White lies and the Temple recommend interview

“No one can ever enter the celestial kingdom unless he is strictly honest.” (attr. to Joseph Smith by Milo Andrus)

‘Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen?’ (Latter-day Saint Temple Recommend Question)

Earlier this year I watched an excellent French film entitled ‘Little White Lies‘ (2010). The opening sequence is a wonderful continuous shot, or so it seems, which follows Ludo (Jean Dujardin, The Artist) through a few cocaine-addled moments in a night-club. This initially dazzling sequence distracts the untrained eye (in this instance, mine) from noticing the subtle edits, learned from Hitchcocks’ ‘The Rope’. The cracks started to appear when I showed my wife the scene later that night.

This sequence is part of a broader and deftly constructed narrative leading to a tragically painful end, which serves as an illuminating precursor for the rest of the film. Guillaume Canet’s movie explores deception between friends; not blatant lies, but white lies, small lies.  The type of lie shared among friends.

The story follows a Parisian group after a particular tragedy. As the narrative proceeds a series of deceptions emerge work to simultaneously include and exclude other members of their group.  These are not outwardly bad people and their deceptions are quite reasonable.  Their lies are primarily concerned with seemingly small or potentially hurtful parts of their lives. It is here that Canet illuminates something profound about our relationships with each other; we deceive with good intentions. And yet, we still deceive. We manage information based on certain assumptions about what others need to know about us.

This management of information reminds me of Erving Goffman’s notion of the Discreditable and the Discredited which he uses to explore stigma in Western society. A discreditable person is someone whose stigmatised situation/condition is not yet publicly known whereas a discredited individual is someone whose stigmatised situation/condition is known.  For example, an epileptic might be able to remain discreditable in certain social situations while in others they are legally required to discredited themselves. There are certain types of costs and benefits with becoming discredited as there are with being discreditable. Canet’s characters most often  struggle to remain discreditable, they hide what they potentially feel will cost them friendship and affection; and in so doing create a narrative of themselves that becomes unsustainable.  When these narratives fracture pain and disillusionment follow.

Canet elegantly weaves together their persistent ‘minor’ deceptions, which seem so natural, with the resulting pain and sadness. Their lies revealed that they were not really as close as they thought and that they were all complicit in the lies they told. Each was to blame for the facade that they had collectively created.

This film, more than anything else, has allowed me think differently about that temple recommend question: ‘Are we honest in our dealings with our fellowmen?’  For me, this question now is not so much about whether we lie about the skills on our CV or about paying our taxes.  Although it includes these clear forms of deceit it is not only about this.  This question now forces me to think about my relationship with those whom I share deep ties.

Am I honest in my dealings with my fellows? No, I am not. There is no getting around it and my life is poorer for it.

The Temple invites us to order our lives in a particular way. It calls us to arrange our associations based on shared covenant and mutual affection. Thus this almost innocuous question in our temple recommend becomes a call to remove deception from our relationships with those to whom we are supposed to be sealed. It very quickly gets to the heart of what we are doing in these temple ordinances.

The subtle deception of Canet’s opening scene reminds me to be more careful about how I construct my narrative-identity.  Whether Joseph Smith said it or not, perhaps there is some truth to the statement, “No one can ever enter the celestial kingdom unless they are strictly honest.”


  1. I don’t know that I believe it is possible to be “strictly honest” in the way described. Not a single person in this world knows the 100% real me except for me and I completely intend to keep it that way. I can’t believe that omissions of this kind, or white lies intended to spare people’s feelings are what is intended when we are asked if we are honest in our dealings with our fellow men. If it truly is, then I would only be willing to believe that about a handful of people truly deserve their T.R.–and I bet they make terrible friends.

  2. Kristine says:

    My hunch is that not even I know the 100% real me–that’s what prayer is for. I regard that question as similar to the “are you worthy to enter the temple” question, to which the only proper answer is “of course not, but I am repenting.”

  3. EOR, the temple recommend questions work at a number of levels and I am trying to articulate one of those levels here. I specifically try to avoid describing what being strictly honest might imply because I think that we do not know the ‘100% real me’. Certainly I do not think that people should refuse a temple recommend on the basis on white lies. This question forces me to confront the constructed-reasons I possess for why I deceive.

    Prayer is an essential part of this process but the struggle to achieve that type of hard and bright honesty with God should also be pursued outside of prayer with those with whom we are in community.

  4. I haven’t seen the movie, so I don’t know what kinds of little white lies, exactly. it features, but I think it’s entirely possible to be honest and also to be responsible about one’s honesty–to be honorably discreet about confidences and other information which should not be shared–and to be kind. Anyone who’s read the Internet for five minutes has encountered
    people who use “honesty” as a facade for malice: “I’m just telling it like it is! I’m speaking the hard truth no one else has the courage to speak! The wicked take the truth to be hard!” That, I think we can agree, is neither kind nor honest; in fact, it’s self-deception.

    That said, I don’t answer that temple recommend question in the affirmative. I pretty much say what Kristine said, above.

  5. I think 100% honesty is achievable, however I may just be lying to myself.

  6. lorinmay says:

    This is something I have to think about a lot in my job. I work in communications for an organization that has a lot of internal politics. I am often put into a position where I need to strengthen the case and improve the persuasiveness of a position I’m not entirely sold on. Generally, that entails not disclosing my disagreement to the individual in question, but treating them fairly nevertheless. In off-line discussions, I often privately express opinions regarding controversial topics, lobby for certain outcomes; and then because of my position as a neutral arbiter of public discourse, publicly take a neutral stance on the topic.

    I am also married to a woman, who, in nearly 19 years of marriage, I have never seen share so much as a “white lie,” but who is very diplomatic in all her dealings. So I have a good idea what total honesty looks like.

