Discerning readers want to know.

Angie C. aka Hawkgrrl returns, peering into our minds with the unnerving gaze of Richard G. Scott.

Who determines worthiness in the temple recommend interview? The bishop? The individual? The questions? Other methods of discernment? Can the bishop rightly withhold a temple recommend based on nothing more than a hunch or the Spirit even if probing reveals no wrong answers?

I recently read a blog post written by a group of ex-Mormon ne’er-do-wells who claim they snuck into a temple session in the Philippines. They cited their ability to con kindly octogenarians into letting them participate unworthily without detection as further evidence that the church has no special spiritual gifts or authority. To me it sounds like a pretty boring way to spend your time when you could be out boozing and whoring it up. Isn’t that the benefit of being an ex-Mormon? Perhaps their priorities differ from what my own would be. Yet their experience begs a greater question: can leaders discern worthiness just by looking at a person?

In Kirtland, the story is told that for daily admittance to the School of the Prophets that was held in the upper floor of the Newell K. Whitney store, Joseph Smith would shake hands and look earnestly into the face of each of the men invited to participate in order to ascertain their worthiness. Only if he was satisfied during this wordless encounter were they allowed to enter and participate in a contemplative and spiritual day of smoking cigars, using the floor as a spitoon, prayer, theological discourse and visions.

Later, temple recommends were issued by invitation rather than petition. Members as young as 12 years old who were in good standing and deemed worthy from afar (no interview questions at the time) would be invited by their bishop to attend the temple. The bishop’s discernment was initially the only requirement. Later, interview questions were asked of candidates to ensure they were also living a minimum of the standards. (Source: Mysteries of Godliness by John Buerger).

Which brings us to the present day. We are told that worthiness is something each of us must ascertain for ourselves. Bishops are strictly instructed not to elaborate on the questions, and participants are told to provide “yes” or “no” answers to the questions. There has definitely been a shift away from leader discernment as the means to determine temple worthiness. But is it completely done away with?

In chatting with a good friend of mine who was a bishop for many years, he said that he considered it his responsibility to ensure that no one unworthy was able to obtain a temple recommend, regardless of the answers to the questions, if he felt that there was an impediment or knew their answers to be incorrect. Clearly, fishing bishops was something the church cracked down on a few years ago to prevent bishops from adding their own personal standards (about Coke drinking or card playing) into the interview. I know other bishops who would state that individuals are responsible to determine their worthiness based on the questions as they are written by church leadership and to the best of the member’s understanding.

Do you believe leaders have more discernment than regular members? More importantly, do they believe it? Is this belief unrealistic and dangerous? Or is it a spiritual gift that comes with the mantle of responsibility and goes away when one is released? Have you been the recipient of the soul-searching leadership stare?

Discuss.

Comments

  1. I’m not sure either is so clear cut. I mean, a Bishop can take away a recommend if he feels there has been some indiscresion meriting it, but he doesn’t go through and ask all the questions again before doing so. So there is some discerment there, just not used when asking the questions. I’ve always used the questions as a chance for introspection, to see if, despite my own faults, I felt I was worthy to enter the Lords house.

  2. The questions help the individual judge themselves. They led up to that all important final question.

    Discernment should be used by the Bishop and the member when the member answers a question in a way that makes their worthiness uncertain. In short, discernment is used to decide whether a person should hold a recommend. In such situations I am sure that one of the purposes of this discernment is to encourage somewhat sinful individuals (ie. all of us) to feel worthy. Bishops can help us discern our own worthiness.

    Although I have heard one SP observe that he knew by the end of the opening prayer (which he always asked the person seeking the recommend to offer) I do not think this is how discernment works. Even my MP (he was a fairly orthodox fellow) said that discernment is more about watching people than revelation.

  3. Temple attendance isn’t a right; rather, it is a privilege. The Lord’s priests pronounce someone worthy to attend. We should see bishops and stake presidents as the Lord’s priests in our communities, drawn from among us, rather than as middle managers of a corporation. We as members are not customers or clients or employees. I suppose in the old days, when a prophet might have taken a few people up to the mountaintop to do some ordinances, the people waited for the prophet and went whenever he was ready, with great respect for the prophet’s priestly office.

  4. ji – ” I suppose in the old days, when a prophet might have taken a few people up to the mountaintop to do some ordinances, the people waited for the prophet and went whenever he was ready, with great respect for the prophet’s priestly office.” Or perhaps they were cavorting wantonly with a golden calf. Tomato, to-mah-to.

  5. I just recently renewed my temple recommend. I have been endowed since I was 21, have been to the temple hundreds of times, and had dozens of temple recommend interviews. I know full well what the questions will be and what commitments are required of me for temple attendance. If I show up for the interview, that means I’m willing to answer the questions honestly, otherwise I wouldn’t do it.

  6. Generally the answer is “No”, but for the purposes of discussion the question is insufficient. What it means to satisfactorily answer a question is up in the air. If I tell you that I live my life in harmony with the gospel, with blood on my hands from killing my neighbor just an hour ago, the solution is not to say, “Sign here, and take this copy with you to your stake president.” An extreme hypothetical for sure. But only to point out if there is a very clear and openly acknowledged discrepancy between behavior and answer to the question it would need to be cleared up in advance with the bishop.

    The point the post is getting at… does the Bishop have a right to reject the temple recommend if they discern something. Possibly, but generally (99.9%) they let the member have the condemnation on their own head.

    Joseph was accused of being “conned” or susceptible to people who took advantage of them often. I had considered this often on my own, and thought about how others thought he was perhaps too trusting. When I found myself in an ecclesiastical position of authority, I actually felt pretty clear promptings on several occasions that individuals were not being truthful — more clear feelings in a way I never felt before when I’d wonder if someone was pulling my chain.

