Zelophehad’s Daughters

Secret Vows and Time

Posted by Kiskilili

The secrecy surrounding the temple can be viewed from several different angles, but in this post I’m interested in exploring how it functions with respect to time.

Because investigating details of the ceremony is forbidden to the uninitiated and people are required to receive their own endowments before being allowed to do vicarious work, time–to contemplate the significance of the particulars of what one is covenanting under sacred oath–is denied the new initiate. The Church’s preparation for the would-be temple-goer is vague and enigmatic. As a result, worthy individuals who have refrained from finding out about the ceremony in advance are given approximately a second and a half, as the moment descends upon them with its plodding air of inviolable inexorability, to decide whether to make those covenants or not.  Which isn’t, realistically, enough time to decide “not.” Add to this the legions of smiling family members and friends probably shepherding the clueless novitiate through the ceremony, as well as the possibility that said novitiate’s departure on a mission or wedding may loom in the immediate future, and the prospect of deciding “not” in that split second, with all the pressures of the situation bearing down, diminishes to the microscopic level.

What is the justification for not telling people in advance what specific promises they’ll be asked to make?

Observe that when it comes to weddings, the rules are different. Anyone who’s endowed can perform proxy sealings, whether or not they’ve already been sealed themselves. As a result, people (especially men, since they’re more likely to serve missions) can participate in the ceremony in advance and think through what will be required of them in the heat of the moment on that hectic day. Why not rearrange things somehow so that worthy individuals could also go through other secret ceremonies vicariously first, giving them time to consider the specific nature of the covenants they’ll be asked to make? Another option would simply be to preach, openly and comprehensively, the ideals that the temple ceremony endorses (even if the specific language of the ceremony is avoided), in an effort to remove any element of surprise regarding the particular requirements of the covenants. A third option would be for bishops to reveal, confidentially, what exactly those covenants consist of when a member seeks a temple recommend, and well before the trip to the temple has been scheduled.

The advantages to giving people time seem enormous to me. If people had the sincere option of turning away from them knowing full well what they entailed, covenants that were entered into willfully, after due consideration, would seemingly be more meaningful, purposeful, and sincere. As to those who chose to participate in the ceremony vicariously and then did not take the step of receiving their own endowments for whatever reason, perhaps they would be less resentful toward the Church. One of the aspects of the temple that’s potentially traumatizing is the participatory nature of ritual. It’s not a matter of sitting through a movie one dislikes or reading an offensive scriptural passage. It’s a matter of stepping, yourself, into that movie or that passage and publicly assenting to its claims, and just as this heightens the experience and creates space for personal interaction with deity and with myth, it equally allows ritual to violate people on a more profound level. And the pressure created by the lack of time for consideration only serves to aggravate this sense of violation, pushing people under duress to accept commitments and structures that may, in the hard light of day, run contrary to their values.

Eternity is unimaginably vast. Why compress people into a single instant, with minimal information, and then pressure them into making decisions of eternal import?

52 Responses to “Secret Vows and Time”

  1. 1.

    It may comfort you (a little) to find that the idea of having people attend the endowment first as observers was endorsed by a few commenters on this recent thread at Mormon Matters.

    You raise a very good question. I wonder if we’re just not very clear about what we’re supposed to keep secret from the temple ceremonies, so we err on the side of caution and pretty much don’t reveal anything. Which, as you point out, isn’t helpful to allowing new initiates to make a really informed choice about whether they want to go through with it all or not.

    In support of this assertion, I’ve found that Mormon sources often quote Brigham Young’s description of the endowment as

    to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation

    (I borrowed this from Geoff J’s post at NCT, so I hope I’ve got the wording right). But nobody ever paraphrases it. They never restate in their own understanding what the endowment is. I think this is because we’re not sure exactly where the line between “okay to reveal” and “not okay to reveal” is, so we just fall back on what Brigham Young said. If he said it, it must be okay to reveal.

    I’m sure you’ve already considered this, but at least part of the reason for making it hard to say “not” in the moment is likely to make the Church as a whole hard to leave. I know there are arguments for this–if we feel like we can’t leave we may become more committed and in time that commitment might actually turn into real commitment, for example. But this also reminds me of an interview I read with some muckety-muck from Google. He (I think it was a he) said that many other companies insist on using proprietary file formats and making it difficult to extract their data if they decided to leave, in order to make it less likely that people would leave. He said that Google was trying to take the opposite approach with Google Docs and their other projects. They tried to use easily accessible open formats so that people could easily take their data and go. He said they figured if people felt safe that they could go if they needed to, they might be comfortable to settle in and stay. So all that is a long-winded way of getting to this point: perhaps making it easier to exit the Church would make people more willing to get involved in the first place. I could be wrong. But I think it’s worth considering.

  2. 2.

    I like the idea of people observing in advance.

    The cynical view is that if people knew in advance what would be asked of them they might refuse to go through with it. Giving people information might make it easier to leave (or not?)–that’s an interesting question. On the other hand, although my situation might be extreme, I had my membership annulled specifically because I wanted my endowment annulled, and that’s the only way to do it: to get out of your temple covenants you have to go all the way out of the Church. For awhile I toyed with the possibility of leaving and being rebaptized as a way of annulling my endowment. But I think it’s fair to say not knowing in advance contributed to my leaving.

    Also, I wonder how marriages work, since they’re both civil and religious and temple divorces are (supposedly) harder to get than membership resignations. What if you didn’t like the wedding ceremony, wanted to stay married to your spouse, but would like those particular covenants annulled in favor simply of a civil marriage? It seems like you’d be stuck.

    But I think the main issue is that religious and social capital accrues to those in the community who are in the know, because of the secrecy. This threshold would effectively be lowered. There’d be unendowed people in the community who were in the know anyway, and that might remove some of the incentive to become endowed. In other words, you could reap the community benefits–increased social capital–without making the requisite commitments, so the trade-off would be out of balance.

    But if nothing else it seems like the Church should be sure that the values it teaches in the temple are consonant with the values taught elsewhere.

  3. 3.

    What is the justification for not telling people in advance what specific promises they’ll be asked to make?