    All that said, I answer that temple recommend question in the affirmative, and do not feel I have needed to internally rationalize my behavior. I do believe I have been honest.

    A person of integrity acts without guile, but that doesn’t mean they are required to be absolutely open with everyone, either. I believe the honesty spectrum runs something like this, with a lot of large gaps:

    1. Outright deception
    2. Willfully allowing someone to believe something you know to be false
    3. Being disingenuous (not outright lying, but concealing critical motives)
    4. Failing to disclose facts that another party is entitled to know (you could argue for flipping 3 and 4)
    5. White lies told mostly to protect self
    6. White lies told mostly to protect another
    7. Withholding facts or motives from those who are not entitled to know them
    8. Being proactively forthright regarding facts and motives

    I believe 1-5 definitely violate the temple recommend question, and number 6 usually does except in extreme circumstances. But “strictly honest” doesn’t mean you always share all requested information and share all motives with all people. Not even God does that.

  7. I don’t know how to be 100% honest, all the time, with everyone. I do know how to be more honest than I have been, which is the point. It is just as possible, and quite as common, to lie “out of discretion” or “to avoid hurting someone’s feelings” as it is to use the truth as a weapon to wound. We can do better. I really think we must.

  8. Yes this question and “Do you affiliate 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, or do you sympathize with the precepts of any such group or individual?” are the two slipperiest questions in the TR interview since I don’t think any person alive could answer them 100% strictly in the affirmative. Anyone who says they are completely honest is either lying to you or themselves. Somehow I doubt we would be very happy if everyone in our ward started practicing Radical Honesty. On the other hand, it is probably good to be aware about how much we do deceive on a regular basis and try and cut out as much as we can. Does anyone know anyone who is involved with the Radical Honesty movement. I would be curious to hear from them.

  9. Jon Miranda says:

    If one has been fired at a job, does one come out and say that one has been fired? If one glosses over that fact, are they lying? Interesting post.

  10. I once answered the honesty question in a temple recommend interview with “I’m trying to be.” That wasn’t the response the bishop was looking for, and he got angry. I guess he wanted a yes or no answer so he could get the interview over with.

    I haven’t been more nuanced than “Yes” since then…

  11. I think of this type of honesty as integrity. Am I the person I portray myself to be? Are my actions consistent with who I am trying to be? Do I speak up when I should because staying silent is dishonest? Do I stay silent when I should because speaking will diminish my integrity.
    I also think of this type of honesty as intimacy (in a marriage for instance). What good does it do to pretend in order to make someone else happy if ultimately you make your marriage weaker rather than stronger because it is based on a lie?
    Since I am generally a good, nice, honest person, I don’t have a lot to hide. I am not ashamed of the real me. What about those who struggle, though? I try to make it ok for my husband, for instance, to tell me who he really is. If I recoil in horror then he will be reluctant to share who he is again. Perhaps in these instances, he doesn’t have to go into detail (if he had urges for violence because he was angry, he doesn’t need to describe in detail his exact thoughts….but a simple statement of his struggle is enough). Luckily my marriage is a safe place for me to be open and honest. Some of my friends are not so lucky.
    If your friends and family are good people with integrity it is easier to be the real you and have real relationships with them.

  12. ZD Eve, that trend is also observable on British TV reality shows where that type of hurtful honesty is seen as virtue, especially because of the way in which people are observed in these shows. In light of this, honesty is performed in certain spaces between individuals. These reflections have allowed me to think much more carefully about what honesty means and how it is lived between people.

    lorinmay, your typology is interesting. In particular I think drawing the distinction around self-interest is useful, although it is difficult to always be aware of ourselves and our motives in such circumstances.

    Chris Jones, exactly. The call for more honesty is what I am interested in here. The idea that I deceive another for fear of what they might think of me is something which has bothered me a great deal recently.

    rah, I have not heard of the radical honesty movement before. I will need to look that up.

  13. I think there is a big difference between “are you honest in your dealings with your fellow man?” and “do you never tell a falsehood”? I tell my son that santa exists. My husband tells me that no, that zit isn’t really noticeable and ugly. I like the dictionary definitions of honest (from dictionary.reference.com):
    1. honorable in principles, intentions, and actions; upright and fair: an honest person.
    2. showing uprightness and fairness: honest dealings.
    3. gained or obtained fairly: honest wealth.
    4. sincere; frank: an honest face.
    5. genuine or unadulterated: honest commodities.
    (notice the lack of “only speaking the 100% unsoftened truth”)
    If I hear “are you honest”, I hear “are you fair, sincere, honorable, upright, and genuine?” In which case, I can answer yes (fortunately, honesty in that sense is not one of the virtues I struggle with- if anything my issue is being TOO open. I have many MANY other weaknesses, but dishonesty is not one of them).

  14. … and of course, we haven’t even brought up the “lying for the lord” that the church has historically done (polygamy, anyone?). Joseph Smith may have said “No one can ever enter the celestial kingdom unless he is strictly honest” but he also said “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another.”

  15. pangwitch says:

    i dont feel the general authorities are always honest. this had led to my current disafection with the church.

  16. I always answer the honesty question with “I try”. I do try. That has always been accepted. The same can be said of “do all your dealings with your family follow the teachings of the Savior”. um no. I do try though and I do want to love my family. So again, I say “I try”. It’s worked before and has only gotten me a knowing nod or a really good honest discussion with the interviewer.

  17. Ron Madson says:

    I am not even “honest” in the TR interview as others would define the correct thoughts while answering one particular question. When asked if I sustain the First Presidency and Q12 as “prophets, seers and revelators” I say “yes” which means to me that I “sustain” the concept and “hope” that those gifts of the spirit intersect with the office but I see no evidence of the same—but that question begs another question. That question would be “ARE” those leaders demonstrating those gifts? Then if honest the answer would be “you tell me, how in the heck would I know if they are because I see no evidence of the same myself. I parse that question in my mind. As I do others but that is for a private conversation. Although In fairness I have a spectrum of honesty that adjusts to the integrity/confidence/trust I have in the person or entity I am conversing with. My trust meter is not really that high anymore with organizations, even a church, that I perceive is not reciprocally honest.

