Zelophehad’s Daughters

Miscellaneous Temple Questions

Posted by Kiskilili

A few months back, “Lawrence” raised an interesting question at BCC:

The temple covenants when my spouse and I took our endowments differ from the current covenants. When we are asked in an interview if we keep our temple covenants, does this refer to the covenants as they were for our endowments, or the covenants as they are today? Since subsequent endowment work is vicarious, I would think the covenants we took for ourselves would be in effect.

I’m not convinced there’s an “official” stance on this, because although the Church changes, I don’t think the Church has sufficient theological mechanisms in place for processing change, and this is one site in which the implications of change generally go unexamined.  But how would you answer Lawrence’s very good question? Like him, I’m inclined to think we’re obligated to keep the covenants we ourselves actually made at a discrete moment in the past, and not their updated incarnations.

To extend this question further, what about the dead? Are they held eternally to the particular ceremony enacted when ordinances were performed on their behalf? In other words, are different exalted couples obligated to behave differently?

Finally, if an endowed member resigns her membership and later returns following changes to the ceremony, and then has her temple blessings “restored,” is she still bound by the earlier version of the ceremony? In other words, since temple blessings are “restored” and not “regranted,” for those who have been to the temple once already, is there no possible way to take advantage of potential future changes to the ceremony? (In my current understanding of the Church’s position this is indeed the case.)

(Of course, one way of resolving the issue is to deny that changes to the ceremony ever have any substance to them, which is to concede that “hearken” is the functional equivalent of “obey.”) 

In another vein, is it possible to get a temple divorce without divorcing one’s spouse civilly?

And finally, what is the Church’s policy toward people without arms? Are they endowed and married by proxy?

36 Responses to “Miscellaneous Temple Questions”

  1. 1.

    I am of the opinion that we are by the covenants we make, but not necessarily the wording of when we made them. We are not equal to God in the covenant process, and the mediators of our covenant certainly are also not equal with God. Thus God can from time to time clarify his arrangement with us, as we become prepared to receive it.

    Thus in the “hearken” vs obey” issue, it is possible to take the position that the “hearken” statement is an attempt by a later mediator to correct an error of a previous mediator in the temple ceremony.

    So while there is one True God and one true covenant (or set of covenants) we have not yet received it, and the best we can do is try to understand what we have in context of our greater knowledge of what God and given us as individuals and wait for further clarification to come. Any clarification in the future is effective on all who have made covenants in the past.

    Oh, and since the temple is symbolic and not literal, there is no issue with being without an arm.

    No you can’t temple divorce and still be married civilly.

  2. 2.

    As I see it, the crux of temple covenants lies in the statement, “as it has been explained to you” (emphasis on “you”), which translates to “as you understand it.” Every time I go to the temple, the covenants I renew are different from the time before because my understanding has changed – sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. I’m not so concerned about the exact wording as I am the spiritual understanding I have of the covenant.

  3. 3.

    That first question (which covenants am I held to when the ceremony chages?) is something I’ve thought about before. Something that has occurred to me about the endowment in particular is that all of the covenants may not necessarily be cumulative.

    Which is to say that as you progress though the ceremony you are held to a new higher standard and then abandon the old laws, similarly to how the law of Moses was done away with. So as you leave the Temple it may not be that you are required to comply with those 4 (5) exact covenants but rather only the last one or two covenants which encompass the higher purposes of the earlier covenants.
    This explanation only really addresses changes made in the first covenants, and can’t account for changes made to the later covenants or other ceremonies performed in the temple. I’m attached to it anyways though.

    In another vein, is it possible to get a temple divorce without divorcing one’s spouse civilly?

    Would excommunication do the trick?

  4. 4.

    Re armlessness: I guess I’m wondering about the physicality of ordinances. (We throw the term “symbolic” around as though its application is self-evident or symbols are self-interpreting, neither of which is the case.) Even though baptism is said to represent death (the grave) and rebirth (through amniotic fluid), you can’t be “symbolically” baptized–for example, baptized through sympathetic magic by virtue of having dunked a doll resembling yourself. And the Mormon sacrament is a symbol in that we don’t believe in transubstantiation, but the ordinance itself nevertheless requires physical ingestion of that “symbol.” Our doctrine indicates that dead people are incapable of undergoing ordinances, presumably because some physical, bodily action is necessary. Is this not the case with temple ordinances?

    I’m guessing this comes from the handbook–that armless people have “no issue” with temple ordinances?

  5. 5.

    So there are several possible models for change. In one model, the gospel is a platonic ideal which cannot ultimately be realized through human words/actions in our fallen sphere, and its imperfect realization must continually be updated so that its message resonates with current adherents, as language and culture change.

