Let me start with an admission that I have never publicly made: I didn’t want to get married in the temple. At the time of my marriage, I had only recently had my endowment, and I was still struggling to absorb the ceremony. I wanted my marriage to be a time when I could focus on my spouse and family; I didn’t want to relive a temple experience that I found more secret than sacred. Although I ceded to my family’s desires that I be married in that only acceptable place, my memories of my temple marriage are primarily ones of panic, because I didn’t feel that I could in good faith go through the ceremony and make covenants that I wasn’t ready to make.
Over the course of several years, however, I have come to a state of relative peace about the temple. As I have become more involved in genealogy and have gained a more historical perspective on the temple, many of my concerns have ceased to bother me as much as they formally did. For the first time since I got married, I am beginning to feel a desire to go back to the temple. Although I don’t know if I should have waited to get married in the temple or not–my faith has grown and I have been spiritually blessed since that event–I suspect that if I had waited I would have found the experience far more sacred and would have had a more pleasant wedding day.
However, this post is not about decisions that I did or did not make in the past. At the time, I felt there was no real choice. This post is about what happens to some Mormons when they arrive at moments such as missions or marriage when they are expected to testify or make covenants that they do not feel spiritually prepared to make. Given the intense social pressure to make the proper Mormon decision–and the stigmas that attach to Mormons who don’t make those decisions–I suspect that many Mormons who can’t perform these roles in good conscience face sub-optimal options: either a) play along or b) leave the church because there is no acceptable middle ground. Those who play along might gain a testimony after the fact and even be blessed, but they also risk being denied a valuable opportunity that they could have later. Those who leave the church, well, also lose future opportunities to grow in faith.
Most of these people I suspect are good people who live the commandments, probably even exceptionally honest, serious, and thoughtful people who sense the importance of the action they are asked to take. Most likely, they just haven’t been given the gift of faith on a timeline that corresponds to key Mormon events that require important covenants to be made, even though they may want to remain as active as they can in the church. We talk about God’s time being different than our own, but within our current culture, members pay a heavy price for not spiritually developing in a way that conveniently corresponds to these institutional and life events.
What can we do to help these people? If there was a middle ground, such as service missions for missionaries who feel uncomfortable with proselyting but who want to obey the church leaders or civil marriages that could occur without having to wait long for a temple marriage, would it help keep people within the fold and provide them the love they need as they seek after faith?