A Letter to a Friend Going to the Temple for the First Time

June 22, 2006 | 142 comments
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By and large, I don’t think that we do a particularlly good job preparing members to go to the temple for the first time. As a result, I think that many members — especially converts without close family members who have been to the temple — get worried about what is going to happen, especially if they have heard any of the discussion in the bloggernacle or elsewhere about “issues” with the temple. Here is what I would write to such a person:

Dear Friend,

I understand that you are thinking about going to the temple for the first time and you have some concerns about what you have heard. If you’ll forgive my presumption, I thought that I would write you a brief letter with some of my thoughts on the temple in the hope that they will be of help to you. I think that there are really only four or five things that are “issues” surrounding the temple. Let me see if I can say anything useful about these for you.

First, let me say at the outset that I really love the temple. Shortly after Heather and I were married we served as late-night ordinance workers in the DC temple. At the time, the temple was open all night long on Friday nights to accommodate saints who came from long distances. Despite the fact that our shift began at 5 am, along with my mission I count it as the most fulfilling church service that I have ever had. It is also difficult to discuss the temple for two reasons. First, there are certain promises of secrecy that one takes in the temple. They do not extend to everything about the rituals. In fact, the oaths of secrecy are quite limited, but they do make members reticent about talking very explicitly about the temple. In addition, the temple is the most sacred aspect of Mormonism, and members are rightfully protective about how it is discussed. Still, during his brief time as President of the Church, Howard W. Hunter encouraged members to speak more freely about the temple consistent with the covenants and sacredness associated with it. I’ll try to write in that spirit.

The first “issue” that people have with the temple is simple disorientation. By and large, Mormonism has very simple rituals compared to something like Roman Catholicism or the liturgy of Episcopalianism. The temple is a radical departure from this simple approach to ritual, constituting as it does a complex set of rituals that taken together stretch over several hours. I think that a lot of discomfort can be dispelled by simply giving people a “big picture” sense of what the temple is about. Here goes:

Ultimately, the temple is a ritual ascent into the presence of God. It consists of basically three sets of ordinances. First, there are so-called “initiatories.” These consist of a series of blessings associated with our bodies and clothing in the garment, which symbolically represents the garment presented to Adam and Eve when they were cast out of the Garden of Eden into the world. We promise to wear the garment always (although this is subject to practical limitations and our own good judgment: I don’t wear my garments when bathing, during sex, playing sports, etc.). The initiatories are thus in a sense about the beginning of our life here: getting a body and entering the world.

Second, there is the “endowment.” This consists of basically two things: instruction and covenants. The instructions are basically a recapitulation of the plan of salvation, presented through the story of Adam and Eve. If you think about it, this makes very good sense. Adam and Eve provide the basic pattern for humanity. They came to earth, were given commandments, sinned, repented and thereby learned and progressed, until they ultimately returned to God’s presence to inherit the blessings that He has in store for his children. All of this is presented in a very stylized and ritual form as a kind of play (partially portrayed in film in most temples). Unlike a play, however, those receiving their endowment participate in the ritual. In a sense, the audience become characters in the play. During the course of this ritual, we make a series of covenants to obey various laws of the Gospel, all of which will be familiar to you.

Brigham Young taught:

“Your endowment is to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back into the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.” Discourses of Brigham Young 416 (John A. Widtsoe ed., Deseret Book 1976)

During the course of the endowment you will be taught these “key words” and “signs and tokens.” These are the aspects of the endowment that we specifically make covenants of secrecy about. Accordingly, I can’t say anything else about them other than to suggest that these are the only covenants made in the endowment that will ultimately be new and unfamiliar and that they are not something to be scared of or concerned about. Finally, the endowment involves the donning of ritual priestly clothing. These temple robes are ONLY worn in the temple, and ultimately they largely match the priestly robes described in the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament.

The third set of ordinances are family sealings. We learn in Doctrine and Covenants section 131 that the sealing ordinances are the highest ordinances of the Gospel and that it is through eternal marriage that we inherit the greatest promises of exaltation and salvation. Those promises are made during the course of the sealings. In a sense, everything else that happens in the temple is to prepare us to be married for time and all eternity and obtain the associated blessings. In short, the temple ordinances are a map of the plan of salvation presented in the form of a ritual. We get bodies, enter the world, receive gifts and instruction from God, make promises to Him, and receive promises of exaltation from Him in return, ultimately in the form of eternal families. Hopefully, this “road map” will make the experience less disorienting and less frightening.

The second “issue” the some have with the temple has to do with covenants that women make to “hearken unto their husbands.” The rituals themselves actually say very little about the meaning of these covenants. Some people have given them a very dire and misogynistic reading, arguing that the temple teaches that women are forever subordinated to men. Nothing remotely like this is explicitly said in the rituals, and frankly I think that such an interpretation is not required by the words of the ordinance and is inconsistent with the whole tenor of the rest of the Gospel. Accordingly, I think that those who believe that the temple teaches that women are eternally subordinate to men are simply mistaken. Obviously, this is a very difficult issue for some and one that could be discussed in far greater detail. However, at the end of the day I am not sure that I really have all that much more to say on the subject than this simple response.

The third “issue” that some struggle with is the relationship between Masonry and the temple. It is a well-established historical fact that Joseph Smith was deeply involved in Masonry at the time that he was first introducing the higher temple ordinances in the early 1840s. Some of the symbols used in the temple seem Masonic. For some this is evidence that Joseph Smith simply copied the ordinances from Masonry and that they are not divinely inspired. There are a number of different responses to this argument.

First, many of the symbols that the temple seems to borrow from Masonry are not ultimately Masonic but biblical coming from the Old Testament accounts of the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple of Solomon. In these cases both Masonry and the temple are simply tapping into the Bible.

Second, ultimately the structure of the temple ordinances and of Masonic rituals are quite different. Both involve imparting secret or esoteric knowledge, but the basic “plots” of the rituals are different. Masonic rites ultimately center around the story of the construction of the Temple of Solomon, giving to the initiates the secret wisdom supposedly held by the workers who built that temple. In contrast, the endowment is ultimately about the story of Adam and Eve, their fall and their ultimate redemption and return to God.

Third, revelation — including the revelation of the temple ordinances to Joseph Smith — always involves a mixture of the divine and the human. Take the example of the scriptures. At the most basic level the scriptures of the Restoration were given in the English language, using a vocabulary of words and phrases the were available to Joseph Smith from his environment. He did not write down the Doctrine and Covenants in ancient Aramaic for the obvious reason that neither he nor the audience of the revelations spoke Aramaic. Furthermore, God says that he uses “language” — meaning not just words but also imagery and idioms — that are suited to His audience. Some Mormons claim that ultimately there are no Masonic elements of any kind in the endowment. I frankly don’t think that this is really a sustainable position. Rather, I believe that in rendering the revelations contained in the endowment, Joseph Smith used the vocabulary he had available, a vocabulary not only of words but also of symbols. Some of these symbols were Masonic. This does not mean that he just “made up” the endowment any more than the fact that the Book of Mormon is written in English means that he just “made it up.” Rather, they provided a symbolic language that Joseph Smith arranged to the best of his ability to convey the meaning given to him through revelation. (Compare D&C 9, where the Lord explains to Oliver Cowdery the process used to translate the Book of Mormon.)

The final “issue” that some have with the temple is the fact that the ordinances have changed over time, including very recently. Some of these changes have been fairly minor, eliminating repetition and shortening the endowment, which use to take most of a day. Some of the changes have been more substantial, eliminating whole passages. In particular, some of the covenants use to be accompanied by rather bloody-minded punishment oaths, i.e. “If I break this covenant, let me be…..” Some people reason that eternal ordinances must be unchanging and the fact that temple ordinances have changed means that they are not divine. Again, there are a couple of responses to this argument.

First, we can assume that the endowment, like all scripture, is a mixture of the human and the divine. The cover page of the Book of Mormon declares that if there are errors in that book they are the errors of men rather than of God. In so doing it acknowledges the possibility of errors even in the book that Joseph Smith once called “the most correct book” in the world. Likewise, it is possible that the original endowment contained errors. Not errors that were sufficient to make it invalid, but errors nevertheless that have been winnowed out by subsequent revelation to the prophets. (Incidentally, the possibility of errors in the endowment is a strategy that one might resort to if one believes — mistakenly in my opinion — that one must offer a misogynistic interpretation of the endowment. I think that such an interpretation is — as a matter of interpretation — wrong, but if one feels that such an interpretation is compelled by the ceremony itself, those aspects of the ceremony might nevertheless be mistaken.)

Second, it might be the case that the Lord realized that saints in different historical eras needed different aspects of the plan of salvation emphasized through the endowment and has modified it accordingly over time.

Third, it might be the certain aspects of the temple ritual are simply aspects of their administration rather than part of the ordinance itself. An analogy would be baptism. We wear white when we are baptized, but wearing white is not actually part of the ordinance, and a baptism performed by and for people wearing some other color is nevertheless a valid ordinance. Analogously, one might argue that those parts of the endowment that were changed were merely administrative — like wearing white clothing to a baptism — rather than sacramental.

Fourth, it might be the case that the endowment consists not of literal words of the ceremony, but of the underlying structures and covenants, which can be presented in different formats as circumstances demand.

In short, changes to the temple ceremonies need not present a spiritual crisis as long as one is not committed to the idea that the rituals are unalterable copies of absolutely perfect models existing in the mind of God. However, we don’t believe this is true of our scriptures, which we nevertheless call “the word of God,” so there is no reason we should think that it is true of our rituals.

This is a little long and it may be totally unhelpful for the concerns that you have. If there is anything that you think I might be able to do to help you feel more comfortable with the temple, please let use know. I love the temple. It is one of the most powerful and meaningful parts of the Restoration for me and for many others. I hope that you won’t let the negativity that captures some of the discussion of the temple from time to time poison what should be a wonderful and sacred experience.

Best wishes,

Nate Oman

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142 Responses to A Letter to a Friend Going to the Temple for the First Time

  1. Kimball L. Hunt on June 22, 2006 at 1:39 am

    Nate: Puh-LEASE be sure you ditch your professorial tweed-separates, if that’s whatcha wear, and your beard — caus I want you to be ONE bloggernacle saint to succeed in the church within a um hierarchical sense! As you truly are the most well-informed — and well-organizedly um well-considered et cetera “apologist”/advocate/defender of the orthodox-and-traditional-and-yet-indeed-“infusedly”-spiritual or whatever version of Mormonism I’ve ever seen. (Yet since my giddy compliment comes from somebody’s who’s a super-longtime inactive, just take it for whatever it might be worth(?)! Smiles.)

  2. manaen on June 22, 2006 at 1:48 am

    Nate,

    Thank you for this concise, thoughtful, and faithful primer. I received my endowments without any preparation specific to what would occur within the Temple. This would have been helpful.

    At least I had an escort. I remember a wrd member from my parents’ generation telling of when he was a missionary in Florida. As he and his companion visited with a member family, they told of their temole marriage in SLC. As the family talked, the missionaries realized they’d gone through the initiatories, received their endowments, gone into the Celestial Room, and gone home to have their children — sans a sealing!

    (One disagreement: you misled on what was the substance of what you call “punishment oaths.” There was nothing of “if I…, let me be…” although many misunderstood them to say so. If you can, recall the exact words and verb tenses to see what I mean. See also D&C 134:10.)

  3. Adam Greenwood on June 22, 2006 at 2:12 am

    Thanks, Nate O. I wish someone had told me this too, because instead everyone kept trying to prepare me for this shocking weird experience that would really test my faith and the whole thing turned out to be shockingly Mormon and churchy. I like your common-sense explanations.

  4. Adam Greenwood on June 22, 2006 at 2:14 am

    Some oldtimerish friends of mine, Manaen, say that what Nate O. says about punishment oaths used to be in the ordinance until the 60s or so.

  5. D-Train on June 22, 2006 at 7:00 am

    Excellent post, Nate. Thanks for a good summary. Not having been to the temple, I learned a lot and can say that your letter was quite informative.

  6. Lamonte on June 22, 2006 at 8:00 am

    Nate – Thanks for this excellent summary of the temple experience. As a former bishop and one of the “old-timer” high priests in the ward, I occasionally teach a temple prep class using the text “Endowed From On High”. It is usually a very small class, sometimes just a one on one. I just finished lessons this week with a young man preparing for his mission. I wish your essay would have been available as a reference, but I’ll keep it for future use. I can’t imagine a more thoughtful description of the temple experience.

  7. Patrick Mason on June 22, 2006 at 8:16 am

    I generally like this letter, and obviously it would be tailored for any individual it would be shared with. My question is whether it’s valuable to raise issues that the person may not be aware of before they go to the temple, or, depending on the person, which they never will be aware of? I think many people, both converts and lifers, can go through their whole lives never hearing about Masonry or punishment oaths. Are we doing them a favor exposing them to elements that may never actually trouble them?

    (I don’t want to threadjack, but this reminds me of a discussion I was in with a large group of black converts several years ago, who debated among themselves whether or not it was helpful to tell black investigators about the priesthood ban, or let them find out after being baptized. Some argued it was simply truth-in-advertising to tell them, it headed off potential problems, and it avoided possible feelings of being deceived and/or betrayed; others thought it was too difficult an issue to address unless the person already had roots in the gospel and possessed the gift of the Holy Ghost–that they wouldn’t have been baptized if they knew, but afterwards they were able to make their peace.)