  18. Ron Madson says:

    One other thought–I am certain that some of my peers do not believe I “sustain” the church leaders. But I define “sustaining” of leaders as caring enough about the church/leaders to speak my mind as to what I consider profoundly immoral decisions such as the mall as compared to humanitarian expenses, etc. etc. But as King Lear finally learned Cordelia was a much more faithful and “sustaining” daughter then the flattering and “yes” daughters Regan and Goneril. So “sustaining” means different things to different people. Sometimes dissent can be more sustaining then being a constant apologist/ yes man.

  19. Ron (18) Wonderful!

  20. The other day I was listening to a podcast interview with a professor that wrote a book about Google. One of the interesting take-aways I got from that interview was when he discussed the Google motto “Don’t be evil”. He suggested that what was particularly interesting was not whether or not Google is in fact evil, but that they dared to try and define what that meant to them, and then live accordingly. I think the same can be said for the temple recommend questions regarding honesty. Its not so much that we are 100% honest according, but that we actively try and define that for ourselves and then be accountable to ourselves and our loved ones.

  21. Honest … IN YOUR BUSINESS DEALINGS … The part in bold is where I’ve focused.

  22. it's a series of tubes says:

    caring enough about the church/leaders to speak my mind as to what I consider profoundly immoral decisions

    much more faithful

    Ah yes, the unheeded voice, the truly faithful voice, crying in the wilderness. Ron, I’m curious as to why you believe your position on this topic is the superior one. You say “I see no evidence of the same”. Can you elaborate a doctrinal basis for them being obligated to ‘prove’ it to you?

  23. Ron Madson says:

    They are not obligated and I do not now that my position is superior. I am simply being as honest as I can as to how I see or do not see “it” –“it” being evidence of prophesying, seering (you know that other 2/3rds or something) and revealing. You tell me–or not tell me. You/they have no obligation. My obligation is simply to call it as I see no matter how wrong or inferior my opinion. As to the whole mall thing, it is really a faith builder in the BOM as to what prophesy sounds like –for me personally. Prophesying by Moroni as to what we would do with the holy church of god in the last days is spot on–but then again how would I know. you tell me. Perhaps we are not the “holy church of God” spoken of my Moroni.

  24. I taught the RS lesson on honesty a few months back and brought up the honesty question from the TR interview. The manual stated that it is possible to be 100% honest, which I took to mean the kind version of honest (we did touch briefly on Santa Claus and telling someone you like their bad haircut and concluded that obsessing over those sorts of scenarios probably obscured the more important goals of honesty). I answer the TR honesty question with “mostly” or “I’m a work in progress,” and no interviewer has ever even done a double take. Same for the question about family relationships, which I suspect is intended to find those with chronic abuse issues–but I always answer it with a “sorta.” My confronting both questions is a chance to self-assess. Am I more honest and more loving than I was the last time I was asked these questions? Am I thinking about these things only when someone else confronts me with them?

    I really like the point in the OP about the honesty question getting at the heart of temple ceremonies and sealings–that there is something specific to what happens in the temple that is made possible or greatly enhanced by our increased honesty.

    And if I’m feeling particularly heavy during the TR interview as I ponder my many and diverse failings, I’ll answer question #7 with “Only the BYU English Department,” just for some comic relief.

  25. Ron Madson says:

    #22, one other thought before I take off for the whole day and cannot respond. As to who is obligated to prove what or not, there is this thing called “By Common Consent” which is founded on mutual trust and full disclosure. Should we not reasonably expect complete transparency as to what “they” know (history, finances, policies, etc) if they in turn expect it from those governed? As I see it there is a profound dysfunction that has developed over the past several decades with correlated thought/ fear of speaking openly (heck we even guard ourselves in blogs such as this for fear of being banned–they do not need to correlate us now we do it to each other quit successfully), and going totally dark as to finances. So maybe I am totally clueless about the mall/finances/ honesty of my church that I have dedicated my whole life to so far, but how in the heck would I know in that full, honest, frank disclosure/transparency is only expected one way as far as I can tell. Again, I am guarded with those that are guarded in being totally open and honest with me. I remain guarded with my church.

  26. Oh come on, seriously. Do you live the Word of Wisdom? What is really being asked is do you partake of those things proscribed by the Word of Wisdom? Any leader willing to spend time to talk about these things will explain that if I have a problem with my blood brother that’s ok as long as I am open to reconciliation in accordance with gospel principles (if he is unrepentant about seriously assaulting me, for instance, I won’t be denied a recommend. The honest in your dealings question relates to financial propriety (or so my last three bishops and a counsellor in the stake presidency have told me).

  27. The TR interview is not for a recommend to enter the Temple of Diogenes, but an invitation to model our lives, through periodic self examination, on the ideals of living eternal lives. That’s why I liked this last week’s lesson (for some of you, next week, apparently) from the George Albert Smith manual, on the Immortality of the Soul. We are in the middle period of our eternal life, when course corrections are possible. None of us are “worthy in every way” to enter the temple, but instead are asked about extreme violations that need to be repented of before we enter sacred spaces, and minor transgressions that do not disqualify us, but need to be corrected if we desire to progress. For that reason, I prefer the yearly interviews over the every other year schedule that is the current practice. As noted, all of us are not totally honest, but we need to examine our motives, and our goals, if we are to become more honest.

  28. “I try my best.” Everyone has been accepting of that answer.

