Is our emphasis on temple worthiness counter-productive?

In his recent General Conference address, Elder Donald L. Hallstrom made the following observation:

“Some have come to think of activity in the Church as the ultimate goal. Therein lies a danger. It is possible to be active in the Church and less active in the gospel. Let me stress: activity in the Church is a highly desirable goal; however, it is insufficient. Activity in the Church is an outward indication of our spiritual desire. If we attend our meetings, hold and fulfill Church responsibilities, and serve others, it is publicly observed.”

In the same conference, Elder Robert D. Hales said the following:

“Worthiness to hold a temple recommend gives us the strength to keep our temple covenants. How do we personally gain that strength? We strive to obtain a testimony of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, the reality of the Atonement, and the truthfulness of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Restoration. We sustain our leaders, treat our families with kindness, stand as a witness of the Lord’s true Church, attend our Church meetings, honor our covenants, fulfill parental obligations, and live a virtuous life. You may say that sounds like just being a faithful Latter-day Saint! You are right. The standard for temple recommend holders is not too high for us to achieve. It is simply to faithfully live the gospel and follow the prophets.”

Now, these two quotes aren’t in direct contradiction, but they illustrate two trends within the church that I think need to be addressed. Temple worthiness is viewed as the natural outcome of living the Gospel in the Church, but, at the same time, we acknowledge that one can live in the church without becoming converted.  We want life in the Church to lead to a deeper conversion, but we acknowledge that simply participating in the Church is insufficient to generate this conversion.  Temple worthiness, barring occasional flashes of the spirit of discernment, is not a measure of conversion to the Gospel; instead it is a measure of participation in the Church. This results in actual conversion being an optional correlary to making temple covenants.  This strikes me as problematic in several ways.

First: These trends have cheapened the value of temple covenants and temple worship generally.  If temple worthiness is generally considered easily achievable, then I think we will tend to assign to it the same value we assign to most easily achievable feats, which is not much value.  For that matter, if we take a look at our fellow congregants on any given Sunday and an honest look at ourselves, we may come to the conclusion that temple worship doesn’t inherently do anything to edify the soul once we’ve left the building.  Certainly we all keep sinning, temple covenants or no.  So I’m suggesting that the assumed ubiquity of temple worthiness can cause us to place less value on temple worthiness.

Second: These trends have isolated the struggling in our church.  If temple worthiness is assumed to be ubiquitous and if you also assume that you have roughly the same light and knowledge as your neighbors, well, then why are you so messed up?  Why can’t you give up the drugs, cigarettes, internet porn?  Why can’t you just believe, like your neighbors do, instead of wondering what the Brethren are up to all the time?  If you have the impression that you are the only person who is unworthy in your ward (or, worse, if you have the impression that you are the only person willing to admit to imperfection in your ward), then the tendency to withdraw is high.  Maybe you are angry at your fellow congregants who just don’t understand or maybe you are tired of feeling guilty for sullying their worship.  Either way, you may feel, if you aren’t ready to hold a temple recommend yourself, that you aren’t a part of the group.

Third: The assumed ubiquity of temple worthiness can give one an inflated sense of self-worth.  “We” are different, more godly, than “the world” or some other substitute. Part of the problem is that, for the most part, the temple recommend interview isn’t a measure of how converted you are.  It can’t be; that is primarily between you and God.  Rather it is a measure of some easily observed phenomena.  Not entirely, of course, but most of the sins we discuss in regards to temple unworthiness are sins of commission (smoking, fornicating).  We don’t normally focus on the minutiae of specific belief (although I’m sure it happens).  So, if you are not inclined toward sins that result in breaking the word of wisdom or the law of chastity, it is fairly simple to maintain a temple recommend.  If you pretty much pay your tithing and pretty much believe the church, you are good to go.  But, as Elder Hales notes, this doesn’t make us all that special.  Plenty of Mormons manage to not drink; even more non-Mormons manage the same.  Elder Uchtdorf’s bumper sticker comes to mind.  Nonetheless, there is a clear temptation to use temple worthiness as a marker that sets Mormons higher on some moral scale than surrounding folk.  It seems to me that this is a bad idea.

Am I suggesting that we do away with worthiness standards? Not at all.  I’m not even suggesting that we change them. What I am suggesting is that, and it pains me to say this, I think President Hunter’s advice for us to make temple recommends (and, by extension, temple worship) the most visible signifier of our faith may have outlived its usefulness. If full participation in the church, including temple worship, is insufficient to convert us, we should stop pretending that temple covenants are a culmination.  They are just another gate to pass through, a necessary one to be sure, but they are not unlike baptism.  We generally undergo them before we are prepared to live in accord with the covenants or even really understand what we are doing (this is especially the case with the endowment).  Maybe, if we made temple worthiness more an option than an assumption in church life, it would function more successfully.

In order to do this, we’d need to have scriptural support for people participating in the church partially, but still remaining faithful.  I’d suggest two figures.  There is Philip, in the New Testament, who, as far as the text tells us, never received the Melchizedek priesthood, but who nonetheless served and acted as a missionary.  In the Book of Mormon, there is Ammon, who led a group of Nephites into the wilderness and acted as a savior to the people of Limhi, but who abstained from priesthood work for some unspecified reason.  Both men were faithful, but both men could not or would not embrace all the covenants available, at least in the recorded portion of their lives.  If we can create a space in the church for members who wish to be with us, but who cannot fully be with us, that can only be a good thing.  Pulling back from the assumption that temple worthiness is necessary to be a “good Mormon” would be a good first step.

Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood. I think the temple, in aggregate, is a good thing and I would like to see more people participate worthily and willingly in temple covenants.  But, until we as a people are more interested in being converted to the Lord, as opposed to hoop-jumping for community, I’m not sure that’s possible. In the meantime, let’s just be nice to each other, okay?

Comments

  1. shawnholyoak says:

    Your second point made me think of my last temple recommend interview (17 years ago now). The branch president asked me a question to the effect of whether I supported any organization that was opposed to the teachings of the church. I asked “You mean other than the University of Michigan?” Sounds pretty arrogant and immature, and I was I suppose, but I was serious. Too many members don’t understand the seriousness of the temple, and too many, like myself, have withdrawn because I felt like I was one of the few that took it seriously. I know that I was, and am, “angry at your fellow congregants who just don’t understand”. Thanks for a great post.