  8. Nate Oman on June 22, 2006 at 9:36 am

    Patrick: I think that you raise a very good question to which I don’t know the answer. I think that the best I can do is “it depends.” I think that if a person has heard about Masonry, etc. one is best served by addressing it head on. I also think that it is useful if a person is asking something like, “Hey, what sort of issues do people have with the temple.” On the whole, I think that candor (real candor: not childish iconclasm or expose mongering) is the best strategy. On the other hand, it is probably best not to dump everything on someone all at once.

  9. Sheldon on June 22, 2006 at 10:19 am

    I went through the Salt Lake Temple my first time through. During the live ceremony, one of the actors (very, very old) started arguing with another actor: “THAT’s NOT THE NEXT LINE!” “OH YES IT IS!!” This banter went on for a while, til one actor said, “FINE WITH ME, GO AHEAD AND SAY IT AND WE’LL SEE IF THIS WHOLE THING ISNT INVALID!”

    Having received absolutely zero pre-Temple preparation, other than having perused Anti-Mormon literature, the actor’s quarrel made the bewildering experience even more bewildering.

  10. Mark Butler on June 22, 2006 at 10:38 am

    Given the Brigham Young precedent, I wouldn’t be surprised if someday the intructional content / creation account in particular is radically revised by revelation to give us more of an indication of what really went on, perhaps the war in heaven in particular. I always thought is dissapointing to have nearly a word for word repetition of the account in Moses, which BY had good reason for claiming to be a nursery school story – an allegory perhaps; but a unusually problematic one whose traditional Judeo-Christian interpretation has all sorts of deleterious theological consequences – Original sin, total depravity and/or total inability, blame the woman, and in our tradition, the good transgression, the ignorant yet fortunate fall, the ultimate divine setup, and so on.

  11. Jettboy on June 22, 2006 at 10:51 am

    Frankly, I thought the note missed the real issues of the Temple completely. It touched on the typical liberal canards and not the true purpose and meaning of the Temple experience. It is not to have us reminded of earthly, selfish, and political arguments and viewpoints – but an expansion of Spiritual Truth and Eternal Consequences. I spent a month at my currently innactive blog expressing my thoughts on the Temple experience. First is my http://jettboy.blogspot.com/2006/03/purpose-of-temple.html “Purpose of the Temple” where I present something similar to what has been intended here. The rest of my thoughts on the Temple can easily be found from there if you are so inclined.

  12. Kiskilili on June 22, 2006 at 10:54 am

    There are so many inconsistencies in our reading of the two creation stories that, like Mark, I would like to believe the temple will eventually change. For example, are Adam and Eve created simultaneously, as in the first account, or are the animals created in between, as in the second?

    (Personally, I think it would be interesting to adopt the third creation story instead, found in fragments throughout the Hebrew Bible, in which the LORD slays the dragon at the creation of the world. :))

    I prepared myself for the temple for years. I read every Church book I could get my hands on and attended temple prep four times, and read the manual myself. Let’s just say that I was absolutely and completely unprepared. Since men and women have a different experience, I think it’s irresponsible as a Church not to prepare them separately.

    If women are subordinate to men, we need to teach that more clearly outside the temple. If, on the other hand, we mean something other than what we say in the temple, we ought to change it to say what we mean.

  13. Elisabeth on June 22, 2006 at 10:55 am

    Nate – your letter is good, but incredibly insensitive to the gender issues raised in the ceremony. Since you’ve stated you don\’t have anything more to add, here is my two cents.

    The “hearkenâ€? covenant defines the relationship God has with women – at least with married women. The covenant says that God speaks directly to men, but God does not speak directly to women. Women must “hearkenâ€? to the man as an intermediary, while the man speaks directly to God. That is what the covenant says.

    I agree that this covenant is incongruous with the Mormon understanding of direct personal relationships with God, but there is no way to reconcile this hearken covenant. Get rid of it, I say, or let\’s own up to fact that the temple ceremony does clearly require women to accept that men talk directly to God, while women must \”hearken\” to their husbands’ interpretation of God’s directives. I\’ve made my peace with this covenant. But let\’s call a spade a spade.

    If you are struggling with this issue, please do not think you are alone. As Nate mentioned in his post, many people – not just women – are shocked by and extremely upset by this covenant. The only advice I can offer is to pray and seek counsel from the people who love you. Much has been written in the bloggernacle about this issue, and if you do some quick searching, you’ll find a few uplifting, faithful discussions that might help.

  14. Kate Morris on June 22, 2006 at 11:00 am

    I am an intelligent, thoughtful, committed Mormon woman. And I am something of a feminist. I have loved many parts of the temple and appreciated the connection that I have made with God because of it.
    If other Mormon women like me were to go through the Temple for the first time with your definition of the whole hearken thing, I think they\’d feel deflated and lied to.

    My mom talked to me about generally about it and helped me to place the context and we talked about the patriarchy in the Church etc. While the hearken commitment that I make still makes me mad and makes me wonder if God really thinks that I need a commitment to a husband before a commitment to Him, when I went through for the first time I was more forgiving of it because of the talk I\’d had with my mom.

    Your explanation, Nate, plus an initial temple experience, would make me want to slug you. And call you myopic because you\’re a man.

  15. Adam Greenwood on June 22, 2006 at 11:05 am

    There’s a lot to be said for making sure everything we say isn’t uniform, Kiskilililililili. Holiness is legion, which means that apparent contradictions are often pointing us to a ‘great whole’ of truth.

  16. Matt Evans on June 22, 2006 at 11:06 am

    Very nice, Nate. Another explanation of the changing ritual is to note that just as Joseph Smith wrote the endowment with the language and symbols available to him, modern prophets may need to alter that language and those symbols as our language and symbolic meaning evolve. Because physical penalties strike modern ears differently than they did 19th-century frontiersmen, they distracted modern audiences in a way not intended. Keeping a message constant in a changing medium requires periodic change.

  17. Kiskilili on June 22, 2006 at 11:08 am

    Could be, Adam Greeeeeeeeenwoooooood. I myself am extremely fond of the multivocality of the Hebrew Bible.

    At the same time, I do hope God has a better idea what’s going on than he let’s on.

  18. DKL on June 22, 2006 at 11:35 am

    Sheldon brings up a very good point. I think that there is a fifth “issue” with the temple, specifically, that there are so many very old people working there most of the time. Sheldon brings up his experience of the old-people argument during the live endowment. The sealer when my wife and I got sealed kept calling her “Sharon” instead of “Shannon,” and when one of the witnesses corrected him, he insisted that he was saying “Shannon” but kept on saying “Sharon.” I have a sister-in-law who had a bad experience at the temple because the man at the veil was hard-of-hearing. Plus, when we go into the presence of God, we won’t be encumbered by any of the feebleness of mortality, so why should we be so encumbered in the temple?

    Anyway, I’ll leave it to your able to mind to construct responses to this “issue” of the preponderance of old people at the temple, but I do think that it’s worth mentioning.

  19. Jim F. on June 22, 2006 at 11:38 am

    Kiskilii and others: Why should we assume that ritual texts should, like scientific texts, have the kind of coherence that you are looking for? Why not assume that the differences are instructive rather than that they are merely mistakes made by someone who couldn’t remember what he said the last time he talked about the subject?

  20. Lamonte on June 22, 2006 at 11:57 am

    DKL – There is a “preponderance of old people at the temple” for a couple of reasons. The church has a rule against adults with minor children at home working as ordinance workers. This is, presumably, so they take care of their kids instead of otherwise devoting time to the temple. A good idea in my mind. The other reason, I assume, is that empty nesters haven’t accepted calls to serve for various reasons (I know someone who refused because it meant he would have to shave his fashionable facial hair). I work at the DC Temple on Thursday nights and the vast majority of our workers are young single adults and temple missionary workers. Some empty nesters, like my wife and I, make up the rest of the crew. While some of our elder workers have trouble hearing or moving quickly, I find it a valuable time to spend with them. I can understand how the live sessions might be adversely effected by elder workers but it seems that if that’s a problem for those who live in Salt Lake, they can choose to drive a little farther and go to one of the other myriad of temple available to them. Only the poor folks in Manti are stuck with the live session.

  21. Mark Butler on June 22, 2006 at 11:58 am

    I have no problem with symbolic approximation and allegory – I believe the scriptures are filled with it from front to back to a much greater degree than we often recognize. However, an allegory is no good if it teaches people things that are seriously wrong, not even good approximations to correct principles. Genesis 2-3 as we have received them, whether written by Moses, one of his successors, or one of his predecessors, are so bad that I would say they have a net negative return on “investment”, i.e. we would be better off not reading them at all.

    Perhaps a couple or three thousand thousand years ago they were better than nothing, but in the context of the light and knowledge we have from the New Testament and Doctrine and Covenants, they are backward in the worst way. If one was an evil and designing person, a literal agent of the adversary, one could hardly do better than to write that account the way it stands. We spend far more time in Gospel Doctrine explaining it away than we do learning anything from it, often taking a slew of aspects of the account to be literal that are exceedingly problematic, and indeed wildly inconsistent with other scriptures.

    If there is any account we teach that leads us to think negatively in the same manner as Augustine, Calvin, and others – that is the one. The doctrine of natural depravity, a contempt for knowledge, Adam and Eve as the ultimate losers, etc. is a radical outlier in the Joseph Smith / Brigham Young view of the world.

  22. Mark Butler on June 22, 2006 at 12:07 pm

    Of course the real puzzle is why the Lord and/or Joseph Smith did not see fit to give us something better – something that meshes with the doctrine of the pre-mortal life, the fall of lucifer and 1/3 the hosts of heaven, the contention over agency and who would be saved that lead to that conflict, the true (free will oriented) causes of iniquity and depravity, and so on.

  23. Elisabeth on June 22, 2006 at 12:15 pm

    Nate – your letter is good, but incredibly insensitive to the gender issues raised in the ceremony. Since you’ve stated you don\’t have anything more to add, here is my two cents.

    The “hearkenâ€? covenant defines the relationship God has with women – at least with married women. The covenant says that God speaks directly to men, but God does not speak directly to women. Women must “hearkenâ€? to the man as an intermediary, while the man speaks directly to God. That is what the covenant says.

    I agree that this covenant is incongruous with the Mormon understanding of direct personal relationships with God, but there is no way to reconcile this hearken covenant. Get rid of it, I say, or let\’s own up to fact that the temple ceremony does clearly require women to accept that men talk directly to God, while women must \�hearken\� to their husbands’ interpretation of God’s directives. I\’ve made my peace with this covenant. But let\’s call a spade a spade.

    If you are struggling with this issue, please do not think you are alone. As Nate mentioned in his post, many people – not just women – are shocked by and extremely upset by this covenant. The only advice I can offer is to pray and seek counsel from the people who love you. Much has been written in the bloggernacle about this issue, and if you do some quick searching, you’ll find a few uplifting, faithful discussions that might help.

  24. Gina on June 22, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    #18 – The rule is actually only that mothers of children at home cannot be temple workers. We have two small boys and my husband is a temple worker.

  25. DKL on June 22, 2006 at 12:21 pm

    Lamonte: The church has a rule against adults with minor children at home working as ordinance workers.

    Actually, the church’s rule is against women with minor children at home working as ordinance workers.

    But I agree with your assessment. I was just bringing up the old people “issue,” because it seems to be an area where his letter is lacking (perhaps old people are one of Nate’s blind spots). Yours is exactly the kind of response that I anticipate that Nate making to the fifth “issue” that I bring up about the preponderance of old people (not to put words into Nate’s mouth).

  26. DKL on June 22, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    Elisabeth: The [hearken] covenant says that God speaks directly to men, but God does not speak directly to women

    Actually, it says nothing at all about whether God talks directly to anybody.

  27. Elisabeth on June 22, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    DKL: That’s your interpretation. There are other reasonable interpretations, as you know.

  28. Frank McIntyre on June 22, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    “Actually, it says nothing at all about whether God talks directly to anybody.”

    DKL you are being incredibly insensitive. You are also perfectly correct about the language.

    As was Nate when he said “The rituals themselves actually say very little about the meaning of these covenants”

    But since we are not about to start quoting the language, I guess people will just have to listen to it themselves to know who is right.

    (I am).

  29. Kevin Barney on June 22, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    Nice letter, Nate. I agree that we need to give people much more preparation for entering the temple. The temple prep classes actually do very little of this, but are focused more on basic gospel principles.

    I think it would also be useful to offer some practical information so that they have a sense of what will happen. E.G., when you walk in the door, there will be a man behind a desk who will check your temple recommend. That sort of thing. If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.

  30. Adam Greenwood on June 22, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    “DKL: That’s your interpretation. There are other reasonable interpretations, as you know. ”

    If its just a matter of reasonable interpretations, why get so upset about it? Choose one of the other interpretations and move on.

  31. Frank McIntyre on June 22, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    Elisabeth,

    “DKL: That’s your interpretation. There are other reasonable interpretations, as you know.”

    I do not really want a whole thread about this, but perhaps you are saying that one can interpret an implication of the covenant in the way you do. In no sense does the actual stated language say anything like the words “God speaks directly to men, but God does not speak directly to women.”