    I believe in creative honesty – meaning simpy that I believe there are many ways to phrase honest answers to the same question, so I try to answer in such a way that I do the most good and inflict the least harm. In some extreme cases (e.g., the classic case of not telling a rapist where my wife is hiding), I would lie blatantly and without remorse – but in all other cases I have found a way to be honest without being unncessarily hurtful.

    Anyone who says being completely honest means never withholding information, or even volunteering inofrmation that was not asked, is working with a definition I reject.

  29. So… Once I said that there was this patent issue, that I was not sure that I was using patented technology inapropriatly. The bishop was a little flustered and finally said that this did not matter.

    Morality is a question of advantage and disadvantage. If you are too moral you put yourself at a disadvatage vis-a-vis a less moral person. Pay more tithing, you get poorer. Be too honest, your wife does not talk to you for the rest of the day. If you are not moral enough you feel bad and promise to do better, pay a more honest tithe and be more truthful about your work ethic. As a result we all walk a fine line, call it the Limit of Morality. One step on one side of the line, another step on the other. This line is an individual line and different for each individual, and differnet in different situations. We will cheat the goverment but will not cheat the Church, for example.

    Having admitted this to myself I always answer the recommend question by saying as much as I know how to be.

  30. #17, Ron,

    Answering questions in a recommend interview requires a translation filter. About sustaining the prophets, seers and revelators, I translate the question into “who owns the church”. They do, so I answwer, yes. That among many translations so that I am always honest.

  31. JoeG, while your last three bishops and stake presidency counselor believe the question focuses on financial propriety, that is never specified in the Handbook 1 nor in the Temple recommend book. The question stands on its own for interpretation. Certainly handling of financial transations is an important societal metric of personal integrity but by no means does that begin to sum up the total measure of honesty. As one who performs these interviews I believe #6 lorinmay and #13 Jenn provide a suitable outline for how to consider honesty in the context of the question asked. Article of Faith 13 states we believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous and in doing good to all men. Each of those attributes represent elements of honesty.

    As others have said, we’re expected to be honest AND kind.

  32. A ‘White Lie’ is one that cannot be disproven by evidence. A ‘Black Lie’ is one that can be disproven by evidence.

  33. Phew! I thought you were going to say a black lie was one that didn’t hold the priesthood.

  34. 100% total honest is something I am not sure most people are capable of in this mortal life. However, I think that for the most part we can all honestly say we are honest in our dealing with our fellow men and women. God cannot lie; so of course it makes sense that to gain eternal life in the celestial kingdom we ourselves cannot lie. I am sure we can all agree that Heavenly Father would never decide to come down and say, “Hey guys, I’ve decided to break my part of that whole Abrahamic Covenant thing. Good luck and peace out!” – I cannot begin to put into words how many eons of eternities it would take me to build up the patience God has had with the “covenant people” since the beginning of earth’s history. I would have gave up somewhere around that whole golden calf thing…

    Back to the hand at question though, yes, I believe we can be honest. It takes great diplomacy, and also great courage. Most people do not like the truth (the wicked take it pretty hard I’ve heard even), but if it’s something we commit to do in our lives we will stick out and people will recognize us for it. Granted, whenever I do find myself telling a little white lie (“Yeah, I’d love to come to your party, but I’ve already got plans that night!”), my mind almost always goes back to, “It’s okay, Joseph hid things from Emma.” – I recognize this is a very bad, terrible, and no good rationalization, but my mind says it, and it is true. – To sum it up though, I think Kristine said it in comment #2 when she said that the only way to truthfully answer the temple recommend question is to say “of course not, but I am repenting.”

    That’s what the Gospel is about anyways, right? Daily trying to bring ourselves in alignment with God.

  35. Illinois says:

    Jenn @14 brought “lying for the lord” – to this I offer one word that can get a lot of people riled up…. Immigration.

    In our stake we recently had a M. Priesthood holder, with 5 children a wife and a mortgage who was arrested, convicted and sentenced to several years in prison for using someone’s social security number. He was an illegal immigrant. He regularly attended the temple. Two of our wards run up to 75% illegal.

    Our Elders Quorum President’s father came into town one Sunday. He is a Stake President from Idaho and was driving back from Boston where he had to pick up a missionary who could not fly home because of the fear he would be arrested for breaking the law… he is illegal. It can, at times, feel that the entire process of driving missionaries home because they are illegal is deceitful.

    There are many of these kinds of stories around here… I admit it’s a difficult subject to deal with because of the good people involved. I guess it’s a White Lie in the temple interview, but it could get you sent to jail if the wrong people found out.

  36. For the current generation maybe the best “honest with your fellow man” screen is: do you download copyrighted material from the internet without paying for it. That would seem to be a clear issue of honesty but one I find lots of card carrying active members are ambivalent about. I like the fact the questions are left open for us to interpret and meditate on. It is probably the only way I would pass the interview reliably as I am sure I violate the criteria of some bishop someweere on any number of questions.

  37. Blah blah says:

    OK, here’s one no one wants to discuss. Yet is the giant gorilla for singles of all ages. It pertains to the idea that many of us are honest in the Bishop’s office, while others of us play the question off in the way it is asked.

    For instance, in their temple interviews single women in the Church generally are asked if they are chaste. Equivalent single men, OTOH, are asked if they masturbate. Women can and often consider themselves chaste whether they partake of themselves or not. Men have no such convenience or (pardon me) bleed valve. Yet it is men who have prostates and doctors who tell them that they need to perform this sinful practice in order to prevent risk for prostate cancer. So, men must lie or live without the Temple, if there are single. (BTW, only some men have wet dreams, and most only had them as boys.) Yet I personally have known several worthy women who have no guilt over partaking of themselves and have told me as much .

    See the problem? Anyone?

  38. Blah blah there are medical, emotional, and hormonal benefits to female masturbation as well. Women have to suffer through the law of chastity also. If you do not want to lie, but want to attend the temple just say you live the law of chastity. I’m pretty sure that would cover it, I could be wrong though.

