A brief question

In Bob’s recent post on Temple Discussions, someone asked about the history of the endowment and former iterations of the endowment.  While not knowing any particulars, I indicated that endowment particulars and history "are of course available online with some searching, if you’re feeling
blasphemous."

Was it blasphemous for me to have said this?  Is it blasphemous to engage in this type of Googling?  Case in point: one faithful, believing mormon has posted the text of the endowment online, stripping out the tokens, names and signs to which his covenants relate.  In his view, that’s the only part of the endowment he’s promised not to disclose.  Is this correct?

Comments

  1. For the record, I’m not comfortable with what that member did in posting the endowment. I view the entire endowment as sacred, even if not subject to particular oaths or covenants.

  2. Interesting question. I notice that you _haven’t_ linked to the member’s site. So (unless that’s an oversight) you clearly seem to think that some actions _are_ over the line. Is the question then, where does one draw the line?

    And would you consider your own views to be conservative, permissive, in between?

    Finally, let me ask — in your view, is it particularly common for members to seek out extra-curricular education on the temple? If so, is that a good thing? A bad thing? Does it depend on the member?

  3. a random John says:

    I think that there is a big difference between posting the majority of the text of the ceremony online for the world to see and discussing the same content privately with other members of the church.

  4. Good questions, Kaimi. I think I’ve answered your first one.

    Where does one draw the line? As with many questions of practice in our church, I think that it is up to the individual within certain bounds. We have taken oaths not to disclose parts of the temple ceremony — does that mean the rest is fair game? That’s unanswerable, I think, absent a declaration from the Brethren.

    I consider my own views to be in-between. I try to let the Spirit be my guide, and to make appropriate disclosure choices according to context. For example, I think a parent talking to her child in preparation for their own endowment may speak more frankly than perhaps would be appropriate on a website.

    “is it particularly common for members to seek out extra-curricular education on the temple?” In my experience, yes, although the education rarely takes the form of reading the text of the endowment or such investigation. Normally people I know are satisfied with Boyd K. Packer’s book. Interest in the temple is a healthy thing, but one easily turned from curiosity into conspiracy theories.

    That said, I wish we could more fully understand and appreciate the history of the endowment. I think it is an interesting and fundamental part of our religion.

  5. HL Rogers says:

    I agree witrh Steve’s last sentiment (#4) re understanding history and context of endowment better. That being said even Bob’s discussion of the temple made me uncomfortable (or at least certain comments on the thread). I’m not sure if my comfortability level should be my guide, nor am I sure my comfortability level is alsways related to spiritual promptings. I think the meber who posted large portions fo the endowment certainly crossed the line but aside from expressing my opinion and staying away from it b/c I choose to I really have no other role in the matter.

    Perhaps my views are more conservative side (of this issue ;) ). This is one issue where I would rather err on the side of caution.

  6. HL, interesting that you said the thread made you feel uncomfortable at times. Sometime I’ll share my story about how I actually had to defend my covenants not to disclose, but I didn’t think the thread was entirely inappropriate.

  7. Talk about a potential comments-go-to-hell thread, by the way.

    Steve, I’ll bet you $10 that within the first 50 comments, someone will try to post part of the cermony. (We can talk about it later, when we’re buying lottery tickets at the casino.)

  8. Kaimi, you’re on. But I notice that you haven’t attempted to respond to your own questions…

  9. Greg Call says:

    I must confess that when I first accessed “the internets” (in 1995 in the basement of some BYU building), one of the first things I looked up (after reading all of Quentin Tarantino’s scripts) was a site that catalogued the changes to the temple ceremony over the years. And a couple of years later I read Buerger’s book on the history of the endowment. While I was not altogether comfortable with reading these texts, I do think it is different than posting or publicly discussing the things I have covenanted and have been advised to keep to myself.