  32. Elisabeth on June 22, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    Look, let’s not get all Orwellian. The hearken covenant _does_ designate the man as an intermediary between the woman and God. And that is a very confusing (and heartbreaking) “issue” for many temple goers.

  33. Elisabeth on June 22, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    Adam and Frank, I agree. As I said in my original comment, I’ve made my peace with this particular covenant. But I know many people still struggle with it, and this struggle has led many people out of the church. I thought Nate was too dismissive of this “issue” in his post, hence my comment.

  34. DKL on June 22, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    Elisabeth: The hearken covenant _does_ designate the man as an intermediary between the woman and God.

    The covenant itself simply does not designate anyone as an intermediary between anyone else and God. In fact, the covenant is logically consistent with both a church that doesn’t even believe in direct revelation and a church that doesn’t believe in _any_ intermediaries at all (neither of these being characteristic of Mormonism).

    Elisabeth, you’re the one dealing in interpretations here.

  35. Elisabeth on June 22, 2006 at 12:50 pm

    DKL, I’d be inclined to follow your reasoning if there were a reciprocal covenant for men to hearken unto their wives.

  36. Margaret Young on June 22, 2006 at 1:05 pm

    A quick two-cents worth: I had small children at home when I began serving as a veil worker for the Spanish session of the Provo Temple. I had to have special permission to do so, but some eight years later, I’m still doing it (though my youngest is now fourteen). I am a firm believer in being upfront. If someone hasn’t heard about similarities between Masonic rituals and the Endowment, they probably will at sometime, and their guide will most likely not be a friendly one. I have extremely strong feelings about addressing the priesthood restriction with Blacks before baptism, because I guarantee they’ll find out sooner rather than later, and that unexpected information becomes the cut-off point for many. Not only do they learn of the restriction, but of the really ugly things said about Blacks by early Church leaders. It becomes a huge stumbling block. I love the temple signs and tokens (and I refer to the “punishments” as “penalties,” as they were so described when I was endowed in 1979. The changes didn’t happen until the 80’s.) I wish we could talk about them more freely, because I see them as sublime metaphors. One of my most profound experiences in the temple occurred the day after my best friend was killed in a car crash. I went to the temple for comfort. The moments at the veil struck me powerfully as a promise of resurrection. Because we don’t talk about it in public, I find myself trivializing it by comparing it to the scene in Disney’s _Beauty and the Beast_, where the Beast receives light and becomes a new being. I think it’s important to learn what we can on our own, but I personally would love an in-temple class from somebody like S. Kent Brown, talking about ancient Christian symbols and rituals which illuminate what the endowment is really about.

  37. gst on June 22, 2006 at 1:13 pm

    “Plus, when we go into the presence of God, we won’t be encumbered by any of the feebleness of mortality, so why should we be so encumbered in the temple?”

    A fine question. Maybe once we expel the geezers we can get the thermostat set at something lower than 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

  38. Kaimi Wenger on June 22, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    Frank (26),

    Let’s be real. The most natural reading of the language implies God-to-males communication. That’s why men covenant to hearken to God.

    Your reading is this: I’ve just covenanted with the Lord to hearken to Him. However, I don’t think that he’ll ever bother to say anything to me. He went to the trouble to get my promise to hearken, but it’s going to be silence from here on out.

    First, that’s not the most natural read. A covenant to listen _does_ imply future communication.

    Second, it’s a _really_ weird reading when you consider the context. That covenant comes right next to your wife’s covenant tohearken to you. Your wife covenants to hearken to you with almost exactly the same language, in almost exactly the same spot. The two clauses therefore probably mean similar things.

    Now is it likely that _you’ll_ never say anything directly to your wife? (That will be some marriage!) She covenants to hearken to you; this covenant comes in the context that the two of you will be talking during your marriage. In the same line, you covenant to hearken to the Lord. And you think this means he won’t say a thing to you?

    Either you’ve got really, really unconventional ideas about husband-wife communication. Or you think that these two lines, similarly structured and occurring right next to each other in the text, should receive completely different readings. Which goes against normal ideas about textual interpretation.

  39. JWL on June 22, 2006 at 1:24 pm

    I have quite a different take on temple preparation. Rather than focus on “problems” and “issues” I would focus on the purpose and meaning of religious ritual and how the temple liturgy uses it to help feel as well as learn about the plan of exaltation. This requires a radical departure from what people learn in the Church outside of the temple, and therefore must be consciously addressed. Let me explain with the story of a friend who LOVED the temple experience the first time through, and has continued to be an avid temple-goer. When I asked why she thinks she took to it so readily she replied “well I was raised Catholic and have been in the theater, so this was right up my alley!”

    (1) “Raised Catholic.” The early Mormons were dissenting Protestants, and they carried over into the Church both a very simple “low church” style of Sunday worship and an anti-Catholicism which disdained “high church” ceremony. The temple, with its hours of set ritual, special clothing, and repeated symbolic actions is utterly and profoundly “high church.” Especially if your addressee was raised Mormon, or comes from an areligious or other “low church” background, I would focus on the power of religious ritual and its universality. In this vein, I have given out many copies of Eliade’s “The Sacred and the Profane” as the best temple preparation text I am aware of. I have also recommended that people raised Mormon attend a high mass as part of temple preparation.

    (2) “Been in the theater.” How obvious is it that the temple is SYMBOLIC, not literal? Does anyone contend that Peter, James, and John actually visited Adam and Eve? We are talking theater, not rigorous historical enactment or doctrinal exposition (regrettably diluted as theater since the loss of the Preacher eliminated a classic comic foil). As Jim F. points out in #17, the temple ritual is not literalistic, it is symbolic and artistic, with many possible understandings and layers of meaning which are not available in a straightforward linear exposition. It is in its nature difficult, complex, even contradictory, like life itself. In this line, virtually any popular movie which follows the “Hero’s Journey” story line (Stars Wars, the Wizard of Oz, the Sound of Music — almost every truly popular movie in the history of cinema ) can be used to explain how story can show us how we travel through this earth life and back to God and eternity. The temple is the greatest of such stories.

    (3) The woman’s agreement to follow her husband as he follows the Lord can be problematic for contemporary people. However, it also forces us to think about men’s responsibilities as spiritual leaders, responsibilities which men have abdicated to women in Western society. Also, I would note that: (1) Eve “gets it” before Adam and explains it all to him in the most powerful text in the entire liturgy, (2) one of the greatest and most significant distinctions between the temple and Masonry is the inclusion of women at all levels in LDS temple ritual whereas Masonry is all-male, and (3) the temple is the only place in current Mormonism where women act as priestesses.

  40. Kaimi Wenger on June 22, 2006 at 1:25 pm

    On the other hand, contra Nate’s letter, let me point out that such women-listen-to-men, men-listen-to-God structures _do_ exist in canonized scripture, outside the temple. The temple doesn’t so much introduce new ideas in this area, as recap certain ideas from Paul and elsewhere that are not often the focus of extended discussion.

    (Not that I am a proponent of this view. However, it’s wrong to suggest that it isn’t canonized elsewhere in the scriptures.)

    Ephesians 5:

    22 aWives, bsubmit• yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

    23 For the ahusband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the bhead of the cchurch: and he is the saviour of the body.

    24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

    25 aHusbands, blove your cwives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

    26 That he might asanctify and bcleanse it with the washing of water by the word,

    27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

    28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his awife loveth himself.

    1 Cor. 11:

    3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the ahead of the bwoman is the man; and the chead of Christ is God.

    4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.

    5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is aeven• all one as if she were shaven.

    6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a ashame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

    7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

    8 For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.

    9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

  41. Adam Greenwood on June 22, 2006 at 1:31 pm

    I’d take your temple prep class, JWL. I think its because I’d always been alive to the ritualistic and theatrical Mormon focus on its own history and on that history as a recapping or retelling of earlier salvation stories (which is, perhaps, what dispensation means) that I found the temple a lot less exciting and out there then folks told me.

  42. Frank McIntyre on June 22, 2006 at 1:33 pm

    Kaimi,

    1. I think you are talking to DKL, not me.

    2. I really don’t want to get into a big discussion on this, considering the subject matter.

    3. You seem to be riffing off of DKL’s off-hand comment about no revelation. But all DKL is saying is that the language itself is not that.

  43. Kaimi Wenger on June 22, 2006 at 1:40 pm

    Fair enough, Frank (and DKL).

  44. propono on June 22, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    Nate: Great post and thoughts. Thank you. I think I’ll make a copy of this letter and share it with members with whom I work in preparing to receive their own endowment.

  45. Nat Whilk on June 22, 2006 at 1:50 pm

    President Hinckley said: \”I remind you of the absolute obligation to not discuss outside the temple that which occurs within the temple. Sacred matters deserve sacred consideration. We are under obligation, binding and serious, to not use temple language or speak of temple matters outside. I first went to the temple fifty-seven years ago. It was different from any other experience I had had in the Church. A young man of my association went about the same time. Thereafter, he was wont to use phrases from the language of the temple in a frivolous way. It was offensive. It was a betrayal of a sacred trust. I have watched him through the years. Once faithful, he has drifted from all Church activity and forsaken the faith of his fathers. I think that much of what has happened to him began with that small irreverential thing that he did in trivializing language which is not trivial. Please, brethren, do not discuss outside of the temple that which occurs in the temple. While there, you are at liberty to do so. If you have questions, you may speak with the temple president or one of his counselors. But when you leave the doors of the House of the Lord, be true to a sacred trust to speak not of that which is holy and sanctified.\”

    Do the participants in this thread think they\’re following President Hinckley\’s counsel? That they\’re speaking less explicitly than Daniel Rector and Elbert Peck were when they had their temple recommends suspended? Or that standards have changed in the last 15 years?

  46. DKL on June 22, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    Frank is right about my point concerning language. The nature of the verbiage of the covenant is such that saying that it “designates the man as the intermediary” is like saying that The Old Man and the Sea embody’s Hemmingway’s own fears about the body of his work. It’s a plausible interpretation, but not an uncontroversial one. Nor is it evident by examining the text alone.

    Elisabeth brings up the topic of asymmetry, and that is an altogether different and independent topic.

  47. Clinton on June 22, 2006 at 2:02 pm

    “Masonic rites ultimately center around the story of the construction of the Temple of Solomon, giving to the initiates the secret wisdom supposedly held by the workers who built that temple.”

    I think you may want to rephrase this statement dramatically. This is a common Mormon misconception. From my reading of the Blue Lodge and Royal Arch ritualsyour description doesn’t sound accurate. What are your sources for this this discussion? It sounds a lot like Jeff Lindsay’s FAQ which in my opinion is highly misleading.

  48. Elisabeth on June 22, 2006 at 2:10 pm

    DKL, the asymmetry IS the topic. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on why men covenant to hearken unto God, but women covenant to hearken unto their husbands. (See comment 38 for clarification)

  49. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 2:25 pm

    Wow, y’all, if I thought for one minute that the temple taught what you are saying it teaches, I’d be writing for an anti-Mormon blog instead of this one. A few points:

    (1) Hugh Nibley explains the relationship that the temple sets up between men and women this way (this is almost a quote, but I can’t find the quote right now): the woman is to listen to her husband as (meaning: only as) he listens to God. Who decides that? She does. She is a judge of him as he is a preside-r over her. The relationship established is a recoprocal one designed to keep both of them on the straight and narrow, giving them equally important, but different roles, in aiding each other.

    (2) This idea that Eve has no direct contact with God is bunk. After the Fall, BOTH of them are expelled from God’s presence and NEITHER of them have direct contact with God but BOTH of them deal with messengers from God. Later, BOTH of them re-enter God’s presence.

    (3) Kaimi, if your only source for a teaching is Pauline epistles, you aren’t going to get much traction with me, at least. (I _know_ you aren’t defending it. I’m just saying that I don’t lose sleep over anything Paul wrote.)

    To sum, I hope that no one reading this assumes that Elisabeth et al’s interpretation of the covenants that women make in the temple is a valid one and is scared off from the temple by it. I find it an incredibly strained reading given the rest of the ceremony and the rest of the church’s teachings, and I think what I have outlined above fits the data points better. I wish I could go into a little more about how other parts of the temple ceremony support my interpretation but that obviously wouldn’t be appropriate here.

  50. mullingandmusing (m&m) on June 22, 2006 at 2:25 pm

    If I were to give this letter to someone, I would also include a copy of Elder Nelson’s talk, Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings, as well as a similar article that appeared less than a year later in the Ensign. Reading the references he includes is extremely helpful, especially after one has gone to the temple. But also, for those who are preparing to go, they can know and comprehend that there are ancient roots to our temple worship Once I realized this, my depth of appreciation for the temple grew tremendously.

  51. mullingandmusing (m&m) on June 22, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    I find it an incredibly strained reading given the rest of the ceremony and the rest of the church’s teachings, and I think what I have outlined above fits the data points better. I wish I could go into a little more about how other parts of the temple ceremony support my interpretation but that obviously wouldn’t be appropriate here.

    Well said, Julie! My thoughts exactly!

  52. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    Just wanted to call everyone’s attention to #45, which was stuck in moderation for awhile.

    (I don’t agree with it, but I wanted to be sure everyone sees it.)