    In those occasions it was a real personal struggle (non temple recommend related) what to do. There was one occasion when it was clear to me I needed to delay the “request” which was at issue. In the other cases, I felt like it was my responsibility to let them prove themselves and if they weren’t being truthful it wasn’t because they pulled the wool over my unsuspecting eyes, but that I chose to hope in their better natures and did not intervene in a way to prevent themselves from bringing condemnation upon themselves as a result of their own choices.

    It might be argued that when we are supposed to represent the Lord, we should strive to do what he would do. And in this life, he seems to “let” a lot of us be free to choose to embrace truth or be as deceptive as possible and we receive the blessing from it, or the condemnation or lack of blessings as it may be. (long comment, sorry)

  7. I renewed my recommend last week. The bishop’s counsleor started the interview by saying “Now, I will ask these questions, and you will answer in the affirmative, because that is why we are here. ” Didn’t seem to leave any wiggle room, but I guess he was right; that WAS why we were there. And as Andrea said, I already knew the questions and had ‘interviewed’ myself before I made the appointment.

  8. On a related note – has anyone heard the story of an endowment session being held up because someone “felt” there was a person involved who wasn’t worthy? Every time the session comes to the point of asking if anyone wants to withdraw, this comes to my mind, and I spend the time worrying if everyone is waiting on me.

  9. #8 – I can’t remember if my mum actually was in the sessions (I think so, though), or if she just heard about it, but twice it’s come up – once, a young man recused himself at that point (not quite the same thing), and on another occasion, the officiator did stop things until The Unworthy Ones had left. (Turned out in that instance there was an unresolved adultery issue, afaik.)

    As far as Extra Discernment – there’ve been interviews where I felt like they *should* have discerned things and brought them up, but it didn’t happen, so I’m ambivalent. I think if there is any, it’s left to the interviewee’s conscience as in #6.

  10. Your binary question leaves out some grey areas that I think are important. But a couple of thoughts, first;

    When I served as a bishop, I always instructed the person being interviewed that I was asking them to sign the recommend for them to signify their worthiness. I signed it to signify that I had asked the questions, so the end result was that the worthiness issue was between them and the Lord.

    The discernment issue is an interesting one. I had on occasions a sense that something was not right with someone, and that prompted me on a couple of occasions to bring someone in separately from a TR interview to talk. I knew that in a TR interview, I could only ask the designated questions, and on rare occasions, I would ask them if they had any questions that they needed to ask me. That would sometimes trigger either a question that they had regarding their worthiness, or might open a discussion that would lead to different places.

    But I never felt that if they answered the questions correctly that I had any entitlement to deny them a recommend. Confession is voluntary, and repentance follows a humbling of the spirit. I felt “the spirit of discernment” on some occasions, but that is too personal to discuss any details here. Suffice it to say that those conversations took place outside the normal TR interview, and I was often surprised at the outcome.

  11. Discernment like spiritual promptings doesn’t work exactly like a liahona, or a radiactive detector, but I believe discernment is real. I also think that discernment is most useful as a bishop to see what peoples talents and needs are as per section 46 so the ward can be blessed with each others talents. I think that discernment is especially useful in welfare issues also as to whether giving will either enable them and make them more dependent or help them to become independent.

    There are times when I think people aren’t being completely truthful to me and sometimes I’ll ask extra questions but if they don’t want to tell me the truth then I let that be between them and the Lord.

  12. I don’t ask extra questions in a temple recommend interview though only in other circumstances

  13. I like the quotation from Corrie Ten Boom. My experience is that discernment is most often in identifying someone who needs help, support or comfort. That person may or may not be in a temple recommend interview. And the help needed may or may not relate to worthiness.

    The other comment that often precedes a temple recommend is something like this, “Although I am asking the questions, you should answer them as if the Lord is asking them; you are answering Him.” The interviewer is in the interview as an agent of the Lord Jesus Christ. The person being interviewed is subject to the Savior’s judgement.

    My own experience is that at least some people who answer falsely eventually come back and seek to rectify that mistake. I would not be surprised, however, if there are others who did not. Most people who cannot honestly answer the standard recommend questions in the appropriate way simply don’t come for an interview. (I acknowledge there may be difficult exceptions, such as when there is great social pressure to attend a family wedding, for instance.)

  14. If the role of bishop is to be a “judge in Israel”, then that seems to me a somewhat different thing than a facilitator or therapist. I don’t think the temple recommend interview is simply a personal inventory, or we could just have a little room (or planter box, for that matter) where we could go to meditate before signing our own recommends. On the other hand, I don’t believe God gives bishops discernment to know a person’s worthiness except on rare occasions, and even then I don’t think He gives that knowledge to protect the sanctity of the temple, but for other reasons. Consequently, I have no problem picturing a bishop signing a recommend of a person he believes was lying. However, I also can picture a bishop discerning that he should not sign a recommend, regardless how correctly a person answers.

  15. Anon for this one says:

    A couple of anecdotes from personal experience:

    I decided not to renew my temple recommend a few years ago because I’m a very weak believer, and I can’t honestly answer “yes” to some of the first questions. I still attend church with my family, and I don’t (flagrantly) violate (m)any (significant) church standards.

    I explained myself to my bishop, and he said it was up to me whether I got a recommend — if I felt like I could honestly answer all the questions correctly, that was good enough for him.