  2. Emily U says:

    Amen to everything John C. said.

  3. People bearing testimonies that they only befriend others with temple recommends cause unintended pain and they foolishly brand themselves as elite.

  4. Six,
    I’ve never encountered that, but I assure you if I did I would find it stupid.

  5. I Dwell In A Tent says:

    I don’t think TR’s are easily obtainable. Otherwise, we’d all have them. I’m a little more comfortable leaving the bar high as opposed to low. In my experience, members don’t sit around and talk about “Oh — Brother Doe — HE’S not a temple recommend holder.” The average, active member knows who is worthy and who is not, especially if you have a temple close by. It’s not too hard to see fellow members of your ward in temple sessions, and I’ve never seen a concerted effort to form clics by and among those who hold a recommend and those who don’t. We’re all certainly in various stages of being converted to the gospel, and that would include TR holders as well as non-holders. Sort of like the language relating to garments, holding a recommend is an outward expression of an inner committment to follow the Savior. But it certainly isn’t the only measureing stick. And it’s not a question of “pretty much pay your tithing and pretty much keep the WOW.” You either do or your don’t. I support your conclusion that we need to be nice to each other. I think leaders who actively encourage members to qualify for a temple recommend, and then encourage members to worthily hold that recommend, are being nice to members — they are encouraging them to qualify for entrance into the Lord’s house.

  6. I once went to a scouting banquet where our unit was being recognized. I sat among the many dinner tables with dozens of Silver Beaver recipients with their ribbons around their necks. Did I feel out of place? (A bit.) Did I envy their recognition? (Perhaps.) Did I know that if I had the time and the drive, I could join the ranks? (Sure.) I didn’t feel like I was inferior, though. Maybe I would have if the message was, “Eventually, everyone here needs to be receive a Silver Beaver award.”

    On the TR side, you can’t measure a testimony, but the questions “Do you have a testimony of…” and “Do you consider yourself worthy…” provide a means of self-assessment. That a person’s testimony is questioned at all makes the conversion process more than just an optional correlary. True, these require preparation and are meant to exclude the faithless and unrepentant sinner. (Of course, people can misrepresent the truth, but that’s between them and their Maker). And you can take the argument further and say the ubiquitous temple recommend does not indicate the spiritual desire to attend the temple or take advantage of the opportunities it affords.

    In the end, a temple recommend is a credential. Similar to a diploma, a drivers license, a merit badge… it indicates two things. First, that you (at some point) thought going through the process was worthwhile. Second, that you were exposed to the material enough to demonstrate sufficient mastery to the issuing agent. Now whether or not you actually are a master of the material is a different question. The message I’m hearing over and over at GC is to take people and love them. Regardless. That doesn’t overshadow the assertion that making/keeping temple covenants is essential to salvation and we should try to become eligible.

  7. I would also quibble with the idea that having a TR is easy and ubiquitous. I certainly know a lot of people who attend church regularly but who don’t actively participate in the temple on a regular basis and who may not have active temple recommends. I think the temple is optional, in that you don’t get kicked out of the congregation if you don’t have a current recommend. Certainly there are some people who would make a big deal about it if they knew, but mostly, people aren’t going to know if your recommend is current or not, nor should they. The bishop might encourage you to renew your recommend and he might inquire as to what the problem might be that is keeping you from that goal, but your participation in the basic meetings and organization of the church will not be restricted. So I guess my question is: what is it you are really asking to change?

  8. #5 – My wife and I attend regularly, but a session apart from the ward. We just prefer it that way. We haven’t been seen at the actual ward session in years.

  9. My Bishop pretty much intimated to me that if I had a track record of good attendance I could get a TR. Since I don’t consider myself worthy of almost anything now I am afraid of going to the Temple. I guess it was okay to telk myself that I wanted to go back to the Temple because it was completely unattainable before, whereas now, when it is somewhat within reach I am majorly a-feared.

  10. whizzbang says:

    IIRC Pres. Uchtdorf talked about this in the last Wordwide Leadership mtg. about how the key indicators don’t really indicate anything key. I have a relative who can get a recommend but ask them what they actually believe and it isn’t what is on the list of questions, but they qualify because of all the outward appearances. For example, do they sustain the prophet? sure-but could they tell you what the Prophet is saying to us today and why is it important? I know these answers because i have asked them and they couldn’t give me a response that measures any depth. Actually this goes back to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount when he said that ‘You shall know them by their fruits’ but to add to that William James’ statement ‘Not by their roots’-we can measure activity but not faith.

    I found this quotation which is a paraphrase of something that Elder Richard J. Maynes of the Seventy said;

    “There is a big difference between activity in the Church (which is easy to measure), and faithfulness (which is difficult to measure).” What we appear to be on the outside is very often different than what is on the inside. Outward appearance does not always reflect inward levels of commitment. Too often we merely give assent to true doctrine, thinking it’s a good idea, but too often failing to implement what we merely believe into definable actionable events in our lives. The closest we come to measuring faithfulness is the temple recommend interview, but even then people too often lie”.

  11. katie88 says:

    Great post! Although I have a temple recommend, it does not define my goodness, kindness, or pure charity, which I believe truly determines whether one is or is not a saint. I know many good people who do not have temple recommends and are perhaps more worthy of the celestial kingdom than many of us who have recommends. I also know too many people who have temple recommends but abuse their childrens, spouses, and/or coworkers. I trust that God will ultimately determine who is worthy to return to His presence and ultimately, the Scriptures reveal that those who love as He loves will best qualify for that privilege.

  12. 1) One thing that I think is missing is righteous discernment. Discernment would be the sight to look past outward signs and help a judge in Israel see as God sees (hopefully). These keys are given when bishops and stake presidents are set apart. Why can’t/don’t we use them? If we were able to, we could cut through all the red tape and perhaps send the recently repented sinner to the temple without a year embargo, or stop someone who is extremely unworthy (child assault) but still has 18 months left on a recommend. Temples are everywhere and the chuch has policies in place to make everything fair and balanced. There isn’t any wiggle room for righteous discernment to come into play. It seems the church doesn’t trust local leaders to have discernment, so they give them instead ridgid rules. Could bishops/skate presidents use discernment in issuing temple recomments? Could the temple workers at the front desk either not refer to cards or stop someone who shouldn’t enter, but had a card? Do we have the discernment to know when we should go and when we should prepare more?

