Why Not Do Better Temple Prep?

Our latest round of debating the meaning of “hearken” has raised another problem which frequently comes up in this discussion: people being blindsided by the temple. The fact that all the covenants aren’t explicitly spelled out in advance is something I’ve never understood. Why aren’t we teaching them to people all along? How can the Young Women “prepare to make and keep sacred covenants” if they don’t know what those covenants are?

Don’t get me wrong; I like the idea of sacred space, and I have no problem with limiting the discussion of particular topics to that space. But I honestly cannot see a justification for not telling people what they’re going to have to promise until they’re on the spot, in a situation in which it would be very socially difficult to leave. We recommend that before getting married, people give some thought to the serious of that obligation–it’s not as if you show up to a religious ritual and have five seconds to decide whether you want to commit to this person for all eternity. Why not give people some time to make an informed, thoughtful, prayerful decision about other temple covenants? It seems like we could avoid a fair amount of heartbreak. While I have issues with the hearken covenant, I might have even more issues with the fact that many women don’t know in advance that it’s going to be required of them.

85 thoughts on “Why Not Do Better Temple Prep?

  1. 1

    How i wish temple prep was actually temple prep. I think it’s absolutely unconscionable that the church puts people in the situation of having to make covenants without giving them an adequate opportunity in advance to study those covenants and consider them and think about what they might mean and how they might impact their lives. I’ll be forever grateful that I have known what the sealing ordinance is like before I showed up at the altar to be sealed. It’s given me the opportunity to reflect and realize that I’m simply not okay with the wording of that ordinance and that I will not be married in that fashion.

    I do not understand how the church can claim agency and the opportunity to exercise one’s own agency as a core tenet of the gospel, and then turn the temple/endowment into such an undeniably coercive experience. Given the emotional, spiritual, and social pressures to do as your told and say yes to all the covenants in the temple, I simply cannot think of the endowment as being not coercive. As such it flies directly in the face of the gospel as I understand it and seems much more in keeping with the approach to mortality we allegedly voted down in the pre-existence.

  2. 2

    What actually happens to someone who leaves? Aside from the potentially broken engagement and called-off-wedding logistics, I mean, is there anything official?

  3. 3

    Does anyone even know of anyone who has left before making the covenants? I simply can’t imagine having the strength to do so, and I’m a pretty strong person. Plus one would have to have the perspicacity to overcome bewilderment and surprise quickly enough for leaving to even be an option…

  4. 4

    I remember hearing people say in comments now and then that they ran out in tears… maybe you’re just not impulsive enough!

  5. 5

    I think the problem is that you go in with the attitude that you’ll humble yourself and give yourself to God, whatever he requires. You’re not expecting him to push you down and kick you in the face. I feel like I hanged myself on my own trust in God. I should have gone into the experience thinking, Maybe I’ll accept this and maybe I won’t. But that’s really not the attitude the church cultivates.

    Or I could have looked the ceremony up online before I ever went. But I didn’t, out of respect for the sacred. The church punishes you for trusting.

  6. 6

    Re #5–I did read the ceremony, and as a result, I decided not to go. Honestly, I feel like I dodged a bullet; it’s doubtless made it easier for me to stay in the church. But what sense does that make, that my deciding not to “respect the sacred,” as you put it, turned out to be a blessing for me, whereas your faithfulness turned around to bite you? Something seems very wrong with this picture.

  7. 7

    there’s a lot of pressure in my ysa ward for the single sisters to get endowed, but reading things online like this just make me less and less inclined to ever do so. although, if i ever do “have” to, i have a good friend who has promised me that he will tell me everything i want to know beforehand because he agrees that the way it’s set up isn’t fair.

  8. 8

    Re #3 – Once I witnessed a young man (about age nineteen) and his father stand up and quietly walk out of the room shortly after the part in the temple that says “if any of you wish to withdraw…” I think someone went to talk with them, but after a couple of minutes everything went on as usual.

  9. 9

    I remember as a YW hearing about “preparing to go to the temple” in lessons. But how can you prepare for the temple unless you have some idea of what goes on there? Would it be so bad if people actually said “these are the things you’ll covenant to do”?

    I was endowed before my mission, and didn’t marry until I was 26, so I wasn’t really directly affected by the ‘hearken’ covenant for a long time (and now that I’m married to my awesome husband, it still doesn’t affect me the way I imagine it affects some women). And you can bet that covenant was on my mind 100% of the time as I tried to decide whom to marry. I feel so bad for all the women who find out about that covenant no more than 7 days before their wedding day. It’s like the church is saying, “Oh, you think you know what marriage is? You think it’s about companionship and respect for each other? ha HA! Think again!”

    amelia, I’d be interested in hearing what it is in the wording that was a dealbreaker for you (without being too explicit or inappropriate, obviously). As far as I remember, the sealing itself is super vague and the only difference btwn the covenant for husband and wife is about four words (which I choose to believe are either a cultural remnant or simply an error in the original transcription). I would love to hear your perspective.

  10. 10

    Sorry, one more thing. I think it’s especially problematic that women head into marriage not knowing about all this temple stuff, especially when the men they’re marrying are already endowed and everything.

    They start out on unequal ground, and the ‘hearken’ covenant makes it even worse.

  11. 11

    Re 10: When I went through the temple as a fiancee I was oblivious to the differences. I just attributed them to some sort of Jewish/ancient gender divide thingy (women can’t worship the same part of the Wailing Wall or something like that). I was very surprised when my wife eventually told me how much it physically and emotionally hurt when she was standing there making promises she was unprepared for and was forced on the spot to decide how much she trusted me. I had never put two and two together; the sister missionaries went through sessions with the elders while I was on my mission and they never had problems, did they? (Yeah, like I ever even asked.) I’m not sure that most men are even aware of the issue; we’re too blind in many cases to see that there is a deeply disturbing problem still present in the endowment. I wish I’d known and had pondered the full import of that promise before it affected someone I love so deeply.