  10. I’m posting two parts of the ceremony, just so that Kaimi will win his bet:

    First excerpt: “What is this?”
    Second excerpt: “as contained in the scriptures.”

    I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it would be great if once a week or once a month, some version of the original Nauvoo endowment (or as old an endowment as we’re sure about) were presented.

  11. I think I like Guido Cantelli better.

  12. I think he really crossed the line as well in putting that site up, though his intentions for doing so seem commendable.

    And, from what I know of him, I wouldn’t be inclined to characterize the author as believing or faithful, protests on the page to the contrary. I don’t say that in a mean or condemning way, only that in my own understanding of “believing” and “faithful,” the author simply doesn’t fit into those definitions.

    I think it’s always better to be cautious in public, but we have much more leeway in private, depending on whom we’re talking to. I’ve expressed a longer opinion (with some references) here.

    I know that there are differing opinions among the Apostles on this matter as well.

  13. Greg — So should Buerger have never written his book? That’s like posting, isn’t it? Are you saying it’s OK to read such materials, just not to publish them?

  14. And Steve, thanks for comment #1. I won’t condemn you to hell with the other lawyers just yet :)

  15. Ben, I’m using his adjectives. I don’t know him enough to say.

  16. Steve Evans I think I like Guido Cantelli better.

    We’re all entitled to our opinion, but let me clue you in as to the big differentiator between Guido and me: I’m alive; I’m a living and breathing, pseudonymous, pseudo-Italian bombasticator. Guido Cantell is altogether dead. Maybe you like it that way, or maybe you prefer that I were more like Guido in this respect. But just the same, Guido is no more.

    At any rate, I think I’ve already covered similar territory with Rosalynde in the series of comments starting with this one.

  17. Greg Call says:

    Steve,

    Yes, I think there is a real difference between reading a history of the endowment over the years (sourced to letters and such in Church archives) versus publishing things I have covenanted to not disclose.

  18. Greg: interesting. Couldn’t that end up being a rather subtle distinction?

    AT: Not so — Guido lives! See here.

  19. Tom Manney says:

    In the right setting, I think it’s okay to talk about everything in the endowment except the names, tokens, and signs — the right setting, of course, being a private or sacred one. For example, when I was a freshman at BYU, my bishop assembled all the ward members who were soon to be endowed and told us we could ask any question about what we would experience and he would answer it. I think he would have, too (we were too clueless to even know what to ask), excepting those things he had specifically covenanted not to disclose. It was a private, intimate setting for people who had a right to know, and therefore totally appropriate. A quiet evening among endowed famil members, after the kids have gone to bed, could perhaps be appropriate, too. The Internet is not a sacred setting, in my view, but given all the anti-Mormon “exposés” of temple worship, perhaps it’s not such a bad idea to post a sympathetic account that gets the facts right.

    However, I don’t feel any frustration over a lack of outlets to discuss and learn about the temple and its ordinances. They are part of a long tradition of sacred, oral/dramatic history. I feel that they are specifically designed to be learned about solely through the experience itself. I know that this flies in the face of the intellectual’s urge to read and study everything under the sun, but you can’t always get what you want. (But if you try sometimes…)

    I also feel strongly (though I have nothing to back this up) that the temple ordinances will make a lot more sense in the next life. There’s just something so otherworldly about them that leads me to this conclusion.

  20. It seems to me part of the message of the temple is precisely that context determines what spiritual truths are appropriately shared. Even within the temple there are more and less private moments of instruction, more and less private spaces or places. Some things we all learn together, some things we learn one-on-one, even if we all learn the same thing.

    So I agree with Tom Manney that most of the content of the endowment could be appropriately discussed outside the temple, in carefully chosen circumstances like those he identifies. But again, one should definitely err on the side of caution. One way to expand the domain of what one can discuss without worry is to discuss those scriptures that reflect temple themes, as scriptures. One can then leave the connection to the temple to be seen by those who know, and still be having a valuable discussion for those who haven’t been to the temple.