    2) Interesting, no one is raising the tithing implication.

    3) I agree with your post and the issues you’ve raised, but don’t think your points have a prayer for going anywhere. Now that temples are mass produced and we have world-wide attendance, participation is going to be much more mathematical, outwardly, and rote. It’s the price. If it works, spirituality increases, if it doens’t, you have pharasiacal observance.

  13. Re: discernment and outward signs—-
    Once my brother was stopped for 30 min at the front desk of a very conservative UT temple in the 80’s for having a beard. The temple workers were sure that because beards were forbidden for bishops, they were forbidden for priesthood holders and then also in the temple. I think the temple president came down and sorted it out and let him in. Mortal eyes rely so heavily on outward signs. We were from another part of the country and were pretty shocked that the temple workers had never seen it before in their community.

  14. Mark Brown says:

    Within the past two years, church practice has changed.

    In previous decades, a man without a recommend, or even a inactive man, was nonetheless encouraged to bless his children, baptize them, and ordain his sons to various priesthood offices. But now, we require a recommend for those things. I suppose there is a good reason, but I can’t see it.

  15. whizzbang says:

    A story I find more then hilarious, in speaking about outward appearances, was when then Elder James E. Faust of the Twelve and his wife and their son and his wife weren’t admitted into the Washington DC Temple because Elder Faust’s GA Temple Rec. looked different then everyone else’s and rather then tell the recommend desk guy who he was they all left!
    DC 117:8 We covet that which is but a drop but neglect the more weightier matters

  16. In the posting John C says: “if we take a look at our fellow congregants on any given Sunday and an honest look at ourselves, we may come to the conclusion that temple worship doesn’t inherently do anything to edify the soul once we’ve left the building.”

    I think this might be a little cynical. My own personal experience has taught me that when I go frequently to the temple it actually enhances my spirituality enormously. I don’t go regularly now, and my spiritual life is currently a wreck. I’ve seen amazing changes happen to people when they start attending the temple regularly. Getting people to go to the temple should always be a top priority in my opinion.

    While it’s true that temple recommend worthiness is a somewhat arbitrary standard and doesn’t prove true conversion, if someone actually sacrifices to go to the temple regularly, it is usually very significant in their life. We don’t go to the temple to be seen. We don’t go because people follow up on us and expect us to be there. We don’t have a calling to fulfill. We don’t have an image to project. Everyone is equal, all in white, no one talks. The only thing that matters is strict obedience to a handful of extremely simple ritual tasks. This makes it so much more special than church, a place of meditation and prayer, the very essence of the gospel and spiritual life.

    If someone doesn’t want to go to the temple, or has ambivalent feelings about it’s rituals, I think that’s OK. We should be inclusive in our weekly church and have more of a big tent than we do in the temple. But the temple is very special, and I think we should do all we can to help more people go, and help those who have ambivalent feelings resolve those feelings.

  17. Mark Brown: “In previous decades, a man without a recommend, or even a inactive man, was nonetheless encouraged to bless his children, baptize them, and ordain his sons to various priesthood offices. But now, we require a recommend for those things. I suppose there is a good reason, but I can’t see it.”

    The policy actually now explicitly encourages those things (though not the bestowal of the holy ghost, though they may be allowed to stand in the circle) for inactive fathers unworthy of a recommend, whereas before it was not explicitly stated that they could do those things (though in general it was allowed, in my experience).

    J.A.T.: “Why can’t/don’t we use [the keys of discernment]? If we were able to, we could cut through all the red tape and perhaps send the recently repented sinner to the temple without a year embargo, or stop someone who is extremely unworthy (child assault) but still has 18 months left on a recommend.”

    I have seen this repeatedly happen in my very pedestrian and average Salt Lake County ward, and in my previous dealing in other wards and with other priesthood leaders this is not out of the ordinary. There is no explicit time period of temple embargos for recently repented sinners.

    M.C.Q.: “I would also quibble with the idea that having a TR is easy and ubiquitous. I certainly know a lot of people who attend church regularly but who don’t actively participate in the temple on a regular basis and who may not have active temple recommends.”

    One of the things that is always hard for me when being in bishopric/branch presidency is knowing of many (not all) the problems various people in the ward have. The number of people who “by outward appearances” should be temple recommend worthy but are not is hard to know about. It makes you ache for people who you know want to participate but are not able to because of their decisions.

    EOR: “My Bishop pretty much intimated to me that if I had a track record of good attendance I could get a TR. Since I don’t consider myself worthy of almost anything now I am afraid of going to the Temple. I guess it was okay to telk myself that I wanted to go back to the Temple because it was completely unattainable before, whereas now, when it is somewhat within reach I am majorly a-feared.”

    Your bishop has the aforementioned keys to know whether or not you are worthy. You should trust him :) If you believe in the church, and believe that your bishop has priesthood authority, then it follows that he has the right to act on Heavenly Father’s behalf to turn those keys to let you into the temple. Don’t be afraid: it’s a great place to go! :)

  18. While I agree that true conversion is better than mere practice, and that activity, including temple attendance, can be a substitute or counterfeit for true conversion, I too think the post is overly cynical. The act (and all the background) of qualifying for a temple recommend can really be an aid toward that conversion, if it hasn’t happened yet: Someone who is obeying the Word of Wisdom to the extent required for a recommend is free of some of the barriers that could block spiritual receptivity and hence conversion. Someone who is paying tithing has a stake in the Church that a non-tithepayer does not have. Someone who is consciously trying to be honest in his dealings with his fellowman, to treat his family appropriately, and to avoid forming ties with groups in opposition to the Church is surely avoiding negative behaviors and practicing positive virtues that are a part of true conversion.