  12. 12

    Thank you for sharing your experience. Actually, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if most LDS guys were similarly oblivious prior to their weddings–the ‘hearken’ thing doesn’t apply to them at the time in any way, so they just don’t think about it.

    I guess what I meant is, not so much that men propose marriage knowing that their wives will have to covenant to obey hearken to them, but rather, temple-stuff is old hat for them, while their brides are in that bewildered-surprised-humble zone. There’s just something I don’t like about it. I guess it establishes men as the spouses that KNOW the gospel (because they’ve been endowed longer, been to the temple more, served missions), so OF COURSE their wives will listen to them. Add the ‘hearken’ covenant on top of that, and I think you’ve got a situation in which few women would be so bold as to question their husbands’ decisions and doctrinal interpretations.

  13. 13

    Tom (#11) I really appreciate how much you seem to care about this issue and the hurt it caused your wife. I think you’re right that a lot of men don’t register how deeply painful it can be for women. And it seems to me that when a covenant directly impacts the dynamics of a relationship between spouses, those people should have the opportunity to discuss that covenant and what it means for them and whether they’re willing to enter into that kind of relationship.

    Whitney (#9): I won’t have anything to do with a marriage in which I give myself to my husband, who receives me but who does not give himself to me. That inequity is so deep that I simply won’t do that to myself. I would consider, maybe, being sealed later in marriage as nothing more than a Mormon ritual, with the understanding that the vows used in our actual marriage take precedence over anything said in the sealing, but mostly I think it will be a non-issue. I tend to date non-mormons far more often than mormons and it seems fairly unlikely that I’ll marry a mormon.

  14. 14


    Yeah, that’s what I thought you were referring to. I don’t like it either. I take comfort in the part that says I receive him–I mean, in order for me to receive him, he’d pretty much HAVE to be giving himself to me, right? So maybe him giving himself is implicit. Still, I’d like the reciprocity to be more explicit.

    As I said before, I like to think those words are missing from the men’s covenant because back in the 1800’s or whatever someone wrote it down wrong and no one (that is, no one who ‘matters’) has really thought about it since.

    I recently read somewhere (this blog maybe?) that the woman has those words in her covenant as a contrast to the (“worldly”) practice of the bride’s father giving her away to the groom; if this was the original intent, the wording in the temple covenant is actually quite progressive. That is, it used to be progressive. Today, I think most societies have a cultural understanding that a father doesn’t own his daughters, so the wording definitely needs to be changed.

  15. 15

    I was pretty fortunate to be able to talk frankly with the members of the elwc-plus Mormon feminist e-mail list, so I knew exactly what I was getting into, not just the covenants but the logistics of the whole thing. I still exacted a promise from my husband (also going through for the first time) that he would still marry me even if I reached the end of my metaphorical rope and ran out screaming.

    Ultimately, I was less bothered by the “hearken” covenant (the assymetry of which I had learned about many years earlier and which contributed to a depression spiral) than by the veil ceremony. I really, really love my husband, but even recalling that experience still makes me a little nauseated.

  16. 16


    Honestly, I think the only reason they do a veil ceremony before you get married is because that’s the only legitimate time/place/way for him to learn your name. I have no idea why he needs to know it when I don’t know his, but that’s my two cents. I reject all interpretations that compare husbands to Christ and wives to…anyone else.

    I’m sorry I’m commenting so much on this thread….really passionate about this!

  17. 17

    I went on my mission about the same time Kiskilili was resigning her membership, which probably made for some interesting family dynamics (I think I was too stressed out to notice!), but it also meant that I was aware there was stuff in the temple to be concerned about. Between reading the bloggernaccle and having a lot of conversations with endowed women, I had a pretty good sense of what I would be getting myself into with the temple. I didn’t look up the ceremony or know any of the specifics (or specifically secret aspects), but I had enough information that I didn’t feel blindsided by anything.

    Instead, I felt like I could put the gender stuff on the back burner while I focused on other aspects of the ceremony. And, by some much-needed grace, I felt that way through all of my mission. (Now I’m afraid the back burner has reared up and dumped its contents right onto the kitchen floor, so I guess the grace has passed.) But if I’d gone through the temple not knowing how awful the gender stuff is, not knowing about the hearken covenant, I wouldn’t have made it as far as the doors to the MTC. I think giving people time and space to think this stuff through is absolutely necessary, and could be done without sacrificing the secrecy/sanctity of the really secret/sacred stuff.

  18. 18

    More cynically, though, if the Church made knowledge of the hearken covenant available to its general membership, that would perhaps interfere with their carefully crafted PR message that we’re totally beyond the sexism and look at all these women in happy marriages working outside the home! So I can’t imagine temple prep classes being augmented with real information about the covenants being made, until/unless those covenants had changed to be less damaging to the Church’s image.

  19. 19

    Whitney, that’s a good point (and no need to apologize for lots of comments!)–I hadn’t thought of the disjunct that introduces into dating, assuming the male is an RM and the female isn’t. At the very least (and is clearly illustrated by the fireworks on the “hearken” thread!), it seems like this is something they should be discussing together before they get married–how they’re going to interpret that covenant in their particular marriage. Another reason why having women only get their endowments right before their wedding seems like a bad idea.

    We talk about a lot of stuff here that would be difficult to change. (I will confess that I think female ordination would require a bit of shake-up!) But this is something that seems like it could changed fairly easily, and could really alleviate some problems. I’m genuinely curious–is there any doctrine or policy that would preclude a requirement that at the very least, the specific covenants got discussed with the person before they got endowed?

  20. 20

    is there any doctrine or policy that would preclude a requirement that at the very least, the specific covenants got discussed with the person before they got endowed?

    I don’t think so, Lynnette. In fact, I would go a step further and say that the hearken covenant could very easily change without affecting any other doctrine or policy. I’d be perfectly happy to enter into that covenant if it were a reciprocal one that my husband entered as well. When the covenant becomes reciprocal, it would essentially rob the “obey” aspect of “hearken” of its power and place emphasis on thoughtful consideration of a spouse’s position and joint decision making.