    Later I got a new bishop, and I had to re-explain my beliefs to him. Based on what I told him, he said there was no way I could baptize my child that was turning 8 the next year. But a few months later, he called me back in and said that it was up to me whether I would baptize my kid. All I had to do was tell him that I thought I was worthy. He would even give me a temple recommend so I could perform the confirmation, so long as I could honestly answer the questions correctly. My bishop said he wasn’t going to tell me “no” because he didn’t want my wife or family to see him as the bad guy here. (We ended up having other family members perform the baptism and confirmation, but that’s not the real point here.)

    Both bishops gave me tremendous leeway to determine my own worthiness, without throwing in their own judgement. Although perhaps this could be an example of bishop’s discernment at work? Maybe both men could see that I’m a decent guy who takes care of his family and tries to live a good life, and perhaps that was enough for them. Either way, they were willing to ask me the questions and accept my answers without reading between the lines.

  16. Like kevinf every time I do temple recommend interviews I remind the person I’m meeting with that my responsibility is act as a judge in Israel – under the direction of the Bishop – but I am also a facilitator in helping them examine their own worthiness to enter the temple. Ultimately the temple recommend is a contract between the Lord and the individual and their signature is the most important. Accountability falls upon the shoulders of the member especially now that recommends are good for 2 years. The interview is a moment in time but each of us needs to reconsider our worthiness every time we prepare to go to the temple. The member of the Bishopric and/or Stake Presidency has a responsibility as the ecclesiastical leader to seek the inspiration of the Spirit to discern if there might be reasons for further discussion outside of the interview. However that does not mean the Lord will intervene in every situation with the Spirit to encourage a leader to probe more deeply with a member. The principle of individual accountability is very much at play here.

  17. Chris Gordon says:

    We all know stories (or have those stories ourselves) of whacko leaders who may have exercised a little TOO much discernment. I just want to thank those who I hope and believe consist of the vast majority who just do a dang good job of trying to do the right thing in what must feel like a HUGE responsibility.

  18. Agree with 10 and 16.
    A little bit to add (or ratify) about discernment. As a bishop’s counselor, I once interviewed a good friend for a recommend and could discern that something was very wrong. I was very certain he was withholding something important — it was almost like he was wearing a mask while delivering his cheerful correct answers — but I was equally certain that I was to reveal nothing.
    So I discerned that he was lying, and I discerned that I was to do nothing to dissuade him. (However, I’m pretty sure this was the interview where I first finished the recommend with what became my standard phrase, “When I sign this, it shows that I asked these questions and received the correct answers. Your signature matters more — it declares that your answers were true.”)
    Incidentally, a few weeks later, he confessed a brief affair to the bishop, which I only found out about when he walked in the door for a disciplinary council.
    I disagree with the premise that it’s a choice between using discernment and letting the person decide whether to lie. I discerned that someone was lying, and I discerned that I was to do nothing that indicated I knew he was lying. (I suspect he would have lied again had I said anything, and that could have mucked up or prevented his coming voluntary confession.)

  19. Two incidents come to mind from when I recently served as a bishop.
    1 – I am a somewhat new bishop interviewing someone who let her temple recommend expire. After asking all the questions I circled back to just discuss a specific topic. She had kind of stumbled through an answer so it felt right just discussing it. Turns out she lived with a man, slept in the same bed – but did not have any sexual relationship. Thinking back to when I was first endowed I felt certain that I would NEVER have been given a recommend if I were living in the same circumstances so I told her that I was going to hold off on the recommend until I had a chance to clear things up. She was devastated. Actually, kind of upset. Later, I called the Stake President and he ripped me apart because I did not give her the temple recommend. If someone answers the questions properly – we give the recommend regardless of anything else.
    So I call her back, apologize about my lack of understanding and tell her I will have her recommend on Sunday – but she is upset at me and refuses to come back to church. It’s been almost six years since that meeting and she has never been back.

    2 – A different sister goes through the temple prep class twice and then a third time with me where I cover all the covenants and explain much more than one would normally expect. She was better prepared to attend the temple for the first time than anyone else I ever worked with. During the interview, I was concerned by a few things, but stung by the example above – and the fact that she answered the questions correctly – I signed her recommend. She attends the temple with her best friend. At the end, after all the covenants, at the veil – she decides that she does not feel comfortable and bails (at the end of the veil encounter). Apparently, it was a big deal at the temple. I received many international calls from the temple and Salt Lake. I was told it had been 25 years since the last time this has happened (really?) and that she now has all of the obligations and is under all the covenants of the temple, but without the blessings.

    I guess from these and more experiences I feel that bishops will often feel inspiration about someones worthiness, but we (members) really do judge ourselves. The interview happens, questions are asked – and people are either honest, dishonest or some variation of gray.

  20. It’s a pendulum. The policy has to be a church wide policy and won’t be ideal for every situation. I have faith that for the Church right now the current policy is right. That said I’d hope they’d speak up if they feel something is wrong, but do it in a careful diplomatic fashion. In the future they may ask Bishops to have more involvement. No matter where you place that pendulum there will be some tradeoff. (i.e. more power to Bishops = more opportunity for problems from misunderstood doctrine, not applying things equally, people not in tune with spirit making bad choices etc.; less power for Bishops = more opportunity for people to lie their way to the temple, problems that could be stopped early get out of hand, particular needs of individuals aren’t met, etc.)

    It’s a problem since the skills of Bishop vary a great deal. Some people are spiritual giants, others have amazing gifts of discernment, some are socially very adept, others are social not that adroit, some have particular hobby horses, some have flawed world views which can be problems (say how women are viewed), some might only have a few flaws but they happen to appear in problems at hand. It’s pretty tricky and I’m grateful I’m not a Stake President with the responsibility of calling a Bishop. I’d probably have a nervous breakdown because I’ve seen what a bad leader can do. But I’ve also seen what amazing leaders can do.

