.

    There are interesting parallels between Mormonism and renaissance Catholicism. As Mormons are better educated, they are less willing to swallow the hierarchy’s mythology, which is a catch 22 for a temple going people.

    We used to live in one of the most backward societies of the western world where people were poorly educated, infant mortality rates were through the roof, and most of the corridor economy was agrarian. Masonic rituals were meaningful when most people’s education did not extend much beyond reading, just enough to give rise to a vibrant imagination but not enough to provide people with a sense of perspective, and when the memory of Nauvoo and the pioneers’ suffering was within living memory.

    Contemporary Mormon experience is quite different. Mormons have come from the margins of the western world to the hub of the global economy. More importantly, we are living in a post-totalitarian world where Auschwitz and the Gulag are on everybody’s mind. The most admired people in western society are probably Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi.

    These cultural changes confront us with a catch 22 because, on one hand, suicide pacts and naked touching are just no longer compatible with people’s values. On the other hand, the emasculation of the temple rituals trivializes and cheapens them.

    There is no easy way out for Mormonism, especially not with a top down management model. For Mormonism to overcome its current atrophy, the leaders would have to abandon correlation and to re-negotiate the meaning of Mormon values with the membership.

    The members are Mormonisms greatest asset. Any solution to these and other problems will require a better use of members’ resources, which is not possible without empowering them to a much greater degree.

  7. 7.

    Fine post, Kiskilili. You could really flesh out this concept into a full article. And talk about comments that are all over the map! By the way, I nominate Kaimi’s (#5) as “comment of the year” if only for the range of his particular examples.

    The spread of temples and the rise of the term “temple Mormon” (referring to those with a temple recommend and who, by inference, meet the behavioral and moral requirements) suggest that the distinction between insiders and outsiders within Mormonism plays a larger role than it used to. I certainly get that impression. When was the term “temple Mormon” first used, I wonder? And when did it move from being a term of criticism to being a mainstream term?

    Furthermore, consider the use of a temple recommend as a control on who can get or keep a job at BYU and within the LDS employment sector, and the equivalent of temple recommend interview requirement (the bishop’s interview and endorsement) for BYU students. This development shows how the Church as an institution has appropriated the temple and now uses it as a tool for social regulation. In some ways, that is as offensive as a merchant using a temple recommend as a basis for extending credit or for being willing to take someone’s check. Or a neighbor using it as the basis for who to invite to their next party.

    [Note: I'm not saying that the Church has abandoned the temple as a sacred icon or as a site for sacred ordinances and reflective worship. Just that it is now also used for other more institutional and bureaucratic purposes.]

  8. 8.

    Interesting post, Kiskilli. When my father couldn’t attend my temple wedding, I was devastated. I hadn’t thought of it in the same way you explained it, but a temple recommend really is a greater division within the church than between members and non-members.
    Your post reminds me of two recent experiences.
    1. A Visiting Teaching message about temple attendance that I gave, assuming that my companion was endowed. I asked her on the way home, and found out she wasn’t. Her husband isn’t a member (yet, she says) and she is waiting for him to join the church before going through the temple. I felt really bad about being so insensitive during the discussion.
    2. Our RS Pres was talking on Sunday about a sister who needed fellowship, and whose mother occasionally comes to the ward. She mentioned that the mother was a temple recommend holder. I just thought it was odd, a strange way to request that the daughter should be treated a certain way. But, in light of your article, a temple recommend does seem to be a line in the sand within our church.
    In response to Kaimi’s comment, I think Kiskilli was looking at the effects of secrecy, not the purpose. There are many opinions about why the temple ceremony is secret, but the effects exist nonetheless.

  9. 9.

    Helmut, I’m surprised that you’d see the emphasis on attending the temple as trivializing it. I think there are indisputably strong blessings and benefits to attending the temple in a prepared state. The Church is trying to make it much easier for those who didn’t live near a temple to have that.

    Our temple where I grew up is basically a room off the institute building. Most of it needs set up and runs one or two nights a week. But this gives the blessing to people to go to the temple. When I was young you basically had to go to Washington D.C. and that was a long and expensive trip. People saved all year to go and usually it was a ward trip. Yet that was infeasible for many due to jobs or monetary situations.

    Traditionally there was a gathering and the temple was an essential part of the community. It was literally the center place of the community. But as the Church became internationalized that changed. I think the Church is trying, as best it can, to recreate the situation once held in Utah or the intermountain West or even in Nauvoo, Kirtland or ancient Jerusalem.

    Certainly the is a kind of social exclusion with the temple. Yet, I think you’ll find, that much of what makes Mormons unique is wrapped up in that. Polygamy in the 19th century and the Word of Wisdom in the 20th. One can look to ancient Israel or even the Nephites and see similar techniques in making a people.