  53. Elisabeth on June 22, 2006 at 2:44 pm

    Julie, my interpretation is as “valid” as yours is. The woman as a “judge”?! Where oh where is the doctrinal basis for a woman to stand as a judge of a man’s righteousness?

    I think it’s just fine that you have found this interpretation that seems to work well for you, but there is no reciprocity or judging role stated or implied in the ceremony, and it’s unfair of you to impugn my motives or to assign “value” to personal interpretations of the temple ceremony. The “strain” is in the eye of the beholder.

  54. S on June 22, 2006 at 2:46 pm

    It seems to me that Elisabeth is merely pointing out an asymmetry in the covenants made by men and women. While I think that there are ways of interpreting the inequality of those covenants in a more judicious light (Julie’s is one such interpretation, but I have heard others), there are a variety of ways to interpret the disparity, and not all of them are as judicious (and at face value, they are just as valid because there is no official church interpretation of what this exchange in the temple ceremony means). I’m all for offering ways of reconciling the different covenants with a belief in the equality of the sexes, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s helpful to invalidate the emotional pain this issue causes to many in the church (which I believe was Elisabeth’s central point).

  55. Jim Cobabe on June 22, 2006 at 2:50 pm

    Interesting discussion.

    I am wont to add that the priesthood — authority to administer priesthood ordinances — constitutes the saving power of the gospel, and the key to the knowledge of God. (D&C 84:19.) Without these ordinances, the true power of godliness is not fully manifest. To me, it is important to emphasize that temple ordinances represent a further progression along the continuum of saving ordinances that we begin with baptism, and that eventually lead us to Heavenly Father’s kingdom.

    Arguments from feminists worrying about the meaning of covenants that bind husbands and wives are always good for entertainment. Thank you, sisters — you make me laugh. To all those for whom such issues seem like a major concern, I hope you find peace with yourself some day.

    I laugh too about complaints regarding the sometimes flawed and imperfect nature of the dramatic presentation. In my opinion, you have not witnessed an effective presentation until you have been to a session in Salt Lake or Manti. The whole drama becomes so much more a part of reality when someone forgets a line or trips walking up the stairs. Otherwise, the production seems to compare rather poorly with Star Wars.

    Then too, I remember a prolonged session at Los Angeles one day where the machines broke down. We sat and waited for a very long time.

    Such distractions are simply a reminder of the world we live in. Dirty carpets, poorly painted benches, worn fabrics, burned-out light bulbs. I feel like the care-worn old folks go right along with these.

    Centering our focus on such concerns seem ironic and foreign to my usual successful temple experience. For me, the significance of what happens during the temple ceremony is inside, following the progression being depicted around me. It constitutes a sort of sequence of mental cues for the transition of my own mental and spiritual state that parallels the progression being modeled in the dramatic presentation.

    I understand that not everyone has such an experience. Nor do such impressions even come to me every time. Sometimes I cannot manage to shrug off the world, even inside the walls of the temple. I look to myself to find the reasons for such failures.

  56. Elisabeth on June 22, 2006 at 2:51 pm

    S, that _was_ my central point. Thank you.

  57. Kiskilili on June 22, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    Jim F., good question about coherence. I actually have a fairly transparent agenda in raising the issue, and it involves inconsistencies less innocuous than the one I raised. For example, unlike traditional Christians, we assert that Eve’s choice was ultimately good. Why, then, is she effectively punished for it? Why not reward Eve for her wisdom by subordinating Adam to her? (Not that I’m advocating this!) Secondly, why should I be held accountable for something Eve did? That would make sense if we believed (as many have) that women are created with greater proclivities for sin than men, that women are in some way responsible for the evil in the world and must be kept under control. But we adamantly profess otherwise!

    What I’m actually interested in is the fact that one can build a theology of equality between the sexes much more easily from the foundation of the first creation story (men and women are created simultaneously) than from the second. :)

    Julie, I like a lot of things about Nibley’s interpretation, and, needless to say, I’d be thrilled if I could figure out a way to accept it. However, I can’t accept Nibley as an authority on what the text means; I have to examine the text myself. And I find his reading vaguely nonsensical. If the relationship really is meant to be reciprocal, why not have both spouses covenant to hearken to each other? And if Eve is meant to have as direct a relationship with God as Adam, why not acknowledge that openly?

    The plain meaning of the language puts women in an indirect relationship to God.

    What I’m trying to figure out from all this (for practical purposes) is, does God have essentially an I-Thou relationship with me, or is it in I-It relationship? Based on the temple, I worry it’s of the I-It variety.

  58. S on June 22, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    Elisabeth, no problem. It’s an important point to make.

  59. Kevin Barney on June 22, 2006 at 3:02 pm

    The lack of reciprocity in that covenant is indeed troubling to a 21st century feminist. One way I have thought about it is to see the covenant as being in the form of an ancient triparitite covenant, among the deity, the great king (say a Nebuchadrezzar type) and the vassal king. Such covenants are well known in ancient legal literature. There are obligations and benefits flowing in each direction to and from each party to the three-way covenant.

    This doesn’t in and of itself solve the lack of reciprocity issue (for on this view the husband is the “great king”; don’t he wish!), but it puts it in an ancient context, which perhaps makes it easier for us to see the cultural conditioning underlying it and to adapt our understanding of the form of the covenant in a way that makes sense to us today..

  60. Adam Greenwood on June 22, 2006 at 3:02 pm

    The thing I love about the temple ceremony is how short it is. You walk in, there’s that bit about listening to husbands, and then you’re done. Right? Right? I vaguely remember other stuff too, but I think that’s just my memory playing tricks.

  61. mullingandmusing (m&m) on June 22, 2006 at 3:03 pm

    Another resource that I found very helpful when I had some significant “a-ha”s with the temple was the OT Institute manual, particularly this section, this one,, and especially this one. This section also has some interesting information. The BD (as referenced by Elder Nelson) is also a very useful resource.

    I think I would rather take the approach of focusing on the positive, rather than trying to pre-empt problems with potential concerns. I also think that it’s a lot easier to help someone feel the wonder of the temple, rather than trying to argue away potential doubts. The only real way to work through doubts, if they exist, is through the Spirit anyway, since clearly there are many different points of view on the “issues.” How is a person to know which point of view is “right”? Better to point the person to the scriptures and words of the prophets and prayer, rather than to divided opinions.

  62. Elisabeth on June 22, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    “Better to point the person to the scriptures and words of the prophets and prayer, rather than to divided opinions.”

    Agreed, m&m. Nicely said.

  63. S on June 22, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    I love the temple. I have had some of the most powerful spiritual experiences in my life there. When I talk to others about the temple, I often focus on the depth and beauty of my experiences there. At the same time, I am a feminist who is somewhat at peace with, but have not fully reconciled, the aspects of the temple ceremony that I find troubling. Sometimes when I go through a session, my mind is focused on other things, and the parts of the temple ceremony that bother me seem to pass by without me noticing. Other times, they hit me, my confusion about the church and gender issues resurfaces, and it’s all I can do to keep from crying.

    If I had a dear friend who was about to go through the temple and who I suspected was going to have the same kind of reaction to elements of the ceremony that I do, I would talk to her about what I find troubling. I would put my thoughts in the context of my other experiences in the temple that are immensely precious to me, but I would be honest about the *entirety* of my experience.

  64. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    Elisabeth in #53 writes, “Julie, my interpretation is as “validâ€? as yours is. ”

    No, actually, it isn’t, for two main reasons: (1) it runs counter to everything the Church teaches about the status of women and (2) it isn’t supported by the rest of the temple ceremony itself (I wish I could say more about this, but alas . . .).

    “The woman as a “judgeâ€??! Where oh where is the doctrinal basis for a woman to stand as a judge of a man’s righteousness?”

    I’m not sure where you got righteouesness from. My point was simply that she is to listen to him as he listens to God. She must, therefore, make a judgment as to whether he is listening to God so that she can make a judgment whether to listen to him. This is an idea amply supported in Church teachings, including BY’s famous line that he never counseled a woman to follow her husband to the devil.

    “it’s unfair of you to impugn my motives or to assign “valueâ€? to personal interpretations of the temple ceremony. The “strainâ€? is in the eye of the beholder.”

    I cannot remember saying anything about your motives, Elisabeth, so anything you read that way you have misread. Of course we are to assign value and/or strain to interpretations of the temple ceremony. If I held that we were obligated to wear what Adam and Eve wear instead of Dockers because it is in the temple ceremony, you would call that a strained reading and you would be right. This isn’t a free-for-all: interpreations of the temple need to be (1) based on the temple and (2) in agreement with what is taught in the church in general.

    S; I think the best way of dealing with the emotional pain is to deal with the false doctrine implied by the false interpretation, instead of encouraging those who have misunderstood church doctrine/teaching/practice to wallow in their misery. Further, S, if you look at my interpretation, you’ll see that it involves much less assymetry than is often assumed.

    Jim writes, “Arguments from feminists worrying about the meaning of covenants that bind husbands and wives are always good for entertainment. Thank you, sisters — you make me laugh.”

    Jim, that is one of the rudest comments I have ever seen here. While I, obviously, don’t agree with their concerns, I think you should be ashamed of yourself for treating the pain of your fellow Saints this way.

    Kisilili writes, “Why, then, is she effectively punished for it?”

    Maybe she wasn’t. Further, I don’t accept Nibley as an authority figure. In other words, his idea has no greater authority than it would if I had first heard it from my neighbor Jane Doe. I mentioned his name only because he explained it so succinctly.

    You then write, “If the relationship really is meant to be reciprocal, why not have both spouses covenant to hearken to each other? And if Eve is meant to have as direct a relationship with God as Adam, why not acknowledge that openly?”

    Because there is a difference between reciprocal and identical. Their relationship isn’t identical, but it is reciprocal. The rest of the ceremony (both dramatized and enacted by the company) delineates the contours of Adam and Eve’s relationship with God. I’m not certain why anyone thinks that that set of covenants is the final word on either of their relationships with God, when the temple ceremony itself teaches otherwise.

    “The plain meaning of the language puts women in an indirect relationship to God.”

    No, it doesn’t and neither does the rest of the ceremony. But I cannot say all that I want to here. Again, the rest of the endowment explains this better than trying to microanalyze the words of this covenant does.

    All,

    It is very frustrating to me to see so many smart and good people misrepresent what the temple teaches about men and women and to not be able to make my case for my interpretation because of the public nature of a blog. I wish I could sit down in the celestial room with all of you who have commented (except for Jim Cobabe, who was rude) and discuss the issue. It pains me to think of my fellow Saints laboring under the burden of thinking that God would do this to God’s daughters.

  65. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 3:24 pm

    Also: an apology to Nate for this huge threadjack. Your letter will be a blessing to those who read it, and I am sorry to contribute to distracting from that. But I cannot sit silently while comments are made in a public forum that misrepresent what is taught in the temple.

  66. Ryan Bell on June 22, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    I like Nate’s letter, but I think it’s folly to act as if the real job of temple preparation is to steel people for the possible difficulties that await. I would close with something like the following:

    Now that we’ve discussed a few of the issues that people occasionally deal with in reacting to what they learn in the temple, I hope you’ll forget about them, at least for the time being. The above should help you realize that none of the concerns you might have after obtaining your endowment are un-noticed or un-answerable. As with most problems people find in the church, there is usually a very good explanation, or several, for each issue you might find in the temple. It is certainly true that some people find things that trouble them in the Temple, mostly related to the above. But many do not, and you should not enter this sacred experience with the expectation that you will, or the determination that you won’t. Your focus as you enter the temple for the first time should not be on whether you find evidence or masonry, sexism, or changes in the ceremony. Rather, I believe the best demeanor for a first-time temple-goer is one of prayerful, curious, grateful humility, with an openness to learning new lessons in new ways. Focus not on problems, but on communing with the Lord and seeing the gift, or ‘endowment’ he has prepared for you. Of course the newness of the temple will create chalenges for you as you grow accustomed to its style by repeated attendance. If you see this not as a problem but as a fascinating opportunity to be taught directly by the Spirit, none of the above ‘issues’ need distract you for long.

  67. Nate Oman on June 22, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    Elisabeth and Katie: I am sorry that you found my responses insensitive. I certainly appreciate the ad hominem and threatened violence. I was trying to be clear and simple. Also, I really don’t have all that much to say. It seems to me that there are basically two issues. First, what is the best (ie most accurate or supportable) interpretation of the hearken covenant. Second, what is the theological significance of that covenant (ie is it an “error of man” that should be removed, inspired, etc.). On the interpretive issue, I think that there are basically three different readings that can be offered:

    1. The covenant is about relationships within the family and essentially recapitulate’s the Church’s teaching about father’s “presiding in the home.” (Whatever that means.)

    2. The covenant is about access to personal revelation. It means that women cannot recieve direct inspiration from God.

    3. Building on 2, the covenant shows that women are some sort of spiritual second-class citizens eternally unworthy of God’s full concern. (This is the interpretation that I had in mind when I refered to “a very dire and misogynistic reading”.)

    I think that 1 is the most supportable interpretation. It links the covenant to a common teaching in the Church, furthermore it is a teaching that is frequently supported by reference to the Adam and Eve story. Obviously, 1 is hardly going to lay all feminist concerns to rest. However, it does not imply either that women cannot recieve revelation or that they are eternally less valuable to God. It is limited to the spiritual economy of the home and the differing stewardships of men and women. Again, I freely acknowledge that there are potentially troubling asymetries here, but I don’t see that there is any interpretive need to further inflate “the problem.”