    I just don’t see any downside toward encouraging people to qualify for temple recommends, as long as there’s no accompanying denigration of ward members who are not at the moment qualified. And I really, really, really hate to say it, but suggesting that “Maybe, if we made temple worthiness more an option than an assumption in church life, it would function more successfully” makes Ralph Hancock’s point: you’re calling for a Mormonism Lite, for the abandonment of the goal, for a surrender to mediocrity. That in no way promotes conversion.

  19. Mark Brown: It’s the inverse – I was at the leadership training session where they announced that inactive fathers would now be encouraged to participate in those ordinances. Maybe someone else can remember when it was – a year or two ago?

  20. Aaron T. says:

    I don’t think John C.’s notion here is an argument for “Mormonism Lite” – on the contrary, it’s an argument for “Mormonism Deep.” A more Christlike Mormonism in place of what some might consider a pharisaical Mormonism.

  21. I have a sister who used to serve as a temple worker but, after long and intimate association, still felt very uncomfortable with that aspect of our religion and has since become completely inactive. She doesn’t think that she is acceptable to the Church without temple attendance. I disagree with her and am very sad that she couldn’t feel Mormon enough participating in a congregation and continuing with her personal program of study and righteousness.

    I was a recent target of “encouragement” from my bishop to have a TR. As a single parent, I have zero opportunity to attend, and as much desire, for a variety of reasons; just as, if I have no travel plans, I see no reason to have a passport. It was extraordinarily atrocious and alienating. The bishop knows virtually nothing about me and did not care to inquire about me even when he realized I was NOT warm to the purpose his mysterious summoning to his office (for which I got a babysitter). Rather than asking about me, or my reservations, or anything, I was lectured (you know the lecture) and told I was being a bad example to my kids. Eventually, I was excused with a “this is really uncomfortable, I guess you should go.”

    Super encouraging!

    How about treating people like adults? If I’m an endowed member (which I am), I know how to have a recommend. If I don’t currently have one, I know how to get one. If you are worried about me, you could just try having an honest, loving, equitable conversation, after, of course, we have some sort of a trusting relationship. Maybe the missionary guide was right: maybe it all comes down to BRT.

  22. Ardis,
    I’m particularly sensitive to the kinds of concerns that you are raising. In part, this post comes from a suspicion that the church is already tacitly allowing mediocrity (of course, I don’t think it has a choice on that; we’re all pretty mediocre), but I would hate it if I was encouraging mediocrity. I agree that preparing for the temple can be a wonderful opportunity, however it feels to me that in Mormon-majority areas we treat it much the same way we treat getting the priesthood or getting an eagle scout award. Just another set of hoops to jump through in becoming a power Mormon.

    To be clear, I don’t want anyone who wants to go to the temple to not go to the temple. I don’t want the standards for temple worthiness to be lowered or changed. I don’t want fewer people to go to the temple or to have a temple recommend. I do want us to do a better job of encouraging, embracing, and being with those in our fellowship who aren’t there yet, which means, I think, that we need to start acknowledging that most of us aren’t as converted as we should be and that the temple, which is a wonderful thing, is no panacea. I also think that it means creating a space in our regular worship where those who, for whatever reason, cannot be considered temple worthy, but who still wish to be with us. Our notions of full fellowship shouldn’t be tied up in temple worthiness (or, I least, I don’t think they should be).

    “I just don’t see any downside toward encouraging people to qualify for temple recommends, as long as there’s no accompanying denigration of ward members who are not at the moment qualified.”
    Agreed.

  23. There are time I really wonder if we all go to the same Church. I felt this was a great post, pointing out some important considerations that the and its memebets are up against.

    #17, I enjoyed your comment until I got to this “It makes you ache for people who you know want to participate but are not able to because of their decisions.” Not all people have the same amount of choices you do. We assume those without recommends made some sort of decision that made them “unworthy”. I did not choose to have my Bishop betray my trust. Mentally ill people cannot always choose to to simply abandon unhealthy “sinful” behaviors, others really dont have the same amount of time on their hands, and some who are honest enough to admit that they are questioning their faith, did not choose that trial of their faith. So yeah, let’s be nice to each other, consider our words carefully and trust that we are all doing the best we can. I trust that your remark was not meant to be hurtful, which is why I pointed it out.

    The reference to “lite Mormonism”, and I well know the context from which it comes is particularly distasteful. Why such contempt toward those who are doing the best they can, those who may have or may be struggling? Are we all not sinners? Why do we have to have identical opinions? We certainly don’t have identicle experiences or spirits or bodies or missions! What is light to one is heavy to another. No one is suggesting the that the moral standards be changed. But some of us would really appreciate a little compassion, a little interest, and a little less unjust judgement. If we keep driving those in the front lines to abandon the battle because they are too beat up from both the enemy AND their cause, we will simply lose. We need everyone, front, back, above, below, fringes, invisible, whatever, we just need them all.

    It’s a nice dream to hope that more discernment can be relied on for temple worthiness. But it scares the daylights out of me as it opens the gates wide open to unrighteous dominion, which in my experience is already rampant. But I also agree that the Gestapo tactics of checking off rigid requirements of which some have very little to do with Christ-like living need to go. We are a global Church, with many converts, we just can’t expect everyone to look and act like they were raised in Utah.

    I’ve been blessed to have had some amazing experiences in the temple. But after having had some blinders removed, I too am afraid to return. I don’t want to contaminate any more positive Church experiences with my un-childlike faith.

  24. Mark Brown says:

    A. Nonny Mouse (17) and Sarah (19),

    I misspoke a bit. I checked, and a man without a recommend CAN still bless his baby and baptize his child. He CANNOT confirm that same child nor ordain to offices in the Melchizedek Priesthood. But since he could do all those things before the change, I think I am still correct to assert that we have restricted rather than expanded the way this man can exercise his priesthood.