    In this model, when we say that a change is a “clarification,” we can’t mean that such changes apply retroactively, since previous generations had the gospel message mediated through their own language and culture, and their instantiations of the transcendent gospel message are as valid in their own contexts as our realization of the gospel is in our context. In other words, women’s unequivocal obedience to their husbands in 1979 was as valid a realization of the ultimate transcendent gospel as our current nebulous model is in 2009. In this understanding, change specifically does not repudiate previous doctrine/policy/ritual so much as transpose it, and lexicographic information about the uses of “obey” in 1979 supports the idea that softening the language does not in any meaningful sense “clarify” what it meant at any time in the past.

    A separate model proposes that change confers additional information not available in the past and potentially entirely at odds with what was formerly believed. Here change can repudiate earlier doctrine, but at the cost of sacrificing some of the status of earlier prophets: for whatever reason, they were misinformed.

    (And the reverse of this model is also theoretically possible–the Church changes by giving up valid information, in which case it’s the status of current prophets that’s thrown under a shadow.)

    As a sidenote, we have two models operating simultaneously in the Church generally accounting for change: in one, the “fullness” was restored and either JS or (more likely) antiquity provides us with all necessary “truth”–we change simply to become more “primordial,” as it were; in the other model we get better and better growing line upon line and the past is not invoked as an authority or template for the future. Changes to the temple pretty clearly fit the latter better.

  6. 6.

    Re temple divorce: it seems unfair to me that you can’t stay married civilly but give up your temple covenants if you choose. But perhaps Starfoxy’s right and excommunication or resignation would nullify temple covenants without changing your marital status under US law? This is just one reason I’d prefer to see civil marriages separated from temple marriages.

  7. 7.

    If by temple divorce you mean “cancellation of sealing” you can only get that if you are a woman and you have a specific need. Cancellations are approved by the First Presidency and they don’t do them unless there is something more pressing than “I hate that guy, he’s a jerk and I don’t want to be married to him for eternity.”

    If you or your spouse is not living up to covenants, there is the church view that your sealing is not in effect, but we pretty much do nothing about that and let the Lord take care of that later. So, if you and your spouse no longer want to be sealed you can choose to not be sealed after you die.

  8. 8.

    Maybe it’s like when you sign up for a major in college: you’re allowed to stick with the major you signed up for, or switch to any future modifications of the major as long as you are enrolled in the university.

  9. 9.

    I’ll take half a stab at the answers to these, even though in some ways what I say is only subtly different.

    1) Covenants are more than the words. As we come to better understand the covenants we have made, we can keep them better. The wording and ritual are really only the imperfect vehicles by which we make the covenants. Sometimes the wording is adjusted to better reflect the covenants according to the general understanding of the words at the time, but the covenants remain unchanged. It is up to us to seek Spiritual revelation of those covenants.

    2) It is not possible to get a temple divorce at all.

    3) My answer to 1) sort of answers this as well. The same question goes for those who are mute, or can’t stand. The rituals and words are only symbolic, which means they are only vehicles to understand and make covenants. Where those symbols are inadequate to individual circumstance, I believe appropriate substitutions are made (such as visualization, etc.) The same thing, I believe, goes with baptism and other covenants.

  10. 10.

    So I guess my question is, in theory, then, is there nothing wrong with baptism by sprinkling (as long as the individual is led by the Spirit to make appropriate ineffable covenants)?

    There seems to be a serious tension between the suggestion that the form particular rituals take (in actions and words) is of no significance and the stringent insistence that rituals must nevertheless take one particular form (baptism isn’t legitimate if a hair floated to the surface, the sacrament isn’t legitimate if the words were said out of order, etc.).

    I love it, Chris! I would go further and propose people can choose one of an array of possible ceremonies (present and past) when entering the temple, and officially register a change of “major” at any point in the future. I guess that means if the oath against the nation appeals to you, you can still take it. :)

    Regarding changing covenants: there’s a transparency issue I find bothersome if changed ceremonies apply retroactively. You knowingly enter into specific terms of a contract, but the other party is allowed to change the terms unilaterally at any point in the future and you’re still equally bound by the changed terms. (“I am altering the deal.”)

    Also, it seems unfair to me personally that people who object to the content of the covenants made at marriage are unable to formally abjure those covenants if they choose, especially considering they might not have known them in advance.

    As a general comment–it would be fun to track the inroads postmodern thought has made into Mormon theology generally, looking at things like Reader Response Theory and acknowledgment of the arbitrary, constructual nature of language and the gap between signifier and signified. There seems to be a fair amount of relativism floating around in the alleged service of dogma.

  11. 11.

    1) Covenants are more than the words. As we come to better understand the covenants we have made, we can keep them better. The wording and ritual are really only the imperfect vehicles by which we make the covenants. Sometimes the wording is adjusted to better reflect the covenants according to the general understanding of the words at the time, but the covenants remain unchanged.

    Would it be fair to extrapolate from this statement that technically, in your view, we don’t really need to do ordinance work for the dead–that this is just a convenient means God has created to enable us simultaneously to repeat ritual experiences and focus on others? ‘Cause surely dead people can still make those ineffable covenants, whether somebody on earth is “going through the motions” for them or not.

  12. 12.

    Interesting questions, Kiskilili!