  21. Steve Evans: AT: Not so — Guido lives! See here.

    My goodness. He is alive! That’s brilliant. How did I miss that one? All I can say is, “Well done, Guido, and welcome back.”

  22. On one hand, I’ve always been very careful to keep my covenants sacred, and am very reluctant to ever mention anything about the temple. I just don’t do it.

    And yet, my life the dichotomy . . .

    In theory, I have a real intellectual problem with secrets between intelligent grown-ups. There is something in me that just thinks all facts, especially historical facts, should be widely available for public discourse. That the more you know, the better that is, and that the more information available to everyone, the better off we all are. Put things in context, yes, burn things, no.

    Personally, I’m glad that everything is widely available. If I could wave my magic wand and make it all disappear I wouldn’t do it. The truth of what happens inside the temple is really boring compared to the stories people would make up if they couldn’t look it up for themselves online. And I too feel an entitlement to know the history of the endowment. I think it is something that will make me better educated and more able to make informed decisions.

    How to reconcile, I don’t know.

  23. I think that we are talking about two different areas of temple secrecy.

    The first area covers that which we covenant not to reveal; specifically, the signs and tokens.

    The second area covers that which we are culturally conditioned not to reveal. This is pretty much everything else except the baptism and confirmation ceremony, since they’re printed in scripture and church instruction manuals absent the “for and behalf of…” part (there I go publishing more excerpts from the temple ceremony; you win again, Kaimi). This area also includes portions of previous ceremonies in which we never participated, whether or not those areas were not included in covenanted secrecy. I think that this also covers the discomfort we feel when discussing whether it’s appropriate to provide advice to those seeking “extracurricular” direction.

    Oblique references to the culturally conditioned secret portions of the ceremony are not at all uncommon. Sometimes, one hears surprisingly direct references to it–I have a friend who’s BYU professor played the preacher in the pre-1990 ceremony, and he used to blurt out things in class like (and I paraphrase), “And he has big claws, like a bear!” (oops, there I go again; mark one more up for Kaimi) just to freak out the students. And, as a few people have pointed out here, church leaders can be surprisingly candid about the culturally secret parts when they are confident that the context and the forum are appropriate. But faithful member will not knowingly discloses the covenanted portions outside the appropriate areas of the temple.

    At any rate, the culturally conditioned tendency towards near total secrecy makes us uncomfortable with sharing. Nevertheless, I don’t think that it is sinful to do so, unless in doing so one steps pretty far outside of some fairly wide boundaries of appropriateness.

    Moreover, I can’t see that people who haven’t made any of the temple covenants are under any sacred obligation to avoid “extracurricular” investigations. Any obligation to avoid would seem to me to be purely social. Lastly, this comment I’ve just made is the one of the greatest comments ever.

  24. I read once that James Talmage’s book on the temple, which included pictures, was in response to a blackmail threat. Someone had taken pictures of the inside of the SLC temple and threatened to publish them. In response the church eliminated the market for the pictures by publishing their own book.

    I think the Church could do itself a favor if it did a similar thing regarding the history of the endowment (Or gave permission for someone to do so). They could give enough information about form, etc while retaining editorial control to keep out sacred specifics. Otherwise the task is left to enterprising individuals.

  25. Just to clear up the ambiguity in my preceding post. It was the professor who blurted, not my friend.

  26. Let me just interject one thing here.

    Talk of secrecy etc. must take into account the following scenario:

    Let’s say you’re driving around the DC Beltway and you see the Temple for the first time. “Wow”, you say, “what’s that?” Later you find out it’s the Mormon temple. Curious, you google “Mormon temple”. You click on the site listed first and your eyes open very wide. You then ask your Mormon friend what happens in the Temple. What he tells you and what you read on the internet don’t square, don’t square AT ALL. What are you to think? That Mormons are embarrassed.