    Believe me, it isn’t because women are so great that they don’t get asked whether or not they masturbate. It is because the Church is so bogged down in a patriarchy that would never conceive of female masturbation. “Women *want* to save themselves for their husbands, and have no sexual desires at all except to “improve their marriage” and to procreate.” Bunch of nonsense, I say. Women have plenty of urges.

  39. #36 –
    A quick search of the internet shows that studies have said masturbation increases risk and others have said it decreases risk. You might as well try to argue that wine drinking is good for reducing heart disease so you’re increasing your risk by not drinking and that you have a moral obligation to violate the WoW. And of course, again there are studies that make claims on both sides of the issue.

    I confess when it comes to certain tenants of our faith I’m not at all bothered by studies one way or another and I don’t base actions which go contrary to commandments based on the merits of an imperfect (or even perfect) study. How quick we are to read imperfections in the counsel given by church authorities as a result of the imperfections of those authorities and how quick we are to base our actions on the latest study of the day. The latter half of that point is not a specific criticism of church members, but more an observation that we (society) seem primed to accept as “gospel” any semblance of truth thrown at us by a seemingly credible scientist or study.

  40. I learned a long time ago that there is only one correct answer to a woman’s question “how do I look?”: “Beautiful.” Hopefully Honest Abe in the GEICO commercial has learned that lesson by now.

  41. Of course, when a man asks, I have decided that the only correct answer is “handsome.” We all live in Lake Wobegon.

  42. My answer is, “What does it matter? I look good enough for the both of us.” :)

  43. Blah blah says:


    It’d just be nice not to have to be completely at war with one’s self, both body and soul, when one is Mormon and single …saying nothing of the abysmal shape the Mormon singles program is anyhow. Specifically, I am referring to the physical, mental, and spiritual frustration and confusion that such a predicament places on singles.

    I guess I am just a little tired of the “emperor’s new clothes ” mentality,

  44. Blah Blah as a single LDS woman I am here to tell you that I absolutely understand your frustration and I did not intend to minimize it so I hope that isn’t how it came across. I was attempting to offer my commiseration but from the perspective of what the females have to deal with.

    Even worse than the YSA program is the lack of anything for those singles who are over 30. I thought I might change my mind about getting married until I kept getting contacted by people who are my parents’ age. Yikes!

  45. Wasn’t it BKP that said all truth is not helpful? As adults, we should discern good and bad, and the TR questions help us reflect on if we are doing good. 100% honesty isn’t always commendable. Wise honesty is.

  46. Blah blah says:


    I’m not offended at all. Actually, I’m validated. I just hate even bringing it up. OTOH, I think it should be reckoned with on a Church-wide level. And why not?

  47. “Does this make my butt look big?” “No. No it doesn’t.” vs. “Did you steal the $20 out of the till?” “No. No I didn’t.”
    I see these as two very different types of lies. The first is relative- what is a big butt and who am I to judge? It is a relative question, and ultimately the answer doesn’t make a whole lot of difference in the eternities.
    The second is a moral truth, based on commandment (Thou shalt not steal) and the outcome has ramifications in how we deal, and are dealt with, by others in society and eternity.
    Ultimately, the TR questions are a self-assessment and God and I will hammer out the fine points when I face him in judgement. If I lie about the $20, I suspect that He and I are not going to see eye to eye. But, if I tell my wife she looks good in that dress, in that part of my final interview, I think God will give me wink and say, “Thank you for treating my daughter like the Queen she is.”

  48. Drew I don’t disagree re: moral truth v relative truth. I just know that I would prefer someone told me the truth about how I look. I’m not a game player, so when I ask if my butt looks big I actually want to know because if I look bad I want to change clothes. I’m not fishing for compliments.

    The truth I meant earlier is that my cousin’s father is not really her father. I know this for a fact, but she does not. I do not tell her because it is not my place to. It is technically a lie to not tell her, but I am not going to.

  49. #46:Drew,
    “Ultimately, the TR questions are a self-assessment and God and I will hammer out the fine points when I face him in judgement”.
    So you can lie your way into the Temple and “hammer it out” in the next life? But if you tell the truth (I drink coffee), the interviewer can’t say ” Oh well, you can hammer that out in the next life__here’s your TR”.

  50. I have been pondering honesty a lot lately and have come to the conclusion. Am I honest with myself and what I’m thinking. I need to honor myself more by being honest with myself and not just agreeing with what someone else might want me to believe or agree. When I master this all the other things pertaining to honesty will be honest 100%.

  51. StillConfused says:

    I find this “honest in your dealings” question very interesting. As an attorney, I often know things that maybe are not out there for the general public (at least not at first). If the person who I know is dishonest is Mormon, chances are extremely high that the person also has a temple recommend (and typically touts their temple patronage).

  52. observer fka eric s says:

    This is a tough one because, outside of certain legal or like relationships perhaps, there is no general duty to disclose information to anyone whatsoever. For instance, if a person–even a close friend–asks, “What did you do over the weekend?,” the listener is never obliged to respond. The reason we do respond in this situation, however, is obviously due to a socially created and maintained relationship. In other words, if you don’t answer questions and are not forthcoming with others–even if there is no obligation to do so–you may not develop many long term relationships. That said, there is still no obligation to respond. So if there is no obligation to respond to purely social inquiries, is remaining silent or tactfully diverting the conversation deceptive? Is it disintegral to divert the conversation when one is under no obligation to respond to the inquirer? If you neighbor asks you how much you paid in taxes last year, or how much you earned in income, are you deceptive and lacking integrity for saying, “Well, I didn’t do as well as I had hoped. Say, isn’t it a beautiful day outside?”