    There is no good one, and temple prep classes should cover those things in detail. It’s not like apostles (e.g., Packer) and respected members (e.g., Nibley) haven’t written publications that describe the whole process in great detail.

    Why compress people into a single instant, with minimal information, and then pressure them into making decisions of eternal import?

    Again, temple prep classes should go into great detail about the ceremonies. There is VERY little that actually is forbidden to discuss in the wording of the ordinances themselves. My own rule is simple:

    Try not to quote verbatim more than is absolutely necessary to teach something adequately, and don’t give specific details about things that expressly are forbidden to share – like signs, tokens and names.

    That’s about it for me, and if everything else was open game in temple prep classes there would be very few problems with surprises, imo – and your central (correct) concern about inordinate pressure would exist.

  4. 4.

    “would not exist” – Don’t know how I missed that one.

  5. 5.

    A third option would be for bishops to reveal, confidentially, what exactly those covenants consist of when a member seeks a temple recommend, and well before the trip to the temple has been scheduled.

    My bishop kind of did this. He gave a general description of the four covenants everyone makes. I think he felt free to do this since they are all basic commandments found in the scriptures anyways. He didn’t mention the covenant that only women make, and I don’t know if this was intentional or not. A well-meaning but inattentive man might easily overlook that part.

  6. 6.

    This seems exactly right, Kiskilili. As it’s currently structured, the promises seem . . . in many instances, coerced. Promises about matters as weighty as those discussed in the temple ceremony should not be made under pressure.

  7. 7.

    I agree with Ray, that these things should be covered in temple prep classes. They’re not–those classes are a waste of time, and really are just general gospel living classes with little to no actual relevance to the temple. But they should be covered there, and there’s no reason for them not to be covered there. If I had teaching one of those classes to do over again, I’d chuck the pablumish curriculum and actually prepare the class members to attend the temple.

  8. 8.

    Interesting question, I really appreciate reading things like this that make me examine my practice of my own religion. I agree that as church members and family members we often leave too much unsaid, particularly as parents sitting down soon to be married couples and soon to be missionaries and saying “look, here’s what’s going to happen” and perhaps more importantly “I will still love you whether you do this or not, so if your not ready, don’t.”. I think very often things that seem like systematic failure in the church are really failure on the part of individuals to excersize some common sense. Of course you should know going in that there is alot of ritual. But I think more importantly, and this is something the leaders of the church cannot control, parents and families need to stop overlooking doctrinal questions and worthiness issues just to get their kid on a mission or married.

  9. 9.

    I think that they also should be telling women that their covenants will be different than mens. Specially the “hearken” piece. I would have never gone through the temple had I known that one was in there.

    How do you say no knowing that you will upset everyone in your family that is there?

    I also thought about resigning my membership in order to escape the endowment.

  10. 10.

    I like all your ideas for making the covenants known to the initiate before they take the leap. What I found most traumatic about my endowment was the fact that I felt forced to completely violate my conscience for the first time in my life. My heart and mind cried, “No!” but I bowed my head and said, “Yes.” I felt torn in two.

    Everyone had assured me that I wouldn’t be covenanting to anything that’s not in the temple recommend questions. Which of course, turns out not to be true. I would have loved some space in which to contemplate the choices which would be set before me.

  11. 11.

    Perhaps someone ought to make a DVD movie of the endowment, replacing the “don’t reveal this” scene with a narrator explanation.. “and here an initiate would receive a token – it’s similar to a handshake”.

  12. 12.

    I obviously will try not to go into too much detail but, sighting Ray’s definition of what is appropriate (that I completely agree with) I will say that people talk about the coveneants to hearken unto your husband forgetting that the sentence following is AS HE HEARKENS TO THE WILL OF THE FATHER. So many women in the church use patriarchy as a way to write off the improper behavior that happens in their relationships and homes when the leadership has clearly stated on every level, INCLUDING in the temple, that priesthood and patriachy ONLY are in effect when those holding it are worthy. I don’t mean to say this to start an argument, but the Presidency of the church has made repeated statements to this effect. I don’t know what else I could expect them to do short of no longer running the church as a patriachy, which I realize some here would advocate. Women have never been asked on an institutional level to follow a man simply by virtue of the fact that he’s a man, they’ve been asked to use their own minds and discern a) if they believe that through the actions they have witnessed a man giving counsel is a worthy holder of the priesthood (a woman who has an abusive husband who she feels she’s “bound to honor” would have a sad and misguided view of the gospel indeed) and b) if after their own thought, their own prayer to the Father, they CAN in good conscience submit their will or change their own mind and heart.

  13. 13.

    What is the justification for not telling people in advance what specific promises they’ll be asked to make?

    Actually, President Hinckley and some others have talked semi-explicitly about the content of the covenants. I list those statements and some of my own thoughts (still under construction) here.

  14. 14.

    From the Monk’s page:
    “The Temple recommend questions generally parallel the solemn covenants that one makes in the Temple.”

    “the covenants of the temple do not really go beyond the baptismal covenant.”

    This is only true with the big exception being the woman’s covenant to hearken to her husband. There really isn’t even a hint of such a covenant in either the baptismal covenant or the temple rec questions. Interestingly, the quotes you lay out from the prophets pretty much cover every covenant one will be expected to make with the exception of the hearken covenant, unless you count GBH’s, reference to a “covenant of love and loyalty one to another in the bonds of marriage,” which still doesn’t accurately convey what is asked.

  15. 15.

    Imagine if you will….. a worthy husband holding the priesthood would have to covenant to hearken unto his wife as she hearkened unto the Father?

    Food for thought.

    Make it a great one.

  16. 16.

    Traci, while I appreciate what you are saying, I still have an issue with that covenant. Women still have a very different covenant than men. Regardless of the stipulation, I still have an issue with it.

    Women may never be asked to follow a man simply because he is a man, men are never asked to follow women on an institutional level.

  17. 17.

    True, Tanya. I cannot argue that the covenants that a woman makes are different for a man or that we are asked as women to head the counsel of those that hold the priesthood and you are certainly as welcome to take issue as I am to not. However, men (and women) are reminded continually that their exaltation cannot be gotten alone. We are taught man cannot recieve exaltation without honoring his wife, so perhaps they are not asked to follow, but neither are women, they have both been asked (in different forums) to hearken, cleave unto, and support eachother. Also, just a side note, you do not make a covenant directly to your husband at all.