  21. 21

    Yeah, Melyngoch, the cynical side of me wonders about that as well. Or that they are aware of the possibility that women might be less likely to go to the temple if they had more advance information.

  22. 22

    In fact, I would go a step further and say that the hearken covenant could very easily change without affecting any other doctrine or policy. I’d be perfectly happy to enter into that covenant if it were a reciprocal one that my husband entered as well.

    Good point–that would be a pretty minor change, too, and one that could make a HUGE difference for a lot of women. And I could be wrong, but I don’t think even the more conservative women and men I know would have serious objections to such a change. (The only downside would be that it would cut our blog conversations in half. 😉 )

  23. 23

    I’d love to see them make that particular covenant reciprocal. And I’d love to see them change the language of the endowment so that Adam uses “we” and “us” instead of only “me” and “I”. Better yet, it would be lovely if Eve actually got to talk after the fall. And if she was an equal participant in the interactive instruction she only mutely observes now. None of those changes would have any actual consequence for doctrine; all of them would go a long way to alleviating some of the hurt caused by the current temple liturgy.

    It would be desperately sad to have less to argue about online, but I’m sure I’d find a way to pull through…

  24. 24

    ” it would be lovely if Eve actually got to talk after the fall.”

    I find this bit pretty spot on as a symbol of what happens to women in a telestial world. I think, too, that more changes should be made to the language in that initial covenant. I can’t think of anything that would be harmed by making ‘the hearken covenant’, as y’all are calling it, reciprocal. But, I think the larger problem is this: there is some ambiguity and even irony in the endowment. I think if we were given a clue as to what the endowment is – a symbolic representation of a kind of hero’s journey through lower worlds, our expectations would come better into line.

  25. 25

    Thomas, i agree that Eve’s silence is a decent representation of women’s fate in the telestial world. That said, I’m not a subscriber to the argument that the endowment is descriptive rather than prescriptive. I might be able to get on board with a combination approach–that the ceremony is meant to be both descriptive and prescriptive, but I think it’s not really possible to argue that it’s exclusively descriptive since it’s performative and involves temple attenders making covenants that shape their lives. And Mormons certainly hold the temple up as a place to go in order to receive guidance in how to live. I think the argument that the temple is descriptive of the state of affairs in a fallen world is mostly another means of reinterpreting it in order to make it more palatable. After all, if it’s just a description of a fallen world we can dismiss the gender inequities it presents as not God’s actual will for his people. However, that reinterpretation works no better than the one MB advanced on the hearken post because it doesn’t accurately represent how Mormons are instructed to and actually do use the temple in their lives.

  26. 26


    I agree that it is not fully descriptive, but it is mostly descriptive.

    We make covenants to get us through certain periods of our development. They are not Eternal in nature. For instance, we covenant to keep the “Law of the Gospel” – but the law of the gospel is irrelevant in the Celestial Kingdom – by that time it has long since done its work. (We don’t need faith because we have knowledge – we don’t need repentance because we are perfected – we don’t need the Holy Ghost because we dwell in the presence of God, etc.) People may go to the temple for clues on how to live, but if that is all they do, I think they are missing the point. The endowment is not about how to live as much as who we are – which in turn says something, not as much as we think, about how we should live. Those covenants are tied in the Temple to particular steps on the journey. So that they may be prescriptive, but only understood as part of a description.

    I understand that this way of looking at the temple has almost passed out of existence as we have become more and more centered on behavior and, really, the most mundane realities. But I was never taught to go to the Temple to learn how to live. I was taught to go to the Temple as a means of gaining a knowledge of the true nature of God and what used to be called the Plan of Salvation (what I’ve called a hero’s journey), through personal revelation, by contemplating symbols. We used to say things like ‘in the Temple, we seek the face of God.’ Things that aren’t said anymore.

    “doesn’t accurately represent how Mormons are instructed to and actually do use the temple in their lives”

    In so far as this is true – and I acknowledge that it largely is – I think we are going about it in a way that sadly misses the point. Which hearkens back to my initial comment.

  27. 27

    Lynette, we’re having the same discussion over on BeginningsNew this past week as the temple lessons come along in this year’s manual. We have said and we see in the comments, a great need for teachers to be plain & up front about the endowment (and the initiatory! that should not be a surprise) and what people will be covenanting about. This becomes more important for Laurels than for Beehives. It’s a line on line process of learning. We also try to make, and want YW leaders to make, a clear distinction so that “going to the temple” doesn’t equate “getting married,” so that girls are aware that it involves separate, distinct ordinances which can be encountered over time & hopefully not all on the same day.

    That said, I think there can only be so much done in young womens. Most temple teaching is going to have to happen in families (or family-substitutes like home/visiting teaching in the case of YSA converts), and most of the temple prep instruction needs to be close to the temple experience so it’s fresh in the mind. While a good YW lesson can help demystify the future temple experience, the conversations that happen in the immediate days and weeks prior to a first endowment and/or a temple sealing are, in my mind, far more critical in making the initial experience less of a freakout.

    One of the blessings of having nearby temples for so many Church members (which was not true in earlier generations) is that people can return often, & it becomes less of a one-time overwhelming initiation rite and more of a worship practice, which in my mind is all to the good.

  28. 28

    Why not more explicit (=better?) temple prep?

    Probably because different Apostles have different opinions about what can and should be said. I have two good first-hand sources that one very senior Apostle has strong and much more restrictive views on this than others. At the local level, though, I think a lot has changed. Many Bishops and SPs are now walking individuals through a more explicit “what to expect.”

    I don’t see much symbolism in Eve’s lack of dialogue post-Fall. James and John aren’t exactly loquacious either.

  29. 29

    The agreement to harken is most frequently covenanted under duress of varying degrees depending on one’s level of knowledge. Is duress accepted by the culture of mankind as a legitimate method of contract? Of course not. Therefore even if this method was mandated by God he ceases to be God when he uses it in opposition to mankind’s ethics without explaining some higher law so it cannot be binding at that point and each may re-decide after the fact to live it or not.