    I think that both 2 and 3 are problematic for essentially two reasons. First, they lack explicit support in the text of the endowment, requiring that we generalize rather dramatically from the actual words. Second, they are inconsistent with other doctrines that are routinely taught in the Church, namely that all members are entitled to personal revelation and that God loves his sons and daughters equally. One might argue that these doctrines are also inconsistent with the distribution of family stewardships involved in 1, but any inconsistency involved in adopting 1 is much smaller than that involved in 2 and 3.

    As for the theological import, I think that 1 creates certain quandaries which I really don’t know what to do with. I don’t really know what “presiding in the home” means. I don’t quite know how to reconcile it to my belief in the full spiritual and moral equality of men and women. I think that 2 and 3, however, are clearly mistaken, such that were they the required interpretations, I would conclude that the hearkening covenant was an “error of men.”

    I am not quite sure what about this analysis (which is simply a slightly longer version of what I put in the original post) is insensitive. I do assert that the most troubling interpretations of the hearkening covenant are mistaken. Perhaps this is insensitive. However, I don’t think that interpretation is a wholly subjective process. If it were communication would be wholly impossible, and it would be impossible to offer reasons (other than subjective ones) in support of one interpretation over another. Both of these strike me as rather absurb positions to take. We can understand one another to a greater or lesser extent, and we routinely offer reasons in support of one interpretation rather than another. Accordingly, I think that we can evaluate interpretations and make arguments about their validity or invalidity. This doesn’t mean that I am right. It does mean, however, that to say that someone is mistaken about the meaning of the temple is not a subjective attack. It is a statement about the proper interpretation of a ritual. It is not a moral or psychological evaluation. It is a claim, and as such may be true or false. That — rather than charges of insensitivity or myopia — seems like the real issue.

    A final point, I think that Elisabeth is also mistaken in how she imagines change occuring in the Church. If I understand her correctly, she is saying that we should “call a spade a spade” and then explicitly abandon it as a mistake. By calling a spade a spade, I take that she means adopting some particularlly unappealing interpretation of the hearkening covenant (perhaps 2), and then repudiating it. I actually think that most changes in doctrine and practice in the Church occur much more intersticially. We first adopt interpretations of a statement or doctrine that soften it or dilute troubling implications, eventually we adopt a “restatement” or “clarification” of the teaching that renders it something new and different than it was before. We see this even in dramatic cases like the repudiation fo the priesthood ban, which was undermined both doctrinally and practically in various ways before it was finally repudiated. I think that ultimately such an evolutionary approach has considerable virtues, as it allows us to maintain continuity over time and avoid doctrinal whipsawing, which can be corrosive in many ways. We talk about continuing revelation as a sort of reverse at will button, but I think that the reality of change is quite a bit more complicated.

    If I am right about what I said above, there are important political implications. If one is serious about wanting to facilitate some change, you probably don’t want to call a spade a spade. Such frontal assaults are unlikely to succeed. Rather, you would to find ways of softening and watering down troubling doctrines in ways that maintain continuity and respect for authority, so that when the change comes it is simply a rephrasing of what we all already believed. Put in starker terms, the analogy for change in the Church is not political pressure and legislation. Rather, the best analogy is that of common law development and reinterpretation. For those liberal Mormons who love to wrap themselves in civil rights metaphors, you need to think like Thurgood Marshall rather than Martin Luther King, Jr.

  68. S on June 22, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    Julie, I actually wasn’t critiquing the assymetry of your interpretation. I was generally trying to avoid commenting on the merits of your interpretation. And while I’m not sure what I think about your interpretation (it’s something I’m still pondering), I really do encourage the kind of reconciliation you are engaged in.

    At the same time, I somewhat disagree with your approach to dealing with emotional pain. I really admire your passion for wanting to help others find peace with this issue, but I’ve found in my own life that when something hurts me immensely and others respond by telling me 1) how a faulty understanding of things caused my hurt and 2) the proper emotional reaction for me to have, it doesn’t take away the hurt and often amplifies it. I certainly wouldn’t want others to encourage me to wallow, but I would want someone to look at me and say “I hear your pain. I can understand how you might react in pain. Let’s sit down together and figure out how to help you deal with it.” That last part of the equation can include addressing misunderstandings of church doctrine if necessary (which fits with your desire), but in my mind, a response to someone in pain needs to bandage the hurt before it trys to find a way to heal it.

  69. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    Very nice, Ryan. And Nate can speak for himself, but I don’t think his intended audience for this letter is any generic person preparing to go to the temple, but rather people who are _already_ concerned about (some of) the issues mentioned, perhaps enough for them to doubt whether they should even go.

  70. Nate Oman on June 22, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    Ryan Bell: Just so. Anyone forwarding this letter on ought to add Ryan’s concluding paragraph.

  71. S on June 22, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    Also, I agree with Julie’s #65. I appreciate the sentiments of Nate’s original letter (so, thank you, Nate).

  72. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    S, if this were about a friend crying on my couch after going to the temple the first time, yes, I’d do all that touchy-feely emotive stuff women are supposed to do. But I wouldn’t avoid pointing out that her interpretation was faulty. If an investigator felt cheated that they didn’t serve any steak at the stake house, would you spend most of your time hugging them or most of your time explaining the misunderstanding? I would never tell someone what the ‘proper emotional reaction to have’ was, but it seems weird to me to NOT point out that the reason someone is in pain is a misunderstanding. What easier or more obvious way is there to get them out of pain besides clearing that up?

  73. DKL on June 22, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    Elisabeth: the asymmetry IS the topic

    We can talk about the assymetry, too. But that doesn’t advance your argument either. The asymetry is also logically consistent with both a church that doesn’t even believe in direct revelation and a church that doesn’t believe in _any_ intermediaries at all.

    Elisabeth: I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on why men covenant to hearken unto God, but women covenant to hearken unto their husbands.

    Given how creative I find your “designated intermediary” reading to be, I’m surprised to hear that you’re so easily undone by the task of trying to come up with a non-mysoginistic reading. It seems to me that this boils down to the poverty of your imagination. At any rate, I’m happy to jump-start it by offering my take:

    Men are morally accountable to God for their actions, and women have free reign. The man’s accountability to God entails his accountability to his wife (an additional covenant would be superfluous). Plus, a woman is only accountable her husband regarding an item where her judgement tells her that it reflects God’s desire (her judgement relating to God’s desire being entirely her own and unmediated). And if you want to make your own, separate covenant with God concerning how you intend to follow his commandments, you should feel free to.

    Elisabeth: Julie, my interpretation is as “valid” as yours is

    Then why are you so insistent that the process somehow designates the man as the intermediary for his woman?

  74. Nate J on June 22, 2006 at 3:57 pm

    I really don’t want to fuel the fire but I believe that the Church took a big stride in 1990 when they deleted the part about multiplying sorrow in conception (because she was the first to partake of the fruit) and about obeying the law of Adam. It is quite one thing to say that the husband is the lawgiver. It is quite another to hearken to the counsel of the husband [inasmuch] as he hearkens to the Father’s.

    I’ve always believed that the wording is such that the wife covenants to hearken to the presiding priesthood authority, even though a husband and wife share the priesthood when they are sealed together as kings and queens, priests and priestesses.

  75. S on June 22, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    I agree that explaining and clearing up misunderstandings are important. I guess in this case I don’t think things are quite as clear as you paint them (on that point, I’m guessing we’ll have to agree to disagree). Because I think the interpretations in this case are more up in the air than the fact we do not serve steak at the stake house, I think that labeling someone’s interpretation as “faulty” can potentially do more harm than good.

  76. Katie P. on June 22, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    The obvious interpretation of the hearken covenent is Elizabeth’s. It caused me a great deal of tears and sleepless nights, and while I decry my complete lack of preparation for the temple ceremony due to a death in the family right before, I can’t think of anything that would have prepared me enough to prevent it from being a traumatic experience. Like Elisabeth, I have made my own peace, but it was not without a great deal of tears and prayers, and not without a judgement on the kinds of men who think they stand between me and God as a result of the ceremony or the kinds of men who take their promise to listen to God as proof that their spiritual promptings and interpretations are more authentic than mine.

    I cling to the word hearken – it means to listen. I would have no problem promising to listen to my theoretical husband, because I would hope that I would listen anyway. It makes me sad that there would be no corresponding promise on his part to listen to me, but not all doctrine is contained in the temple. He would certainly be exhorted to be a good husband and to listen to me in other places, so while I’m not thrilled, I’m okay.

  77. Randy B. on June 22, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    Julie,

    What do you say to Nate’s point about men “presiding” in the home?

  78. Kiskilili on June 22, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    Nate O., your comments are interesting and I appreciate the sensitivity of your tone. I see some issues that go beyond just the language of the covenant itself, however. How do you make sense of the fact that God addresses Adam as “you” but Eve as “she,” for example? If God interacts equally with both genders (i.e., everyone has the same access to revelation), why does he not model that behavior? And aside from what the covenant itself means, there’s the lack of covenant between Eve and God to account for–if God interacts directly with Eve, why does he not require a formal relationship with her of the type he institutes with Adam?

    I’m really not sure how change in the Church is effected. Like you, I suspect that the Church typically changes in such a way as to save face. But I worry that adopting interpretations that warp the basic meaning of the text might serve as a hindrance to change, simply because it allows us to blind ourselves to the disconnect between what we believe about God and what the language plainly says.

    DKL, maybe God will commission a new ceremony in gobbledy-gook, and then we’ll all have the opportunity to exercise our imaginations. :) I’d love to accept a non-misogynistic reading, but it does have to make sense to me–I can’t adopt an interpretation just because it makes me happy.

    Plus, a woman is only accountable her husband regarding an item where her judgement tells her that it reflects God’s desire (her judgement relating to God’s desire being entirely her own and unmediated).

    This is the interpretation I find vaguely nonsensical and twisted. It all hinges on the meaning of the word “as.” If I’m only to hearken to my husband when he’s hearkening to God, but my connection to God is of the same quality, why would I need to hearken to my husband at all? Why not just hearken to God? The insertion of the husband into the equation is superfluous. After all, if both spouses follow God and God’s will is so transparent, there’s no need for a hierarchy of any sort. The very fact that a hierarchy is presented leads me to conclude that women’s access to God is, both implicitly and overtly, not of the same quality as men’s.

    This is why I think the only logically consistent interpetation of the language is that my relationship with my husband parallels my husband’s relationship with God. In essence, my husband is my god. This is how I understand the word “as.”

    Like Nate J., I think the 1990 changes were a drastic improvement. But “hearken” means more than “listen;” it’s just a softer form of “obey.”

  79. queuno on June 22, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    This post, plus comment #66, are one of the single best things I’ve read on the Internet (and I’ve probably been using it longer than most). Thanks, Nate.

  80. Nate J on June 22, 2006 at 4:41 pm

    Kiskilili-

    -But “hearken� means more than “listen;� it’s just a softer form of “obey.�-

    I think there is some validity to that statement, however it really depends on context. For example, in D&C 1:1, 101:7, and 103:4 the word is used more closely as a synonym for listen. In the Book of Mormon, the abundance of examples seem to tend more towards obeying counsels specifically. (1 Nep. 19:7, 2 Nep. 9:29, 3 Nep. 28:34).

  81. DKL on June 22, 2006 at 4:42 pm

    Kiskilili If I’m only to hearken to my husband when he’s hearkening to God, but my connection to God is of the same quality, why would I need to hearken to my husband at all? Why not just hearken to God? The insertion of the husband into the equation is superfluous.

    The role of the husband is that of helper. The husband’s input can be valuable in case the wife worries that she might be making an oversight. Thus the woman is free to harken relate unto God, our Father, but that doesn’t mean that the husband can’t sometime assist her in some capacity, and when he can offer such assistance, the woman would seem obliged to accept it.

  82. mullingandmusing (m&m) on June 22, 2006 at 4:54 pm

    It makes me sad that there would be no corresponding promise on his part to listen to me,

    Not that this brings any obvious face-value clarity to the issue, but I think it might be worth remembering that it was Adam who hearkened to his wife in the Garden, hence making the fall and mortality possible. That has caused me to pause and and ponder.

    I really don’t think we can assume that we really understand anything in the temple at face value. I think pausing and prayerfully pondering are the only things that will help us see beyond what we think the surface of it all means. If we take something at the surface, and in isolation, we are sure not to understand anywhere near what there is to understand. As Julie has hinted, we have to consider all of the endowment (and, I would add, all of the temple ordinances) to try to understand more completely these types of issues.

  83. Kiskilili on June 22, 2006 at 4:56 pm

    It’s all very clever, DKL, and I appreciate the sentiment, but if God is serious about his relationships with both genders, I suggest to him that he give us a firm basis for that belief via the temple ceremony. None of this namby-pamby God provides evidence of secret interaction with Eve behind the scenes, even as he focuses his attention almost exclusively on Adam, with whom he makes his direct covenant.