  18. 18.

    heed, I mean

  19. 19.

    Herr Monk, maybe women and men should be prepared separately for the temple, since they make different covenants? Your statements to the effect that the covenants parallel the recommend questions or that they do not go beyond baptismal covenants are misleading–why not ask people whether they avoid loud laughter in the recommend interview? Why not ask women whether they submit (or would submit) to their husband’s authority? I don’t recall having made such a promise at baptism.

  20. 20.

    Traci, people talk about the qualifications in covenanting to hearken unto your husband AS IF BENEVOLENT PATRIARCHY WERE ACCEPTABLE. So many anti-feminists in the Church use men’s obligatory benevolence as a way to write off inherent structural imbalances. I don’t mean to say this to start an argument, but feminists on the bloggernacle have made repeated statements to the effect that a) even submitting to the authority of a well-intentioned overlord can be demeaning and b) there are few checks in place to prevent men from exploiting the authority they wield over their wives, provided they are not abusive. Women have always been asked on an institutional level to follow a man simply by virtue of the fact that he’s a man, whether or not they use their own minds in discerning when his leadership is acceptable.

  21. 21.

    Thanks for all the fabulous comments. Katie, I can completely relate to the feeling of having violated one’s conscience–in that moment, I knew I shouldn’t say “yes,” and the word caught in my throat. But I worried about offending God or blowing my only chance, and so, although I hesitated, although I felt like I was being stabbed, I went through with it. I just wish I’d had the presence of mind to say “no” and walk out of the room.

    Traci, it doesn’t logically follow that since men cannot attain exaltation without women, women are therefore not asked to follow their husbands’ lead, or are equally valued. The fact is that wives and husbands are not asked to hearken unto and support each other; the way the ceremony is phrased puts the onus of hearkening to one’s spouse unilaterally on women. As a side note, Eve addresses Adam when she makes her covenant and Adam addresses God.

  22. 22.

    Much of this discussion reflects my own experience and long-held dissatisfaction. I received my endowment in the mid-1970′s with no preparation at all. I was told by my parents on the long long lonely drive there that there would be a presentation of gospel principles by live actors and was freaked out by what they told me. No one said anything about any promises or covenants. I was disoriented given the environment and the fact that I was alone and that it all seemed so foreign. I have never believed that I actually made covenants that night. If I did make them it was in subsequent visits. We are all kidding ourselves if we believe that the Church will ever truly prepare someone for the covenants and experience, although I do believe that more preparation would reduce the number of first and last time visits made by converts. I spent the drive home tugging at my new underwear which of course I had expected and wondering what had just happened to me. My wife who has since left the Church never accepted the obedience to me part and that too was circa 1970’s.

  23. 23.

    I guess I had parents who taught me and prepared me fairly well. I wasn’t very surprised by any covenants in the temple, and I was fully prepared to make them.
    I also had parents who raised me to never make a covenant I didn’t mean. They, for instance, told me it was never too late to call of an engagement, even at the altar.
    I think that people should be aware that they need to be really prepared for the temple (pray, evaluate commitment). It isn’t just something on the to-do-list before a mission or wedding.

  24. 24.

    I have a question about the hearken covenant. Growing up in the Church, I don’t ever remember it being referenced in any official kind of context. It wasn’t mentioned in conference (at least that I can recall); it didn’t show up in YW lessons; we didn’t learn about it in Seminary or Sunday School. I knew there were Mormons who believed in a marriage model of “wife follows husband follows God,” but I took that for a sexist interpretation on the part of particular individuals.

    And I’m curious about the reticence surrounding this. Why don’t we teach young girls that this is a covenant they’ll be expected to make, that this is an aspect of the eternal temple marriage which we’re encouraging them to pursue? Why doesn’t our public discourse about gender roles include this element? When Church leaders emphasize marriage equality over the pulpit, but don’t ever mention that women are required to make this covenant, it leaves the impression that one thing is being taught outside of the temple, and another is taught inside it. Which is not only confusing; it can be spiritually destructive for women who go to the temple believing what they’ve heard all their lives about marriage being a relationship of equal partners, and then are essentially blindsided by this requirement, as well as the ambiguity surrounding the question of whether God interacts directly with women. It seems to me that the narratives about gender in and out of the temple aren’t completely in sync, and that disjunct leads to all kinds of problems.

  25. 25.

    i think lynette raises a really important question about the hypocrisy of the church’s teachings on marriage and gender roles. if in the temple ceremonies (both the endowment and the sealing) we require certain commitments, we should teach them outside of the temple, too. if we’re going to teach an equality-based model of marriage and gender outside the temple, we should revise the temple ceremony to allow for consistency.

    i see this particular hypocrisy as related to another one connected to the temple–the conflict between agency as, i would argue, the most central doctrine of mormonism (even the atonement is contingent on agency) and the compulsion of the ceremony as a whole (as kiskilili so clearly explains above). if agency is truly as central as mormon doctrine claims, then the first priority of the church should be to allow its (potential) members to fully inform themselves before they make a choice about membership, endowment, sealing, etc.

    as far as my own experience–when i was endowed nearly ten years ago, the covenants and the ceremony didn’t really phase me much. i found it a little odd, but that didn’t bother me much. it was with the repeated attendance of years and an increasing willingness to ask difficult questions about the church in general that i’ve started having serious problems with the temple. and almost all of those problems come back to the issue of coercion that kiskilili raises.

  26. 26.

    [...] there is some “purposeful limitation” going on in the church…the church will rarely inform people of everything that goes on in the Temple before they actually go — but that’s because of a guise of “sacredness,” so I won’t argue [...]

  27. 27.

    JKS, my feeling is that when people prepare for the temple by committing to give themselves entirely to God, regardless of what he asks, this facilitates the problematic dynamic I outline above rather than solving it. It’s true it’s not too late to turn around and walk away when you hear what the covenants are, but I doubt most people walk into the temple with the mindset “maybe I’ll give my life to God and maybe I won’t.” I think most people go into the temple sincerely wanting to do God’s will and accordingly make whatever promises are asked of them, even if in the moment they seem uncomfortable, simply because humility requires submission to the divine. I only wish I’d walked into the temple with the attitude that I’d only do what I wanted to do; this mindset is hardly what the Church encourages.