    Regarding changing covenants: there’s a transparency issue I find bothersome if changed ceremonies apply retroactively. You knowingly enter into specific terms of a contract, but the other party is allowed to change the terms unilaterally at any point in the future and you’re still equally bound by the changed terms. (”I am altering the deal.”)

    This sounds like credit card companies. “What? We said your card has a 7.99% fixed rate? What we meant was that it has a rate that changes randomly upon our whim. Now it’s 21.99%.” I read about stuff like this all the time on the Consumerist.

    Regarding the analogy to changing majors, perhaps it could be made like software. If you don’t like version 8.0, you can go back to version 7.2, even if 8.0 was the first version you ever installed. Of course, most companies aren’t going to support any versions other than the most current one (and perhaps a few older ones if they’re behemoths like Microsoft). I like the idea of “choose your covenant.” Maybe it could be expanded to “choose your hymn version” or “choose your hymn book” as well.

  13. 13.

    As a radical reinterpreter of all things religious, I’ve always felt that we really only made one covenant in the temple, and that it supersedes all others: to build the Kingdom. The words and other aspects of all the covenants may change, but I think that’s the heart of the endowment and the primary issue I’ll be accountable for at the Judgment.

  14. 14.

    #10 & 11 Kiskilili—No, because you can’t just substitute any old symbol and have it be efficacious. There is an essential missing element in baptism by sprinkling: the authority. God (and by extension, those whom He has called and given authority) could say that sprinkling is okay, but man cannot, even for expediency. A similar concept applies to baptisms for the dead. I will answer this by firing a question back at you. It is clear that there are those who will be missed by family history work and all that goes with it. Additionally, previous dispensations do not have the research tools we do, and there are very likely many whose lines have died out without ever hearing the gospel. We believe that the Millennium will be a time where the veil will be more permeable, and much of this type of work can be done before the final battle. Therefore, If this is the case, why do you think the Lord might command us to do vicarious work for the dead? I have my own thoughts, but would like to hear yours.

    “the other party is allowed to change the terms unilaterally at any point in the future and you’re still equally bound by the changed terms.”
    This is why they are covenants and not contracts. We have no say in the terms of the contract, only God does. We can choose to accept the contract in whole or not, but not in part. God’s laws do not work that way. Of course you are free to “abjure” the covenants at any point simply by not following them. You are never bound by any of God’s terms unless you choose to be. That does not mean that you are free from what will follow when those terms are rejected.

    It is not relativism nor modern thought; it is concession to agency even found in some of our older scripture.

  15. 15.


    It might shed some light on this conversation to consider the new, revised initiatory ordinances. The words of the blessing that are pronounced there have changed a little and we are now anointed with oil and water on our foreheads only.

    It seems clear to me that the meaning of the ordinance to those who receive it is the same as it was before. I don’t know how to explain that, though.

  16. 16.

    Heh, well, fair enough throwing the question back at me, SilverRain! I don’t actually have an opinion on what’s ultimately “true” as I feel I’m lacking sufficient information. But I do feel that it’s philosophically problematic to claim ordinances are necessary for salvation (as I’ve argued elsewhere), at least to the degree we believe God has power over salvation, God is good, and we have some ability to discern goodness.

    I don’t mean to suggest sprinkling is literally an acceptable way of baptizing in Mormon theology, only that if the form of a ritual is superfluous to its meaning, it’s theoretically acceptable. Just as our spiritual ancestors were bathing each other naked in the temple for their initiatories and now we’re being “sprinkled,” as it were (as Mark points out!), the form baptism takes could theoretically change as drastically too, in the future. My only point is that if the form of the ritual is mutable and imperfect, there’s nothing inherently superior about immersion.

    To me it’s bizarre to claim the form a ritual takes is incidental and yet adhering to that exact form is “crucial” for salvation. In essence, God is behaving arbitrarily, which casts doubt either on his goodness or our ability to comprehend goodness.

    As far as covenants go, we can’t choose the terms, but we can choose whether to enter into the covenants or not. We can choose to say “no.” And the issue is whether we should be allowed to know the terms of the covenant–what we’re promising to do–when we make that choice. Surely God wants our choices to be informed? This is one reason I think it’s hard to claim changes apply retroactively.

  17. 17.

    (Love that passage, by the way–especially the fact that Joshua seems to be using reverse psychology on the Israelites–”You can’t serve the LORD; you’ll just do it wrong”; “oh yes we can!” Then he sets up a stone that “heard” all the LORD’s words as a witness against them. Awesome.)

  18. 18.

    “there’s nothing inherently superior about immersion”
    True, if one excepts God’s word and reasons for outlining immersion as the way to be baptized.

    “In essence, God is behaving arbitrarily,”
    Except, I don’t think He is. I don’t think He declares a particular form and/or ritual for covenant making for no reason other than whim. I think He has very good reasons, which are influenced by our culture and understanding. That is why the Israelites were given the 10 Commandments, their culture and understanding required that baby step before the higher law they had been given could be restored to them. Why God does things is not a question that a human can fully answer for another human, even if they try . . . but the Spirit can. The answers are there to be had.