  21. I’ve always considered the process to be similar to the Bishop’s responsibilty to see that no members partake of the sacrament unworthily and that no priesthood holders participate in the sacrament unworthily. While a significant focus of the ordinance is on the member’s own spiritual development, the Bishop has his own separate responsibility to the member and to the church body.

    Likewise with temple ordinances. The Bishop and Stake President (and counselors) have responsibilities to all the flock. This includes supporting individual members in their development and therefore calling them to repentance when an issue is known (either though wordly or spiritual means). It also includes protecting the flock from members who’s presence would drive away the spirit. Obviously, a delicate touch is often required.

  22. Excellent example Lorin (#18). In my experience as a counselor, I found my discernment was greatest when I knew and approached the individual as a good friend.

  23. The Other Brother Jones says:

    So, If I can boldly summarize what most people’s experience is(especially those in the Bishopric), it is that the Bishop certainly can discern alot with the authority of his calling. But whether he needs ot do/say something about it depens on what the Lord wants done. He is the one in charge. He makes that desicion and inluences the Bishop(ric) to do or not do what is appropriate.

    I suppose this kind of makes the original question moot. The Bishop can/will should do whatever the Lord wants him to.

    -The Other Brother

  24. I’m surprised at the results of the poll. It sounds like the voters want to adhere to the letter of the law rather than the spirit. I get that there may be people who overstep the boundaries, but aren’t the bishops given stewardship (and hopefully extra spiritual guidance) over their members that would allow them to turn down an applicant? Why even meet with a bishop then, why not have the interview online, check the appropriate radio button and push the button to electronically sign it? Or have a form you check and sign that goes in your file, whatever.

    (Note: I am not judging anyone here. I don’t personally qualify for a TR based on church attendance alone. Just surprised.)

  25. I’ve wondered about this too, especially now that social media plays such a huge role in society. I was the YW president in our ward a few years ago and I would see so many of the youth (and even some adults) posting a little too much personal information on Facebook for all the world to see. It seems like it could be an additional complication for a bishop to see pictures or behaviors from a ward member that may not be appropriate. Everybody makes mistakes, of course, but when something is out on a public forum, it is out there for others to see and react to and I think it’s easy to post something intended for a few people and forget that you have 300 others who can see it. Should a bishop in that situation straight out let the person know of his concerns or is this an area where he asks the questions and trusts their answers still? Worthiness is such a personal thing, I have so much respect for bishops who are in tune with the needs of their ward members and and follow the spirit for guidance in each situation. It’s a big job!

  26. For those concerned about the apparent lack of discernment connected with TR interviews, I would just point out that for a bishop, it might be hard to get spiritual promptings about someone if the only time they interacted was during an every other year interview. The challenge for the bishop is to get to know everyone, mingle with them in many other situations, social or service oriented, and generally try to reach out to all. However, that is pretty hard to do, but you do your best. Some of the promptings I received came unexpectedly at odd times and in diverse situations. I was occasionally surprised at TR interviews, but as others indicated, people don’t come to those to get turned down. Confessions, and discernment, happened at different times, usually, not related to the TR process, as the circumstances of an individual’s life changed.

  27. Is there greater or less responsibility for the member of the Stake Presidency? One could argue the bishopric member doing the interview can only go on the answers given and followup discussions to see if anything comes up voluntarily, but if not, hope the next layer would provide the right amount of discernment and judgement. Perhaps the bishopric member could alert the SP member of their feelings, but mention they had nothing to keep them from passing them.

  28. Interestingly, the complaints I have heard have been the other way – like an ex-husband who lied about being up to date on their child support so they could go to the temple to marry their new girlfriend.

    If the bishop *knows* he is not paying it (because he talked to the ex-wife) but the interviewee lies, does he still have to give the recommend? That doesn’t seem right to me.

    Times like this I’m glad I’ll never be a bishop!

  29. #7 Really? As I recall, some of the questions require a negative response, such as, do you affiliate with or support enemies of the church? You literally cannot answer “yes” to all questions and receive a recommend.

  30. RFB:

    I’ve wondered if they purposely included questions where the correct answer would be “no” just to maker sure that the person getting interviewed was paying attention.

  31. I appreciate the comment of anon #15. I wonder if sometimes when you are spiritually low or doubtful, some time in the temple, or the opportunity to baptise your son will help and uplift. D&C 84:20 “Therefore, in the aordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.” I know there have been times when I have barely been able to answer appropriately (yes or no as the case may be), but knew it was important that I attend the temple.
    I’ve often been amusingly confused by the question “Do you support, affiliate with, or agree 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?” Is it not difficult to not affiliate with individuals whose practices are contrary to those of the church? How could we have a job, non member friends and family or do missionary work if we didn’t affiliate with these people!?

  32. My Bishop and I have very different views of how the Gospel should be lived. Last TR interview took 90 minutes because he accused my wife and self of attacking his wife by asking questions in her SS class. Their view is that being a member requires unquestioning obedience to all P’hood leaders, and that if we obey we can not be lead astray, because the Lord will not allow it. I believe we are responsible for our own choices and lives, and have experienced much unrighteous dominion, and wrong decisions in my church life. His is not a view that allows for tolerence of other views. He gave me the recommend but has barely spoken to my family since. I have held a TR continuously for 45 years and been a Temple worker.

    A few month ago the high priests group leader sent an email to virtually the ward list asking us to make known to our political leaders our views on the imorality involved in gay marriage, and much more. I responded, asking, whether it was apropriate to use church lists for political purposes, and where the extra moral problem arose if a gay couple were living together and wanted to get married. I also questioned others of his assertions. This went backwards and forward for some time.