    Otherwise, he’s leaving us to deal with, in Katie’s words, “the kinds of men who think they stand between me and God as a result of the ceremony or the kinds of men who take their promise to listen to God as proof that their spiritual promptings and interpretations are more authentic than mine.” That’s a serious problem that unequivocal language to the effect that God interacts with both genders would go a long way toward clearing up.

  84. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 5:07 pm

    Katie,

    You might be surprised to hear *me* saying this, but I think _listen_ is too weak a word to analogize to _hearken_. Obey may be too strong (may be not), but _listen_ is too weak. There is an element of personal opinion in this, but there is also an element of seeing how the language is used in the scriptures, too.

    Re Randy in #77,

    I’m not quite sure what you want me to address–can you unpack a little? I do believe men preside in the home, but other than that, I’m not sure what you are asking me.

    Kisilili asks, “If I’m only to hearken to my husband when he’s hearkening to God, but my connection to God is of the same quality, why would I need to hearken to my husband at all? Why not just hearken to God?”

    Maybe it isn’t for your benefit but for your husband’s. It functions as a check on his behavior, much like Nephi asking his rebellious father where to go hunting when he certainly could have figured it out himself. One reading (which I freely admit to be in the realm of interpretation) is that a big part of the no-no of the Fall is that BOTH Adam and Eve act independently of each other (Adam says no to the fruit without cunsulting Eve, she says yes without consulting him–may I go so far to suggest that this is the essence of the Fall–they fall away from God when they fall away from their unity and cooperation with each other–but I admit this is just my reading into it), and so these covenants are a correction to that by creating an environment where they must work together.

    Kisilili writes, “This is why I think the only logically consistent interpetation of the language is that my relationship with my husband parallels my husband’s relationship with God. In essence, my husband is my god. This is how I understand the word “as.â€?”

    I, obivously, don’t think that works. (1) It is contrary to what the church teaches. We talk specifically about women having the right to revelation AND the right to NOT follow their husbands when they are unrighteous. (2) Why have that ‘as’ phrase at all? If what you propose is true, the parallelism man=God as woman=man would be heightened by omitting the ‘as’ phrase from the end of her covenant. Reading ‘as’ as a condition (i.e., only as) fits much better.

    m&m, I’m not sure if this is where you were going with that idea, but it seems that one could conclude that Adam already has the habit of hearkening to his wife, making a covenant in that direction unnecessary. Was that your point?

  85. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 5:09 pm

    “if God is serious about his relationships with both genders, I suggest to him that he give us a firm basis for that belief via the temple ceremony”

    I sincerely hope that you made that statement just to match DKL’s efforts at rhetorical effect. Still, though, it makes me so sad to hear that–sad because it is so. not. true.

  86. mullingandmusing (m&m) on June 22, 2006 at 5:25 pm

    m&m, I’m not sure if this is where you were going with that idea, but it seems that one could conclude that Adam already has the habit of hearkening to his wife, making a covenant in that direction unnecessary. Was that your point?

    I wasn’t necessarily going anywhere, since I’m still mulling over it. :)

  87. Starfoxy on June 22, 2006 at 5:44 pm

    I wish I could sit down in the celestial room with all of you who have commented (except for Jim Cobabe, who was rude) and discuss the issue. It pains me to think of my fellow Saints laboring under the burden of thinking that God would do this to God’s daughters.

    Julie, If you would be comfortable with or interested in putting some of your interpretations in a private email I would be very interested in hearing them (starfoxy7 at gmail dot com) (If you just don’t have the time or energy then no worries :) ). I don’t believe that God intends to disenfranchise women, but I don’t understand how to interpret it otherwise. DKL’s interpretation is appealing, but I think it is a stretch in light of women’s lack of free reign both within the church currently and in society-at-large when the ceremony was introduced.

  88. Katie P. on June 22, 2006 at 5:53 pm

    Julie: Hearken from all dictionaries I can find mean to listen, to give respectful attention to. There’s a disconnect between paying respectful attention and being commanded, and if we limit ourselves to what the words actually say without adding our own baggage to it, then no problem. Pay respectful attention? I can do that. I would hope that I would anyway.

    Just like I am sure that the Lord does not consider me second-class, I am also sure that I am capable of interpretation on my own. When I was wondering about, the least helpful people were those that said I did not understand without offering any reason their interpretation was more authoritative than mine.

  89. DavidH on June 22, 2006 at 5:57 pm

    My American Heritage dictionary defines “hearken” as “to listen attentively; give heed.” In turn, it defines “heed” (the noun) as “close attention; notice”. One King James dictionary, however, after listing that as the primary definition, includes as alternative definitions, “to observe or obey” and “to grant or comply with.” (I have not located a modern dictionary showing those obedience/compliance alternative definitions.)

    Perhaps God inspired the Brethren to include a word with ambiguous meaning, one that could be construed to mean (1) “obedience” or (2) “attentive listening” or (3) something in between.

    In the Spanish version of the endowment, the covenant is translated as “escuchar”, which is the same word Adam uses when praying to God. In Mexico, “escuchar” does not have a connotation of “to obey”; it means “to listen” or “to hear”. I cannot speak for other countries in the Spanish speaking world (nor can I speak to King James-style archaic definitions in Spanish). Given the Brethren’ s approval of translating “hearken” as “escuchar”, I would think that those attending the temple in the Spanish speaking world, at least, could comfortably interpret the promise along the lines of the primary definition of “hearken”–to listen attentively or even just to listen. And I that is the interpretation I take.

  90. Mark Butler on June 22, 2006 at 6:08 pm

    I believe there is more than ample basis for concluding that there is asymmetry of *some* type referred to in LDS doctrine and in the temple, but also that there has long been evidence that Church leaders want to make this a relatively nominal, organizational one without eliminating it completely, where in the not too distant past it was taken rather more severely by many, following the rather unsubtle doctrine of Paul.

    The idea that the Church teaches that women do not receive personal revelation is untenable. Joseph Smith taught that no one ever receives the Holy Ghost without receiving revelation, because the Holy Ghost is a revelator. The endowment is also taught as adding an abundance of spiritual gifts on top of that, to those who are faithful.

    I think Julie’s interpretation is essentially right that a wife only has an obligation to follow her husband in righteousness, and must be filled with the spirit of revelation to make that determination, and the proper action to take when she believes her husband is in the wrong.

    I would further say that they Church also teaches a husband must counsel together with his wife and give full and fair consideration to everything she has to say, and that the two of them should keep counselling together until they come to a unity of faith on the matter, the same way Church councils are supposed to operate. That any husband who does not is abusing his nominal authority, is acting unrighteously, and is effectively voiding his priesthood.

    In an ideal situation, there should never be a case where the husband feels he has to act in pre-eminence over his wife, or the wife feel that she has to yield to the feelings of her husband at all. The whole process should be to come to a unity of feeling.

    The apparent nominal authority (presidency) comes into play in a handful of situtations, many rather formal, perhaps in part to *balance* the natural authority that a mother has over her own children that a father does not have. There also appears to be a bit of a deadlock resolution protocol, that if a husband and wife come to an deadlock she has a modicum of an obligation to yield if there is no great moral question at hand.

    Now as far as why the Lord set up this apparent asymmetry, other than to avoid deadlock, and to have a certain amount of order in family administration, it is hard to say. I wouldn’t know any way to fix it except to make the mother the head of the household, which by *natural* symmetry minimizes the role of fatherhood out of existence because of her naturally closer relationship with her children.

    Indeed we might speculate that if it were not for that fact – i.e. if husbands and wives never had children, the relationship would be properly perfectly symmetrical. That is my theory.

  91. DKL on June 22, 2006 at 6:09 pm

    Kiskilili I’d love to accept a non-misogynistic reading, but it does have to make sense to me–I can’t adopt an interpretation just because it makes me happy.

    Fair enough–just as long as you don’t adopt an interpretation because it makes you miserable. Honestly, I know people who adopt beliefs for no better reason than it gives them something to wring their hands about. Worry-wart parents, political extremists on both sides of the isle, and sometimes even Feminists. (Just to be clear: I’m not implying that this is your reason for adopting this point of view, but I’m sure you recognize that this is not an uncommon typo of occurrence.)

    But also keep in mind that there are several kinds of doctrinally important text, and each deserves to be understood in a different way. One is the type that is written by committee; e.g., the Proclamation on the Family. I think that we are relatively free to interpret that without having to worry about the “intention” of the authors, since it’s often safe to assume that the indeterminacy in the words can reflect divergence of opinion within the committee. I’d contrast this with personal sermons (e.g., Jacob’s sermon in the BoM), where it seems valuable to try to ascertain what he is “really” getting at (in spite of the substantial revisions to the BoM, over time, the accumulated effect approaching something close to committee-style revisions). The temple ceremony seems to me to be intentionally vague in the same way that a committee-driven document can be intentionally vague, and thus I think that it’s appropriate to approach it with a more pragmatic outlook rather than trying to figure out what it’s “really” getting at.

  92. Téa on June 22, 2006 at 6:10 pm

    Nate, including something about who is presenting & officiating might be helpful. You did mention the filmed aspects, but somewhere explicitly stating that it is mortal men & women who work in the temple could help prevent someone from anticipating angels doing the teaching therein.

    From my own experience, I would also indicate my willingness to discuss what *doesn’t* happen at the temple. I heard stories about sexualized rituals, group nudity, etc, and expressed my concerns to someone I trusted. “You’ll understand when you get there” was the response I received. It was a huge leap of faith for me to go to the temple–a leap that need not be so large for someone else if you are willing to refute falsehoods such as these about the temple.

  93. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 6:10 pm

    “Just like I am sure that the Lord does not consider me second-class, I am also sure that I am capable of interpretation on my own. When I was wondering about, the least helpful people were those that said I did not understand without offering any reason their interpretation was more authoritative than mine.”

    While definitions from modern dictionaries don’t rank high on my list of places to turn for understanding the language of the temple, what DavidH has said about the Spanish translation _does_, so I’ll modify my stance.

    At the same time, I’m a little concerned about an undercurrent I get from your comment (and others on this thread) that any interpretation we want to impart to the temple is OK. It isn’t. It would be interesting to put some thought into hermeneutical principles for the temple ceremony. I’d submit that (1) agreement with what is regularly taught in General Conference and (2) consonance with the rest of the temple experience should be near the top of the list.

  94. Anon on June 22, 2006 at 6:17 pm

    It is interesting that so much has been said about the “hearken” covenant, but not a word (unless I’ve missed it) about the other gender inequities in the temple. How can so many of you refer to the rest of the temple ceremony as though it mitigates the “hearken” covenant somehow? [Edited by admin; contained more information about the temple ceremony than we felt comfortable hosting on our blog.] The rest of the ceremony does not mitigate that message, it strengthens and supports it.

    Anyone who doesn’t recognize that is not paying sufficient attention, is performing mental gymnastics to explain away what is really quite plain, or simply doesn’t care (or has come to terms with the fact) that gender inequity is woven deeply into the most sacred ritual of the church.

  95. DKL on June 22, 2006 at 6:19 pm

    Anon: Anyone who doesn’t recognize that is not paying sufficient attention, is performing mental gymnastics to explain away what is really quite plain, or simply doesn’t care (or has come to terms with the fact) that gender inequity is woven deeply into the most sacred ritual of the church.

    So there’s no room for disagreement? You just define the argumentative opposition as defective and pronounce it case closed? Nice move. I wish I’d have thought of that earlier in the conversation. It would have saved me all this arguing.

  96. Mardell on June 22, 2006 at 6:24 pm

    If your husband is treating you as a second class citizen, or exercising unrighteous dominion, then you’re no longer bound to hearken to him. Women covenant to hearken to their husband only as he hearkens to God. If he’s not hearkening to God, there is no covenant to hearken to him.

    Katie writes about “the kinds of men who think they stand between me and God as a result of the ceremony or the kinds of men who take their promise to listen to God as proof that their spiritual promptings and interpretations are more authentic than mine.” They exist all right. But since those attitudes are not attitudes of hearkening to God, then I don’t need to hearken to such a man.

  97. Starfoxy on June 22, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    I second Téa’s comment about clarifying the fact that there are no orgies in the Temple. I asked my mom if I was going to have to be naked where anyone could see me, and all she could manage to say was “it’s very sacred.” She could have just said, “no, you’ll always be covered.”

  98. AlexG on June 22, 2006 at 6:29 pm

    An observation made about an object or situation indicate more of the character of the observer than that of the observed matter. I do not understand, probably because I am a man and therefore I have to be mysoginistic, why is that Elisabeth & co. see the temple covenant for men and women in such assymetry. How I understand it is that the man is placed in greater responsability before the Lord, not privilege. A woman listens to his husband AS HE LISTENS to the Lord. It could be argued that this is the order of the priesthood, the father receives revelation for the family, including the wife. Does this preclude the possibility that she can receive revelation on her own? No, not by any means. Remember that the powers of the priesthood can only be exercised with love unfeigned, with gentleness, meekness and all the characteristics stated in the 121th section of Doctrine and Covenants. The woman is ‘subject’ to the man as he is ‘subject’ to the Lord. An interesting logic proposal is woman:man::Jesus::Heavenly Father. President Boyd K. Packer has stated that no man can achieve the highest degree of fatherhood without a woman. The temple clearly shows that the man is not without the woman nor the woman without the man. This thread runs over all the endowment.