    I am aware that others’ experiences are different, but there is no covenant I was not prepared to hear and accept. I knew what covenants I would be making when I entered the temple, but I also did my research. I read The Holy Temple by Boyd K. Packer, the Pearl of Great Price and other scriptures, and I listened to (and answered), was guided to study and ponder the temple recommend questions several times before entering, as well as seeking to be prepared through prayer and fasting. All the covenants we make are there. Any of the concepts dealing with the covenants are discussed freely and openly in Church classes—most even in Gospel Essentials and the missionary discussions. I found nothing new in those covenants, just as I found nothing new in the covenant of baptism.

  19. 19.

    The question relevant to this conversation, though, is whether you’re prepared to keep the covenants that they might turn into in 2020. Since when you made the covenants you did, you couldn’t foresee how the wording might change in the future, how can you be prepared? That’s the transparency issue. And that’s just one reason I don’t think changes apply retroactively.

    But if you insist on having this unrelated conversation: I also read all of the Standard Works multiple times (yes, including the Old Testament, repeatedly), The Holy Temple, and the temple pamphlet, and took temple prep 4 and 1/2 times. To some degree I concede that my issues with the temple are my own fault simply because I didn’t take women’s subordination as a doctrine seriously, and obviously should have–certainly patriarchalism and androcentrism run throughout our scriptures, and there’s no getting around Genesis 3:16. At the same time, Eve’s punishment for original sin isn’t exactly stressed in our published temple materials, and our insistence on Chicken Patriarchy is creating a fog around the issue. Several years ago I actually wrote a letter to the First Presidency and Apostles outlining why I thought our YW manuals needed to do more to emphasize patriarchy and women’s submission, and also suggesting women and men be prepared for the temple separately, with separate materials, since they make different covenants. I’ve heard of (but haven’t read) a master’s thesis studying women’s and men’s preparation for the endowment and concluding the Church is doing a lot better job preparing men than women.

    So although I find the content infuriating, I actually appreciate, for example, when Elder Holland announces in Conference that women give themselves to their husbands. It’s honest.

  20. 20.

    Each time the prayer over the sacrament is translated into a new language, is a new and different covenant being created? Equivalent words in different languages do not necessarily mean the same thing.

    I would argue that the covenants I made in the temple, and the covenants I make for the dead when I attend today, are the same covenants, even if the language which describes them has been modernized, simplified, and clarified in the past thirty-five years.

    The fact that certain ordinances must be performed verbatim is an attribute of the ordinances themselves, not of the underlying covenants.

    According to President KImball, the Lord is, to our human minds, somewhat arbitrary. He said of baptism, “The Lord could have chosen some other method [for men to enter his kingdom]. He could have required men to perform some great act, or pay some great sum of money…”

    However, the fact is that the Lord has ordained and defined the ordinances, today and in previous generations, and “obedience is the first law of heaven.”

  21. 21.

    I’m guessing this comes from the handbook–that armless people have “no issue” with temple ordinances?
    A personal acquaintance, actually. 1 out of 1 armless people surveyed have no problem with the temple.

  22. 22.

    We throw the term “symbolic” around as though its application is self-evident or symbols are self-interpreting, neither of which is the case.

    And I completely agree with this. Sadly, I think our symbols obfuscate, rather than clarify.

  23. 23.

    “Since when you made the covenants you did, you couldn’t foresee how the wording might change in the future, how can you be prepared?”
    I don’t think I was clear in why I brought up the reading, etc. which helped me prepare for the temple. It is not unrelated at all. All of those things led me to the only answer to this question I have to give you: you are prepared by the Spirit. I was prepared by the Spirit the first time I made covenants, and there have been few changes in the Church which have caught me entirely by surprise.

    See, I truly believe that God is at the head of this Church. I have no reason to be afraid of changes that may or may not be made. I trust that God will either prepare me for change before it comes, or help me adjust to changes I have not been prepared for. I can trust Him in this completely, because He has never failed to do so in the past. I truly believe that He has the best interests of His children at heart, and since He is perfect, I trust Him to know those best interests better than I do.

    It is the Spirit which has led me to understand that the doctrine which you call “women’s subordination” is nothing of the kind. The doctrine is one of subordination to God, and applies to women and men alike. I have no words to describe the entirety of my understanding of this doctrine, but to tell you how I came to that understanding, and that the Spirit has testified to me that it is true and good. It is not Eve’s punishment we women suffer any more than men’s labor is punishment for Adam’s transgression. It is simply the will of God, and He has His reasons which are just and true, and which can be revealed and understood only in the Spirit.

    The gospel is a gospel of submission to God’s will. Christ demonstrated that most thoroughly. A person cannot be a disciple of Christ until they understand and accept that core doctrine.