    I think it’s fabulous if your parents taught you from a young age that you’d be subordinate to your husband, though. This is exactly the sort of lesson that needs to take place regularly in Young Women’s, as Lynnette and amelia point out. We like to pat ourselves on the back for being so much more progressive than evangelicals in our view of women’s roles, but the current situation is just irresponsible. We need to change our discourse to match theirs or change the temple ceremony to accommodate our discourse.

  28. 28.

    My bishop explicitly told me all the covenants I would make before I entered the temple. He failed to mention the hearken one. I was married in the temple 4 months ago, received my endowment 6 months ago, and have struggled with this concept every time I’ve been since. It helps to have a feminist-minded husband who knows we are equal and he does not have any power greater than mine but he still gets upset when I get upset over the temple. Last time we went, sitting in the celestial room, he looked up at me and said “What if the celestial kingdom is not like you picture? Are you going to leave me for feminist heaven?” I just cannot even fathom that our Heavenly Parents would create a system that is unequal. But if it is, I’m not so sure I’ll be able to live in eternity like that.

  29. 29.

    To understand how men can create a vision of heaven that is unequal, look at other religions. The Muslim religion is interesting in that aspect. Women cannot speak for themselves or represent themselves in many religions, as they are considered property of men. Comparative religious study helps us both appreciate where we have traveled and instructive on where God’s path is taking us. I have hope that we will overcome sexism, just as we overcame racism. I was blessed to live in those years when racism was overcome and witness that change for the better in the church. How do we ask for that? I want to believe that our church will someday offer goodness and justice to all its members.

  30. 30.

    Caitlin and Starfoxy, I’m shocked your bishops went to the trouble of disclosing the covenants but somehow failed to mention what to my mind is the most egregiously problematic one! Are men just genuinely oblivious??

    Like you, Caitlin, it’s hard for me to fathom that God really doesn’t see women as “people” in the way he sees men. But unfortunately there’s disconcerting evidence to that effect all around us. :( Anyway, thanks, Caitlin and Wade, for sharing your experiences with this; I always appreciate reading such things.

    Jo, it does sometimes seem that women’s subordination is a staple characteristic cutting across a number of religious traditions. We seem to have two competing visions for the Church: one in which the fullness was restored under Joseph Smith and one in which we’re getting more and more perfect (apparently as we’re prompted by developments in the surrounding culture).

  31. 31.

    one in which the fullness was restored under Joseph Smith and one in which we’re getting more and more perfect

    Fwiw, I think the latter view is consistent with our canon. I have a hard time reading any of our scriptures and thinking the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times means that is the way it is right from the start. It seems obvious to me that it is referring to what occurs by the time the dispensation ends.

    I think I’ve said this previously on this site, but I read the final part of the allegory of the olive tree in Jacob 5 as an explicit statement (for an allegory – *grin*) that the Church will need to be pruned of the bitter fruit within it. I just don’t see any other reasonable reading.

  32. 32.

    Ray, I’m just curious, but which group do you think see as the “bitter fruit” within the church?

  33. 33.

    Are men just genuinely oblivious??

    It is the essential nature of guys to be genuinely oblivious.

  34. 34.

    What a timely topic for me. I’ve always resisted attending the temple precisely because no one would tell me exactly what goes on there. Any time someone would ask me when I was going to go through the temple, I would have to tell them, “I’m not sure it’s right for me; I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to take that step.” Boy, am I glad I waited!!
    I am an advocate of informed consent, transparency and full disclosure. Maybe it’s just me, but secrecy in general just feels so… wrong. It reeks of elitism and something-to-hide. (shrouding it in the excuse that it’s “sacred” is no help, either. Gospel truths are “sacred.” A relationship with God is “sacred.” But we are encouraged to share those things all the time.) I always just figured that you go to the temple to pray, worship and learn together, receive priesthood blessings, meditate and wear your pretty white clothes in the celestial room. “Like church, only better!” This is what we’re told, of course, but I know that’s not the case because of all the secrecy. I’ve never known the details but I have heard the stories. Stories of people feeling blindsided and/or freaked out. Stories of women having nervous breakdowns during their initiatory. Stories of hotel workers in downtown SLC “always” finding discarded temple garments in the trash. Marriages dissolving because one spouse was so unhappy with what they felt coerced into doing and/or saying in the temple. Scores of faithful members refusing to return, and even leaving the church entirely. This doesn’t sound like “my” church. Surely something better and greater than even the most moving public worship service or basic ordinance couldn’t inspire all this confusion and heartache. Could it? What could be the source of all this, and why wouldn’t someone tell me?

    My own family would never reveal anything to me, other than to say, “Nothing can truly prepare you.” I never knew quite what to make of that. I’ve struggled with this for years. Just before Christmas last week, I finally decided to bite the bullet and look it up myself. (This is the Internet, after all.) (and yes, I realize that many on the bloggernacle will roundly condemn indulging this particular curiosity in such a way, but… the temple secrecy is only one of many hammers to the wedge between me and the church lately. I’m trying to cling to any thread that will keep me in. I do not take this lightly.)

    Over the past week or so I have become acquainted with the entire liturgy and ritual of the washing/anointing, endowment and sealing ceremonies (including how they have been altered in the last 20ish years). I wish I could say I felt relieved to know these things, or enlightened and encouraged. Instead I came away feeling more disappointed and betrayed than I ever thought possible. At first I was utterly devastated and disgusted. Physically ill, distraught, horrified, confused, furious… you name it. I cried for hours and hours. I almost called off Christmas so I could wallow in self-pity for a while. Suddenly what I thought I understood about life and the universe and my place in it was completely up for grabs. I begged God for clarity and patience. (He has granted me peace and softened my heart somewhat. At least I’m still able to believe He exists at all.) I’m still not able to look some people in the eyes. Somehow just knowing what they’ve done in the temple alters my entire perception of them. People I’ve known my whole life, people I consider to be the most intelligent, level-headed, reasonable and sane human beings I’ve ever known, are now cavorting through my imagination in that clothing, going through those motions, using those words, and I can’t. get. over it. I’ve lost so much sleep. I’ve said things in my anger that would inflame the senses of even the most open and forgiving ‘Saint (I’ll spare you the name-calling). I called my sister and asked her how she didn’t run screaming from the building after her first visit. How can people “love” this? And go back? And want this for their children? This has been the biggest test of faith in my whole life. And I’ve been through some doozies.(I’m failing this test, btw, and currently resisting the urge to formally resign from the church altogether. Dear LDS Religion: you lost me.)