    Look at it this way. When a man who is semi-active raises a son who is ready to serve a mission, we will pat him on the back for being a good dad. We will certainly accept his $425.00 per month donation to the missionary fund on his son’s behalf. But when it comes time to ordain that son an elder, we now will tell him to step aside, since he apparently isn’t good enough to meet our new standards. Every ward has a few dozen men in this category, and while I don’t doubt that there is some doctrinal rationale for the change, I cannot imagine myself or anybody else standing in front of those men and explaining this new policy in a way that won’t feel to them like just another kick to the curb. But I guess that is what we’re calling progress these days, and in the meantime, we needn’t stand around scratching our heads, wondering why so many men find other things to do on Sunday besides go to church.

    esodhiambo (21),

    It looks like you were on the receiving end of another feature of the mission experience, the zealous pursuit of numbers. If you area president is like mine, he requires the wards and stakes to provide quarterly reports on a list of key indicators, and one of them is the percentage of endowed members with current recommends. Any bishop whose numbers decrease from one quarter to the next is going to feel the heat. I’m sorry that this happened to you.

    John C.,

    I’m still making up my mind about this. On one hand, probably close to half the adults in the pews on Sunday don’t have recommends, so the lack of one can’t be that alienating, can it? But it does seem to me that we are moving away from Paul’s metaphor, where each member of the body of Christ is a valued member. It turns out, some of us are more valuable than others.

  25. KaralynZ says:

    “Mark Brown: “In previous decades, a man without a recommend, or even a inactive man, was nonetheless encouraged to bless his children, baptize them, and ordain his sons to various priesthood offices. But now, we require a recommend for those things. I suppose there is a good reason, but I can’t see it.”

    The policy actually now explicitly encourages those things (though not the bestowal of the holy ghost, though they may be allowed to stand in the circle) for inactive fathers unworthy of a recommend, whereas before it was not explicitly stated that they could do those things (though in general it was allowed, in my experience).

    My experience has been the opposite. Growing up these things were open to all, inactive or not. My husband wasn’t permitted by our bishop to bless our son because he didn’t have a current temple recommend. Would be nice if someone sent him the memo.

  26. A holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood not currently holding a recommend CAN confirm his child as member of the Church and CAN ordain his son to the Melchizedek Priesthood. The question is not whether he currently holds a recommend, but whether he is worthy to hold one.

    I suppose worthy is in the eye of the beholder. A current recommend-holder is presumed to be worthy while sometimes a non-recommend holder might have to be discerned as worthy before the ordinance.

  27. Mark Brown says:

    ji,

    The policy now states that the presiding officer must see a recommend before allowing the man to perform the ordination.

  28. Mark Brown–that was, indeed, the impression that I got: my name turned up in some kind of audit and my bishop was eager to be able to switch me to a different column (heck, I serve in a leadership role, my testimony and worthiness are not in question, why WOULDN’T I take a TR?). Unfortunately for him, I am particularly adverse to gospel by the numbers. If I were a different sort of person (one who questioned my own right to Church participation or one who just needed one more offense to make me take a break, or one who held the bishop in higher regard), I can most definitely see how that encounter with my bishop could have turned me away from church activity.

    I happen to know a number of members of my High Council who do not maintain TRs, not because they are unworthy, but because they do not enjoy the temple. If it is a problem that we are not a more temple-going people, it is interesting to me that we have decided the people are the problem. Maybe the real problem is that lots of people who have been to the temple (and who live within a reasonable distance of one) do not feel the desire to return very often–is it a problem with the people (many would say yes), or a problem with the temple? I suspect that many of the people without recommends would tell you that it is a problem with the temple experience. Is there any way to address that other than to attack those people for not being sufficiently converted?

  29. Mark Brown (no. 27) — below is the policy I’m talking about, which confirms my no. 26 posting. What policy are you citing?

    Short answer — Worthy but not currently holding is okay.

    Long answer — read the extract below from Church Handbook 2:

    20.1.2
    Worthiness to Participate in an Ordinance or Blessing

    Only a Melchizedek Priesthood holder who is worthy to hold a temple recommend may act as voice in confirming a person a member of the Church, conferring the Melchizedek Priesthood, ordaining a person to an office in that priesthood, or setting apart a person to serve in a Church calling.

    As guided by the Spirit and the instructions in the next paragraph, bishops and stake presidents have discretion to allow priesthood holders who are not fully temple worthy to perform or participate in some ordinances and blessings. However, presiding officers should not allow such participation if a priesthood holder has unresolved serious sins.

    A bishop may allow a father who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood to name and bless his children even if the father is not fully temple worthy. Likewise, a bishop may allow a father who is a priest or Melchizedek Priesthood holder to baptize his children or to ordain his sons to offices in the Aaronic Priesthood. A Melchizedek Priesthood holder in similar circumstances may be allowed to stand in the circle for the confirmation of his children, for the conferral of the Melchizedek Priesthood on his sons, or for the setting apart of his wife or children. However, he may not act as voice.

  30. Sharee Hughes says:

    A few months ago, my bishop encouraged the congregation to sanctify ourselves to be worthy to attend the Temple. He did not ask us just to be able to answer all the questions correctly, but to sanctify ourselves, which I think means to have a higher level of worthiness and to be truly converted.

  31. I had a quick question about something someone said earlier. It was relative to men and beards, but I think it fits my question. Last year I shaved my head and donated my hair to Locks of Love. I actually wound up liking the look and am planning on shaving it again at some point, and possibly several points throughout the rest of my life. Am I going to be stopped at the gates if I try to go into the Temple with a shaved head? These cultural norms parading as gospel standard are really starting to make me angry….and you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. EOR SMASHHH

  32. “Am I going to be stopped at the gates if I try to go into the Temple with a shaved head?”

    No.

    A while ago, the male witness had a ponytail that was braided and hung halfway down his back – and a full beard. Hair length is not part of the temple recommend process.

  33. I’ve been to the temple with a shaved head AND a beard may times, and don’t believe I was ever looked at askance once. True not only in Seattle, but also in Logan. Probably they saw the Holy Spirit burning in my eyes, the holy aura.

  34. Thomas Parkin 33 If I carry a piece of Holy Okra maybe I can fool them.

  35. Pagan

  36. Bradley says:

    I like the third point. People treat the TR like it’s the holy rubber stamp of approval.

    The TR process has a patronizing feel to it, but that’s simply a natural byproduct of the state of the saints’ progression. There’s a reason they treat us like little children.

  37. Mark Brown says:

    ji (29),

    Thanks for the reference. However, as I read it, the short answer is no.