    Granted, the temple situation is different. The temple is owned by an entity. It is a private place, and permission must be given to enter. And to enter, members voluntarily subject themselves to the process of gaining permission: the recommend interview. In scenarios like this, by presenting yourself at the interview, you are essentially saying that you consent to a duty of disclosure in response to questions. But even then, what information exactly must one disclose? Very fuzzy area.

    PS – Rope is one of my all time favs.

  53. Blah blah says:


    I think the main reason women only get asked if they are chaste is that the person asking them is a man. To ask if they masturbate sounds too sexual and too much like interrogation.
    In any case, the question is usually soft-peddled for the women, and usually hammered at the men as if each man is under suspicion of sex addiction if he is single.

    Everyone else,

    I highly doubt if married couples are asked if they do such things. But whatever. The mentioning of it here is dangerously close to threadjacking. And who really cares but active singles? After all, they are so in the minority that they are hardly worth mentioning anyhow. I just thought I’d mention it since the subject at hand appears to be about honesty in the Bishop’s office in the pursuit of a temple recommend.
    So lest married folks forget, some of us have to run a harder race with far less reward. And with far harder questions than “what’s the best way to tell my wife she looks good in that ugly dress, and still get to heaven someday. ”

    Just keepin’ it real. Carry on. These are not the droids you’re looking for.

  54. Blah blah says:


    I should also say that single women pretty much have itas difficult as single men…and maybe for reasons both similar and different. I did not want to discount your experience and that of other women in any way.

  55. Blah blah says:


    Sorry to miss you earlier. I appreciate what you are saying. And largely agree. However, sex is not wine.
    The male prostate is an organ that may or may not negotiate. But when infections occur and doctors give their advice and…?
    Then there is another problem which can affect women and men: what if the frustration keeps you from sleeping?

  56. So let me be clear about this….the temple recommend interview question “Do you live the law of chastity?” When the bishop reads it from his paper, it actually has two different questions depending on whether the interviewee is female or male? For men it’s “Do you masturbate?” ? I have difficulty believing this because chastity covers more
    sins like adultery, fornication and masturbation doesn’t. So technically, a man could answer “No” because he doesn’t do that one act but can still obtain the recommend and yet be committing adultery — he just wasn’t asked ?

  57. Blah blah says:


    I appteciate what you are saying.

    Men are also asked if they are chaste, among other things. But I and the several other single men I have asked over several years have each told be that they were asked about “the big M.”

  58. I’ve had and heard of bishops and stake presidents who think” the big M”is not a big deal. So I’ve always thought
    Chastity was how it was asked no matter what sex the person was.

  59. Blah blah says:

    IOW, I am of the opinion that single men have the more rigorous temple interview of anyone. And some have health risks that may or may not be considered by the interviewing Bishop. I speak from my own and others’ experience.

  60. Are they lenient if a male has a health risk?

  61. Blah blah says:

    I am sure there are local leaders who feel it is not a serious sin. Yet there are others who will send a man to a sex class over it even if it happens twice a month.

    It’s an issue that does not fix itself readily. I mean, who wants to raise THAT flag?

  62. Blah blah says:

    Some are lenient and others are not. Then again, I am speaking of collective conversation and experience throughout the past decade or so. Things may be changing. But I still know single men who struggle, health issues or not.

  63. Blah blah says:

    In any case, the Gospel is true. These issues are merely “growing pains.”

    “Further to fly.” (Paul Simon. )

  64. Well, I think all the leaders should be consistent in how they judge masturbation as they all do with adultery and fornication. It’s either a sin or it isn’t but the other two clearly are. And it shouldn’t matter whether one is male or female.

  65. Blah blah says:

    Well put. I could not agree more.
    And here’s an idea: let’s create a singles program that actually works. IOW, let’s empower singles to create small, intimate activities, rather than relying upon these huge, unwieldy, monolithic dances and whatnot?
    You’d think we’d figure it out. Its only eternal progression we are dealing with here. That and our temporal hopes and dreams.

  66. Yes, and I will close for tonight. The singles programs have always been quite inept.

  67. Blah blah says:

    Thanks again, Meg. G’nite.

  68. I have no experience with Single Adult programs other than through people I know. They sound straight out of the 1950’s. But then again, so do a lot of things. I’ll put on my poodle skirt and saddle shoes, let’s all go and share a malt!

  69. #68″ EOR,
    I can’t recall of one Single Adult program in the 1950s (?)

  70. Large group “date” activities are completely a 50’s notion (possibly the 60’s as well). My parents started dating in 1969 and after their first meeting they never went on a group date again. Group dates are so terrible, imo. I am not sure how you are supposed to get to know someone if you are all a group. It screams meat market to me.

  71. The conversation has become sidetracked a little. Thank you for taking the time to respond but lets try and keep the comments focused on the topic of the OP.

  72. Meldrum the Less says:

    The last question in the TR gets me; something about do you feel worthy to enter the temple? It is a trick question, except it feels like I am the only one who gets it.

    If I actually believed it was the House of God then the answer is, no I am most definitely not worthy; how is it possible I will ever be worthy to enter your house. None of us is worthy. If I was scoring the TR like a test, then anyone who said they thought they were worthy to enter the temple, would miss that question and flunk the test on grounds of profound self-righteous lack of humility.

    My uncle was a janitor and gardener at one of the old Utah pioneer temples. He tells a story of a terrible blizzard and a phone call from the temple president that he had left one of the windows open in the west tower before the line goes dead. Uncle trudges one city block through the blizzard almost getting lost and enters the temple. It was nigh impossible for anyone to be there.

    He climbs the stairs. He hears footsteps in the tower and… He runs like hell back out the door and into the life threatening blizzard.. He was a marine in WWII- South Pacific (Bouganville, Saipan, Iowa Jima, Okinawa, etc.) and after the war he “weren’t afraid of nothing.”