    Long story short: yes, the church SHOULD be more up front with temple preparation and allow people the opportunity to consider what they’re getting into. It would scare less people away, for one thing.

  35. 35.

    Thanks for stopping by, Lady. There does seem to be a relationship between secrecy and eltism; there are ways in which I think the culture of secrecy in the Church generally reinforces power structures. And you’re certainly right that sacredness doesn’t entirely account for the secrecy. I also think that the secrecy surrounding the temple breeds attitudes of both sinisterness and fascination; in my opinion, much of the temple ceremony would be entirely banal if it weren’t secret.

    On the other hand, I think the blood oaths that were eliminated in 1990 would have been fairly disturbing to me, and would only have compounded the problems I outline in this post with making secret oaths without being prepared for them (on pain of disembowlment!).

    I honestly think one issue with the temple is that it’s much easier to gradually change attitudes in General Conference addresses than it is to “update” the language of the temple ceremony, so as a result the doctrine in the temple tends to lag behind somewhat, creating a disconnect. In the 19th century I believe it was de rigueur for women to covenant to obey their husbands when they married, and this attitude no doubt informed our ceremony.

    But the secrecy also influences the other side–not just how people go in but how they come out. Unfortunately, when people have negative experiences they’re discouraged from discussing them or told they “misunderstood.” I think the temple would also seem less sinister if there were a way for the community somehow to hear people’s negative reactions rather than insisting they suppress or redefine their experiences.

    Anyway, I hope you find some peace with the issue. I can’t really claim to know how.

  36. 36.

    Lady, I’m sorry you’re hurting so much over this. I can relate to a lot of what you say. I think the secrecy–and the resulting sense of elitism, and of “insiders” and “outsiders” within the Church–might actually bother me more than the gender stuff. As you say, we have plenty of other things in the Church we consider sacred, but which we don’t protect with the same level of secrecy. I struggle to see a theological justification for it. I can certainly appreciate the value of sacred space which is clearly demarcated from the mundane and only discussed in particular settings–but I wonder if there might be a way of accomplishing this without the sort of secrecy we currently have, which seems to all too often lead to experiences like yours.

    One thought I had while reading your comment is that a lot of our religious practices outside of the temple would also seem pretty strange if you hadn’t encountered them before. Every week in church, we eat symbols of someone’s body and blood. In the LDS tradition, we emphasize that they’re only symbols—but still. What a bizarre thing to do. In any other context, if you decided to symbolically eat someone, I think it would be quite jarring. It’s perhaps not quite as unsettling, but we also dress people in white and dunk them in water and say that this is an essential spiritual experience. Baptism and the sacrament are so familiar, though, that (at least to me) they just seem like normal religious practice; it’s hard to see them in any other light. Of course, it probably helps that they’re not only a part of Mormonism, but are also familiar practices for many others in our culture. The temple poses some unique challenges. But that’s another reason why it seems to me that more openness about its rituals could be a good thing—to have people go in cold strikes me as somewhat akin as to telling someone who knows nothing about Christian practice that they’re now going to be expected to symbolically eat someone. Might people have a better experience if these were rituals that they grew up with a reasonably clear idea about, so that they weren’t so unfamiliar and (frequently) off-putting? (Though I realize that doesn’t address the problem of aspects of the ceremony that some find not only strange, but flat-out objectionable.)

    Anyway, you sound like you’re in a really tough place at the moment. I wish I knew what to say, except that if nothing else, I hope you know that you’re not alone in wrestling with these issues, and I very much hope that you can find some measure of peace with regard to all of this.

  37. 37.

    It’s perhaps not quite as unsettling, but we also dress people in white and dunk them in water and say that this is an essential spiritual experience.

    Interesting point! I’ve encountered more than one Jew who was aghast to find out baptism was a ritual death! Why would anyone have to undergo a ritual death for their religion, they wondered? This brings up another aspect to secrecy, which is simply that it facilitates unfamiliarity.

  38. 38.

    Kiskilili, this was an interesting comment and I’m going to throw in some random ideas in agreement to your concept.
    ” it does sometimes seem that women’s subordination is a staple characteristic cutting across a number of religious traditions. We seem to have two competing visions for the Church: one in which the fullness was restored under Joseph Smith and one in which we’re getting more and more perfect (apparently as we’re prompted by developments in the surrounding culture).”
    I’m going to bring in a couple of points of discussion (payment of tithing and renewing temple recommendations in order to access the temple (endowment level). Let’s compare these actions to recent actions in the US (racism) and India (caste system) and provide an example from my own experience to dissect.

