No recommend for you!

A specific section of the Church Handbook of Instruction is being cited as the rationale for denying family members Temple Recommends due to the views of their family members.  The section in question is this:

Section 3.3.4  Members Whose Close Relatives Belong to Apostate Groups

Bishops and their counselors must take exceptional care when issuing recommends to members whose parents [1] or other close relatives belong to or sympathize with apostate groups.  Such members must demonstrate clearly that they repudiate these apostate religious teachings before they may be issued a recommend.

The interview question that corresponds with this injunction is:

“Do you affiliate with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or do you sympathize with the precepts of any such group or individual?”

The first time I was asked this question in a Temple Recommend interview, I really had no idea what groups were meant, so I asked.  The interviewer explained that the question referred to splinter sects of Mormonism, specifically the fundamentalist sects that practice polygamy.  That was the first time I had heard that there were Mormon groups still practicing polygamy, something I had assumed everyone was thrilled to ditch the second they were told they could.

And yet, those being denied recommends are not affiliated with polygamist or other splinter sects.  Due to the Ordain Women group being labelled “apostate,” individuals have reported that their close friends and relatives are being denied recommends based on association with those who have an active profile on Ordain Women.  Certainly this is overreaching that the church never intended!  And yet, local leaders have been given absolute discretion to interpret the guideline however they choose, resulting in a terrible and unnecessary case of Leader Roulette.  Here are a few examples:

  • A feminist claims that her friend was denied a recommend for being friends with her.
  • A bishop warned a sister that her upcoming family temple sealing was in jeopardy because she had “liked” some Ordain Women profiles, and that doing so would also make her ineligible to even be interviewed for a temple recommend.
  • A bishop explained in a 5th Sunday lesson that he personally monitors ward members’ Facebook activity to determine if they are honest and worthy.
  • Members of one sister’s ward complained to the bishop that she was apostate for supporting gay marriage in her Facebook posts.  The bishop threatened to rescind this sister’s recommend as a result.
  • A bishop called a feminist’s husband in to question him about his wife’s online activities. [2]
  • A Bishop took away a sister’s recommend because she would not take down her Ordain Woman profile.  Read about it here.
  • A ward member tattled on someone for responding to a Facebook poll in favor of Washington state’s referendum on same-sex marriage. The sister was instructed to remove the poll from her Facebook page, and to assure him that she wasn’t discussing any of her political opinions in church or she would face church discipline.
  • Someone was reported to the stake president because she “liked” Gina Colvin‘s post about joining OW at General Conference.  She was asked not to do it again.
  • One sister states that her bishop claims he was told during a leadership training (with E. Ballard and three other area authorities) that apostasy can be something as simple as liking a page or sharing a link on Facebook, even on your own private page.  According to her bishop, that is teaching others about your controversial beliefs, and therefore apostate.
  • One bishop threatened to stop financial help to a family unless the feminist wife stopped publishing her opinions on Facebook, and further threatened disciplinary action if she did not stop posting things he felt were wrong.
You have the right to remain silent. Anything you do say, post, or like, may be used against you in a court of love.

If the standard in the handbook is applied so generally, the church itself doesn’t even live up to it.  The LDS church does interfaith work with competing sects whose teachings contradict ours.  Working together is affiliating, and it’s the nature of the expression “strange bedfellows”; when allies share a single common interest but otherwise differ greatly in ideology.  Competing sects have labelled us a cult and sought to prevent us from gaining converts among their flocks, yet the church has partnered with them to oppose gay marriage during Prop 8 in California and even more recently.  So clearly, political affiliations should not be grounds for discipline. [3]

Going back to the guideline itself, here’s where individual leader interpretation can be thorny to navigate:

  • What is an apostate group?  What is the definition of apostate and, in our current day of social media in which members are encouraged to be active on-line, what constitutes a group?
  • Who is a close relative?  What about relatives who have been excommunicated?  Are we not allowed to feel sympathetic to them?
  • How does one demonstrate that they repudiate apostate religious teachings?  Wouldn’t this standard vary from bishop to bishop?  Do you have to unfriend relatives from Facebook?  Is it fair for your bishop to require you to make statements in your status updates opposing groups deemed apostate by that leader?
  • How do you draw the line between the “apostate religious teachings” and mere association with the family member if a bishop chooses to define it broadly?
Every ward has a Gladys Kravitz or two.

This is a disturbing trend, one the church should address to prevent any unintended local ecclesiastical abuse.  I can’t imagine the church really intends to bar sympathetic relatives of feminists or homosexuals from the temple, but local leaders’ interpretations can vary as they strive to obey what they believe to be the church’s will.

Discuss.

[1] Note that “parents” are specifically named, rather than spouses, friends, or children.  This fact seems to confirm the idea that this guideline is designed to weed out members of splinter sects who might seek access to LDS temples.  Well, at least Jeanne Tripplehorn did in Big Love.

[2] Nothing says equality like your dad, I mean husband, being called in to talk about you.

[3] Of course, gay marriage and equal rights for women are political, but areas about which the church has expressed an opinion, although that opinion has been a bit difficult to pin down.  That puts members of differing political viewpoints at risk if they have a local leader who primarily understands Mormonism through the lens of political assumptions.