    “A Melchizedek Priesthood holder in similar circumstances may be allowed to stand in the circle for the confirmation of his children, for the conferral of the Melchizedek Priesthood on his sons, or for the setting apart of his wife or children. However, he may NOT act as voice.” (My emphasis added.)

    That is a restriction from the way we did it up until a few years ago, no matter how much we want to spin it.

  38. Mark Brown,

    I agree it is a restrictive change from the past. I have not seen this section in the new church handbook in a few months, but I thought there was also a sentence in there that implied there can be a little local discretion or leeway if local leaders feel it is appropriate. I could be wrong, however. But even if there is such a line, it is still more restrictive than before.

  39. Cowgirl says:

    While this post was primarily about temple recommends, it was more broadly about going through the motions. Going through the motions of abstaining from alcohol and attending the temple are not the same as conversion. But they are a concrete series of steps I can follow to lead me in that direction. I find that lots of discussion about being converted and having a change of heart leaves me wondering what’s wrong with me and why I don’t get it. I prefer encouragement to do something or other. And my hope is that doing the something or other (e.g. temple attendance, visiting teaching, abstaining from alcohol or whatever) will give me the opportunity to become converted, bit by bit. Sometimes it works. So I don’t necessarily mind the emphasis on these steps. And, at least in my ward, I don’t feel that there is too much emphasis on temple recommends or that they are generally regarded as an end goal.

    On the hair issue: I’ve actually also gone to the temple with a nearly shaved (using shortest guard on electric clippers) head. Nobody objected. I don’t think appearance keeps you out of the temple, at least it’s not ever been a problem for me. Although I tend to cover up my brighter or more outrageous hair styles with a conservative cut wig so I don’t distract other patrons. I know people who have visible tattoos who’ve not had trouble either. I don’t know about face piercings.

  40. Mark Brown — The question I was addressing was the notion that a man must hold a current temple recommend to perform these ordinances. I asserted he only needed to be worthy of a temple recommend, but he did not have to be a current recommend holder. That is true, so the short answer is YES.

    Worthy but not currently holding is okay for these ordinances.

    In 37, you’re raising another issue about men who are not recommend worthy. Here, “similar circumstances” = “not fully temple worthy”. In my postings here, I haven’t addressed the matter of men who were not fully temple worthy. That’s a different matter.

    Yes, men who are not fully worthy face some restrictions in their opportunities to exercise priesthood functions. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone; indeed, we should expect it to be true.

    I think the purpose of the Handbook words is intended to be more generous or liberal, not more restrictive — while those men who are not fully worthy cannot perform all ordinances, they are now invited to perform some, such as blessing/naming their children, baptizing their children, and ordaining their sons to Aaronic Priesthood offices. These words were written so that these men would participate more, not less. At least, that’s how I remember it from the Worldwide Training Session when Handbook 2 was put out a few years ago.

  41. EOR, they probably think you are undergoing chemo and that is why you are bald, no one will question that. I worked with an ordinance worker who was bald the whole time. Sometimes she wore a white scarf, but not always. We rejoiced with her when her hair started to grow back.

  42. Mark Brown says:

    ji,

    OK, now I see the distinction you are making, which I overlooked earlier. It is possible to be temple worthy and not have a current recommend. That is a useful distinction to make, but I’m not sure how it would work as a practical matter. For instance, what if my son who lives in a different stake wants me to ordain him? How is that bishop or stake president going to know that I am worthy if I don’t have a recommend? (This has actually happened to me, multiple times. When I go somewhere to bless a baby or ordain somebody, the first thing the bishop does is ask to see a temple recommend.)

    Semi-active men have always, at least in my memory, been encouraged to participate in baby blessings and baptisms, so that is not a change. The conference talks of Elder Packer and ELder Ashton over the years are full of stories of fathers who smelled like tobacco placing their hands on the heads of family members and exercising the priesthood. The ONLY change that is relevant here is that they are no longer able to confirm, ordain, or set apart. As of two years ago they were, but now they are not. There is simply no way we can see that as an expansion of their priviliges.

  43. Mark, fwiw, I don’t have a huge problem with limiting MP ordinance performance to holding or being worthy to hold a temple recommend – with “worthy” in this case meaning nothing more than stating the expected answers to a series of questions and not having a leader know if you’re lying. I don’t know of anyone who is ordained to the MP initially unless they are considered worthy to have a temple recommend, so it seems logical to me to extend that to the continuation of such privileges – regardless of how it was handled in the past.

    My biggest problem, frankly, is with requiring investigators to be temple worthy to be baptized – especially when members who are not temple worthy still can keep their membership. For example, if a member smokes and drinks, he doesn’t lose his membership (and I’m glad of that), but if a non-member smokes and drinks, he can’t become a member and live the exact same life as someone who already is a member.

    I believe there ought to be three distinct standards for “privileges” in the Church: attendance at regular church meetings (incredibly low standard), basic membership (higher but moderate standard) and temple attendance (highest standard – as is currently or with a few modifications to the questions). it’s when those distinctions blur and one group is held to another group’s standard that I am concerned the most.

  44. So, I’m not as concerned about what you describe (since I see it as an attempt to be more consistent than was the case in the past) as I am about the emphasis on temple worthiness when dealing with investigators. That issue is a very serious one, imo.

  45. StillConfused says:

    The sad part is that I routinely have clients who are screwed by others and are SHOCKED because “but he had a temple recommend.” THinking that something that is given to you based on how you choose to answer certain questions = honesty is pretty silly.

  46. it's a series of tubes says:

    however it feels to me that in Mormon-majority areas we

    John, doesn’t the fact that the majority of Church members do not reside in “Mormon-majority” areas throw some cold water on your proposals?

    Having consulted with several family members and friends before posting, some anecdotal feedback for you: no one living in a Mormon minority area, including myself, agreed with the trends or conclusions re “the church” as you presented them.

    Re: #18 Ardis, I love your ability to cut to the core of things, quickly and clearly.