    Go on, everyone google “Mormon temple” and click on the first site. That’s the new reality, folks.

  27. Matt Jacobsen says:

    Ronan – I had a similar experience at my work. Some coworkers asked me what happened in the temple and I talked a bit about personal meditation and instruction and promises made to God. Then they asked about secret handshakes and I tried to graciously say that there are some things I’ve promised not to talk about. Since we were sitting at someones computer, they did a quick search. Lo and behold there are all the signs and tokens. I did my best to say that what they read may be true or false, but that those who sincerely go to the temple promise not to discuss certain things. I then explained that what happens in the temple is largely symbolic and is also not shared even between members outside the temple. I’m still not sure I handled it all very well, but my coworkers weren’t pushy or too weirded out by it as far as I could tell.

  28. Ronan,

    Your comment inspired me to post, calling for a link war by church members with websites.

    See http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=2144 .

    And apropos that link war . . .

    Mormon Temple!

  29. Tom Manney said:

    The Internet is not a sacred setting, in my view, but given all the anti-Mormon “exposés” of temple worship, perhaps it’s not such a bad idea to post a sympathetic account that gets the facts right.

    from what i’ve seen most of the sites give a fairly accurate portrayal of what goes on in the temple. the tone might not be what you like, but they aren’t too far off on the descriptions of the ceremonies or the transcripts. you’d have a much better idea of what goes on in the temple reading one of those sites than you would reading any of the church’s temple prep pamphlets or books.

  30. Ronan may have a point.

    I found the site before my mission. While on the mission some lady we ran into accused us of doing some things we no longer do. My companion was livid and proceeded by adadmantly informing the woman that her informers were absolute liars.

    I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing.

    I still don’t know what to do, but if reading such things are indeed wrong, it seems unfortunate that there are people out there who are better informed then we are.

  31. Arturo, you remind me of taking a class with Michael Ballam (who plays Satan in one of the films) at Utah State University. I about lost it when we were discussing the music business and he pulled out some cash and said, “you can buy anything in this world for money.” Hilarious!

  32. That’s very funny, Logan. Here’s Satan’s very own website.

    Incidentally, the BYU Library has numerous books containing accounts of the temple ceremony. They’re kept in the special collections room, so you have to sign a request to get them and you cannot take them from the room. My understanding is that they are kept this way to prevent vandalism, but perhaps my name appears on some list of heretics in Salt Lake City. On the upside, however, the furniture in the special collections room is very nice and quite comfortable. I know that this is a slippery slope type thing, but it seems fine to point someone to the special collections at the Lee Library to do “extracurricular” research.

  33. Bob Caswell says:

    I figured that I would make some uncomfortable, but I didn’t know how to convey my point without doing so (actually, that may be the case with many posts I’ve written). But I’m hoping that any uncomfortableness will be forgetton once anyone reads this thread…

  34. Personally I would rather these topics not be talked about in such a public forum. I feel that they are better left to one on one, or small groups, where tone and feeling is better expressed and interpreted. Also because of the sacred nature, it seems better to me to keep it more sacred instead of so public.

    I didn’t read the first post, but I don’t feel it wrong to seek out more information about the temple. I think the places to seek such information are what make the difference. I would choose scriptures, books written by leaders of the church, and possibly an endowed member in the temple.

  35. Rosalynde says:

    (Interrupting with blatant threadjack:)

    (Arturo, that *was* a good comment. And now you’ve made me nostalgic for the good clean fun, too. When it comes to a certain subsection of gender issues, though, you’ve got wax in your ears: you simply can’t hear what’s being said, as witnessed by your repeated misrepresentations of Kristine in the GC thread. And I’ll readily admit that I could give mine a good cleaning now and then, too. So let’s share a box of Q-tips, okay?)

  36. Bob Caswell says:

    “I would choose scriptures, books written by leaders of the church, and possibly an endowed member in the temple.”