    “Sadly, I think our symbols obfuscate, rather than clarify.”
    But that is the nature of symbolism, particularly religious symbolism. They clarify things to people who understand them, and muddy them to those who do not. That is the very purpose of symbolism. Christ explained it Himself in Matthew 13.

    Take a stop sign, for example. It is almost universal for “stop” in our world, and even children can understand it easily. But if someone utterly removed from our culture were to try to understand it without any frame of reference, the red color, the shape, even the letters would serve only to confuse the real meaning of the symbol because the color, etc. would mean different things to that person.

    The scriptures, the priesthood, and personal revelation provide us the context—the culture, if you will—by which the temple symbolism can be understood. It is not that those who understand are any more special or smarter than the next person, it is only that they have sought, asked, and been given the proper context. The beautiful thing about temple symbolism is that all requirements to understanding are attainable by any of God’s children.

  24. 24.

    I would argue that the covenants I made in the temple, and the covenants I make for the dead when I attend today, are the same covenants, even if the language which describes them has been modernized, simplified, and clarified in the past thirty-five years.

    Thanks for your explaining how you see it, Matthew Chapman. The reason I wonder about this is that (a) I think the temple ceremony has become less clear rather than more clear (“hearken” isn’t a modernizing of language–it’s an archaizing–and if you ask five people how it’s applied in the temple you’ll get five different answers, some of which won’t even be internally coherent), and (b) I don’t think “hearken” today meant what “obey” meant to people 35 years ago. I think the 1990 changes to the ceremony represent an instance of “unclarification.”

    Interesting, Matt!

  25. 25.

    I agree, SilverRain, if you’re of the opinion that God and the Church can do no wrong by definition then you’re obligated to submit to everything they require of you; conscience has no place in this model, since conscience should defer to and be shaped exclusively by the inerrancy of God and the Church. (Maybe our reason is too “fallen” to be of any value, as Bonaventure suggested in the Middle Ages.)

    And it’s true conscience (or our own ability to engage in ethical reasoning) plays virtually no role in Church discussion. But for me personally, conscience, while obviously flawed, is an indispensable element in the process of determining ethical behavior. I expect God to dignify my agency and my ability to reason morally sufficiently to explain himself if his commandments strike me as morally objectionable. If he’s not willing to do that–if he insists I trust him/the Church over my conscience–I’m simply not willing to submit. “It is neither safe nor right to go against conscience,” as Martin Luther concluded.

    Symbols deserve a post of their own. But since the relationship between symbols and signifieds is arbitrary, by appealing to symbols we’re only further destabilizing the text’s “meaning.” Also, I think we jump through a “symbolism” escape hatch anytime a text makes us uncomfortable, arguing that offensive texts are symbolic of inoffensive texts. But symbols accrue associations; they aren’t nullified by them.

  26. 26.

    Would you be surprised if God asked you to kill your child? You read it in scripture first.

  27. 27.

    “if you’re of the opinion that God and the Church can do no wrong by definition then you’re obligated to submit to everything they require of you;”
    Be careful how you interpret what I am saying: I do not subscribe to infallibility, nor to the concept that I am obligated to abandon my agency to anyone, Church or God. There is a difference between believing that the Church can do no wrong, and trusting God and personal revelation. Trusting God and exercising agency (or conscience, as you say), is not the dichotomy you, and many others, make it out to be.

    Also, conscience to me is not reason. I can reason out many things which are unconscionable. You will note that it is God’s way to teach us His will in both our minds and hearts. I have learned that patience is an important aspect of this process. I will not demand of God that He satisfy my understanding in my time and how I demand it. Rather, I ask and approach Him humbly, asking Him to enlighten both my mind (reason) and heart (conscience). And, based on His past dealings with me, if He tells me that the answer will not be yet, I am content to trust Him and wait upon His greater understanding. That is not sacrificing reason, it is being patient and trusting God. It is also not without pain. It can be very painful to be patient in some cases.

    Additionally, symbols may accrue meanings, true, but not all symbols mean all of their potential meanings at every time. Take the pentagram, for example. It does not mean the same thing on the side of the temple as it does on the door of a pagan, which does not mean the same as it does to an actual worshiper of Satan. That is why all symbols must be interpreted within the context they are used. When you strip a symbol of context, you strip it of meaning. When you change its context, you change its meaning. The symbol does not destabilize the context, it enriches it.

    And remember. There is no such thing as an offensive or inoffensive text. The offense resides in the reader . . . and the context in which the reader resides.

  28. 28.

    A difference between Catholics and Mormons (stolen from somewhere on the internet, so it must be true):

    Catholics profess papal infallibility, but don’t really believe it.
    Mormons profess that they don’t believe in prophetic infallibility, but they really do.

    The prophets are not infallible, they are just never wrong :)

  29. 29.

    So true, Ann! We pay lip service to fallibility, but it’s not clear we’re willing to examine the implications of it.

    So SilverRain, perhaps one point on which we disagree then is whether conscience can even exist separately from our perception of God’s will? Is that a more helpful way of phrasing it?