    I had another TR interview about a month ago. The Bishop asked the questions, which I answered appropriately. He then told me he would not give me a recommend because I would not question the immorality of gay marriage if I supported my priesthood leaders. I explained that I supported my leaders on gospel issues but thought this was a cultural matter that was not part of the gospel. Much more discussion,(another hour) but as he said, he had the power and I was not getting a recommend.

    I arranged a meeting with the Stake Pres to see what the options are. The Bishop was there too. The SP asked which of the TR questions I had not answered correctly. I said I had answered them all. He asked which of my answers the Bishop objected to and I wasn’t sure. Bishop said I belonged to a group that opposed the church, and did not support my leaders. He withdrew the belonging to another group, but maintained I could not support church leaders if I didn’t oppose gay marriage.

    After an hours meeting in which the SP said he could, but would prefer not to, overrule a Bishop, and the Bishop brought up again the issue with his wife, but making it an issue of disagreeing with apostles(which she had quoted), the SP asked him if he were able to issue me a recommend. Bishop said no, and the SP said he would speak to each of us separately. This was 3 weeks ago and I haven’t heard from the SP.

  33. Anonymous – what a terrible experience! Truly sorry to hear that. You should call that SP to follow up. Don’t let him deny you by default. He may wrongly conclude you are not interested in a TR or take your lack of follow through as evidence that the bishop was correct in his character assassination.

  34. The most important question is the last one, anyway: “Do you feel worthy to go to the temple?”

    The choice is mine to attend the temple ordinances unworthily, and the Lord will be my judge. But I think the Bishop can and should withhold the recommend if there is something that he actually knows, like that I’m keeping a mistress or something. That’s for general respect of the Church standards, and that is the thing that the Bishop can judge me: my relationship to the Church.

  35. The difficulty with discernment is that it doesn’t seem to be to functionally be any different from mind-reading and telepathy. In both cases one party is able to read the others mind/discern what they really are thinking. Yet, we are uncomfortable with that notion of mind-reading but discernment is okay.

    Just as all mind-reading tests have failed when tested I suspect that this would be the case with Bishops gift of discernment. I know too many people who were given recommends, got callings, that I know wouldn’t have been able to answer a lot of the questions honestly to think that they really have that power. Any discernment seems usually to be an awareness of when someone is lying and we can learn that from our social awareness not from some gift.

    This wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that the label of discernment is abused. I know Bishops who have used the ‘discernment’ card to push their own agenda. Suddenly what was their opinion or impression, becomes sealed with a divine revelation, which seems to be what happened in anonymous’s case above. Its a way of legitimating a decision as not being yours but Gods.

  36. Upon reflecting upon it, I think y answer to the survey question would be yes, but in a very limited situational sense. I can not exclude the possibility that the Bishop has some sort of strong spiritual prompting telling him to do or not do something (give or do not give a recommend, excommunicate a person, etc.)

    I say this, in part, because of the antonym:

    “Does the bishop have the right to give a temple recommend if the member has answered all the questions unsatisfactorily?”

  37. Jacob, # 35, you raise some interesting questions, and I know that as a bishop, I used social and conversational clues to try and help me understand things. And yes, some, but I suspect a very few, bishops may push an agenda. However, I think that is rare. It does make a good story, easily retold.

    I think the issue is that “Discernment” as a gift is very hard to discuss openly in any sort of forum. I am reluctant to share much here, but I will say that it is real, and on occasions can be quite powerful. Like all gifts of the spirit, however, some days you are more in tune than others, and often you are juggling competing priorities and issues. As a bishop, it is hard to tell someone to their face that you believe they are lying. You learn which battles to fight, and which not to take on. Some issues can not be ignored, others often are. I also know that I missed out on paying attention to several promptings that later caused me some grief for not tackling them a the time that I got them. Others I missed completely. You would think it would be easier to cut your bishop some slack about infallibility, holding them to a somewhat lower standard than the President of the Church. But some people cannot do that.

    I will share what another bishop in our stake told me the week that I got called, some 10 years back. He said, “You know why bishops only serve for 5 years? Because you will piss off 20% of your congregation each year, and after 5 years, no one will talk to you, so you get released.” I found it to not be entirely true, but not without some elements of truth in it. As others have said, they are glad that they never had to be a bishop, and I can only say that while there were great things about it, I lost a lot of sleep over many situations. It’s a tough job; I have nothing but respect for anyone who will take it on.

  38. Sorry, my reference above is to Jacob’s comment in # 34.

  39. #27 @KaralynZ, the guidelines call for the Bishop to make every effort to ensure no unworthy member enters the temple. So if the Bishop is aware of transgression then he should meet with the member, discuss the circumstances and if the member is determined unworthy either request they turn in their recommend or deny the request to sign a new recommend where the old one has expired. If the member refuses to turn over their recommend then the Stake Presidency will consult with the Bishop and cancel the recommend if warranted.

    #30 @Jenny, this question causes all kinds of difficulty when interviewing members due to a misunderstanding of what it is asking. The question is not asking if you spend time with people whose lifestyles are contrary to the general commandments of the gospel doctrine. I have friends who are gay, I sometimes go out to bars with friends (where I am the designated driver and drink my cranberry juice or root beer), I have friends who actively support abortion clinics, and there are other examples. The key is do you support, agree with, or affiliate with…? That last word has multiple definitions but my understanding is that the definition in question here is:

    To associate (oneself) as a subordinate, subsidiary, employee, or member.