  30. 30

    I was directed to read “The Holy Temple” by Boyd K. Packer and to read the Pearl of Great Price and the creation story. I had an endowed friend who spoke with me about the things it is okay to discuss.

    My endowment was a beautiful experience. I felt prepared for everything that happened, there were no surprises.

    I guess my point is that everything is out there, it’s just that so many people are afraid to discuss it because they don’t understand what is appropriate to discuss and when it is appropriate to discuss it.

  31. 31

    Lynnette #21,

    Yeah, Melyngoch, the cynical side of me wonders about that as well. Or that they are aware of the possibility that women might be less likely to go to the temple if they had more advance information.

    I don’t recall who I’m borrowing this idea from, but I read somewhere the speculation that the Church has found it works well to require people to make big covenants with no advance notice and very high stakes. In a common scenario, a man goes to the temple first when he already has a mission call in hand. His friends and family and ward members all know about his plans. Then he goes to the temple. What is he going to do, back out? He’ll be shamed as a fornicator if he doesn’t go on his mission.

    Similarly, if a woman follows a common path of going to the temple for the first time shortly before getting married, her wedding plans are of course public knowledge among her family and friends. She goes to the temple. What is she going to do, back out? She’ll be shamed as a fornicator.

    I actually don’t believe the most cynical version of this idea, which is that temple covenants were designed to be entered into in high stakes situations. I think it’s more likely that the situation sort of evolved over time into this, and it was found by happenstance that putting people in high stake situations when they first go to the temple (even setting aside the high stakes of the covenants) made it more likely people would go through with it.

  32. 32

    I don’t see much symbolism in Eve’s lack of dialogue post-Fall. James and John aren’t exactly loquacious either.

    At the very least, we can conclude James and John are narratively subordinated to Peter, as Eve is to Adam. Adam is a major character in this drama; Eve is less so.

  33. 33

    The official temple prep materials aren’t really temple prep, but just very simple lessons in daily gospel living. In my view they are completely inadequate.

    I don’t think people should be blindsided by the temple. Someone (it could be the bishop, or it could be one or more really close friends) needs to walk the prospecitive initiate through the process. And I mean the whole thing, from the time you enter the door. We assume too much; don’t assume anything. Start by explaining the recommend desk, what its purpose is, why a man will ask to see your recommend, how you won’t be able to get in without it, etc. Explain the layout and the locker room you’ll go to. People forget about these simple mechanics because they’ve gone themselves hundreds of times, but when you go your very first time it’s *all* new, and the more you can prepare them for what they will encounter the better.

    “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” Sure there are some specific things you can’t discuss in exquisite detail, but those are really very limited. A person should have a decent sense for what will go on in that building, and if we did that we wouldn’t have so many people walk out traumatized by the experience.

  34. 34

    I would go further than that, even. I think certain principles, such as female subordination, need to be emphasized well in advance, long before any concrete plans have been made.

  35. 35

    “I don’t see much symbolism in Eve’s lack of dialogue post-Fall. James and John aren’t exactly loquacious either.”

    I’m not going to force a reading – but! James and John are bit players. Eve in a central character, one who had quite a lot to say earlier. Also, while it isn’t in the language of the endowment, in at least one of the current movies, John steps forward and begins delivering a sermon as the film ends.

  36. 36

    I was completely prepared for the temple covenants. I had parents who taught me. They didn’t teach me specifically “this is a temple covenant” but they taught me each of the covenants as part of the gospel in daily life. So while the exact ritual ceremony was new and odd, none of the actual covenants caught me by surprise at all.

  37. 37

    I think if we were given a clue as to what the endowment is – a symbolic representation of a kind of hero’s journey through lower worlds, our expectations would come better into line.

    I was actually prepped for the temple by several folks using this exact analysis of the temple ceremony. It definitely helped more with my expectations than other temple prep materials (I found The Holy Temple fairly generic and therefore useless, for example), but I wish they had also warned me to expect that in this particular symbolic hero’s journey, I’m the hero’s prize, not the hero.

  38. 38

    On a related note, it looks like Julie Beck talked about this at last weekend’s Women’s Conference. The transcript is not up, but here are some notes taken from another blogger:

    “Theme #4 – We have and live with an inseparable connection with the Priesthood.

    Do not confuse the idea of those who hold the priesthood in trust with the power of the priesthood.

    The priesthood duty of sisters is:

    * to create life,
    * nurture it
    * prepare it for covenants with the Lord

    Satan’s way of confusing men and women is to focus on “what brethren have that sisters do not.”

    Every gift and blessing is available to ALL. We are inseparably connected. None can ascend alone – only together.

    HOME is where the Lord expects the priesthood (men and women fulfilling their duties) to work the best.

    Go to the temple and PAY ATTENTION to the blessings and gifts of the priesthood that come.

    Prepare young women and women for temple covenants. It should be the goal of every woman to become sufficiently mature to understand temple covenants.

    The Holy Ghost is a precious revelator.

    “Mine is a home where every hour
    is blessed by the strength of Priesthood power.”

  39. 39

    As ZD Eve said to me recently: How do you prepare someone for a secret? You can’t, without at least partially giving the secret away.

  40. 40

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. I went to the temple for the first time many years ago, just two days before my wedding. I was young and naive and so excited to be getting married that I paid little attention to the details. That changed as I went back again over the years. When my own daughter was preparing to go (before getting married), I sat her down and went through the entire thing (every detail, as Kevin suggests). She went into it with eyes open and the temple has been a much better experience for her. So far she has been able to take the good and ignore the negative aspects. Not so for me. The temple endowment ceremony only reinforces the sexism and emotional abuse I have experienced from my local church leaders in the past couple of years. I had not been back to the temple during that time, but about six months ago I was traveling alone and in a city with a temple where I knew no one. I decided to attend an early morning session, to decide once and for all if there was something there that could enrich my life or if this was a part of my life it was time to say good-bye to. It was an interesting experience. I didn’t feel anger (as I thought I might), or fear, or even discomfort. It was all very familiar (some things you just never forget) and the other patrons were very kind to me, but as far as spirituality or enlightenment goes, I felt nothing, just an emptiness, a void. It helped me realize that this is not something I need in my life. I have not left the Church, and don’t intend to, but I have left the temple, and I feel tremendous peace with that. I agree that everyone should have the covenants, and their gender significance, explained to them before going for the first time. And these things should be discussed in more general terms in YW and YM classes. I have no objection to the Church building temples and members participating, but it should be done more openly and honestly.