  47. Mark Brown (no. 42) — A man without a current temple recommend who wants to ordain his son who lives in another stake should obtain from a member of his bishop a Recommend to Perform an Ordinance form. See Church Handbook 2 —

    20.1.3
    Performing an Ordinance or Blessing in Another Ward

    To act as voice when naming and blessing a child, baptizing or confirming a person, ordaining a person to a priesthood office, or dedicating a grave, a priesthood holder who is outside his own ward should show the presiding officer a current temple recommend or a Recommend to Perform an Ordinance form that is signed by a member of his bishopric.

  48. To 42 and 43’s point, there is a “Recommend to perform an Ordinance” signed by your bishopric member that can serve in lieu of a temple recommend if you are travelling outside your ward boundaries.

    It seems to be a lesser-known recommend, but valid nonetheless.

  49. Looks like ji beat me to the punch as I typed.

  50. Aaron T. says:

    What are the requirements to obtain said “Recommend to perform an Ordinance” form? If the questions are the same as the TR interview, what’s the point? And if the questions are different, the new rule that you’re supposed to be worthy to obtain a TR in order to confer the HG, or ordain to an office in the MP seem even more confusing

  51. Yankee Sojourner says:

    RE: #23
    Ruth, I believe that Ardis’ reference to “Mormonism lite” did not refer to we sinners in the Church who are trying to “work out our own slavation with fear and trembling”. Rather, it probably refers to an undercurrent of secularist members who have what might be called, ‘mainstream Christianity envy’. These are those disgruntled Saints who believe that that Word of Wisdom should be set aside, that Sunday worship should be limitied to 60 minutes, and that the laws of chastity should be made sufficiently flexible so that one could sexually “try out” a prospective mate before making a commitment with any
    ecclesiastical consequences. The agenda doesn’t end there, but those examples should sufficiently illustrate my point. As the late Hugh Nibley observed, we Mormons are a sacral culture, that is, the axis of our life is our religion, and that id the way it should be. That is why in the pioneer era, all Mormon cities were planned with a temple in the center of the city. That said, I believe that not only our Heavenly Father, but the General Authorities as well, are well aware that the congregation of the Saints is made up of sinners, each at a different stage of spiritual progression, and each hoping that his brothers and sister will help him/her bear their mortal spiritual burdens and assist them to grow in the Gospel until their life’s journey is done. The Temple is an incredibly sacred place and it is meant to be a great blessing in the lives of the Saints. But faith and attitude are both important keys to making the Temple an enriching experience. The tent of Zion is large enough and there is room enough for all kinds of Saints who desire to serve their God and emulate the life of their Saviour.

  52. Building on 51 there is something that I have been torn about for a while now. While I definitely think all faithful members should have access to the Temple, it is extremely hard for me to pretend the prospect of the Temple is as special anymore when there are so so many of them. The first time I ever went to the Temple it was so special because we had to travel all the way to Washington D.C. to do it in a hodge podge of vans. Now (If I had a TR) I could just take the stinking Metro North train to Manhattan. While, sure, it is a lot more convenient, it is nowhere near as special. Plus the Manhattan Temple used to be a Stake Center I think, or at least it looks like one, so it is super whack especially compared to Washington D.C. Now they are even building one in Hartford, which the pictures look nice, but then we have way too many Temples in a decent proximity to us, and we are in NY, not Bountiful UT!

  53. Aaron (50), the guidelines are mentioned above in (29). The bishop can recommend someone to perform an ordinance even if they aren’t fully worthy, using his discretion.

    “As guided by the Spirit and the instructions in the next paragraph, bishops and stake presidents have discretion to allow priesthood holders who are not fully temple worthy to perform or participate in some ordinances and blessings. However, presiding officers should not allow such participation if a priesthood holder has unresolved serious sins.

    A bishop may allow a father who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood to name and bless his children even if the father is not fully temple worthy. Likewise, a bishop may allow a father who is a priest or Melchizedek Priesthood holder to baptize his children or to ordain his sons to offices in the Aaronic Priesthood.”

    That flex allows for a softer deadline on reaching temple worthiness.

  54. Aaron T. says:

    Jack, that doesn’t really answer the question – how are the questions for a TR different (if at all) from the questions for this recommend to perform an ordinance? And, if the questions are the same (which I suspect they are), fathers still cannot confirm or ordain to the MP, even at the bishop’s discretion.

  55. Yankee Sojourner says:

    RE: #52
    EOR, although I can’t clain to be so well connected as to say that I am a personal friend of any of the General Authorities, i think I understand why they have built so many Temples. Temple attendance bestows many blessings to those who enter them prepared to receive those blessings. Trust me, I am not a Lion in Zion, but very much fall under the Saviour’s category of “…the least of my brethren…”, yet even a reprobate such as myself has had some deeply moving experiences in the Temple. As the only member of the Church in my immediate family, I had the opportunity a few years ago to take my
    favorite aunt to the open house of the Newport Beach Temple. The Temple is actually smaller in square footage than the
    stake center next to it. The tour was conducted in a welcoming, warm and appropriate manner and my aunt listened with interest. When we came to the Celestial Room the guide explained it’s symbolism and then requested that our group observe about 3 minutes of silence to look around and contemplate our eternal destinies as children of a just and loving God. Both my aunt and I were standing there side by side when it happened. Weeks before our Temple visit there was something that had troubled me which I had reflected upon, prayed about, but had received neither the guidance nor the reassurance that I was seeking. But there, within those brief three minutes, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and fully answered my specific concerns. I was so surprised at this I said mentally, “You’re not supposed to be here yet! The Temple isn’t even dedicated!” (Leave it to me to cite protocol to a Personage of the Godhead.) “Never mind, just follow My counsel.”, was the response, and then the Holy Spirit left.
    As I contemplated this spiritual experience I sought better to understand why it happened the way it did. I wasn’t then, nor am I now, a current Temple Recommend holder. What I came away with from this experience was not only the answer I had received, but also a more subtle message that the Holy Spirit wanted to convey. The Temple is where I need to be because there are blessings and answers waiting there for me, but I must make myself ready to receive them. I must make the Temple a part of my life because my spiritual growth depends on it.
    You are right EOR, when we had to sacrifice more to physically go to the Temple it made the whole experience even more appreciated and treasured. But time is moving on and some Saints might never muster the faith, discipline and resolve to make such extreme sacrifices to get to the Temple to receive their Endowments and have their family sealed to them. But by building more Temples our Heavenly Father can give all of us the blessings that come from Temple work and further sanctify us against the influences of the world. Though probably you, and most certainly I, won’t live to have the privilege of seeing the Saviour return, as many Saints as possible must have the opportunity to make these covenants
    before the storms of persecution break upon them in full fury. We all need the Temple for our continued spiritual growth,
    but that growth won’t come unless we walk through those sacred doors fully prepared and in tune with the Holy Spirit.