    I’m also not demanding that God explain policies that I disagree vehemently with to me. I’m only demanding he explain them to me if he expects me to follow them. I haven’t yet encountered an explanation for patriarchy that strikes me as moral, so in the meantime I’m rejecting it.

    I think we’re in agreement that reason has application not just to moral issues, which is why I’m qualifying “conscience” as “moral reasoning;” also that text is an “appeal” (as Sartre put it) that is created in the reading of it. I didn’t mean to imply that text is inherently offensive outside of any context, or inherently anything for that matter.

    But, just for fun, let’s play Reader Response Theory and think about the implications of saying that the meaning of the text isn’t inherent in the text. This serves to decenter my perspective that, for example, our liturgy is demeaning to women. This is just the liturgy as constructed in my personal encounter with the language from my perspective and my context. But by the same token we now reach the ineluctable conclusion that the liturgy is not inherently holy, either, nor does it inherently honor women; this is just the liturgy as constructed in the personal encounter of someone else and their particular context, which we also decenter.

    Symbols are appropriately interpreted in their context, but who decides what that context is? Is the Old Testament the appropriate context for understanding the current temple ceremony? Freemasonry? Our own personal associations, as recipients of the ceremony?
    Since a symbol’s meaning isn’t inherent, but derived from context, on what basis can we say it has a “true meaning”? That’s what’s unstable.

  30. 30.

    Ann . . . or, some people acknowledge that they are human and may be wrong, but that acknowledgment changes nothing in how they deal with God and with the Church. Sometimes being wrong just doesn’t matter enough in the greater picture. Some people don’t believe that they understand enough of the greater picture to be able to judge whether or not someone is wrong in the first place, and are content to leave such judgment to God. I don’t believe I’m responsible for how God directs His prophet. I am only responsible for MY relationship with God. And believe you me, that is sometimes more than I feel I can handle.

    “perhaps one point on which we disagree then is whether conscience can even exist separately from our perception of God’s will? Is that a more helpful way of phrasing it?”
    No. That introduces an entirely new concept. To me, the way you are using it, conscience means feelings/intuition. That is how I’m using it here.

    “I’m only demanding he explain them to me if he expects me to follow them.”
    Perhaps this is where we differ. I don’t believe God expects me to follow them, only asks me to. Because I love Him and long to be with Him again, I am willing to align myself with Him, if I can. That is more important to me than any other thing.

    “but who decides what that context is?”
    That is what I’m really trying to get at, and apparently not communicating well. God decides the context, and communicates it through the Spirit. If a person cuts themselves off from that communication for whatever reason, they have no hope of understanding. The final responsibility for understanding rests with the individual.

    And I think you are reaching a part of what I’m trying to say. Text itself is a symbol. Language is a symbol. If one begins to treat words and language as discrete entities independent of context, or neglects to try to understand the context in which those symbols are presented, one cannot hope to understand the meaning. It is the meaning of the language that is important, not the language, not the words. And no language is perfect at conveying meaning, just as no symbol is perfect at communicating the whole of what it means. And, with the assumption (and belief) that 1) God loves you and 2) He wants you to understand and follow His commandments with a willing and joyful heart, you have to be able to let go of your own understanding and trust Him to teach you. I can say from direct personal experience that it is impossible to understand the symbolism of the temple, let alone any other of God’s ways, without first letting go of pride, of demands of any kind.

    But I feel I have said all I can say as clearly as I can say it. There are others who can speak more plainly than I can, but I feel that should I try any further, I’ll only confuse things more and not add to the feelings I’m trying to communicate.

  31. 31.

    Well, thanks for engaging me, SilverRain. In summary, I think part of our general disagreement (I’m not intending to make value judgments, just to articulate it) lies in my more anthropocentric approach to religion–both my assumption that text is an artifact of human culture and that both truth claims and moral claims can be evaluated through human (non-revelatory) means. So from my perspective, whether or not God is the author of a text, it’s not clear to me that he can monopolize its “meaning.”

    And if text is merely a scaffolding to a transcendental experience, as I think you’re suggesting, my position is nevertheless that that text, that scaffolding, is significant in itself. Because if any language would lead the pure in heart to the desired transcendental experience, why the insistence on this particular language, on this particular form that our ritual takes?

    Walt Whitman wrote,

    I will take each man and woman of you to the window and open the shutters and the sash, and my left arm shall hook you round the waist, and my right arm shall point you to the endless and beginningless road along whose sides are crowded the rich cities of all living philosophy, and oval gates that pass you into fields of clover and landscapes clumped with sassafras, and orchards of good apples, and every breath through your mouth shall be a new perfumed and elastic air, which is love. –Not I–not God–can travel this road for you. –It is not far, it is within the stretch of your thumb; perhaps you shall find you are on it already and did not know. –Perhaps you shall find it every where over the ocean and over the land, when you once have the vision to behold it.