    Nate this is an excelent post. The current temple preparation class does not prepare you for the temple experience. A lot of practical issues, i.e., temple garments, robes and clothing could be explained, as well as the role of an escort. I believe that there are ‘administrative’ issues that could be spoken. In any case your letter to a prospective endowment is very well written.

  99. Elisabeth on June 22, 2006 at 6:32 pm

    Julie (93) – the first principle of interpretation is to look at the plain words of the covenant. Men hearken to God, women hearken to their husbands. If we don’t feel comfortable with a plain reading of the covenant, then we can move to interpret it based upon other sources. I submit to you that there just as many (if not more) sources and practices indicating the subordinate status of women as there are sources affirming their equality with men. It’s not as cut and dried as you’re claiming, and just because you believe you know the correct interpretation doesn’t make it so. I am not saying I’m correct either, but in the absence of definitive authority, we have to live with uncertainty.

    What troubles me more than the words of the covenant itself is that men seem particularly confident in understanding the meaning of this covenant, while many women anguish over it. If more men felt as much anguish over the unequal language in the temple ceremony and elsewhere in our doctrine and cultural practices, I think we’d be able to communicate on this issue more meaningfully. As it is, the women complain and the men shrug their shoulders. It’s frustrating.

    Nate – I didn’t mean you any bodily harm. And just because I think your post was insensitive on this particular “issue” doesn’t mean that I don’t like you :)

  100. Nate Oman on June 22, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    Elisabeth: Fair enough. Just because I think that you are wrong, doesn’t mean that I don’t like you or think that you are a fine and intelligent person.

  101. Jack on June 22, 2006 at 7:48 pm

    Doesn’t anyone around here have the slightest difficulty with the reality of a living God? Of late, the burden of that reality has become so crushing (to me) that I almost wish there were no God. And yet some will pound at the door of that reality without any thought as to the horror that may lie behind it.

  102. annegb on June 22, 2006 at 8:07 pm

    This is almost as important a topic as Steve’s opposite post on BCC. Did you guys coordinate?

  103. annegb on June 22, 2006 at 8:28 pm

    #9, Sheldon, laughing out loud. I attended for several years before the films came. It was interesting at times.

    #13, Elisabeth, that used to bother me until recently when I started listening to Bill more often and sometimes he’s right. I think somebody has to be the boss. I like the caveat. If he’s wrong and being stupid or bossy, then he’s not hearkening, so I don’t have to hearken. It allows me to choose.

    #18 DKL is so right. Bill went through for somebody named Martha and made it all the way through the veil before he got up the courage to ask if a mistake had been made. I will never let him forget it, either.

    #36 Margaret, I agree completely. I’m giving you a big high five.

    #45 If it’s on Times and Seasons, it’s pretty much a given that it’s okay. That’s how I look at it. Only if the prophet tells me not to go on T&S, would I quit here. So far, he’s been pretty quiet.

    #60 Adam, I’m snickering.

    #64 I want the funny Julie back, you know, your alternate personality. The nice one.

    #97, me, too. That’s the thing I always want to tell people. My teenage son told me he’d heard that and looked at me speculatively. I said, “think of our neighbors (he’s a patriarch). Can you imagine them doing that?” He (looking relieved): “no.” He thought I might do something like that, how sad is that?

    Elisabeth, I would say, “embrace the caveat.” God has such a sense of humor. But I’m with you. Not strongly or militantly so, but if the prophet put it to a vote, I’d vote with you.

    Nate, I have not read either of your posts. If you post on something I want to know about, I have to run it off and read it carefully with my dictionary nearby. I’m going to right now.

  104. Mark Butler on June 22, 2006 at 8:29 pm

    Jack, unless you are speaking about the problematic aspects of theological voluntarism and the divine command theory of morality, I have no idea what you are talking about.

    The knowledge that God lives and loves and cares about me, I find far more comforting than the conception of God as an impassible ground of all being.

  105. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 8:41 pm

    Elisabeth, it is a common rhetorical tactic to treat one’s own interpretation as the plain meaning of plain words. But that doesn’t make it right. I’m not ignoring the plain meaning–I’m saying that what you are calling the plain meaning is simply wrong.

  106. Kiskilili on June 22, 2006 at 9:03 pm

    I agree, unfortunately, wholeheartedly with Anon (94). I think the problems run throughout the entire ceremony. This is one of the reasons I think the “hearken” covenant has nothing to do with a reciprical relationship between husband and wife, nor that it contains encoded within it the idea that Eve’s access to God is equal to Adam’s. God makes it abundantly clear on several occasions that Eve is below Adam.

    I’m curious about this idea that unity can only be achieved, even in marriage, if one person has power and the other yields. Is unity without subordination truly inconceivable? I understand on a Church-wide scale it might be, but on the level of two people? Is it really impractical to suggest that couples counsel together as genuine equals?

    Fair enough–just as long as you don’t adopt an interpretation because it makes you miserable. Honestly, I know people who adopt beliefs for no better reason than it gives them something to wring their hands about.

    Quite true! It’s important not to martyr myself just so I can indulge in feeling victimized! Sometimes even Feminists can say the most outrageous things. ;)

    The idea that the Church teaches that women do not receive personal revelation is untenable.

    I agree the Church as a whole might not be teaching that. But the temple gives this impression anyway, and I think we have to take the temple ceremony on its own terms. Many of our sacred texts contradict each other.

    President Boyd K. Packer has stated that no man can achieve the highest degree of fatherhood without a woman.

    This just doesn’t comfort me. It goes back to my question about whether God relates to me as a Thou or an It. I don’t want to be made to feel like a tool for facilitating a man’s salvation–even an essential tool. I want God to acknowledge me as a human being.

  107. maria on June 22, 2006 at 9:26 pm

    Two strategies have seemed to work well lately to help me “get through” the temple ceremony:

    1-My husband and I have added our own extra covenant to the TC. Basically the covenant is that my husband will hearken to me, and that I will hearken to God. This extra covenant-making is silent–we just think the extra words in our minds at their corresponding place in the ceremony. This has gone a long way toward helping me feel better. The plain meaning of the words of the TC might lead me to believe otherwise, but with my husband’s constant affirmation/covenant of equality I can feel okay. Or at least try to feel okay. Oh, and I also want to say that lest you think my husband is some apostate-make-up-your-own-doctrine kind of guy–I can say that he is one of the most orthodox members of the church I have ever personally known. And he’s the bishop–for whatever that is worth.

    2-If strategy #1 doesn’t seem to be doing it for me for whatever reason, I find that if I just tune out completely and not think about the words of the TC at all, it can actually be a relaxing/pleasant experience. Instead of listening, I think through my goals, my progress, things I want to work spiritually, etc. Just DON’T listen to the words–that’s the key. Probably not exactly what I’m “supposed” to be doing, but whatever. At least I’m trying to go to the temple.

  108. Kaimi Wenger on June 22, 2006 at 9:28 pm

    NOTICE TO COMMENTERS:

    We’ve recently removed some material that was getting more descriptive than most of the bloggers were comfortable with, as a group.

    This thread has been a very useful opportunity to discuss certain issues. Thanks to the many commenters who have contributed to a very enlightening thread: Elisabeth, Kiskilili, Julie, Nate, DKL, M&M — the list goes on and on. At this point, both sides of the major comment issue (women and covenants) have already been well articulated. I’m not sure there’s much left for either side to say. Also, we really don’t want the thread to become much more particular in its discussion of ordinances, and as the thread remains open, that possibility increases.

    THEREFORE, I AM CLOSING COMMENTS IN ONE HOUR.

    I’m giving this 1-hour warning because a number of commenters thus far have submitted thoughtful, lengthy remarks. It seems entirely possible that others are currebntly being drafted, and I don’t want to cut anyone off who’s in mid-draft with another thoughtful comment.

    Thanks, everyone, for contributing to an enlightening thread.

  109. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 9:34 pm

    Thanks, Kaimi. I regret (as I always do) getting involved in these discussions. The same thing always happens:

    (1) someone says that the temple puts women in an inferior position and/or is sexist
    (2) I say no, it doesn’t, but I cannot explain/defend my position properly in a public forum
    (3) I get frustrated
    (4) the end

    But the next time it comes up, I’ll do it again, because as a feminist I love the temple dearly and I cling to it when I have to grit my teeth through some dinosaur’s sexist sacrament meeting talk or foolish comment in Sunday School and it pains me to think that these misrepresentations in the bloggernacle would be left unanswered but internalized by the impressionable.

  110. Mark Butler on June 22, 2006 at 9:40 pm

    Kiskilli, On unity – my opinion is that hierarchy is like the Mosaic law, a backbone, or a scaffolding – that in the Church its purpose is to bring us to Christ. The purpose of patriarchy is not to promote patriarchy – the purpose of patriarchy is to promote equality – not the equality of random everyone a law unto themselves liberalism, but the equality of joint heirship with Christ, for each of us to come to a unity of the faith, and receive all that the father hath, stakes that hold up the tent temporarily, until the tent can hold up itself.

    If we were already in the unity of the faith, the priesthood hierarchy would largely be inconsequential, a formality, a fail safe system at best for when things go wrong. The ideal society is a society of friends who share the same culture, general beliefs, and cooperate to come to a fair and elegant solution to every problem. If you will, see the priesthood hierarchy as the way of the past their to bring about the way of the future, and yet function as a fail-safe system of authority lest Zion return to chaos.

  111. Mark Butler on June 22, 2006 at 9:41 pm

    spelling: “Kiskilili” and “there to bring” Mea culpa.

  112. Heather O on June 22, 2006 at 9:42 pm

    My brother told me three things about the temple:

    1) Don’t laugh at the naked people.
    2) Never volunteer to be the virgin
    3) Don’t fall off the goat.

    I was so terrified about what I had to do with livestock and strained so hard to catch any sounds of bleating (and where would they keep a goat quiet anyway? Do they have secret stables that nobody can talk about?) that everything else paled in comparison.

  113. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 9:47 pm

    Heather (actually her brother) wins.

  114. Ronan on June 22, 2006 at 9:49 pm

    Julie, would you be prepared to admit that whilst the endowment is not sexist, for some women it appears that way. The line between perception and reality is pretty thin.

    Elisabeth’s comment from a while back (regarding the different reactions of men and women) is salient: I did not bat an eyelid at it; clearly, some women do. That gives me pause.

    So, you may be right and I would love to hear your thoughts one day; still, it does worry me that some women (I have no idea how many, but it’s more than a few), sense a certain misogyny. They are not just pulling that out of a hat. I actually think it’s the simplest reading. That doesn’t mean it’s the correct reading, but it is the simplest. Man – God; Woman – Man – God.

    Anyway, God communicates with men and women alike. So whatever our interpretation of the temple, if we think God is “sexist,” we’re wrong.

  115. Kiskilili on June 22, 2006 at 9:53 pm

    That’s an interesting idea, Mark. I think my questions in response would be:

    a) Why promote inequality as a scaffolding for equality? Would it be possible for the temple to present the ideal situation and then allow us to grope toward it through whatever imperfect means were at our disposal?

    And b) in practical terms, does patriarchy actually ever lead to equality?

    But I’m sure we’ll have other opportunities to discuss this further. :)

  116. Kiskilili on June 22, 2006 at 9:54 pm

    (What I mean is, to discuss the value and/or problems with patriarchy.)

  117. S on June 22, 2006 at 9:54 pm

    Oh, my. Thanks for the laugh, Heather. I’m glad my brothers are younger.

  118. Jim Cobabe on June 22, 2006 at 9:55 pm

    I stayed away from the temple for many years because of a question in the recommend interview that was directed specifically toward divorced men.

  119. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 9:57 pm

    Yes, Ronan, there are some women who think it is sexist, although I think the demographics of the bloggernacle significantly distorts our perception of how many women have an issue with this.

    I will disagree with you about the line between perception and reality being thin. Surely the history of religions has taught us that people will misinterpret pretty much any and everything, but that doesn’t change what is or is not true.

    This may not be a fair question to pose with 50 of so minutes left before Kaimi lowers the boom, but I ask out of genuine curiousity: if I had a problem with something (like the temple being sexist), and people (me, DKL, Nate, at least) offered me some other ways of thinking about it, I think I would, you know, think about it. I don’t think I would insist that an interpretation that I found troubling had to be correct. (I think I would so thrilled that there was a possible way out of my conundrum that I might actually want to go think and pray about it.) I guess I am surprised that so far, no one commenting here as seemed at all interested in entertaining the notion that they may not have been interpreting things correctly, when I would have thought they would have loved a way to cut their Gordian knot.

  120. Ronan on June 22, 2006 at 9:58 pm

    (Speaking obtusely): in the Initiatory, women are made a far stronger promise than men are.

  121. Ronan on June 22, 2006 at 10:01 pm

    Julie,
    You have a point there. All I am saying is that interpretation A does seem to be (superficially) more obvious. Heavens though, that doesn’t mean it’s right. Of course not. I can’t speak to the Gordion knot though; I’m a bloke, I don’t care :)

  122. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 10:04 pm

    Ronan,

    Really? I don’t know how someone could seriously entertain A as a possibility when we get precisely the opposite message at general conference and it makes nonsense of the final clause of the covenant and of the rest of the temple ceremony.