    Aimee, you don’t have to read my post if you’d rather not (but just to clarify, mine was NOT the one with the whole ceremony posted, that is in reference to something else), but if you had, you’d know that all the sources you suggest would not be able to answer some of my questions. There are, however, sources that possibly could answer my questions that are not available publicly or privately to endowed members.

    Having said that, I’m curious about Arturo’s comment about the BYU library…

  37. a random John says:

    Oh great. Now Rosalynde is going to write in the margins of the BYU temple books. No wonder she is so forgiving. Good one AT.

  38. Rosalynde says:

    ARJ, my marginalia would merely increase the cultural value of said books. I think AT would particularly appreciate my feminist glosses.

  39. Rosalynde: Arturo, that *was* a good comment

    I only said that it was one of the best comments ever as a hat tip to Bob Caswell. I worry that he feel adrift in an ocean of uncertainty were I to make more than 4 consecutive comments without congratulating myself. So, Bob, any time I can make you feel better by patting myself on the back, I’m here for you. But anyway, thanks, Rosalynde.

    Also, I’m afraid that I might have given the wrong impression when I said “numerous books containing accounts of the temple ceremony.” The Lee Library has pretty much every piece of anti-Mormon literature that has ever been written on the topic; i.e., the books listed in Appendix 2 of D. J. Buerger’s book.

    Nevertheless, Rosalynde, the thought of seeing notes by you in a book by the likes of John C. Bennett makes me smile.

    Oh, and just to make sure that Kaimi’s not disappointed, I’ll include another salacious excerpt from our secret ceremony.

  40. a random John says:

    AT,

    If you add the words “little pig” to the end of that then you are quoting Babe. I guess you are quoting Babe even without those words. Must sleep…

  41. Rosalynde: So let’s share a box of Q-tips, okay?

    I’m game if you are, so long as we don’t share any individual Q-tips.

    But I have a sneaking suspicion that you are really just trying to impress Kaimi with an oblique reference to the washings and anointings, where our ears are washed and anointed.

  42. Bob Caswell says:

    “So, Bob, any time I can make you feel better by patting myself on the back, I’m here for you.”

    Uh, that usually makes me feel worse…but I’m flattered that you feel the need to make me feel better.

    “I’m afraid that I might have given the wrong impression…”

    Oh come on! You had me all excited. Do I need to make a nasty comment on how you continually have to clarify your meaning with a follow up comment posted almost immediately after your originating unclear thoughts? Work with me, Arturo, make me feel better already!

  43. Bob, you are right… those things are very likely not going to be found in those sources.

  44. Thank you, Arturo, for keeping me in lunch money. We’ll have to play this little game of three card monte on other bloggernacle blogs as well.

  45. That bet made me laugh out loud due to thinking “of all the things President Hinckley could have imagined being bet one…”

  46. Bob Caswell: Oh come on! You had me all excited.

    Stop it, Bob. You’re making me blush.

    Bob Caswell: Do I need to make a nasty comment on how you continually have to clarify your meaning with a follow up comment posted almost immediately after your originating unclear thoughts?

    Oh, please don’t. I can hardly be blamed if your imagination runs wild every time I open my mouth. I just wanted everybody to know that you don’t need to go to the Tanner’s to get Fanny Stenhouse’s Tell It All. (And, by the way, who’d want to? I recently heard that Lou Midgley showed up unannounced at Lighthouse Ministries and rudely interrupted George Smith having fondue with the Tanners.)

  47. Incidentally, the Anti-Mormon Preservation Society has the Stenhouses’ books online, as well as a bunch of other texts whose copyrights have expired.

  48. As far as I’m aware the signs and tokens are the only things we covenant to not divulge. I agree that I think these things are best talked about sometimes in small groups, but they should be talked about. Too many people are ill-prepared to attend the temple and don’t like it and don’t attend as a result. This could be resolved if (in a temple prep class for example) it was talked about more openly.

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