    Maybe the temple is only the window through which we view an ineffable landscape. But to my mind that doesn’t nullify the significance of the window itself. On the contrary, the window determines the lens, frame, and location from which we view eternity. So I think it’s perfectly legitimate for me to wonder why God chose the shape, structure, and position of this particular window.

    In any case, I don’t begin with an assumption that God loves me or believes that following his commandments will make me happy, because I think that belief should in part be contingent on my understanding of sacred texts that mediate my experience of God, and that interpretation doesn’t flow very naturally from our sacred texts, in my view.

  32. 32.

    Ah, that is indeed the core of our disagreement. I have found the essence of my religious understanding to be a knowledge and testimony of those two assumptions. All other religion is see through that window.

    And while I agree that the scaffolding and the window are not unimportant, and there is certainly nothing wrong with wondering why God chose them, I choose to ask God to explain Himself when and if He chooses, and meanwhile focus on enjoying and understanding the view.

  33. 33.

    Re-reading this thread, I realize I might just be echoing what’s already been said, but since I bothered to write the comment, I’ll post it anyway. :) As far as the issue of changing covenants, this seems to be a particular instance of what I see as a more general problem in the Church (mentioned by Kiskilili in #5)—how do we theologically account for change over time? One might imagine that the obvious answer in an LDS context would be new revelation–one reason why continuing revelation is so crucial, according to Joseph Smith, is that God says different things to people in different historical contexts. But in the contemporary church, that doesn’t seem to be invoked often–instead, changes are explained as clarifications of what has been always taught. (On a side note, I find this interesting because I see it as a shift to an understanding of revelation much closer to that found in traditional Christianity, where the concept of closed revelation means that changes are necessarily explained in terms of additional insights into what was there all along.)

    So I’m thinking out this hypothetical—what if, tomorrow, the gender differences in the hearken covenant disappeared altogether, and women and men both committed to follow God directly? Theologically, how might such a change happen? One possible model is of course the 1978 revelation model, in which God explicitly says, don’t do it this way anymore—do this instead. But it might also conceivably be along the lines of the 1991 changes. I’m not aware of anyone citing new revelation as the reason why certain elements disappeared—and as can be seen on this thread, many maintain that the essential substance of the ceremony has remained constant, despite permutations in form. The former kind of explanation would leave us with the kinds of questions we now have in discussing the former priesthood/temple ban (e.g., does this mean that it was never inspired?) The latter, on the other hand, would leave us trying to make sense of how the contemporary model was in some sense the same thing as the model which preceded it. In this particular example, I can imagine the explanation going either way—attempting to show how patriarchal principles still informed the newer model, or attempting to show how equal access to God had been there all along.

    With the latter approach, I think one of my problems is that I’m not sure I accept the idea that there’s some “real” ineffable covenant underlying the form in which it’s linguistically expressed at any particular moment. In a nutshell, I’m skeptical about the possibility that language can ever be complete separated from our apprehension of the universe. I certainly believe that experience can go beyond our ability to fully articulate it, but I would also point out that our experience is always already “contaminated” by language, as it were—it doesn’t happen independently of it.

    Anyway, back to the more practical question, it seems to me that people should be held to the particular covenants which they made—I think it’s morally problematic to make covenants which might morph into something else in the future. However, it also seems that there should be some kind of mechanism to ritually switch over to the new covenants, should such a change happen. As far as I know, there is no way to do such a thing. And the very fact that there isn’t any such mechanism strongly suggests to me that the Church interprets all the changes in the ceremony along the lines of my second model above. But I still wonder—what does it mean that my generation of women are pretty much bound to hearken, whereas our mothers are committed to obey?

  34. 34.

    SilverRain and Kiskilili, I know your conversation has kind of wound down, so I’m not expecting responses to this if you’re tired of restating your positions. I’m just trying to sort out what I think about some of these issues. At the risk of misinterpreting one or both of you, I’m not sure that the basic disagreement I’m seeing here really stems from the question of whether God is good, as suggested by #32. Or maybe I just want to think that because I’m trying to simultaneously hold that God loves his daughters as full human beings, and that the temple ceremony is problematic. In fact, it’s my belief in the former that makes me question the latter. (Though given that my beliefs about God can’t really be separated from Church teachings, I realize there are potential problems in framing it that way.)

    In any case, I see a couple of different questions here. One is whether God is good. Unlike Kiskilili, I’m willing to start with that as a premise, though I agree that it’s not necessarily the most straightforward interpretation of our sacred texts. Another has to do with the way in which God is involved in the Church. I think I can see a difference between holding a strict notion of infallibility in which “the Church can do no wrong” (#27) and between holding that “God is at the head of the Church,” so there is no reason to fear change. (#23) However, in the context of this specific issue—possible changes to the temple ceremony—I’m not sure that I see a practical distinction between those positions. In other words, unless I’m misreading SilverRain, she’s maintaining that such changes wouldn’t be problematic because (a) God is good and (b) God is running the Church in such a way that he wouldn’t allow harmful changes. And while I’m at least willing to seriously entertain premise (a), I have some doubts about premise (b).