    Compare the ethics of access to education in India and the US, and public transportation in the South in terms of race and gender. Limiting access of education and schools was justified under an ordered society argument and academia’s justification that separate institutions were equal institutions.
    The separate but equal approach is being followed now, to explain how the church views gender differences and contributions from women, with statements indicating that the RS provides equal leadership and the GA’s indicate that there are no complaints in the treatment of women by women.
    The ordered society idea, where education was distributed with race and gender and religious affiliation as determinants of who was and was not worthy to receive that education, is going by the wayside. In general, women are making advances in every profession, every educational institution, in the U.S. no matter their race or religion.
    The caste system in India was addressed by M. G.
    (guess who from the initials) and the justification of keeping the caste system was the “ordered society standpoint”. Rosa Parks, the Baptists and Martin Luther King also addressed the “ordered society” argument, especially when it came to riding busses in the South.
    Here is a small action that would give me hope that we are moving toward equal treatment, that might move women closer to being treated as equal souls. It would be nice if when I paid my tithing, it could be registered under my own name. I wrote the tithing forms out under my name, it was my checks from my separate account and the money that I earned, yet it was treated as if it was my husband’s money.
    He is not interested in paying tithing or in attending the temple, so when I made the request to attend, it became a condition of renewing my Temple Recommend that my husband want to attend the temple. The Bishop and the Stake President thought that my husband was paying tithing, so they made an assumption that he wanted to go to the temple.
    Whe I clarified to them that I had been paying the tithing and that he was not interested in attending the temple at this time (with my husband present as it was a requirement for him to schedule and meet with the Stake President as in my stake, it seems women cannot represent themselves in our Stake President meetings). Their answer was “He will.”
    They told me to wait until he wanted to attend and required us to redo the temple preparation classes. I told them that we completed those and remembered all the classes and teachings. They simply repeated their demands as a condition of my temple recommend. It comes from the ordered society thinking that only the elite member counts. It would be tantamount to a college’s demand that a desired brother attend a University as a condition for a sister to be accepted to the university.
    The problem with the ordered society, or separate but equal approach is it allows oppression and it allows people to not be treated equally. Equal access is denied to groups based on their gender.
    Women are required to be represented by their husbands and not accepted as equal souls. This attitude reminds me of when Jim Crow laws required restaurant owners to be white, if they sold food to white patrons. Many black restaurant owners had to find white men to be partners in their restaurants in order to successfully operate their restaurants. Many Muslim sects, require women to be represented by men in actions against them by their church and also by their government.
    India’s leader, M.G., noted that the upper caste or dominant group will resist social change because it takes away their advantage to oppress others, The answer is to increase equal access, equal opportunity and equal justice.
    Therefore, I believe that the Church is good, but not just, when it takes actions to oppress women.
    Each stake president is allowed to run their stake in a manner that they find satisfactory, whether it follows laws against discrimination or not or even when their actions diverge from normal church practices. I was told by my Bishop after discussing my concerns of these actions that “This is not the academic system, this is not the legal system, this is religion.” This is the justification given for oppression of groups of people. There is no oversight or clarification process when unrighteous discrimination occurs, so people end up leaving the stake and hoping for a better day for the church to be good and just to all. Take a lesson from the academic system, the church works better when each person is treated as an equal and worthy soul, without regard to race or gender or country of origin.
    I guess som of our bloggers would categorize this discussion as a bitter fruit attitude, just as Rosa Parks was categorized as a trouble maker, when she did not agree that she should give up her seat on the bus for the white man.
    In comparison these situations, I would like to encourage our Church bus to be both good and just to all. The view from the back of the bus is different and I really don’t like being told to move to the back of the bus or be required to have my white male with me to board the bus. When I bring up this comparison, I get the equivalent of “busses are good things” as a response.
    What comparisons work when analyzing the topic of the Church’s justification that we should be treated unequally in access to the temple?

  39. 39.

    Jo, thanks for sharing your experience with tithing and the temple–that’s outrageous! I see absolutely no reason why women married shouldn’t pay tithing in their own names with their own money, especially in situations in which their husbands are not paying. And it’s equally ridiculous that women should have to be represented by their husbands. The recycled arguments that made no sense in other social contexts (segregation, India’s caste system) are equally problematic in a Mormon context. It’s disheartening the number of indications there still are throughout Church doctrine and policy that women are their husbands’ property. I especially like this comment of yours:

    The view from the back of the bus is different and I really don’t like being told to move to the back of the bus or be required to have my white male with me to board the bus. When I bring up this comparison, I get the equivalent of “busses are good things” as a response.

    You’re right that the view from the back of the bus is different. It’s frustrating to me that, given the content of the temple, it actually would make some sense to limit women’s access to those with attending husbands, since in some ways women’s interaction with God is ordered through their husbands. It boils my blood.

  40. 40.

    When I went through the temple, my dad told me a story about when he went through. He went through with my grandpa as his escort. At the point where you can decide if you want to continue or not, my dad leaned over to my grandpa and said “how do I know? I don’t know what I’m agreeing to.” And my grandpa told him if at any point during the endowment ceremony he felt uncomfortable, he could leave, and my grandpa would go with him– no big deal.
    Anyway, I totally agree with the original post. It would be really nice to know exactly what will be asked of you before you agree to it. I would have appreciated some time to think about the covenants before I made them.

  41. 41.

    To add to the discussion of tithing and equal treatment and keep in mind that I’m only bringing this tithing suggestion into the discussion, in order to help us think about equality.
    My income and tithing are treated equally, even when it is not put under my own name. If women do not receive equal access and equal treatment, then why do they wish to treat our money as equal.
    If we look at Brigham Young’s example of equality in marriage, maybe women should pay $1 for every $34 that men pay in tithing, or whatever ratio we determine women are worth to men in this day and age.
    Rosa Parks objected to being required to move to the back of the bus because she had paid the same amount as the white male in order to access the bus. The white male was ordering her to the back of the bus based on his superior group ranking in the US society, at that time. Therefore, If we as a church, refuse to make it a fair and equal system socially, why would we require an equal system monetarily between men and women in the act of tithing.
    As for me and my husband, I have changed my contributions to groups that treat males and females equally. The “bitter fruit” argument is what some of the other bloggers go to when their point of discussion cannot hold up against a fair measure. My action to tithe to charitable groups that do not support gender bias is a confirmation of a Christian value that I hold that we be treated as equal souls.
    Our Church does not want to present itself as a “Boys Club”, but operates like a “Boys Club”. So, yes, I agree that they should present themselves honestly, with the clear understanding that women will be treated as “lesser souls”. At least they would be acting honestly about their position toward women as a group.
    What would you think if women were treated like this in the education system? For example, with the Stake President’s requirement to have my husband schedule and attend a meeting with him, or else they would not meet with me. Let’s test that action by reframing that same action to a “Parent Teacher Conference” at an elementary school. What would you think would happen if we, as educators, refused to meet with a mother, as only father’s could set up conferences and fathers would be required to attend?
    Also, what would our world look like, if only men were allowed to attend Universities. and women were allowed to attend ‘finishing school”, where they were taught to be more deferential to men, pleasing to men, etc.? That is what some stakes look like from the back of the bus and what some Relief Societies look like from the back of the bus.
    M.G.’s philosophy for India was for those of the lower castes to stop supporting the caste system and stop recognizing the caste system as the only way of operating a society. He even adopted a child of the lowest caste of India as a statement of support for those people in that caste.
    If we abide by mistreatment and we support it, then there is no need for the inequal treatment to change.
    I pray that God is just and will not abide this injustice.
    How can women ask for a change of attitude that is so obviously needed? Should we just accept the “Boy’s Club” attitude? Should temples put up the “No Girls Allowed without a Man” sign on their front doorway?