    The next day after the blizzard he is the first one in the temple door to check for damage. He finds the west tower window closed, a little patch of snow on the floor beneath it proving it had been opened, and a solitary bare right human foot print in the snow. In the middle of the foot print is a raised diamond shaped little mount of snow about a half inch tall resembling the end of a railroad tie.

    True story or truely a story: either way it illustrates the expected response to actually facing deity. The TR interview and all of its little white lies is like a child’s tea party masquarading as the pleading of a serial killer to have his death sentence commuted before the Supreme Court without an attorney.

  73. Ron Madson says:

    there is a greater fear for some than facing Diety and that is facing that there is none…

  74. Ron Madson says:

    As I tell my clients before a deposition–“just answer the precise question asked–do not anticipate what the person is fishing for..” And as it pertains to church matters an TR interviews, just follow the brethren example with the public and in correlated lessons and all will be well.

  75. I discussed this on my own blog today as well. I won’t link it since I am too much of a noob to advertise my own stuff yet. However, the lie-by-omission/protect-myself-from-vulnerability question weighs heavily on my mind. I, and my millions upon millions of readers (read: 4) thank you for the discussion.

  76. #49 Bob:
    In your response, you were selective in what I said. You quoted me as saying: “Ultimately, the TR questions are a self-assessment and God and I will hammer out the fine points when I face him in judgement.” But, the qualifier was the next sentence: “If I lie about the $20, I suspect that He and I are not going to see eye to eye.” My point being, there are plenty of people who lie their way into the temple. In reality, the TR questions ARE a self-assesment. You are making a statement to the Bishop/Stake President who will stand as witnesses against you in the final judgement should you lie.
    That lie is dealing with a moral issue. The lie where I tell my wife that I think a dress looks good on her, even I don’t think it does, isn’t- it’s relative (she may thinks she looks good, I may not, but someone else may think she looks great).

    #48 EOR:
    I understand what you’re saying, but I would still say that it is a relative truth, not a moral one. I say that, because while I may lie about the paternity (or lie by omission in not saying anything) it is not my place to make those kinds of decisions about how to affect another person’s life.

  77. @Blah Blah #37 and @EOR #38 and @Meg #56,

    The question is, “Do you live the law of chastity?” Period. End of question. Nothing more is added. In fact, Bishoprics and Stake Presidents are specifically told not to add requirements to those that are outlined in the temple recommend book.

    So the question is, what does it mean to be chaste? It’s a black and white question. No sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage. Chaste in thought and chaste in action. I have never elaborated on the question by asking deeper questions but I have explained when a member asked for a better understanding of the question. Now whether Bishops over Singles Wards are given specific instruction to ask that question of the men in their Ward I cannot say. Though in all my years in many single adult Wards no Bishop ever asked me that question.

    Whether or not the specific question is asked of you, the point is you’re either honestly stating you are living the law of chastity or you are not. There is really no rationalization here. Irregardless of whatever the physical health benefits might be, masturbation may not be a serious transgression but it is contrary to the law of chastity.

  78. Blah blah says:


    You are contradicting yourself. Was it accidental or on purpose to make a point? Please reread your post. You say that the law of chastity is defined as no sex before marriage. You also say that masterbation may not be a serious sin, even though in the beginning of your comment you said the issue is black and white.

    All I can say is that the only way it is that simple is if you are married and far removed.

  79. Blah blah says:


    IOW, the word “may” cannot be black and white. True?

  80. Nothing having to do with human beings is either simple, or black and white imo. Everything is complicated, and I am on board with Blah blah in thinking that masturbation is one of the more complicated areas–especially for a single person.

    When I lived in UT I remember hearing rumors of BYU students who would run off to Las Vegas and get married for a weekend just so they could have sex and then getting either divorced or annulled or something. I am not sure how true it is, but if I had a son I would rather he masturbate than follow such an unresonable and dangerous course of action. Also, I would prefer that he not marry the first girl he meets who will have him merely because he *has to*.

  81. “lie-by-omission”

    Fwiw, there is no such thing, imo. If something isn’t asked, it isn’t lying to not answer it.

    Also, the Law of Chastity, as defined in the temple, says nothing about masturbation – and neither does the temple recommend question itself. I’m not making a statement one way or the other about the practice itself, but the temple recommend question and the definition used in the temple don’t address it in any way.

  82. Blah blah says:

    Growing pains.

    I believe this stuff will work itself out in time. Until then, alot of people will be hurt and confused; and having to find their own peace…in or out of the Church , with or without the Spirit. But my prediction is that it will take a long time, since no one wants to discuss it even now. Til then everyone will be lying to each other about the obvious. The high inactivity rather among singles sill continue to astound and astonish. The next generation will somewhat abandon the necessity of marrying within the Church, and we will all blame it on the wicked world …never considering the fact that the singles program has been deplorable since square-dancing fell out of fashion. Somewhere around that time local leaders will start asking singles (who are left) what they think the solutions are. But by then, many will be damaged by decades of sorrow and anger. They will resent getting asked half a lifetime too late.

    But the problem will be solved nonetheless. Certain married folks can continue to act smug, aloof, or ignorant to the plethora of hardships the singles face in the Church. That’s OK. Their children and grand-children will hardly be afforded such luxury.

  83. Blah blah says:

    ” …The high inactivity rate among singles STILL continues to astound and astonish.”

    Sorry. Typing with my thumbs.

  84. Blah blah says:


    The sin of self-abuse is explicit in “The Miracle of Forgiveness ” and “Mormon Doctrine. “

  85. #84 – I know what those books say, but my comment still is 100% accurate.

  86. Blah blah says:


    True. But what God thinks is the question of the hour. :)

  87. It also says in the “Miracle of Forgiveness” that masturbation causes homosexuality. It doesn’t. And hasn’t “Mormon Doctrine” been found to contain lots of errors and isn’t being published anymore?