  41. 41
  42. 42

    I suppose by ‘prepare’ I thought they simply meant to live the commandments and doctrines you already had access to. If you could follow those then you weren’t going to have too much trouble with the others when they came your way.

    As for the words of the covenant? Do people really follow the covenants so closely that the wording has a definite effect upon their behaviour?

    In our ward all of the members covenanted to take the Saviour’s name upon them at baptism but it is still a challenge to help them to talk about the church with their colleagues and neighbours.

    I’d also second #41. My wife and I have always thought that the words ‘in the lord’ are equally important.

  43. 43

    I don’t see much symbolism in Eve’s lack of dialogue post-Fall. James and John aren’t exactly loquacious either.

    I agree with what others have said in response to this, but the big point is that half the audience isn’t advised to consider themselves as if they were James and John.

  44. 44

    Hey jeans, I think it’s great that you’re working on better ways to teach this to the YW! (I love your site.) Though I agree that YW leaders can only go so far.

    In reading these comments, it’s clear that the preparation that people get varies wildly. You might luck out and have people in your life who will really go through it with you, or you might show up unprepared. But leaving something so important to the caprices of your friends and local leaders really seems inadequate. I’d love to see some kind of institutional requirement that people get a clear overview of the ceremony and covenants before they’re allowed to get a temple recommend.

  45. 45

    (Since the other thread got closed, I’ll put this total tangent here–two of our awesome commenters, Galdarag and Beatrice were mission companions? That’s great! We should play six degrees of separation with all the people who comment.)

  46. 46

    Wow, I haven’t had time for the bloggernacle lately and I feel like I’ve missed a lot!

    I was totally blindsided by the endowment. I was endowed 2 weeks before my wedding, and just about choked when I got to the hearken covenant. I whispered a reluctant and delayed “yes” because I thought if I didn’t I wouldn’t be able to go through with my wedding plans. Would my experience have been easier if I’d know about it before hand? I would have agonized over it but probably made the same decision because temple marriage – that holy grail of Mormonism – was at stake. So I don’t think being forewarned would have reduced the sense of pain I felt at having an this covenant be part of the price for being allowed a temple marriage. But not knowing about it until so late in the game and then having the consequences of rejecting it at that point be so severe comes about as close to compelling a person to enter into a covenant as anything I can think of. The gospel isn’t about arm-twisting? Is it?

  47. 47

    The gospel isn’t about arm-twisting? Is it?

    The gospel isn’t. But the endowment as it is currently handled sure as hell is. Until everyone entering the temple is given an adequate opportunity to know what they’ll be asked to covenant to (the actual covenants, not just the underlying ideas) and is able to study those covenants out and consider them thoughtfully before they go to the temple and are presented with them and told to say yes then it will remain about arm-twisting. And, I would argue, there would also have to be a social and cultural acceptance of the decision not to receive the endowment (and acceptance of the consequences of that decision such as not serving a mission or marrying outside the temple) for it to be truly free of coercion.

    The simple fact that some people don’t feel pain because of the coercive nature of the endowment doesn’t change its coerciveness. As it stands right now, it is deeply coercive precisely because it does not allow for a member to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider the specific covenants they’ll be asked to make in the temple. I find it very contradictory to the essence of the gospel that this is how the church goes about endowing its members.

  48. 48

    re: Lynette @45
    Yes, Beatrice was not only my trainer, but she also introduced me to ZD (I’ll be eternally grateful for both)! 🙂

    I’d love to learn more about who’s connected on here, too.

  49. 49

    As for the words of the covenant? Do people really follow the covenants so closely that the wording has a definite effect upon their behaviour?

    In our ward all of the members covenanted to take the Saviour’s name upon them at baptism but it is still a challenge to help them to talk about the church with their colleagues and neighbours.

    It sounds like you’re arguing we should pay more attention to baptismal covenants, and at the same time, less attention to temple covenants??

  50. 50


    I’ll start taking gender neutrality seriously when you can wear a dress and sit on the other side of the room.

  51. 51

    I have to say I’m with Kiskilili in her response to #41. I fully recognize that if one approaches the temple as an exercise in exploring the various elements of the endowment in their wildly diverse symbolic potentials, it’s possible to see gender neutrality. But that’s a very atypical approach. And I think it’s pretty hard to argue in a church that has inscribed fairly narrow eternal gender roles into a document that has become sanctioned as at least semi-scripture–it’s pretty hard to argue in that kind of church that a typical approach to something like the temple, which emphasizes gender in so very many ways (visually, performance, seating arrangements, rather extreme stereotypes of masculine and feminine beauty, etc.), could possibly result in gender neutrality or equality.

    As interesting as a “gender neutrality” reading of the endowment may be intellectually, it’s just another means of reinterpreting a text that is deeply problematic, eliding those problems and, along with them, the pain and suffering they cause.

    The use value of this kind of thought experiment would come before someone had to formally enter the temple covenants. If we were presented with the entire text of the endowment in advance and engaged in a process of examining it and analyzing it and interpreting it in a variety of ways, that may be a useful means of preparation. It could also lead to authorizing a variety of interpretations and therefore mitigating potential pain. But I’m pretty sure this approach is unlikely to be adopted by the church. It tends to like its top-down prescription of the Truth.

