Yesterday an official statement, “A Message from the First Presidency on Changes to the Temple Endowment,” was posted at the Newsroom. It’s only four paragraphs, which I’ll go through one at a time below, hitting both the positives and the negatives. There is no direct reference in the statement to Covid-19, but it’s fairly obvious to 99% of us that is what is prompting the changes, whatever they are. The statement does not specify what any of the changes are. I’m going to assume the changes move the ceremony as close to a no-contact presentation as possible. I’m also going to ask that we not speculate on the details of the changes in the comments to this post. There’s plenty to talk about without getting into the detailed changes, whatever they may be.

Overall, of course, such (assumed no-contact) changes for LDS chapel services and temples are praiseworthy and the responsible thing for leadership to do. Employers are wrestling with how to make workplaces safer. Airlines and public transit face particular difficulties. Sports leagues are struggling to start or restart their seasons with testing and protection for players and fans. Universities and public schools are making difficult decisions about hosting classes on campus or going virtual, and all the challenges either choice implies. So just about every industry and public institution is revamping their physical space and the delivery of services. Changes to LDS chapel services and temple activities are just part of the Big Changes that are hitting Life As We Know It in 2020. Keyword: Life. If these changes are made and people just wear their damn masks in public spaces, most of us and our family members will still be alive in 2021 and 2022.

Paragraph 1 of the statement

The sacred teachings, promises, and ceremonies of the temple are of ancient origin, and point God’s children to Him as they make further covenants and learn more about His plan, including the role of the Savior Jesus Christ.

Ancient origin? It’s pretty clear to anyone who has looked into things a bit that Joseph borrowed a template and much vocabulary from the Freemasons, added some Christian concepts, and repurposed some of the “promises” toward obeying the commandments and securing loyalty to the Church and its leadership. Many of the early LDS leaders around Joseph were Freemasons and generally believed that Masonry had ancient origins going back to Solomon’s temple. Applying the same “apostasy and restoration” theme that was applied to the Church as a whole, present-day Masonry was seen as an apostate version of an earlier, purer Masonry, and the LDS endowment as presented by Joseph in Nauvoo was seen as a restored version of that earlier and authentic rite.

In 2020, no scholar accepts the ancient origin of Masonic rites. They are generally dated to the early 18th century. This obviously undercuts the early LDS rationale for a claim to ancient origins. There really isn’t any current basis for the claim, so it’s puzzling why they still highlight that claim in statements like this. (I’m assuming 1842 is not considered ancient by anyone.) Why not just say that Joseph put together the presentation in 1842 as guided by God or the Spirit? Is it too much to ask the leadership that they simply stop making false statements? They can get away with it because most LDS are willfully ignorant of anything regarding LDS temple history and origins. But “we can get away with it” does not mean you should say it, however convenient it is for your narrative or your particular goal at the time. And it’s 2020, not 1950. You can’t get away with stuff the way you could two or three generations back.

Paragraph 2

Through inspiration, the methods of instruction in the temple experience have changed many times, even in recent history, to help members better understand and live what they learn in the temple.

That’s a rather bold admission to make, and let’s give credit where it’s due. “Methods of instruction … have changed many times” is going to hit some mainstream members with no particular awareness of the many changes over the years like a ton of bricks. Some might just conclude, “Whoa, so they’re just making this all up?” That’s an overreaction. Joseph didn’t just make it up, he borrowed ideas and concepts as outline above and put together the first version of the endowment. Changes over the years (look up the details yourselves), particularly the recent changes that many of us are aware of personally, are generally quite positive. True, it would be more forthcoming for the statement to say changes have been made “to avoid members being understandably offended by outdated and offensive material, then quit attending the temple” than to say “to help members better understand and live what they learn in the temple.” But they are almost never up front about *why* changes to doctrine, policy, or practices are made. At least here they are acknowledging that changes have been made many times in the past.

In this instance, it’s pretty clear the changes are to reduce the risk to patrons and workers of getting Covid-19 while attending the temple. As noted, that’s an eminently reasonable and proper thing to do. So why don’t they just say that? The statement would be more effective if they explicitly stressed that safety of the members is a very high priority and the (unspecified) changes are being made to achieve that safety goal. Businesses and public venues understand they need to highlight and broadcast the details of the safety changes they are making to reassure customers and secure their continued patronage. I’m guessing a lot of members want the same assurance before they resume temple attendance. This game of not telling any member what changes are being made in hopes that people will go attend in order to see them isn’t really fair. It would be easy to give those details to local leaders and invite them to share the details with temple recommend holders in their ward or branch. That would be a great thing to do. If anyone at the COB is reading this post, drop that in the suggestion box or bring it up at the next meeting.

Paragraph 3

Part of the temple experience includes the making of sacred covenants, or promises, to God. Most people are familiar with symbolic actions that accompany the making of religious covenants (such as prayer, immersion of an individual at baptism, or holding hands during a marriage ceremony). Similar simple, symbolic actions accompany the making of temple covenants.

Okay, lots of symbolic things in the temple. They’re obviously hinting at something here. They might be hinting at something like, “Hey, it’s all symbolic, so changing things doesn’t really matter. Don’t get worked up over the changes.” So Paragraph 2 said there have been a lot of changes over time and Paragraph 3 says it’s all just symbolic or that a lot of the actions and other stuff is symbolic. Sounds like they are setting up for a big reveal in Paragraph 4.

Paragraph 4

With a concern for all and a desire to enhance the temple learning experience, recent changes have been authorized to the temple endowment ceremony. Given the sacredness of the temple ceremonies, we ask our members and friends not to engage in speculation or public discussions about these changes. Rather, we invite Church members to continue to look forward to the day when they may return and fully participate in sacred temple work prayerfully and gratefully.

So, “recent changes have been authorized to the temple endowment ceremony.” I guess that’s the big reveal, although the title of the statement gave that away right up top. Members are asked “not to engage in speculation or public discussions about these changes,” which request I also made at the beginning of the post. Hard to discuss the changes when you don’t know exactly what they are, and I haven’t speculated what those changes might be. We’re discussing the statement here, not the changes, whatever they might be. I’m assuming they are positive changes that will contribute to the safety of temple workers and patrons, which is a good thing.

A Final Word

Not a word in the statement about masks. That’s going to be a big deal, now that public health advice is solidly behind the use of masks in all public places. And it’s going to be a big deal because there seem to be a lot of Mormons buying into the idea that this advice is misguided and that citizens should actively claim the liberty of *not* wearing a mask in public. There was a big display of that line of thinking at a public meeting in Utah County last week (maybe a reader can post a link in the comments). Besides making Utahns look a bit unhinged, it raises the question of what the temple policy will be: Require masks? Recommend masks? Allow but not require them? Discourage them? Prohibit them? No matter what policy is chosen, there are going to be some people who are unhappy. Maybe they’ll make some sessions “masks required” and some “masks recommended” and have a few “no masks allowed” sessions in the Provo Temple for those in Utah County. Honestly, that seems like a workable compromise that might avoid some unfriendly scenes in temples as they slowly reopen.