  10. 10.

    Thanks for the reply, Hellmut.

    You’re right, that I’m not saying that temple secrecy is the same as bank secrecy. What I am doing, is asking Kiskilili to elaborate a little. She makes a few somewhat broad statements. “Secrecy is a form of exclusion,” for instance.

    Of course it is. But, why is that bad?

    It has to be more complicated than just, “secrecy is bad.” Because, as I’ve noted, we seem to think that a lot of _types_ of secrecy are normal and good.

    And really, it has to be more than just, “exclusion is bad,” doesn’t it? We exclude people all the time, again, and this is viewed as normal behavior. I exclude people from my dinner table, or from my bank account. I exclude people from my blog. And so do all of you.

    To use one simple example, there’s an interesting tension in this post itself — it’s a post about the dangers of secrecy, written and posted by a pseudonymous writer, on a blog full of pseudonymous co-bloggers.

    ZDs itself, through maintenance of secret information available to a few insiders, creates an in-group (those who know K.’s secret identity) and an out-group (those who don’t).

    I don’t mean to imply that we can’t draw a difference there. In fact, I think there are a lot of potential differences between ZD secrecy/exclusion, and church secrecy/exclusion.

    But it seems obvious to me that the analysis has to be more complex and nuanced than simply, “secrecy is bad” or “exclusion is bad.” And I’d like to hear Kiskilili flesh that out. I’d like to see her theory of secrecy and exclusion, so to speak — her reasoning as to why some types of secrecy are fine and others are not, and why church and temple secrecy fall into the latter category.

    It’s a fascinating topic, and as good as this post is, I don’t think she’s even come close to really doing it justice.

    (Another weird tension: As K. notes, temple attendance gives certain status. But in theory, one’s status vis-a-vis the temple is private and personal — the only person who has to know your temple status is your bishop. How do we convey status when it’s linked to a relatively non-public designation? People use informal means (thin T-shirts to show the “smile”; ostentatious mention that they went to the temple last week). This norm of informally conveying temple status can create its own weird wrinkles.)

  11. 11.

    Kiskilili,

    How important do you think that the exclusion created by the secrecy of the temple is in determining the active membership of the church? Off-hand, I would guess that almost all Mormon adults who attend church regularly but don’t have a recommend are on a 1-2 year track to either leave the church or else (re)obtain a recommend. To the degree that this is true, the intra-church exclusion you are describing is not an equilibrium state. What we have essentially done is make the church an uncomfortable place for casual attendees. I’m curious if people agree with this, and if so, is it a good thing?

  12. 12.

    I see more of a division/exclusion (in terms of boundaries and status) in the church between married members and unmarried members than I do between temple-members and non-temple (attending) members.

    Adam: My observations lead me to disagree. In Indiana I see a lot of long-term non-temple attendees at church.

    However, I would also acknowledge that the long-term non-temple attendees (and temple-mormons) are also far outnumbers by the inactive members. So I’m not sure which number to compare the long-term non-temple attendees with.

    Kaimi: your questions seem very congruent with my mental image of a law professor.

  13. 13.

    Thanks for the comments.

    Vada, you ask a good question regarding examples of hierarchy in the community that the temple produces; I guess I’m thinking of comments along the lines of “honey, you don’t really understand Isaiah because you’re not endowed,” or, once, when I asked a question in Sunday School, I was informed that I wouldn’t have such questions if I’d been to the temple, in which everything is made clear. Also, I think the general assumption among endowed members that everyone else is endowed contributes unwittingly (and innocently) to the exclusion: people might say “let’s get together after ward temple night” without meaning to say, “except for you, since you can’t come.” Jessawhy’s example is a good one illustrating the awkward situations that are sometimes created as a result of this assumption! But I’d be curious to hear others’ experience of being a non-endowed participating adult member.

    Thanks, LDS Anarchist–patriarchal blessings are another interesting instance of secrecy (and/or privacy).

    Samara, I don’t know what to say except that I can definitely relate to your concerns. There are obvious benefits to making the family the centerpiece of religious worship, but it does make things emotionally complicated when one member wants to extricate themself.

    Hi Kaimi! I actually intended the post to be neutral and descriptive (which is why I tucked some of my concerns into the first comment). Like you, I think secrecy is extremely valuable and valid in a number of situations. And I don’t think fuller social integration into the community is a reason for secrecy so much as it is an (inevitable?) effect of exclusion.