  52. 52

    Before I went through the temple (one week before my wedding), my dad told me how when he went through before his mission, my grandpa told him that if anything made my dad uncomfortable, he could tell my grandpa, and they would leave together. Everything was fine for my dad, but it comforted him knowing he had an out, if needed. He gave me the same option, which I really appreciated.
    Everyone told me “don’t get weirded out!” before I went through, and that made me so nervous. I had no idea what to expect, and those comments made me expect the worst (and I have a very active imagination!). So everything that happened, I just thought “oh that’s nothing compared to what I imagined!” It wasn’t until after I was married that I really started to think about the covenants and what they meant that I had some problems. But I am glad my first experience wasn’t negative, and I am really glad my dad was supportive and let me know in advance that I could take my time, if needed.
    When my daughter grows up and (hypothetically) decides to go through the temple, I will walk her through every step beforehand, and I will give her that same out my dad gave me. If she wants to stop at ANY point, I will walk out with her.

  53. 53

    I was a temple worker for about two years in Dallas. While I was there we had one woman leave during the endowment. She was very upset and scared but the temple workers were all very sweet and understanding. I can’t believe in two years there was only one.

    I was 25 when I went for the first time. Although I found the gender aspects troubling, that wasn’t even the worse thing for me. My biggest problem was that this experience that had been held up as the pinnacle of worship had reduced the Atonement to a passing mention. It made me feel like salvation was not dependent on the Savior, but on my ability to memorize lines. I was never able to reconcile that.

    My next issue was actually how ritualistic it was. After reading BoM stories about the horrors of secret combinations my entire life, I was incredibly wary of anything resembling a “secret club”.

    I remember getting near the end, wanting to bolt, knowing my family was all watching me, and wondering if it was in fact a test. That only the really good mormons would see it for what it was and say so. And then they’d be congratulated for standing up for the gospel of Christ and be given the real endowment. I was furious with myself for not being brave enough to do it, and heartbroken to find out that if I had, I would have been dead wrong.

    I also have left the temple behind now and haven’t looked back. But it just has added to my “otherness” at church and I find myself drifting farther away from that, too. At what point do you finally say, this isn’t me anymore? I know that’s not your topic, Lynnette, but I still feel quite a bit of loss for that 20 something year old girl that kept thinking she just needed to have more faith. It took me a long time to let myself believe I was a pretty good person.

    I agree that temple prep should be much, much more explicit. I think it will probably slow some people from going, but that might help usher in additional changes to the ceremony.

  54. 54

    I think for many what it means to be “prepared” is to be well schooled in ignoring what our texts actually say. Sunday School is especially helpful in honing this skill.

    If we wanted to take our liturgy more seriously, there are some simple things we could do to prepare people. For example, we’ve decided even newborns must cover their upper arms so the transition to wearing garments won’t be a shock. Why not teach children from a young age that loud laughter should be avoided—that, like drinking coffee, loud laughter is something only people outside the church do?

    I choose this example not because I think it’s the most important, but because I think it’s emblematic of a disconnect.

  55. 55

    I still feel quite a bit of loss for that 20 something year old girl that kept thinking she just needed to have more faith.

    Thank you for saying this, Enna (#53). I also feel this same sorrow. And thank you to all of you for this series of posts. It’s so good to know that others see and feel what I have seen and felt for so long.

  56. 56

    I know we tend to respond to the comments we object to, so let me just say that I really appreciate both of your comments, Catherine and Enna—here and elsewhere.

  57. 57

    Kiskilili – thanks 🙂 sometimes for stuff like this it’s just enough to know you’re not alone!

  58. 58

    Enna (#53), I got distracted by the latest thread, but I wanted to respond to your comment because I found it kind of haunting, that you’d thought it might be a test. That really gets at the disjunct, I think, between our sacred spaces and so much of the rest of our religious life. (And I’m okay with a disjunct–that’s the point of sacred space, after all–but ideally I think it would be about form rather than content. We might worship using different forms, but we’d still be teaching the same things.) A lot of what you say resonates with me. The feminist issues in the temple are the ones I see as the most overtly problematic, but the things I find troubling go well beyond them, in ways that I haven’t ever totally articulated. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  59. 59

    And thanks to everyone else who’s jumped in, too; it’s interesting to hear the diversity of experiences. Courtney, I like that idea of having someone with you who will back you up if you decide to bolt. Emily U (and others who’ve made this point)–I agree; I can’ t see how this kind of coercion it at all defensible, especially given the emphasis on agency in our theology. What does it really mean to choose to follow God if wasn’t actually a considered choice? David, while I can see how your approach might enrich your own temple experience, I don’t think it solves the existence of gender inequity (that’s one of the points I’m trying to make in my follow-up post).

  60. 60

    Going to the temple was, for me, my ondoing. I found my temple experience to be cold and dark. I did not feel the spirit. In fact, I felt the need to run out of there but didn’t because I was afraid. So I sat there thinking “What the hell is this and what’s wrong with me that this most holiest of places leaves me feeling anything BUT spiritual?” And wearing of garments? Well, that didn’t go any better. I didn’t go completely blindsided because a dear gay acquaintance told me in explicit detail all about the temple. I didn’t really believe him, though. He did tell me his brother in law went to the temple once and after he was done left the church. I think the church does a totally inadequate job of preparing us for the temple. Had I known, I can’t say my experience would’ve been any better but I probably never would’ve gone and that would’ve been better than going and experiencing such a deeply negative experience on every level. Could that evil feeling be from God telling me that the temple wasn’t His house? I still am grappling with that one. And it scares me to my very core and has rocked my faith in this gospel completely.

  61. 61


    Were you endowed before 1990 or after? Just wondering.

  62. 62

    I think certain principles, such as female subordination, need to be emphasized well in advance

    I think that’s poisoning the well. Not everyone who goes through sees it that way, and I don’t want to prejudice them ahead of time. I had a cousin I fully expected to have serious problems with it, and she didn’t at all. It’s fairly unpredictable.