  42. 42.

    Lady, you might find it helpful to study Masonic ritual. A lot of the “weird” stuff you’re freaking out over actually comes straight out of Masonry. We like to ignore that or pretend it isn’t true, but I actually found it very helpful when I learned of the Masonic antecedents to the Endowment; it put actions that just seemed weird into an historical context for me.

  43. 43.

    Yes, Kevin, there are similarities, and the women’s auxillary to the Mason’s is called something else, not the Mason’s.
    What I like about the Masons, is that they are pretty honest about their “Boys’ Club” image and organization.

  44. 44.

    The wives, daughters, or other female relatives of Masons can decide to join … the Order of the Eastern Star. Not sure if you can join on your own w/o a male affiliation in the Masons.

    Where the masons have the compass and square, the OES has a five-pointed star with each point a different color and some writing in the middle of the star. Once you know what to look for, you’ll find plenty of those markings on things from headstones to bumper stickers. My in-laws are Masons/OES.

  45. 45.

    I suppose I’m most in agreement with the suggestion that people could have the option to observe before committing. After all, any visitor or member can observe Sacrament Meeting, attend a baptism, or witness a priesthood blessing, but s/he can also have full disclosure of the ordinances, covenants and physical/symbolic processes before making a decision to be an active participant in any of those rituals. I grant that these things may seem foreign to a first-timer, but when it is part of a routine (and publicly-accessible) worship pattern, it’s hardly shocking or disconcerting (indeed for those who’ve grown up in the church, it’s downright mundane). I guess I don’t get why the temple ceremony is so vastly different from every other ordinance in the church; I realize it is heavily Masonic, but I have a hard time aligning the Masonic customs and rituals to the restored gospel. Much of it leaves me feeling tremendously uneasy. (Kiskilili, your descriptive, “sinister” perfectly sums up my impression of the Freemason ritualism in the temple; in fact, it’s not far in my mind from some kind of Mickey-Mouse-Club/DaVinci-Code/Heaven’s-Gate secret-combination basement-voodoo cult activity — and that’s never been what the Mormon church was about, in my eyes. Raise your hand if you’ve ever had to defend the Mormon church against accusations of cultism.) There also seems to be so many different interpretations of the symbolism, so many varied excuses for WHY it must be so, so many storied disclaimers of “well you’d understand it if only you ____” that the whole point of it seems as elusive and open for interpretation to the faithful Temple-goer as it is to the freaked-out outsider. If we’re all meant to be there and receive basically the same promises and blessings and enlightenment, I should think someone would try a little bit harder to see that we’re all on the same page, at least. (How about introducing this Mason stuff to the general LDS population, for starters? Stop ignoring it/pretending it isn’t true?) If the temple is what we aspire to, if it is the fullest and greatest and most complete representation of truth and oneness with God that we can know in this life, then 1-why does it keep changing, 2-why is it so weird/mysterious, 3-why can’t we talk (and really learn) about it, and 4-why is it so closed off from the rest of the world? If I need to join this ultra-exclusive Boys’ Club, “level-up” and do the hokey-pokey in order to get into Heaven, then maybe that’s not the Heaven I want to be in. (“What if the hokey-pokey IS what it’s all about?”) /OT

    I confess that I was never that into the church, despite all appearances of being a cultural Mormon; I went to church because my parents made me, I grew up in Utah and it was “the thing to do,” etc. I despised scripture study, seminary, forced socialization, going to meetings, and being beholden to some random (usually creepy) male. I never had a high-profile calling or stood up in testimony meeting. Maybe I never really “got it” in all the 30+ years of my on-again/off-again activity. But I always treasured the basics of the gospel. The plain and simple things. For no other reason than they made sense to me. This doesn’t make sense to me. I guess I’m done trying to understand. For me, this isn’t what spirituality is about, and I’m fine with that now.

    I prayed for clarity and patience (including genuine sobs of “WHY?! WHY?! WHY?!”), and I am feeling much more peaceful about this. I’ve spent a lot of time learning about others’ experiences and I’ve tried to remain open-minded and forgiving. The only understanding(s) I’ve come to are not what I expected (or even wanted). But I don’t want to be bitter. Although I’m no closer to going back to church, I’m less angry and distraught than I initially was, so–to those of you who offered–THANK YOU for teaching me and comforting me. You’re good people. :)

  46. 46.