  56. Aaron T. (no. 54) — There are no pre-established cast-in-concrete questions for the Recommend to Perform an Ordinance.

  57. I agree totally with Ardis on #18.

    John if you feel that temple worthiness doesn’t guarantee true conversion then I agree with you. However there is no real question that you could ask that would be able to do that. If you feel that you should be more deeply converted in the gospel than that is wonderful, you should do that, that is exactly what the leaders in the church are continually asking us to do. If there are some in the church who don’t understand that, I don’t see that as the fault of the leaders but as our own collective level of progression.

    The Lord will lead us to zion as quickly as we are able to follow him. Sometimes outward forms of obedience like the law of moses are what we are ready for. It is up to us each individually to achieve something deeper and it is up to our leaders to teach us to acheive something deeper (which I believe that they do).

  58. anonlds says:

    JTB,

    I think the argument is that temple worthiness has become the goal and temple worthiness isn’t a good measure of spirituality. So the goal of spirituality gets ignored. There are spiritual people who don’t meet the temple recommend standard and their are temple recommend holders that aren’t very spiritual. By creating this threshold where you are culturally accepted only with a TR results in people meet ing the standard without achieving the goal of the standard and people who are honest and spiritually deep being excluded.

    In Boy Scouts they did a study that showed that scouts who received first class in one year had a high level of retention. So they set a goal to have scouts receive first class in one year. Now all the mediocre programs focus on first class in a year and retention hasn’t changed. The reason first class and retention were correlated, was because good programs resulted in scouts that advance. Not the other way around. The focus should be on a good program.

    The same is true in the church. People rationalize answers in the TR interview because they are culturally mormon, but have trouble understanding how in early accounts JS could have made a mistake in saying that Nephi visited him and not Moroni as we are currently taught. But a person who struggles with that knows that to be accepted in the culture they have to have a TR and no one addresses the underlying issues. In fact if the person brings up a concern like that, they will be excluded by being removed from their callings and become a project where people pretend to be their friend until they can sufficiently hide their doubts until people forget about them again.

  59. Benjamin says:

    To be completely accurate, there are no specific questions required to allow a person to perform an ordinance. It is not necessary for a priesthood holder to have a valid recommend or be “worthy to hold” a temple recommend. The only things a person needs in order to perform an ordinance are 1) proper authority, and 2) authorization from the presiding authority. If a bishop authorizes an inactive, chain smoking, promiscuous father to baptize and confirm his son, that ordinance is valid.

    The issue of temple recommends and recommends to perform an ordinance come into play when a priesthood holders seeks to act as voice in an ordinance outside of his unit (although I’ve met some bishops that will check for recommends for anyone participating even though not required to do so by the handbooks). Because the presiding authority has no relationship with the visiting priesthood holder, the recommends serve as a proxy that effectively communicate from one bishop to the other, “I would authorize this man to perform this ordinance in my ward.”

    If any presiding authority is using the temple recommend as the standard by which he evaluates a person’s worthiness to perform an ordinance, he has missed the point. It’s a cultural issue. And it’s a difficult issue to address, I think. There is no objective minimum standard for “worthy to perform an ordinance,” so in many ways it’s easier to adopt the next objective standard available–the temple recommend.

    Enter the discernment discussion. In general, I think our new generation of leaders have not been taught how to manage the gray very well, and so they feel more comfortable using whatever baseline standard they can get.

  60. anon for this one says:

    I attend the temple pretty often; my husband has never held a recommend.

    In one of our wards, a RS teacher thought a “Temple Merit Badge” would be a terrific idea for a lesson; we were instructed to either 1. attend the temple 6 times in the next 6 months, OR 2. Repent of what was keeping us from the temple and gain a TR. At the time I was worthy but my husband wasn’t. That cute little badge outed me to other church members and thus we became a ward project.

    It didn’t help, either, when the bishop read off the names of those who would attend the next temple prep class. I think people thought they were being supportive when they would say, instead of hello, “So you going to the temple yet?”

    More than once we had ward members who now were superior to us by virtue of their recommend lecturing us in the hallways, in front of other people, about how terrible it was that we were missing out on the blessings of the temple and how they hoped we’d change soon.

    Later wards were not so bad, but somehow the knowledge that my husband didn’t have a TR got around. Perhaps via a Ward Council bullet point? My husband’s been in the crosshairs of many an EQP and bishopric. I understand a bishop eager for better stats or, possibly, who truly cares about our family–it could happen, I guess–but I object to being cornered by the EQP or various other “more worthy” TR-holding brothers taking me aside and assigning me to kick my husband in the pants. My same husband who helps them all with their cars and computers and moving. He’s good enough to be a drone, but not good enough to be a brother.

    We have definitely, definitely felt to be part of an underclass at church because of the temple recommend issue. It’s one thing to feel inferior in the privacy of your own head; to have others announce it to you is a little upsetting, especially if done in front of your children.

    We’ve never lived in Utah. These are our experiences from 6 different wards in the Western US.

  61. Anon (no. 60) — I appreciate your story — and I regret it — in my ward, we’re part of the 15% of the Church members who live more than 200 miles from a temple, and driving is impossible, so many of our members will never go to the temple or they’ll go once. We celebrate when someone goes, but I have never heard any discussion or even a whisper about those who don’t hold recommends. Maybe I’m deaf, or maybe our geography helps, or who knows why.

  62. “but I have never heard any discussion or even a whisper about those who don’t hold recommends. ”

    We have had the same experience in our ward.

  63. I wish that the Church would re-define what it means to hold a TR. Forget worthiness. Instead, characterize the TR as being evidence of current preparation to worship therein.

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