By and large, I think we do a poor job of helping people understand and learn to love the temple experience, whether in terms of advice to those going for the first time or in the form of advice, nurturing and education for those who have already received their endowment. We let people down, and sometimes they make the choice not to return. And so I write a letter to my friends that have decided to stop attending the temple.
I’ve heard that you have recently made the decision not to return to the temple anymore. I was hoping to share with you some thoughts about your choice. You probably aren’t interested in what I think of your decision, and so I understand if you don’t read this letter or if you disregard what I have to say. But I’ve put some thought and a little prayer into this, so at least I hope you know that I care enough about you to make an effort.
I haven’t spoken with you about it, so I don’t know the particular issues you might have with the temple. Maybe it’s the temple’s treatment of women; maybe it’s feelings of unworthiness; maybe you just don’t feel the Spirit when you attend. In a way, I’m glad I don’t know the reason why you’ve decided not to attend, because hopefully I can avoid being dismissive of your feelings. One of the first things my parents taught me about the temple is how individual and how unique our experiences and reactions can be to the endowment. Hand-in-hand with the promise of this uniqueness is the challenge of understanding and being a friend to the thousands who also feel alienation and possibly offense at the temple in a thousand different ways.
My first temptation in writing this letter to you is to try and solve your problems. As I said before, I don’t know why you’re not attending the temple any longer. But, I can probably guess as to the reasons you have, and the reasons I sometimes give myself. I can’t resolve these problems for you. I can give you some explanations, and will gladly talk with you about anything you would like to talk about. I can also introduce you to some people that may also be worth talking to (JWL is my personal favorite). But fundamentally, the ordinances and the rituals aren’t going anywhere and don’t seem to be changing anytime soon, and so a mormon must either make their peace with the strange, wonderful and frightening endowment, or move on. And you’ve decided to move on.
You should know that not attending the temple does not mean the end of your life in the Church. Many happy, active members do not attend the temple with any frequency. Amongst our international brothers and sisters, temple attendance is even more of a rarity. So, in a sense you are in good company — try not to let your feelings about the temple affect your covenants to worship with the Saints and to mourn with those who mourn. We’ve been your brothers and sisters since you were baptized, and we are still there as your family. That may not mean much to you right now – in fact, having us as your family may be one of the reasons you’re not attending the temple anymore! It’s true that not all of us love you unconditionally the way we ought, and if people find out that you have stopped attending the temple you may fear reprisals of some kind. If that happens to you, I’m sorry. But I love you and care for you, or at least that’s my intent.
My advice is for you to retain your temple recommend and retain the level of worthiness and participation that you’ve always had. I believe you will find the community valuable. If the ritual and the asymmetry of the temple disturb you, I believe that returning to Church and witnessing your brothers and sisters together will do much to restore your confidence in the restored Gospel. I believe that you can and will find joy in the meetings, and feel the Spirit as you take the Sacrament and spend time with your fellowsaints. I also believe that the blessings of the Church are still yours to possess so long as you follow the commandments. You are not going to hell because you no longer attend the temple.
I need to be honest with you about a couple of things. First, I admit that I don’t attend the temple as much as I feel I ought. I share this with you so that you know that I am familiar with what it’s like to go without temple attendance. Second, you need to know that personally, I love the temple and feel it is a house of God. I share this with you so that you can see that I have an agenda, and that partially I’m a hypocrite: eventually I would like to see you and the temple at peace with each other, even if lately I haven’t been there very much.
At the end of this long letter, I want to tell you that I’m sorry if I wasn’t there for you when you first went through the temple. I’m sorry that I haven’t been sensitive to your doubts, and I wish I’d done a better job at explaining the temple and taking the time for each of us to share our feelings. I know you attended a temple prep class — maybe we should have a post-temple prep class too! Maybe this is late in coming, but if you ever need someone to talk to, I’m around.