  63. 63

    If we did it my way, the people who convince themselves the text is a model of gender egalitarianism would be pleasantly surprised by its progressive portrayal of women. Isn’t that preferable to people being rudely shocked in the moment they make the covenant?

  64. 64
  65. 65

    Everyone told me “don’t get weirded out!” before I went through, and that made me so nervous. I had no idea what to expect, and those comments made me expect the worst (and I have a very active imagination!). So everything that happened, I just thought “oh that’s nothing compared to what I imagined!”

    I had an experience similar to courtney’s. Everyone hinted to me that the whole affair was beyond anything I could imagine, overwhelming, entirely outside ordinary experience.

    I expected, at the very least, a phantasmagoria of obscure, dreamlike symbols, none of which could be processed linearly—a text that resisted all logical interpretation. I was shocked by the banality of it. I kept waiting for the truly fantastical part, the rabbithole to Wonderland. I walked away feeling cheated.

  66. 66

    I kept waiting for the truly fantastical part, the rabbithole to Wonderland. I walked away feeling cheated.

    Ditto. I kept thinking that there was a great deal that I did indeed expect, and that the parts that I didn’t expect, though odd, were not profoundly moving to me. I also was told (like several others here) that “everything will make sense” after I go through, and that “I will truly understand the divine role of women.” In retrospect, I always assumed that they were referring to the initiatories, and not to the hearken covenant. In fact, to be frank, the hearken covenant barely registered with me the first several times I went through because it seemed so phenomenally antiquated. Since I didn’t go through specifically in prep for marriage, I could never imagine that covenant actually applying to me.

  67. 67

    Thanks, Lulubelle. Based on your reaction to your first temple experience I thought there was a possiblity that you may have been endowed before 1990 (not that you sound old). The version that we have today is more emotionally gentle, but needs to be more gentle still… sigh…

  68. 68
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    A funny aside about unfulfilled expectations: somewhere along the line I had the idea that the witness couple would be doing something sexual at the alter and either I would watch or participate as part of receiving my endowment. I have NO idea what I overheard as a child that I interpreted so incredibly wrong (and I suppose I didn’t really believe it was true, but part of me was worried it would be after all the “don’t get weirded out” comments). But I do have to say, the one positive thing I felt at the temple was getting to the end without losing my virginity in front of an entire room of people. Talk about relief!

  70. 70
  71. 71

    I used to think there should be better Temple Prep as well, but reading this has changed my mind. What I thought was going to be a discussion of an increased spiritual preparation, it ended up a call for a political preparation. Although I thought the “actions” and “clothing” within the Temple were strange, the promises made were hardly new and without preparation as a Mormon. My only guess is that those who go into a Temple not knowing what to expect in the promises and covenants haven’t been paying much attention to what has been taught from pulpit and scripture or hoped, somehow, that the Temple wouldn’t include those things. I mean, seriously, how many here didn’t think that Mormon marriage concepts weren’t sexist and anti-Feminist? So, why would it and all the covenants and teachings in the Temple be any different? The only changes I saw was in presentation.

    I would say the only legitimate surprise I can imagine is that the Church took its teachings seriously. The idea of the Temple is that those who go have already known enough of the LDS Church and Doctrine to take a step forward as adults by taking responsibility for them as individuals. That you don’t have the bravery to “walk out” would only show that you have not become adult enough to take responsibility for your own actions (choices). Instead of making excuses that it was thrust upon you, maybe it should be seen as the Church (through the Temple) taking you seriously as people who have progressed as adults.

  72. 72

    I’m not sure what you mean by political preparation, but that sounds awesome to me. Like you’d be prepared to participate in elections, and possibly stage rebellions? It could be a whole new temple experience!

    My only guess is that those who go into a Temple not knowing what to expect in the promises and covenants haven’t been paying much attention to what has been taught from pulpit and scripture or hoped, somehow, that the Temple wouldn’t include those things.

    The problem can be summed up in two words: chicken patriarchy. The church is currently teaching two contradictory things about gender: one along the lines of “presiding,” and one along the lines of “equal partners.” People who took the latter seriously, seeing as how it came from prophets and general authorities and all, might be surprised that the former is the one with liturgical teeth (so to speak).

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word “hearken” in General Conference (with reference to women’s temple covenants) or in lesson manuals or pretty much anywhere outside the temple. (Except, of course, on blogs.) Maybe female subordination shouldn’t really be a surprise, but I can hardly fault people for hoping otherwise, especially if they’ve been strung along with comments about how all are equal in the temple.

  73. 73

    That you don’t have the bravery to “walk out” would only show that you have not become adult enough to take responsibility for your own actions (choices).

    Wow Jettboy, that’s a little harsh. We’re all doing the best we can in a very intimidating, new place, having been taught to keep quiet and not question authority from the time we were in nursery. And like Lynnette says above, although we lived with the patriarchy we were told all sorts of warm fuzzy things about our direct relationship with God, about Christ being the center of the church, about everyone’s individual worth being the same.

    Thanks for being another voice in the “you don’t have enough faith” camp. Guess what, we’ve heard that one before.

  74. 74

    I’m glad we can count on you to not be a chicken patriarch, Jettboy.

    But I have to echo Enna that your judgment of people who don’t walk out when they find they object, when they have only a few moments to decide what to do, after having been told all their lives that this will be the pinnacle of their Church experience, having family and friends around them and (often) very public mission or marriage plans on the line, is absurd.

  75. 75

    Jettboy, some of us we didn’t walk out because we wanted to submit to God, whatever he asked of us. In retrospect it’s obvious this is a dangerous position to take, and one that can lead to a lot of resentment. But if you’re as orthodox as you claim to be, why is this motivation foreign to you?

  76. 76

    In other words I don’t think the issue is that of taking responsibility as much as it’s about learning to create healthy boundaries with the church, and with God. Unfortunately, the church doesn’t encourage this—in fact, there are things in the temple that actively discourage it.

  77. 77

    I mean, seriously, how many here didn’t think that Mormon marriage concepts weren’t sexist and anti-Feminist?