    I haven’t really sorted out my feelings on the issue of secrecy (regarding ritual) per se; I’m both very attracted to the idea at the same time that I’m quite suspicious of it. I find the separation of sacred and profane, both in space and in information, appealing and meaningful and potentially important to the integrity of the category of “sacred.” And although secrecy and privacy don’t always overlap, one intriguing explanation is that the information presented is private to God and he only wishes to share it with intimate associates? At the same time I find the theological explanations problematic, the community exclusion disconcerting, and the disconnect between Church attitudes in- and outside the temple irresponsible. My concerns aren’t meant as a blanket condemnation of secrecy itself, but if it were up to me (heaven forbid!) I would probably implement things differently. I tend to think people should know what they’ll be required to promise ahead of time, for example, and that single non-RM women shouldn’t be asked to wait until it’s clear they have few marriage prospects before being allowed to attend.

    Also, comments to the effect that the opinions of the unendowed, since they lack access to full theological knowledge of their own religion, are partial and therefore necessarily invalid I find to be frankly rude and misguided. Although people occasionally tried to convince me of it before I was endowed, I fail to see how the temple serves as an ultimate hermeneutical key to all other sacred texts. Sometimes some of our condescending attitude toward other Christians who try to pray to God and try to read the Bible but don’t really understand how and get it all wrong bleeds across the spectrum into condescension of unendowed members.

    Adam (#11) asks a good question about who’s not endowed but still participating. The standard Church position is that anyone who wants to attend the temple can, so it’s not a form of exclusion except by choice. This made sense to me for a long time, and in fact at the time I was being excluded I’m not sure I ever questioned whether the exclusion was appropriate. But my experience is that there are a number of people who are neither on the way out of the Church nor attending the temple: some people have objections to the content of the rituals and go a few times but never return; some people object to secrecy or to the form of ritual itself; some people are waiting for a more certain witness from God of his involvement in the Church and thus don’t feel sufficiently worthy to attend, or else withdraw because of a loss of faith; some are just single women “waiting to grow up,” etc. A number of these people are not on their way out.

    Thanks for the vote of confidence, Dave! :) I agree with you completely that holding a temple recommend has become the standard threshold for measuring one’s commitment and serves effectively as social regulation. For example, the Word of Wisdom as outlined in D&C 89 includes all sorts of information, but we usually extract from it exactly what’s necessary to hold a temple recommend, and consider everything else sort of optional (your bishop won’t deny you a recommend if you go on the Atkin’s diet and grain is no longer your staff of life, for example).

  14. 14.

    I guess I’m thinking of comments along the lines of “honey, you don’t really understand Isaiah because you’re not endowed,” or, once, when I asked a question in Sunday School, I was informed that I wouldn’t have such questions if I’d been to the temple, in which everything is made clear.

    This may seem problematic to you now, Kiskilili, but you’ll understand it all perfectly well once you get married.

  15. 15.

    Heh–I can’t wait for that magical key of clarity! I hear, though, that things become clearer the more spouses you’re married to . . . ;)

  16. 16.

    I used to get those “you’ll understand once you go to the temple” comments all the time before I was endowed. I remembered every question I ever had where that was the response I was given. I cannot tell you how absolutely devastated I was after attending the temple for the first time. NONE of those questions were answered. For example, I once asked a seminary teacher whether Satan took 1/3 of ALL of God’s children with him or just 1/3 of the ones that went to this planet. The teacher said, “I can’t answer that now, but you’ll get that answer in the temple.” Um. No. You don’t. I have learned that when I asked difficult questions of people (usually priesthood holders of some office) that instead of saying the didn’t know, they’d lay the whole “you’ll learn in the temple” line as a way to excuse their ignorance and emphasize how much more they knew than me. Yes, I knew Latin, Greek, and Hebrew but I wasn’t “in the know” really because I wasn’t endowed. My impression is that it is the more ignorant, self-conscious, self-doubters who use the secrecy of the endowment to create the “in” and “out” groups. It makes them feel good to exclude others. I think this comes from human weakness though, not from the structure of the church. From those who were comfortable with someone asking hard questions, I never got the condescending “you’ll know when you’re endowed” answer.

  17. 17.

    I can really relate to your experience, PowersThatBe. Because I was told not infrequently that my questions about doctrine and scripture would be resolved by the temple, and because I read published material to the effect that the purpose of life would be made clear in the temple, I genuinely expected there would be MUCH more information presented and was somewhat surprised that the temple ceremony is little more than a slightly fleshed out account of a story familiar to every primary child–and that far from answering questions it only presented several new doctrinal problems.

    Ironically, an attitude I frequently encounter on blogs is exactly the reverse of this: that instead of clarifying our other sacred texts, the temple can only be understood in light of other sacred texts (such as statements in GC). To the degree that extra-temple texts serve to assign meaning to the temple ceremonies, the temple really isn’t secret at all.

  18. 18.