  123. Nicole on June 22, 2006 at 10:05 pm

    I’ve been reading this thread and I agree with what S has said. Julie- I have read your posts and I’ve been intrigued that there may be other ways to interpret the hearken covenant. I plan on thinking about this further and I hope to gain some peace because the last time I went to the temple I cried through the entire thing. I know of several women close to me (sister, mom, mom-in-law, dear friend) that all have issues with the temple so I have a hard time believing that so few women have issues but rather that it’s not something that we openly discuss.

  124. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 10:06 pm

    Ronan, in 120 you make an interesting point. I’ve actually heard people interpret that promise in a sexist manner. I think we have been trained to see any difference between men and woman as signifiying the subordination of the woman because that has been the historical pattern. I think it takes a fresh look to say, “There is a difference between men and women here, but I am not going to assume that that means that the woman is getting/being/doing less just because it is different.’ We can have difference without hierarchy, we just aren’t used to it.

  125. Nate Oman on June 22, 2006 at 10:07 pm

    “How can so many of you refer to the rest of the temple ceremony as though it mitigates the “hearkenâ€? covenant somehow? [Edited by admin; contained more information about the temple ceremony than we felt comfortable hosting on our blog.] The rest of the ceremony does not mitigate that message, it strengthens and supports it.

    Anyone who doesn’t recognize that is not paying sufficient attention, is performing mental gymnastics to explain away what is really quite plain, or simply doesn’t care (or has come to terms with the fact) that gender inequity is woven deeply into the most sacred ritual of the church.”

    I actually don’t think that others have really been invoking the rest of the temple ceremony to mitigate the hearken covenant. In my original post and my lengthy (and blessedly ignored) response to Elisabeth I invoke other doctrines of the gospel as the mitigation. If we hear rather constantly that all are entitled to personal revelation, and when the only time that the brethren explicitly address the issue they insist that God is no respecter of persons and his love and the promises of exaltation extent equally to men and women, it seems to me that we ought to take this seriously and interpret the endowment in light of it.

    I would also point out that it is a mistake to think that the primary characters in the endowment drama are those who perform in it. The primary characters are the initiates, who are by and large treated symetrically in terms of what they are given and what the laws that they covenant to obey. In addition to which it is a mistake to think of the endowment as the crowning ordinance of the temple. It is not. In a sense it is simply a prepretory for the sealing ordinance, where exaltation is made a marital rather than individual matter. This certainly doesn’t response to all of the points that Anon raises, but it does suggest that those who offer equality minded glosses on the endowment are engaged in more than self-delusion or indifference.

  126. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 10:11 pm

    “I actually don’t think that others have really been invoking the rest of the temple ceremony to mitigate the hearken covenant.”

    No, Nate, I have. I maintain that (1) other church teachings and (2) the rest of the temple need to be used to interpret the covenants. Obviously, I cannot make my case in the way I would like, but see, eg, #49 (2) for an example of how the rest of the ceremony interprets that covenant contrary to the idea that Eve is silenced or that her status re: God is different from Adam’s. Other symbolic acts in the rest of the endowment also provide some clarity as to what effect the covenants have on Adam and Eve.

  127. Nate Oman on June 22, 2006 at 10:17 pm

    “How do you make sense of the fact that God addresses Adam as “youâ€? but Eve as “she,â€? for example? If God interacts equally with both genders (i.e., everyone has the same access to revelation), why does he not model that behavior?”

    Kiskilli: I actually think that this equal interaction is modeled repeatedly throughout the endowment, but it is not modeled in the dialouge but rather in the ritual. The problem is that we treat the text of the endowment as though it were a play and focus on the characters and the dialogue that we see, which is not quite right. The ritual actions are at least as important as the text of the ritual and perhaps more so. Here, however, we start straying into territory where I am less comfortable with public discussion. While the covenants of secrecy are, in my opinion, limited, I don’t think that they should set the limits of our reticence to discuss the temple. I am not quite sure where those limits lie, however. I do believe that there is tremendous value in having a place of such awful sacredness that its mere discussion risks blasphemy. To give a limited interpretation of the secrecy covenants and dissect all else would desacralize the ceremony in ways that I am uncomfortable with. On the other hand, as my original post makes clear, I think that we can do a much better job in having useful extra-temple discussions. All of this is my way of saying that while I hope that I don’t invoke secrecy is rhetorically opprotunisitic ways, I am unwilling to engage in discussion of outside of the temple that becomes too detailed (whatever that means).

  128. S on June 22, 2006 at 10:18 pm

    This may not be a fair question to pose with 50 of so minutes left before Kaimi lowers the boom, but I ask out of genuine curiousity: if I had a problem with something (like the temple being sexist), and people (me, DKL, Nate, at least) offered me some other ways of thinking about it, I think I would, you know, think about it. I don’t think I would insist that an interpretation that I found troubling had to be correct. (I think I would so thrilled that there was a possible way out of my conundrum that I might actually want to go think and pray about it.) I guess I am surprised that so far, no one commenting here as seemed at all interested in entertaining the notion that they may not have been interpreting things correctly, when I would have thought they would have loved a way to cut their Gordian knot.

    Elisabeth in comment #99 wrote, “I am not saying I’m correct either, but in the absence of definitive authority, we have to live with uncertainty.” In comment #68, I wrote, “And while I’m not sure what I think about your interpretation (it’s something I’m still pondering), I really do encourage the kind of reconciliation you are engaged in.” Perhaps you were not referring to either of us, but if you were, I think you’re misrepresenting at least a few of the people who are disagreeing with you.

    My complaint with your position has not been that I insist on a (misogynistic) interpretation, and I refuse to hear any other interpretation. I disagree with your insistence that any other position other than your own is *obviously* incorrect, when I don’t think things are quite that obvious.

    I have made this issue a matter of much thought and prayer. I have received a certain amount of peace from God (i.e. a reassurance that He hears my concerns, that He understands them, and that He wants me to continue to work through this issue). On the other hand, I have not yet received an answer in the form of an interpretive understanding that makes both rational and emotional sense to me (and that answers my concerns about the temple ceremony). I will continue to pray for such an understanding, and I will listen to the interpretations of individuals such as you and DKL in the meantime (and ponder them). Simultaneously, I hope that while I (and others) continue to raise questions about this issue, that you respect that (for whatever reason) we have not received the kinds of answers that you have.

  129. Kaimi Wenger on June 22, 2006 at 10:21 pm

    Julie (122),

    (Preface this by admitting that I’m a man and don’t know what I’m talking about).

    I’ve talked with different women in different places that have all come to the same conclusion: For many women in the church, lived church membership is a constant trial. Whether we admit it or not, there are a lot of wards in which women are marginalized; a lot of church social structures in which women are left out; young women who are sent the message early on that they’re not as valued as young men; and so forth.

    These women are told to set aside that problem, and focus on the real church doctrine, the general conference talks, the Sunday School lessons which (at least when they’re not being embellished by helpful teachers) teach some level of equality or at least non-oppression. Some of them do so. But then comes another problem – the temple ordinance itself, which seems to crystallize and reinforce existing the problems of inequality.

    And now you seem to be saying: “Ignore the temple. Also, ignore lived experience with sexism. Also, ignore church history of polygamy. Focus on general conference.” In doing so, you’re singling out probably the most egalitarian slice of church membership, and suggesting that it receive primacy. I’m not sure why that particular slice deserves primacy, particularly if other slices all seem to send the opposite message.

    If the choice were simply binary, temple-versus-general-conference, I’d be more inclined to agree with you, that people should be more willing just to write off questions about the temple. But those questions about sexism reinforce and dovetail with identical questions that arise from other facets of church life — women’s lived experience and from church history. Issues arising from the temple don’t exist in a vaccuum.

  130. Starfoxy on June 22, 2006 at 10:25 pm

    Julie Re 122, I think that it isn’t too far of a stretch to see how someone could give great amounts of credit to the Temple ceremony where it contradicts what is commonly taught.

    We have this church-wide feeling that the Temple is the highest, holiest, and purest form of worship and teaching. Many members subconsciously see it as being dictated word for word directly from God. This is why changes in the ceremony are so troubling to people, “how could we dare improve something that is already perfect?”

    Combine that with the common anti rhetoric that “you don’t know what your church really teaches yet.” and we get the sense that there are higher, possibly troubling, truths not taught to the masses in sacrament meeting and general conference, and chances are those higher truths are only taught in the Temple. So it makes sense for people to grasp at something that contradicts what is commonly taught and grapple with it seriously, giving it more weight than they probably should.
    When it’s written out like this it looks silly. However, I know that I certainly went to the Temple the first time with this mindset, and I’m certain that I’m not alone in that.

  131. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 10:25 pm

    S, thanks for pointing out that I missed your note that you were pondering what had been said here. Mea culpa. (I don’t, however, think Elisabeth asking us to live with uncertainty is quite the same thing.)

    I know that many of you are irritated (or worse) by my certainty here. I’m sorry to cause distress, but cannot very well feign uncertainty about something so important. There are other gospel-related issues about which I have quite a bit of uncertainty (although I don’t discuss them publicly) and I personally draw strength from people who have resolved them, even if I don’t agree with them.

  132. S on June 22, 2006 at 10:25 pm

    Kaimi, you may be a man, but you know what you’re talking about. :) I couldn’t have said things any better. Thank-you.

  133. Kaimi Wenger on June 22, 2006 at 10:25 pm

    Julie (119),

    My sense is that others may have found their own ways around the Gordian knot. One such way may be chalking the disparity up as a man-made mistake. You may not think that their ways through (or around) the knot are as satisfying as yours — but hey, they probably think the same right back at you.

  134. S on June 22, 2006 at 10:30 pm

    Julie, I admire your certainty and passion. And I don’t think you should feign uncertainty if you don’t feel it. It’s just hard being feeling like I’m being called to task for my own uncertainty and anguish when it comes from real feelings of inequality in the church (as Kaimi discussed) and a lot of prayer and pondering to which I have not yet received a definitive answer.

  135. Eve on June 22, 2006 at 10:30 pm

    Whew, I’m late to this party!

    Julie, through this and other conversations, it’s clear that you interpret the temple quite differently from a number of other women around here (and the issue of how many women have or don’t have a problem with the temple, or the number of people in the world who have or don’t have a problem with anything else in the church, shouldn’t be significant. If even one person has a problem with something, aren’t that one person’s concerns worth addressing?)

    The problem I have is with the way you seem to insist that those who disagree with you are willfully wallowing in misery or stubbornly unwilling to consider another point of view in prayer. Isn’t it equally possible that we simply don’t find the reasons you’re presented for your interpretation very persuasive? Isn’t it possible that reasonable people can simply disagree, especially about something as complex and ambiguous and religiously significant and historically complicated as the temple ceremony?

  136. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 10:30 pm

    Wow, Kaimi, I don’t recognize my ideas _at all_ in what you have said in #129. I don’t think General Conference deserves primacy; I do think that when we are facing down two opposite interpretations of the temple, it would behoove us to get a second witness by seeing what has been said about that topic in conference. (Do you think something would be taught repeatedly by the prophet in general conference that was contrary to what he thought was taught in the temple?) And I _never_ said to ignore the temple! We’ve got three minutes until this thread closes, so maybe we need to move this conversation, but I didn’t say what you said I said.

    Starfoxy, you’ve given a great articulation of the sitiuation that exists in some people’s heads. But that doesn’t make it right.

  137. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 10:34 pm

    Kaimi,

    If I heard it dismissed as man-made error, that would be one thing, but my general sense of this thread is _not_ that that is what is being offered. If someone wanted to just dismiss the sexist interpreation as wrong, I think that would be far less greivous than what has happened here.

    S: It was never my intention to call anyone to task for uncertainty, only for (what I thought might be) advocating that we all must treat it as uncertain.

    Eve asks, “If even one person has a problem with something, aren’t that one person’s concerns worth addressing?”

    Of course. Why do you think I’ve written a dozen comments here?

    “The problem I have is with the way you seem to insist that those who disagree with you are willfully wallowing in misery or stubbornly unwilling to consider another point of view in prayer.”

    I didn’t say this and I don’t think it.

  138. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 10:34 pm

    Kaimi, where are you? It is 10:34!

  139. S on June 22, 2006 at 10:35 pm

    While perhaps Kaimi misunderstood Julie’s point about GC and the temple, I do think that the overall point he’s making (many women experience the temple in the context of a feeling of inequality rather than a feeling of equality in the church), is important.

  140. Elisabeth on June 22, 2006 at 10:36 pm

    Hello? I’ve been at a Primary Presidency meeting this evening, and I wish I could respond to at least Nate’s comment that I did not ignore, I just didn’t have time to respond. Do I have time? Anyway, thanks for hosting this interesting discussion.

  141. Kaimi Wenger on June 22, 2006 at 10:36 pm

    I’m sorry about misrepresenting you any, Julie. I was typing fast and cognizant of the time limit that some yahoo previously imposed on the thread. I probably got your position all wrong.

    Okay, the time is now up. (And just when things were getting interesting!) I’m closing comments. Thanks everyone for participating. I know this thread has been helpful for me; hopefully it’s been helpful for some of you as well.

  142. Julie M. Smith on June 22, 2006 at 10:37 pm

    S, that is a very important point in #139. To the heap of sins associated with sexism in the church we must add: it encourages women to misunderstand the temple ceremony.