A recent on-line discussion about the temple had the following comment:
I heard so many times that all my questions would/could be answered in the temple.
None of my questions were answered. None. Temple workers had no answers. Temple president had no answers. My FIL, a sealer, had no answers. Everyone told me to just pray harder, go to the temple more often, and God would let me know all the answers.
It didn’t work.
I look back at going through the temple 10 days before my marriage. It was policy back then to not allow women to go any sooner.
No one told me what promises would be expected of me. No one told me that I was expected to promise to put the LDS church first in my life. No one told me that I was required to put my husband between me and my relationship with God.
With wedding announcements out and a lifetime of expectations on the line, it was a difficult situation to be put in.
I used to say that I “felt” coerced. I don’t say that anymore.
It was coercion.
I knew that to be married, I would kneel across the temple altar and say “yes” rather than “I do”. I knew the basic wording of the wedding sealing ceremony and what marriage was all about. That gets discussed.
Yet promising my future, my everything to the LDS church?? I was expected to do that without prior thought or prayer.
No one should be making promises and vows that are supposed to last eternity without time to ponder and think.
The LDS church needs to do better. Serious promises need to be done with serious preparation.
My Temple Readiness class was useless.
I walked out of the temple feeling confused, coerced and lied to.
And yes, 32 years later, it still makes me mad.
The truth is that if you ask temple workers, you will get the following:
As a temple worker, we are instructed to refer all questions to the temple presidency. That, in a nutshell, is why you can’t get answers from temple workers.
For many things asked of you in the temple, there is no advance warning or discussion. Temple preparation does not discuss the specifics of the various promises required of someone in the temple, especially women.
If you study the history of the temple ceremony, you will find that the most problematic issue, the one that causes the most issues for women, was finalized during the reconstruction of the endowment after the death of Joseph Smith.
A debate occurred at that time and the question was settled by an appeal to logic according to the standards of that era. Thus, the endowment portrays the beliefs by some of those involved in the debate that women were naturally inferior to men.
When Brigham Young began to preach on the equality of men and women, that part of the temple ceremony was not changed.
Those same 19th century thoughts are seen in other discussions from that same era and folk doctrines that follow them:
- Discussions of how polygamy really is the true order of the gospel were justified by the doctrine that women are and should be subservient to men (See Orson Pratt in the Seer and numerous folk doctrines); and,
- The position that marital rape is acceptable. That was a prevalent folk and legal doctrine of that time. The law did not start to change until the mid 1970s.
Neither 19th Century thought is likely to get an affirmation in General Conference. The reality is that in this modern time, neither practice is endorsed and either will get you excommunicated.
The other discussion you will find frequently examined in a variety of online forums is the question of “Why.” Why do we make promises in the Temple that make women appear subservient to men?
The underlying basic question asked and talked about over and over is why does it look like women are subservient forever? The question of apparent female subservience is the question about the part of the Temple most likely to cause people to quit going to the temple or to leave the Church.
At its heart the question is the question of whether female subservience is prescriptive or descriptive.
The core question is whether the part of the Temple that portrays women as subservient to men reflect a broken and fallen world (the way things are after the fall) or does it portray an ideal world (the way things should be with the gospel)?
The use of the term Descriptive is to describe what is. In the context of the Temple, if what is presented is descriptive of the world outside of the Garden of Eden, then we are describing the way that reality operates in a broken and fallen world. That means that in being Descriptive, one describes a state of sin that we should endeavor to escape. If the female subservience in the Temple is Descriptive then are speaking in terms of what currently exists and what we have to deal with.
The use of the term Prescriptive is to describe what should be. If the female subservience in the Temple is Prescriptive then it describes the order of heaven and how things really ought to be. If something is Prescriptive it is the ideal situation we should all seek after. If female subservience in the Temple is Prescriptive then it is what should be, not merely what is.
It is seeing female subservience in the Temple as prescriptive (what the Church teaches that God wants) rather than descriptive (what the Church is teaching that we need to overcome) that causes so many to reject the Temple.
If I see women being treated as subservient to men as descriptive — as describing a fallen world, then I do not see it as justifying polygamy or other things because I am seeing subservience as something we need to overcome in order to not be in a fallen and broken state.
If I see women being treated subservient to men as prescriptive — as describing the ideal, then I would be taking a position that justifies any number of abominations.
The problem is that we have so very little discussion of Temple related subservience. There are no official statements as to whether the temple is descriptive or prescriptive except by looking at our cultural practices. Current practice has far fewer women than men in any positions of authority.
Women in positions of authority no longer serve for life and they do not receive stipends or other indicators that their authority is “real” or valued. In comparison to the cultural markers we give men in authority, from where they sit, to how they are addressed, and how much they are paid, women in authority look subservient.
The authority structure is combined with a culture that pushes women to stay home and focus on motherhood. That is too easily wrapped into a yarn ball of temple questions that are not addressed in a Temple Preparation class. After going through the temple, people have more questions, not fewer. In reflecting on that, it seems that the Church might consider a post-endowment class that allows members to discuss the temple. It could be held in the temple (like the lectures that used to take place in the Swiss Temple) if that would allow for easier discussions.
That approach would allow for the question of female subservience and many other questions and issues to be addressed clearly. It would allow for concepts that are not covered in Temple Preparation Class to be addressed. It would provide answers to questions that people currently ask and do not get answered.
This is important since just like female subservience, other questions arise in other parts of the Temple Ceremony. Consider the question as whether consecration is dedicating everything to the service of God or if it is turning money over to the Church. That is only one of many other questions that comes up.
But all of the additional questions tend to pale in comparison to the issue of whether the parts of the temple that paint women as subservient to men are descriptive or prescriptive and that is a question that causes so much anguish when it does not get answered when people ask about it.
Nothing we do to prepare for the temple seems to answer the questions I’ve discussed and many more. No questions asked in the temple seem to get answered beyond “pray often and attend more …”
Questions for our readers:
Where would you go if you had questions about the temple? Have you ever had questions about the temple and had them answered?
- Do you think the status of women in the temple is descriptive or prescriptive?
- Why do you think something decided by logic has not been changed even though the logic supporting it has been rejected publicly by Church leaders from Brigham Young, Joseph F. Smith and others?
- How could or should the Church further distance itself from what are now folk doctrines that it already excommunicates people for practicing?
- What would temple preparation would you have liked to have had? What would it have needed to include to make you feel like you were prepared. Would it be the same or different from what you received and how or why would you change it?
- Why does the temple require dedication to the Church rather than the Kingdom of God?
- What about the temple inspires you? What fails you?
- What other thoughts do you have in response to this essay?
- Is it ok to still have the temple respond to you personally and give you strength or inspiration if it fails someone else?
- Do other things or contexts affect how you see the Temple?