    In other words, do you agree with and actively participate with organizations and individuals whose aims run contrary to the doctrine of the Church. It’s a very broad question to ask AND assume that people know what you’re asking. I try to explain it to the youth when I meet with them so they have some examples to consider. Things like break-off apostate groups and polygamists are a couple of obvious examples. You get into grey areas the further you delve though and I can see that some might consider supporting gay marriage or abortion(outside of extenuating circumstances) as contrary to the Church’s teachings. I taught a woman who still believed in reincarnation in spite of her baptism and acceptance of the Gospel. Should she receive a recommend? There’s a great deal of leeway here but unfortunately that means there are also opportunities for Bishops or Stake Presidents to take a stand on their personal issue or personal disagreements with the member as anonymous in #31 demonstrates. Which by the way Anonymous, I agree with Angie (hawkgrrrl) you should definitely push further with your Stake President.

    The potential for power priesthood kicks is unfortunate but the Lord has also given a strong warning to those priesthood holders who take this path as stated in Doctrine & Covenants 121:36-38.

    The responsibility is not an easy one to shoulder and I believe the enlightened Bishop is one who carries it with grace, humility, and an open heart both toward the Lord and toward those to whom he is called to minister.

  40. I think that if taking the sacrament unworthily brings some kind of damnation on us, then entering the temple unworthily must be equally as damning.

    Once when I was YW President, I had two girls at girl’s camp who skipped out on the lessons. When it came time for the certificates, they both lied and said they they went to the lessons and deserved their certificates. One of the YW leaders was livid and wouldn’t give it to them. I said, “If they can look me in the eye and tell me they earned this, then I will give it to them. Their integrity is on their own heads, not mine”. When I handed out the certificates, I said, “I am giving these to everyone who earned them. If you feel in your heart that you didn’t really earn it, you can quietly give it back to me and finish the requirements, and I’ll give it to you then”. One of the girls did that, and one did not.

    I think it is similar with temple recommends. Our integrity rests on our own heads, not the Bishop’s.

    On the flipside, I agree with what others have said: if the Bishop feels prompted to withhold it (or has information about something about an affair), then he has the responsibility to withhold it. But, I imagine there have been at least a few people who have gone to the temple unworthily, having lied to their Bishops, and their Bishops knowingly issuing the recommend anyways and washing their hands of it.

  41. I thought the question regarding affiliating was to root out polygamists, is there more to it?

  42. This post reminded me of a story that Kevin Barney told here at BCC a few years ago. His parents didn’t attend his temple wedding because his dad was having a fight with his bishop over tithing and couldn’t get a temple recommend.

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2008/06/14/all-about-our-fathers/

  43. NewlyHousewife – you are correct, but because it is worded vaguely, there are rogue bishops who go off on a hobby horse and try to justify rooting people out for affiliations that are not problematic, for example, being a Democrat or supporting gay marriage. If they want to go there, I’d suggest the church itself doesn’t pass the bar because it affiliates with inter-faith groups that (outside of these common interests) call Mormonism a cult and fight us at every turn.

  44. StillConfused says:

    When I was asked if I affiliated with any bad organizations, I said, “Well I am a member of the bar.” The stake president, who is now a GA, and is a lawyer, was not at all amused.

  45. StillConfused – a good friend of mine was asked the “honest in all your dealings” question in the TR interview, and she said: “I can’t! I work in Human Resources!” He thought that was pretty funny, but he did talk with her empathetically about the need to meet the requirements of our jobs, which is also part of integrity. We’ve agreed to fill a certain role for pay, and that role has specific parameters – in her case, she couldn’t always disclose all information to people when she did employee investigations and had to deliberately (at times) obfuscate. Sounds lawyerly to me.

  46. I guess the question was ever about whether it’s a bad idea from a faithful member’s point to go the temple unworthily?

    The question that seems to bug is whether a bishop should be evaluating one’s worthiness. I’d still say that I guess the Bishop’s hunch can go either way, depending on how much he disagrees with the interviewee; and from a doctrinal point, I would opine that it’s likely the Lord gives us a longer or shorter leash depending on what he thinks. Again, from a faithful point. If you don’t give a damn, you don’t.

  47. hawk,

    We’ve agreed to fill a certain role for pay, and that role has specific parameters…

    could describe a prostitute, so I guess I would have said that it’s sort of wrong to lie even if we’re getting paid to do so. But, there is some grey area in there that leaves it up to you, again, how much your integrity/honesty allow you to lie for money.

    Multiple comments: premature button clicks. Somewhere they said, “would you please read your comment before hitting the “Post” button”. :)

  48. I have done some temple recommend interviews with people but up to this point I have never felt that a person was lying while answering the questions.

    I have had a few experiences (not related to temple recommend interviews) where the Spirit led me to feel things about a person’s situation that I could not have known for myself. I don’t know if that is what is really meant by discernment, but it certainly makes a huge difference.

    At one point, I had a very persistent and strong feeling that a particular member in our ward was experiencing a crisis in their home/family and I couldn’t ignore the feeling as it would not go away. I had no information or facts to substantiate what I was feeling and did not know the person/family all that well – I just had this unusually strong feeling about it and it would not go away. I spoke with the bishop and he told me he was having the same feeling and he ended up speaking with the family as a result and the spiritual impressions were backed up by reality. The crisis was real and serious and it needed to be addressed. After a period of time, that feeling (and the personal concern that arose as a result) went away and as far as I know, the moment of crisis has passed. In that particular situation, from what little I know, the impressions helped the bishop to step in appropriately and he was able to minister and counsel the family and help them.

