Tuesday, March 24, 2009

(Not) Speaking of the Temple

Speaking about the temple is a uniquely strange issue in the church. It is so strange to me that we don't have more open discussions about the temples. As a youth, it is drilled into you to prepare for the temple... but so little is said about what goes on there, aside from marriage. Being an endowed member, I'm fully aware of the covenants that are made therin, covenants not to reveal certain information outside the temple. However, those covenants are quite specific in what is not to be disclosed. Where do we get the notion that they apply, or should anyway, to the entire experience therein? For instance, take this quote from Elder Packer:

A careful reading of the scriptures reveals that the Lord did not tell all things to all people. There were some qualifications set that were prerequisite to receiving sacred information. Temple ceremonies fall within this category.

We do not discuss the temple ordinances outside the temples. It was never intended that knowledge of these temple ceremonies would be limited to a select few who would be obliged to ensure that others never learn of them. It is quite the opposite, in fact. With great effort we urge every soul to qualify and prepare for the temple experience.

He says, "We do not discuss the temple ordinances outisde the temples." Period? Why not? Where does this come from? For sure we discuss temple ordinances outside the temple. We talk about the sealing power, temple marriage, sealing children to parents etc. What about the endowment, and the washing/annointings? When do we ever promise not to discuss these things. A good example from James E. Talmage:

“The ordinances of the endowment embody certain obligations on the part of the individual, such as covenant and promise to observe the law of strict virtue and chastity, to be charitable, benevolent, tolerant and pure; to devote both talent and material means to the spread of truth and the uplifting of the race; to maintain devotion to the cause of truth; and to seek in every way to contribute to the great preparation that the earth may be made ready to receive her King,—the Lord Jesus Christ. With the taking of each covenant and the assuming of each obligation a promised blessing is pronounced, contingent upon the faithful observance of the conditions” (The House of the Lord, rev. ed. [1976], 84).
Here, Elder Talmage wrote specifically about the covenants that we make in the temple. Is there anything wrong with that? I think not. The covenants that we make in the temple are important. I think they are something we need to be prepared to make. That's why, I think, he wrote about them. The covenants of secrecy refer specifically to not revealing the New Name, the signs, tokens, and names of the signs. Other than that, why aren't we free to discuss the rest, to search for understanding together?

One might make the case that the brethren such as Elder Talmage have spoken about certain parts of the temple, because of the value in teaching them to those preparing for the ordinances, but that discussing the rest of the endowment (or initiatory) would be without redeeming merrit, while eliminating a sense of sacredness.

However, I feel that more open discussion would prove incredibly valuable to the endowed members of the church. For example, reading a post at FMH a while back, I came across a rather novel (to me at least) feminist interpretation of the fall and Eve's roll in it. As I read, I noticed that all the scriptural accounts (Genesis, Abraham, and Moses) could easily be interpreted that way, but that in this one particular issue, the endowment differed from all other accounts. Now, it dealt with an issue of chronology, and the endowment and scriptures are not always presented chronologically, but in this case the chronology could be significant. I found this fascinating: A) that the endowment differed here, yet I'd never noticed it or its implications; and B) that I couldn't talk about it to anyone.

Here I may have discovered something that may prove comforting to more feminist members of the church, who struggle with a patriarchal church. But, what is to be done when scripture and the temple diverge? Which takes precedence? Which carries more authority? That's something I've never been taught or heard mentioned in the church. If the endowments chronology is correct, then my new interpretation falls apart. If the Bible and Pearl of Great Price have it correct, however, the interpretation stands. Could I honestly teach this to others if the endowment differs? If not teaching it to help others, why shouldn't I at least be able to discuss it with other endowed members, to get their take on it?

So I guess I'll end with a plea... does anyone know where Elder Packer gets this notion that we "do not discuss the temple ordinances" outside the temple? It's practically ubiquitous in the church, but where does it come from? And why? The sacred need not be secret. Elder Oaks hassaid that "the ordinance of the sacrament makes the sacrament meeting the most sacred and important meeting in the Church," yet it is far from secret. We have lessons on it in Priesthood/Relief Society, in Sunday School, in Primary, in FHE.... everywhere we talk and write and read about it, its significance and symbolism. Doing so has enriched my understanding of the atonement, and of the sacrament. It seems that to leave the temple untouched leaves to much that would be beneficial unsaid.


  1. "The covenants of secrecy refer specifically to not revealing the New Name, the signs, tokens, and names of the signs."

    Specifically, we covenant not to reveal them at the same time.

    I have to agree though; I think a lot of negative play the endowment ordinance gets from some of the newly endowed could be minimised if we could discuss things a bit more openly.

  2. Good point Kim. I think it would benefit the newcomers a lot. It'd also be great for those that have been going for a long time, and feeling like they've gotten all there is to get, or that go only to do the work for others, or to feel the spirit and ponder in the celestial room. I don't think those are the only reasons God wants us going to the temple.