    Count me as one. In fact, I’ll go to the opposite extreme: the huge contrast with what I hear taught weekly is one of the reasons I don’t take the anti-feminist interpretation of the endowment very seriously. Maybe I’m just trained at ignoring texts, but when harmonised with the rest of my gospel understanding, I find pro-feminist interpretations more viable than anti-feminist ones.

  78. 78

    If I sound harsh, it is only because of the harshness expressed about the Temple here. I love the Temple and what it is, although even the “orthodox” (if I am or not is besides the point) have difficulties with the Temple when first encountered. Obviously these are for different reasons than expressed here. In other words, this discussion has taught me that there is nothing that can prepare anyone for the Temple without breaking from the outset the very Sacred nature and reason of its existence.

    I think the uncomfortable nature of the Temple is that way for everyone for a purpose. The more I thought of it to overcome my own questions, the more I realized no one is supposed to come away unscathed. Its supposed to be absurd. We aren’t in normal life and time when there. How we deal with the experience is just as important as the experience itself. However, I have noticed that the former Catholics I have talked with are more prepared than others perhaps because they have come from a liturgical background. I still think its about us becoming adults.

    Brian, I don’t think we disagree like you might think. In fact, what you say is part of my point. We take into it what we have and we take out of it what we can with faith and prayer. I know that when I gave up my immediate reactions and sought instead to understand it by study of scripture and in general ritual that my understanding exploded.

    Don’t count me out as a chicken patriarch just yet. I don’t see the difference between what the Leaders teach and the idea of Obedience and Submission of Wives to their Husbands. The reason is that my definition of equality of the sexes, especially in a religious context, is not feminist and therefore I don’t have the same “hierarchy means power structure” expectations or beliefs. Doesn’t doctrine teach that we are no different than God, although He is all powerful and the ultimate authority? That is a whole different subject that would need a blog entry to talk about and expand on. The point is that I still think its more about politics than preparation.

  79. 79

    I didn’t read this thread for some reason. Then I saw that Jettboy hated it. So, I had to read it all. Some interesting points.

  80. 80

    It really is a catch-22 going to the temple as a woman. The reason you’re there is because you are trying to progress in your faith. And then, the covenants don’t exactly lend to your progression, especially because you’re female. So, it’s sort of like a brick wall. At least I remember it being that way for me. I went through prior to a mission and was just stunned. I didn’t know what to think about it at all. But since I didn’t have a husband or a prospect of one, I set it uneasily to the side and went forward with my mission.

    Just as a side note: I felt very young when I went through the temple, even though I was 21. What about the men going through at 19? They’re handed the endowment when they’re still so young it hasn’t occurred to them to even wonder about gender gap.

    Also, the new podcast on http://daughtersofmormonism.blogspot.com/ has a part about going to the temple as a new bride and finding out what the covenants were. It’s a very real story.

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    I am deeply concerned at what I have just read. This is the first time on this site. I teach temple prep and, I am a temple worker, and hold the experience as sublime. I had no idea before working there how important this is, in the eternities. The volume of spiritual activity, from those on the other side is amazing. I go to the temple to experience the sweet love and appreciation, that comes from deceased people thanking me for doing this work. I can’t help but think, why is this so important to them, if it is wrong? Here we sit in this world with such limited knowledge. Science and medicine is still trying to figure how our bodies work. Little or no understanding of the universe, afraid of death and its questions. I see a new child born, and wondering how our bodies know how to create and deliver babies. I read your comments, and see how your questions fester, and how others have left the temple, and the negative results this stirs up in you. It’s ok to seek for truth, I want to know more about God. We do the best we can with what we are given. Be careful here. This is sacred. There is so much we don’t know. God has more knowledge than us. He understands the universe and creates in it. We are not to cast our pearls before the swine. The devil is the swine, not people. We should keep sacred things away from him, to be revealed in sanctuaries, where God can give his peace, and assurance, if sought for. I can’t give that as a teacher of temple prep. Don’t let perceived issues undo the what can be a wonderful spiritual experience.

  83. 83

    Re: “perceived issues”

    Thanks for your concern. Rest assured, the issues are quite real.

  84. 84

    Concerned, I’m perfectly happy to acknowledge your spiritual experiences in the temple as genuine. Why are you unwilling to acknowledge other people’s painful experiences there as real? Why is complexity and nuance and complication not a possibility in the temple?

    I simply do not understand this notion that everyone must experience exactly the same thing in the church and the temple, and if they do not then it’s the fault of the people with the divergent experience. That the church could never, ever bear any responsibility for the painful experiences its members have as a result of its liturgy. That attitude does nothing but shut anyone up who has a divergent experience and allow those with a normative experience to pat themselves on the back because they’re “righteous.” And it simultaneously excuses the church from providing the pastoral care for all of its members it has an obligation to provide.

  85. 85

    I am sure the issue is real to you, and others. Thank you for your acknowledgment, that spiritual experiences do happen, but they are not the same for everyone. If those decease people are so appreciative and thank us for this work, there must be more to it than what we know here on earth, that’s all I’m suggesting. I know many very wise, and astute people, who won’t write a book because they say, their knowledge is always progressing. What they once thought to be true, isn’t as true as they once thought it to be. I find now that I’m older that specific doctrines that once bothered me, aren’t so important now. Satan has great power on this earth, he is allowed to entice, distort, lie, change society, influence governments, and others. Not everything in live is right. And God won’t fix everything, we are left to discern and seek the good in this world, or the evil, as we choose. How far does Satan’s power go, I don’t know but it is great. I used to think that Peter was ashamed and denied Christ, now I wonder if maybe he was told to deny him by Christ, so he would not be murdered. Peter was to lead his church. Simple answers are more likely to be true. The temple ceremony used to be over 12 hours long. Who knows what answers may have been there. I have concluded that I have to trust God, and ignore Satan when I can. I wish I was a better person, but I’m in no position to cast stones. I hope you all find the good and the peace this life has to offer. Good luck to all of you.

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