    Lady, I’m impressed that you could take a cognitive reflective approach on this blogging process and that you discussed all that you have endured.
    The Church is the religion that I was brought up in and the religion of my family. The management of the church needs some work as the tendency to not question the process and procedure and rules of the religion takes away from its progression as we evolve our understanding of God and our own religion. I understand the loss of the idealism that you may have held for the Church.
    The good news is prayer. My prayer was similar. It was, “Help me understand this. Help me know what to do next.”
    As a psychologist and counselor, I have not been in many situations that I could not process a group through to an agreement.
    My lack of insight was in the resistance that those who benefit from the current structure of the church, and, yes, some of them are “creepy old men” who expect deference and sometimes more from women.
    I didn’t want to see the failures of these men who are not well monitored. They do not have an oversight committe to address concerns. A member is supposed to go right back to the “creepy old men” who violated the process in the first place. We want a better answer and we are not always allowed to ask for that answer through the established church. My experience is that they will not only not answer, but take a punitive approach if one asks good questions.
    The “creepy old man” Bishop that I had to deal with had an agenda. He is a funeral director and when a student was accidentally killed, the family did not have a church, so they wanted a service at the school.
    I oversaw the contract that rents the facility for $1 and helped at the after school event. I walked into the auditorium to greet him and noticed that they had brought not only a picture of the student, but also the coffin. I asked someone that would be working there to ensure that the coffin not be opened. I stated it was not “Best practices for the coffin to be there, but since it was already on the stage, it would be allowed.”
    Holding funeral ceremonies at schools is a carefully planned situation as schools do not want younger students going home to tell their parents the following message, “I saw a dead body at school today.”
    Harvard University has a course, FACES, that helps teach us how to read expressions and that course in now available for home delivery. I can tell you that I noted a change in his expression toward me since that event. The requirements he set up to renew my temple recommend was excessive and inappropriate.
    When I questioned his process, and asked for someone else to interview me, I had an even more punitive response and the Stake President impeded the process further. It was his ego problem and the additional attack was simply to try to discredit someone that he didn’t like, personally, when that person disagreed with him on process and his procedure.
    My prayer regarding help to understand this situation was answered with, “Ask for the change needed in the Church.” and a small miracle, finding a diamond that had been lost while walking my dogs in a mica beach area.
    It helps to keep in mind that God tries and man fails. When the process is not kept pure and not monitored closely (think of the purity of the sacrement), then there is a tendency to embellish it to satisfy personal egos. It is as if some people are so competitive with the holier than thou attitude, they are excluding people, rather than including people in religous procedures.
    I’m not interested in attending the temple until the Church addresses the embellishments allowed and the unrighteous dominion allowed against members.
    They do not wish to market themselves honestly, because it would scare away women and invite analysis.
    Women live longer than men, influence their children and are often willing to spend more time assisting community organizations, and when they have it, donate money.
    The Church needs to provide members some individual rights against abuse and an oversight process. The secrecy just allows them to get away with bad behavior.
    The Church knows how to market itself, but that is not always what one finds, depending on the stake’s leaders. Just because the LDS were given the fullness of the gospel at one time, it does not mean that we have established a perfect order. Man’s influence on how we follow God’s example of Jesus Christ does corrupt the message. God’s own truth will come, someday.
    You contribute when you open your heart, risk an unwanted reply (e.g. bitter fruit) and try to resolve what is from God and what is from Man in the message. You are the reasoned soul who can discriminate what is Godly and what is not, through prayer and through the spiritual gifts given to you.
    There is a saying that “To pray is to dream in league with God.” Can we shape our church to be in league with God? The humble example of Jesus Christ shows us the impact of one life, which was not always in agreement with the Pharisies or the ruling Jews and Romans of the day. Even if you are no closer to going back to the church, your spiritual influence will provide for the good in whatever organization you grace.
    I love education and the sweetness of children who, without guile or influence, tell their truth. Let us be as little children and tell our truth. Thank you for your contributions toward a better understanding of spirituality for all of us.

  47. 47.

    Excellent discussion, thank you everyone for your contributions.

    Slight derail: suppose I wanted to raise some of these issues (or even teach outside the manual) in a Temple Prep class. How fast and harsh would the consequences be? (By way of information, I’m already endowed and married, and I expect to be called as a TP teacher at some point.)

  48. 48.

    Great practical question, Bro. Jones. I don’t know how swift or intense the retribution would be, but I personally think it would be helpful to ditch the manual. I took Temple Prep four and a half times in an effort to really prepare myself spiritually, and I also read the booklet and President Packer’s book on the subject, none of which really did anything for me. I think the Church needs to be open about the fact that women are being ritually subordinated, for starters. And a more involved discussion of ritual would probably be helpful. Telling people “it will be extremely strange, but don’t be frightened” is probably not sufficient. Saying “there’s nothing to be anxious about” likely only indicates to prospective temple-goers that there is, in fact, something to be anxious about.

  49. 49.

    Saying “there’s nothing to be anxious about” likely only indicates to prospective temple-goers that there is, in fact, something to be anxious about.

    I think I’ve mentioned this before, but in the run-up to my own endowment I remember asking my mom, “Will I be naked, you know, in-front of other people*?” expecting her to answer with an easy “No, don’t be silly.” Instead she answered with a nervous “It’s very sacred.”

    So I asked again, and again she responded with a more insistent “It’s very sacred!” We went back and forth like this several times with my mom getting more panicky and insistent each time. At this point I wrote my mom off as a basketcase and decided to ask my then fiance who answered me in a more reasonable way.

    *oddly enough I would have been okay with certain sorts of ritual public nudity as occurs in some foreign bath houses, but I would not classify what happens in the temple as public nudity (in case anyone was wondering).

  50. 50.

    Starfoxy, ack! It does seem to be a problem when the shroud of secrecy prevents people from answering relatively straightforward questions that would let others know what to expect (or not). I have an image in my head of a wan flashlight of information about the temple being shined into an otherwise dark room. As a result, the anxiety-inducing shadows looming on the wall are enormous.

    I also think there’s something of a “wing-on-fire” phenomenon going on. In the John Cleese film How to Irritate People there’s a comedic skit in which the pilot and co-pilot on a plane, to entertain themselves, start making announcements to the passengers that are absolutely true, such as “the wings are not on fire.” For obvious reasons, that sort of statement only arouses people’s suspicions (what sort of context would require that kind of reassurance?), and (after that and a string of nonsensical commands) everyone bails out of the plane. Temple Prep at its worst involves telling people “the wings are not on fire” and “you will find the life jackets under your seats.”

  51. 51.

    thanks kiski – right back atcha.

  52. 52.

    My lovely newly converted husband and I took the temple prep classes, which were not difficult in content and were fairly obscure in nature, sort of like a long testimony meeting where couples cried and said how much they loved each other and that we should too. My stake president, refused my request to renew my temple recommend with the recommendation that I wait until my husband wants to join me and then we can go together. This is not a requirement for the individual endowment but it is allowed as nothing happens when they vary from best practices. Think of it as similar to Jim Crow laws in the South, once black Americans were emancipated. These violations were tolerated by the majority.
    Here is my tribute for the day. 1/20/09:
    To: President Obama
    From: Martin Luther King
    Re: “I Have a Dream – Let Freedom Ring”:
    Answer: Freedom has Rung.

    Let us hope for a day when we too can say “By God Almighty, let freedom ring.” From the speech given at the Masonic Temple the night before MLK was assassinated.

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