    I’m still thinking this out, so I don’t know how much sense it will make, but I also would question the notion that the Spirit itself can be posited as a context for interpreting the ritual—or at least, as an independent context. As I understand it, the Spirit communicates through human faculties—telling us things in our mind and in our heart, for example. I’m not sure the spiritual is best understood as a completely separate sphere of human existence (though it often gets framed that way, as when people talk about the “physical” and “social” and “intellectual” and “spiritual” realms of life); I think of it more along the lines as a dimension of the other realms—the spiritual is an aspect of our experience as physical beings, as social beings, as intellectual beings, etc. The danger of talking about spiritual experience as a discrete category of its own, I think, is that it then gets cut off from the rest of our lives. And when it comes to ritual, our experience of it is inevitably shaped by things like culture (which is of course tied up in language), conscience and reason (however you define those terms), even our physicality. I guess what I’m trying to get at is that I don’t think it would make sense to say that one understood the ritual through the Spirit instead of through those other factors, because I see spiritual experience as mediated through those kinds of things.

  35. 35.

    I just happened to come back and look and see your comments Lynette. I don’t feel, as you say, that “God is running the Church in such a way that he wouldn’t allow harmful changes.” I think it would be more accurate to say that so-called “harmful” changes are not really harmful, when seen from God’s perspective.

    The gospel of Christ is submission and humility before God in light of our infinite worth. It does not matter what form that submission and humility takes, so I am willing to follow the Lord’s current structure in this. At the very least, I don’t feel qualified to make judgments on how it should be changed. Perhaps it is true that our leaders are flawed in the way they guide the temple ceremonies, but if it is, I am certainly not less flawed.

    The doctrine of submission . . . of sacrifice . . . is not an intuitive understanding, nor one that can be easily explained, but it is one that, once revealed to a person, enlightens everything. It is like wearing glasses for the first time. Suddenly, everything is clear and you didn’t even realize you were seeing fuzzily before.

    I think I see what you are saying about the spiritual realm. I would agree in the sense that no realm exists independently of the others, and differ in the sense that I do not see the physical realm superseding, or even being equal to the spiritual one, particularly in regards to temple worship. We are, first and eternally, spiritual beings. None of God’s commandments, not even this physical life, can truly be understood without looking through that Spiritual lens. The Spirit connects us back to our memories and selves before we came here. Remember, that we developed far more before we came to this earth than we will while on it.

    The temple, especially, has the express purpose of inviting us to reconnect more strongly with our spiritual selves. For a short time while on this earth, we are meant to let go of cultural, emotional, mental and physical boundaries and commune directly with God. The rituals are the vehicle by which we occupy our physical and mental selves so that our spiritual self can be freed for greater revelation. In a sense, the rituals themselves are almost meaningless, but because of their purpose, they hold infinite meaning.

    I believe that many can attend the temple, without truly attending the temple. I have done it myself, before. Knowing the ritual by heart does not mean that a person has actually participated in it. But, as we seek to understand the symbols and rituals of the temple by humbling ourselves in prayer and fasting, our eyes are once again opened to knowledge that has been temporarily taken from us, and then that knowledge can be built on in the context of our physical, temporal selves. Therefore, the true experience of the temple can never be written, except upon our hearts and in our characters. Likewise, it can never be depicted or discussed outside of the proper setting, because the proper setting is the greater part of the experience.

  36. 36.

    Language is a human, not a divine, construct. In the temple we promise using human terms to engage in human behaviors in our ordinary human lives outside the temple. It doesn’t matter how inspired those words are–once God addresses us using a human construct, his terms are accountable to the parameters and associations attendant to language. When God speaks to us through the spirit, fine. (Actually, I think that’s complicated too, but we’ll set that aside for now.) But when God addresses us in English, he can’t monopolize the text’s “meaning.” The meaning of English words is arbitrary, but it’s not up for grabs or determined by divine fiat.

    If the temple has infinite meaning–if there is no “meaning” that the current temple ceremony cannot assimilate, including the idea that we should don hyena costumes, put rings in our noses, and belly dance every time there’s a full moon–then it is, in effect, meaningless. And if the ceremony is indeed meaningless–simply an empty place holder for inviting God’s spirit–there’s no reason to say “Jesus” rather than “Buddha,” or “hearken” rather than “ignore.” Language is unstable, but it has constraints. By committing ourselves to particularity, by insisting the ceremony be conducted in one particular way following one particular script, we’re severely limiting the range of acceptable interpretations.

    I’m not denying God can touch us through particular “vehicles.” I’m just insisting it’s unfair to use spiritual flights of fancy to dismiss those “vehicles” from the discussion. They’re inescapably meaningful, and if anything, spiritual experiences only serve to underscore rather than neutralize their meaning.

    I don’t claim to have access to God’s perspective. But I’m perfectly competent in English, and I have no trouble deciphering the relationship in which the temple ceremony structures women, men, and God. And it’s a particular relationship, not one conducive to infinite possibility.

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