    In my mission many years ago, I was doing a baptismal interview with an investigator and the Spirit told me I should ask the woman if she had ever had an abortion. She said yes. The Spirit then said to me that I should ask her if she had more than one abortion. Again, she said yes. I had been taught that this was a question I should not ask unless I was prompted to do so and this is the only situation in which I ever experienced that prompting. I would add to this that I felt an unusually joyful feeling as well because the Spirit was witnessing to me, at the same time, that this woman was forgiven and that she would be baptized and that all was well. I could not approve the baptism myself, I had to pass it along to the mission president – and he ended up asking the investigator if her husband had received the discussions. He told her she was worthy to be baptized but asked her to wait to until her husband and family were taught the discussions. They all ended up getting baptized.

    I only share these two personal stories to say that I know from personal experience that Lord can and does often communicate to appointed priesthood leaders what they need to know in order to help members in their process of making important spiritual decisions. I’m not too worried about the discernment issue – there are many nuances to how these things can shake out and how they can be handled but I trust that the Lord is ultimately capable of inspiring faithful people to work through them.

    Also, priesthood leaders are not perfect and they can make mistakes. Sometimes even well-meaning priesthood leaders offend people or do/say things that seem idiotic. It’s a mercy to both bishops and to the membership of the church that the position of bishop is a temporary calling. Whatever drama could possibly be going on between a particular bishop and a member, it is guaranteed to be temporary as after a period of some years that bishop will assuredly be released and replaced with another imperfect (but hopefully inspired) person.

  49. Years ago, as a missionary, I was talking to a young man (baptismal interview), whose answers seemed to me to be evasive. Trying to feel my way, I was reminded how immature my own spiritual confirmation was when I first was baptised, and it took me a good while to internalise some important ideas about what I now think the Lord wants from me.

    As there was nothing definite, I could only figure he was being a little uncomfortable by being interviewed by a guy who was only few years older. I’ve never felt that I should regret the way my “hunch” finally fell. He was old enough to know what we were talking about, and the only way I could understand “experimenting” as in Alma 32 was that he needed the experience, one way or the other.

    It was interesting for me to notice when I actually started reading Isaiah and the other prophets in OT, they used the word “judgement” to denote what we would more likely define as social justice/fairness (I know, there’s a very live-wire argument about that in Christian communities like LDS–so I touch that hesitantly).

    As frustrating that is to some, it seems there are many grey areas in our mortal life, and there are times when it’s important that we actually learn by experience from our own mistakes instead of just listening to the guidance of the wiser ones. That doesn’t mean that we all have to make all of the mistakes that are possible…

    I’ll try to leave bad enough alone now.

  50. Just one more thought – if I had to choose, it’s better to have the guidance of the Spirit than it is to have the facts, so to speak. It’s better to have both, of course. Sometimes a person has possession of some potent facts about another person and thinks he/she is ready to judge. The Holy Spirit (knowing all) may have a way of demonstrating otherwise.

    That’s a lesson I personally need to try harder to remember. It’s too easy to forget.

  51. This has been a very interesting discussion. I particularly appreciated hearing the experiences of those who’ve sat on the other side of the desk. I do believe people have a hard time articulating or even comprehending their own feelings at times, and certainly their spiritual experiences. To me, that’s one reason I don’t love testimony meeting. We substitute rote phrases for spiritual experiences because we can’t really describe our experiences and feelings accurately (not that many people try). But this is probably related to discernment as well, feeling behind or beyond the words someone can say to what is really happening with them.

  52. It was only very recently when I had heard the idea that recommend interviews were more for the individual to self-evaluate his/her worthiness, and the Bishop/SP was just a facilitator in that process. I only first read about it from uncorrelated/stayLDS kinds of discussions where people were trying to figure out ways how to answer the TR questions in a way satisfactory to the interviewer…without revealing heterodox beliefs and sometimes practices.

    I felt uneasy when I heard some of the steps taken, and the entire thought that the TR interview was more for an individual than for the Bishop seemed foreign. So, I’m definitely glad that this topic has been addressed here.

  53. Anonymous for this one says:

    This discussion has been particularly interesting to me. My husband and I were barred from the temple by a stake president who raked through our entire relationship history during our recommend interview (including prior misconduct that we’d properly atoned for with the help of our bishop). The invitations had already been mailed. It jolted our testimonies but, with the support of our bishop (who was furious, by the way) we remained active, were sealed in the temple a year after our civil ceremony, and seven years into marriage are now (mostly) over the embarrassment of it all. I’ve tried to push it out of my mind but from time to time I wonder – could we/should we have refused to go into details of our misconduct when pressed? Was he overstepping his calling by asking for details, then effectively revoking our forgiveness? Or is that a thing that stake presidents can do?

  54. I always respond, “Other than the NY State Bar and my investment bank employer, no.” I’ve gotten a surprised chuckle every interview but nobody has cared yet.

    On the other hand shortly before marriage a BYU bishop threatened to withhold my wife’s recommend over french kissing. I was living in Boston at the time and my singles ward bishop was indifferent to it. Easy to laugh about now but a prime example of an overreach in my opinion although the BYU bishop no doubt thought he was doing what is right to protect young couples from themselves.

  55. “Or is that a thing that stake presidents can do?”

    No. It’s not.

  56. We had a friend living with us for a few months, a 2 year convert to the Church, who we believed to be in good standing, despite having some medical issues.

    She went to our bishop here to get a temple recommend interview the first week or so that she moved in, but the bishop refused to give her the interview. My knee-jerk reaction was that he can’t refuse to give someone a temple recommend interview. I told my friend so, and told her that she should ask the bishop if she could meet with him weekly until he would give her the interview (she was a new member of the ward, so he didn’t know her from Adam) or talk to the Stake president. I was a little curious when she did neither of these things (although she did meet with the bishop once more after that).

