Who determines worthiness in the temple recommend interview? The bishop? The individual? The questions? Other methods of discernment? Can the bishop rightly withhold a temple recommend based on nothing more than a hunch or the Spirit even if probing reveals no wrong answers?
I recently read a blog post written by a group of ex-Mormon ne’er-do-wells who claim they snuck into a temple session in the Philippines. They cited their ability to con kindly octogenarians into letting them participate unworthily without detection as further evidence that the church has no special spiritual gifts or authority. To me it sounds like a pretty boring way to spend your time when you could be out boozing and whoring it up. Isn’t that the benefit of being an ex-Mormon? Perhaps their priorities differ from what my own would be. Yet their experience begs a greater question: can leaders discern worthiness just by looking at a person?
In Kirtland, the story is told that for daily admittance to the School of the Prophets that was held in the upper floor of the Newell K. Whitney store, Joseph Smith would shake hands and look earnestly into the face of each of the men invited to participate in order to ascertain their worthiness. Only if he was satisfied during this wordless encounter were they allowed to enter and participate in a contemplative and spiritual day of smoking cigars, using the floor as a spitoon, prayer, theological discourse and visions.
Later, temple recommends were issued by invitation rather than petition. Members as young as 12 years old who were in good standing and deemed worthy from afar (no interview questions at the time) would be invited by their bishop to attend the temple. The bishop’s discernment was initially the only requirement. Later, interview questions were asked of candidates to ensure they were also living a minimum of the standards. (Source: Mysteries of Godliness by John Buerger).
Which brings us to the present day. We are told that worthiness is something each of us must ascertain for ourselves. Bishops are strictly instructed not to elaborate on the questions, and participants are told to provide “yes” or “no” answers to the questions. There has definitely been a shift away from leader discernment as the means to determine temple worthiness. But is it completely done away with?
In chatting with a good friend of mine who was a bishop for many years, he said that he considered it his responsibility to ensure that no one unworthy was able to obtain a temple recommend, regardless of the answers to the questions, if he felt that there was an impediment or knew their answers to be incorrect. Clearly, fishing bishops was something the church cracked down on a few years ago to prevent bishops from adding their own personal standards (about Coke drinking or card playing) into the interview. I know other bishops who would state that individuals are responsible to determine their worthiness based on the questions as they are written by church leadership and to the best of the member’s understanding.
Do you believe leaders have more discernment than regular members? More importantly, do they believe it? Is this belief unrealistic and dangerous? Or is it a spiritual gift that comes with the mantle of responsibility and goes away when one is released? Have you been the recipient of the soul-searching leadership stare?
**This is a reprint of an article I did at BCC in 2012. Discussion here.