    I’m a bit late chiming in on this, but I appreciated this post, Kiskilili; it’s a topic I’ve often wondered about. Exactly who or what is being protected by the secrecy of the temple? As you say, in this internet age it seems that the ceremony is actually hidden not so much from the world at large as from unendowed members; curious non-members can simply google it. Douglas Davies observes in The Mormon Culture of Salvation that temple secrecy is not “‘private-life secrecy,’ a pattern of behaviour aimed at concealing immoral or illegal behaviour, but is rather a means of maintaining a boundary that ensures a privilege of access to the prime source of identity.” (80) I’d agree that temple secrecy seems to serve more as an identity marker than as a means of concealing information per se.

    And I’ve certainly seen plenty of examples of the kind of insider/outsider dynamics within the community that this creates. When I was at BYU, for example, I had religion professors who would make a comment and then add, “and to some of you, this might mean a little more” (wink wink), and I’ve seen that kind of thing happen in Sunday School as well. My impression is that those who haven’t been to the temple are generally considered to be less spiritually mature, and therefore don’t get taken quite as seriously. (For example, how many have raised feminist concerns at some point in their life only to be condescendingly informed that “once you go to the temple, you’ll understand”? )

    A random thought: one of the justifications we offer for keeping the ceremony secret—to preserve its sacredness and not expose it to the mockery of the world—is also a frequently cited justification for keeping Heavenly Mother in hiding. In the latter case, I have some real questions about whether we’re actually protecting Heavenly Mother, or whether we’re protecting something else entirely (like patriarchal sensibilities), and I wonder to what extent something similar might be true of the temple.

    But I admittedly have a bit of an axe to grind on this one; the secrecy thing is something that bothers me, a lot. I remember being told in ninth grade by my seminary teacher that the scriptures didn’t tell us everything we needed to know to get into the Celestial Kingdom, that we’d have to go to the temple for that. And I was horrified; it sounded like God had set up a special club of his favorite, most privileged children, to whom he communicated confidential information. I can see different points of view on this, but I still have a sort of intense visceral reaction to the whole thing. I realize that in theory, the invitation is open to all, but in practice I think it inevitably has the effect of creating a group of spiritual elites, and I find that quite troubling.

    Another aspect of temple secrecy which I find particularly worrisome is that when people have negative experiences there, they’re left without a place to talk about and work through those experiences—at least, assuming that they want to maintain some commitment to the Church. I also think that it is profoundly unethical to not clearly communicate to people exactly what is going to happen there, and what will be expected of them, before they go. The secrecy surrounding the temple exerts a tremendously high spiritual cost for some.

    I will say, though, that I can appreciate the desire to create sacred space; I liked how Richard Bushman described it in the Pew Forum interview:

    Just like time is set aside on the Sabbath devoted to God, can you have space set aside that’s devoted to God? Mormons have become very good at that . . . Some people think of this as secretive in the sense of hiding things. But for Mormons, it’s all part of the process of creating a sacred space. When you walk in there, life is different. You just feel things are on a different plane.

    I don’t know. I’m torn between respecting the value of ritual space which is clearly delineated from the rest of the world, and being sympathetic to the early Christian denunciations of gnosticism, and the argument that the ethos of Christianity is incompatible with secrecy.

  19. 19.

    Thanks, Lynnette–this is a great comment. I especially love the quote by Davies that the secrecy “ensures a privilege of access to the prime source of identity.” That states it beautifully.

    Like you, my experience has been that non-temple-attenders are generally regarded as spiritually less mature and that as a result they are not always taken seriously. This is one reason I find the policy of asking members to wait where possible for marriage or a mission troubling; to a large degree those who are being excluded in the community are single never-married women.

    I think the Church should establish an endowment age parallel to the baptismal age, and worthy interested members of that age should be allowed to receive their endowment. The counterargument to this that I can think of would be that people at that age (19?) would be pressured into attending the temple whether ready or not. But as I see it, men are already basically in that situation, as are women who marry young: worthy members preparing for marriage are never told to hold a civil ceremony and wait until they mature a little more before they can be sealed. Effectively, a signficantly higher level of “maturity” and a higher age requirement is imposed on single non-RMs.

  20. 20.

    I also think that it is profoundly unethical to not clearly communicate to people exactly what is going to happen there, and what will be expected of them, before they go. The secrecy surrounding the temple exerts a tremendously high spiritual cost for some.

    It seems the trend toward asking single women to wait until they mature before receiving their endowments is an effort to ensure that temple attendees are prepared for the experience. But I don’t think the Church is doing very much to prepare them, and I personally doubt that age prepares them either. It seems possible, for example, that women who have lived on their own as full adults managing their own lives for several years before attending the temple are going to be less likely to accept the subordination the temple requires of them.

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