    A few months later, said friend was arrested for a DUI, and we discovered she had a long-term prescription drug abuse problem (which was actually causing some of her health issues, ironically) – and while visiting her non-member sister, this friend told her sister that she was only Mormon because they take care of her (i.e. food orders, places to live, etc) and she wanted to find out what goes on in the temple and then she would decide whether or not she wanted to be Mormon. She was also drinking coffee and alcohol when she was visiting her sister, and told her sister that she doesn’t really believe what the Church teaches anyway.

    Not saying that this would happen in every circumstance (and I still stand by my advice to her that she should have been meeting with the bishop weekly – it may have helped her come to terms with the drug addiction, who knows or speaking with the stake president) but I really gained respect for my bishop. Later I spoke with our ward Relief Soceity president about the issue, and apparently she had had the same concerns when she found out the bishop wouldn’t give my friend a temple recommend interview. I still wish the bishop had talked to her more, because as soon as she knew that we all knew, she ran off to another ward where no one knew her.

    I am not concerned about people who “sneak” into the temple, or purposefully lie to get into the temple unworthily. God will not be mocked. He’ll take care of it.

    I agree with the author, though – it seems really dumb to spend your time trying to get into the temple unworthily. Seriously I would be doing much more “exciting” things if I was going to leave the Church.

  57. Discernment is a hard thing to understand. Yes, I believe that bishops have it, but I don’t always think they use it correctly or understand how it works. To me a TR feels like a lie detector test. They are there to ask if you feel you are worthy to go to the temple and make your own choice based on that feeling. If they feel that something is off or wrong, they have the right to ask, but a TR shouldn’t be an interrogation. I’ve felt like I’ve been interrogated and even though I left with a recommend throughout the years, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

    I made the mistake of going to the temple to see my sister get married despite my hard feelings of some things that had happened. I wanted to support her and felt if I didn’t she’d be hurt. I should have left when the temple worker asked if anyone shouldn’t be there, but again, I didn’t want to embarrass her or myself. Yes, I answered the TR questions honestly so he gave me the recommend not knowing my hard feelings. After that experience I now know when I should or shouldn’t be at the temple. The bishop wouldn’t have discerned those feelings and he didn’t need too.

    I had to put “Get off my lawn” as I’ve had horrible bishops and leaders that have made my family almost leave the Church by things that were said and done. What happened to the spirit of discernment then? I felt taken advantage of the belief that bishops/leaders have the gift of discernment and whatever they say is right, no questions asked. I know I’m not worthy to have a temple recommend. I don’t need to see a bishop to know that.

    It’s been a hard road the past 12-13 years. I almost kicked the missionaries and the elder’s quorum leader out last Sunday when he kept asking personal questions about prayer, FHE, scripture reading and if my family was keeping the commandments. I’m sorry. Get off my lawn. It’s hard when you know the Church is true but find yourself completely overrun by your local leaders if you don’t stand up for yourself.

    So yes, leaders have the gift of discernment, but I don’t always feel that they use it correctly or even understand it. Most of us know before we go into a TR if we are worthy or not.

  58. Ralfie8 says:

    I served as a Bishop, bishoprics and in the SP. Discernment is certainly available and if used correctly can help individuals with issues in their lives. As an example of following the promptings, when I asked the question about chastity, I would (carefully) what that covered . I was amazed at the number of people who had no idea what the question meant. Gently I explained in a very general but more specific aspect what it covered. Surprisingly, there were life issues that they were involved with that they either did not think were issues (pornography as an example) or things they were practicing that were out and out wrong. This was not a common experience, but in all circumstances, I was or their Bishop was able to help them be better prepared to go to the temple. I agree, it should not be an interrogation as it really is in the heart of the individual whether they feel worthy to go or not. When people are uncomfortable with the last question and feel they are not perfect (which is not what is asked but is often interpreted as that), I ask, would you feel comfortable going into the temple. They would then feel good about answering the last question. However, the TR Interview should be a spiritual experience for them and I can say it has been in most I did over the almost 19 years I did them.

    I have to admit I find it very disturbing reading about Bishops that have used these interviews to push their own personal agendas, vendetta’s or personal views. However, we are all human and there will be those called who won’t get it. Consider Aaron and Moses. You would think when Moses went to get the 10 commandments, after all the the two of them had experienced, that Aaron would have figured out by then who to worship.

    Sorry for the long comment, but one example on discernment. Bishops are not supposed to be involved in assessing worthiness of convert baptisms, but in one experience, I had huge feelings that something was wrong with an investigator scheduled to be baptized who was coming to our Ward. He had mentioned to me about his work with scouting and interest in that program. I talked with the missionaries about my feelings and then the Mission President. I had to back off, which I did. I left it with them. They went ahead with the baptismal interview and found out he was on probation and could not baptize him until he was off probation. I contacted the Justice department to find out what he was on probation for and being an ecclesiastical leader they shared that he was a pedophile, was a serious risk to children, and was not to have contact with anyone under 18. I let the Mission President know. Bishops are shepherds for the Ward members, the Lord will inspire them to help His children Bishop’s are given stewardship over. As I have experienced many many times, discernment is part of the mantle you get as a Bishop. I never had it before or after to the degree I did as a Bishop. However, using the “power of discernment” moniker to control members based on a Bishop’s or SP own agenda or beliefs is wrong and I was sad to read above that it has been used as it has.

    And on the comment about being released after 5 years because you had angered most of the Ward, I think that is a bit of a caustic view. I think Bishops are released because they are worn out, and the Lord needs someone different after a time with new energy and vision to continue watching over the members in the Ward.

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