  88. Blah blah says:


    They do appear imperfect, but that just seems to spotlight on the fact that there remains to be confusion.

  89. #87: Meg,
    You can still get you copy of “Mormon Doctine” for $248 on Amazon. Or, I will sell you mine for less (one of them).

  90. hawkgrrrl says:

    First, thanks for the movie recommendation! I recently read Sam Harris’ book called Lying which covers a lot of the same points. He shares the statistic that within marriage, 17% of communication between spouses is deceptive. He calls it lying whenever we knowingly portray ourselves or our views differently than they are. I think an aspect that is tricky is when our thoughts or views are paradoxical, when we can see the validity of two contradictory viewpoints and to a certain extent consider them both possible or equally valid. So, technically it’s deceptive to only portray one of those viewpoints as our own if we are really able to see both as valid. I think it’s not possible to accurately communicate or even know our viewpoint on some topics.

  91. Hawk, thanks for that. I had not heard of the book previously; I will check it out. Interesting statistic. The type of lying I am worried about here, as it relates to your comment would be this, “whenever we knowingly portray ourselves or our views differently than they are” for self-serving purposes. However I completely agree that this complete honesty is impossible to achieve.

  92. #91: Aaron R.,
    ““whenever we knowingly portray ourselves or our views differently than they are” .
    Yes, that’s not just telling a lie__it’s living a lie.

  93. hawkgrrrl says:

    I think another issue with truth-telling is that we portray ourselves at a point in time, but that changes. Unless we are openly telling people every time there is a shift in our views, their perception of us doesn’t change. But there’s no point making constant self-declarations every day.

  94. Hawk, currently I am assigned to a ward that is not the ward in which I live. I used to live in this ward and will probably end up attending there soon. I am quite different now than I was back when I was last here and I worry about the level of honesty I need to have with people.

  95. @Blah Blah #78 there is no contradiction to what I said. The Church policy is be chaste. Masturbation equates to not being chaste. When I stated it is not considered a serious transgression I was stating what Handbook 1 explains – Bishops should not consider this a transgression worth encouraging someone to come in for a disciplinary council but it is still a transgression and worth discussion if it is something a man or woman struggles with.

    The message to members is quite clearly outlined in the recently updated For The Strength of Youth:

    The Lord’s standard regarding sexual purity is clear and unchanging. Do not have any sexual relations before marriage, and be completely faithful to your spouse after marriage. Do not allow the media, your peers, or others to persuade you that sexual intimacy before marriage is acceptable. It is not. In God’s sight, sexual sins are extremely serious. They defile the sacred power God has given us to create life. The prophet Alma taught that sexual sins are more serious than any other sins except murder or denying the Holy Ghost (see Alma 39:5).

    Never do anything that could lead to sexual transgression. Treat others with respect, not as objects used to satisfy lustful and selfish desires. Before marriage, do not participate in passionate kissing, lie on top of another person, or touch the private, sacred parts of another person’s body, with or without clothing. Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body. Pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit so that you can be clean and virtuous. The Spirit of the Lord will withdraw from one who is in sexual transgression.

    Do not arouse those emotions in your own body sounds pretty definitive to me.

    My comment regarding health benefits was simply to say that while the medical research might declare such actions appropriate even necessary for good health, similar research has said a cup of coffee or a glass of wine is beneficial to the body also. But you don’t see the Word of Wisdom question changing, do you?

    I was single well past the typical point of marriage in the Church so I understand the raging hormones and desire to find gratification. It is a very real desire and struggle for young and old single adults. However, does the situation even change when we’re married? We went almost a year without any relations between my wife and I for physical / emotional reasons at one point in our marriage. Would self satisfaction have been appropriate in those circumstances? Not by my reading of the teachings and handbooks. Your interpretation might vary from that. But this doesn’t change the Church’s stance on masturbation.

    In my own search on this question I have found that because we are spiritual beings going through a physical experience, my responsibility is ultimately to take control of my physical urges and desires and allow the spiritual to overcome. The soul is healthy when the spirit and body are harmonious.

  96. #95 – Alain, I know this is not the conservative line, but I have no problem with differing standards on some things for youth and for adults. Maturity brings with it the ability to discern nuance, exception and individual responsibility and accountability in differing circumstances, as well as to know how to “handle fire” without getting burned. I see that throughout our scriptures, frankly, including in the examples of Jesus of Nazareth and all the prophets.

    I think forcing appropriate youth standards on adults leads to infanilization of adults – when the focus should be on becoming capable of comprehending complexity, instead. I think it’s a terribly destructive stance to take, and I I’d tell you more of how I feel about it, but I don’t want to get sidetracked into more specifics.

    I think the central issue, however, relates directly to this post.

  97. Blah blah says:


    I appreciate your point although I somewhat disagree. In my world, if medical marijuana made the difference of whether I had a life worth living or not as far as pain management, I’d be doing it. Sure, I’d consult my Bishop. But if he forbade it, I’d go to my SP. If I was still considered unworthy, then I guess I’d have to remain unworthy as long as that choice of medication was the only thing that helped me.

    With regard to masturbation, some men get prostate infections when they don’t do it. And some Bishops still forbid it and refuse temple recommends for single men in such predicaments. I am not speaking hypothetically. How can this be right?

    And my original point was that women are asked if they are chaste. Men are too, but all the single men I know and have asked have said that their Bishops have always asked if they masturbate, and that it always is a dealbreaker for temple worthiness.

    OTOH, I have known more than one good, righteous single woman who did not even know it was a sin before I asked her about it.

    It’s all so forbidden to get any solid answers about. And the whole thing is part and parcel of the reality of Mormon singledom that no one wants to discuss. Yet everyone seems to agree that something should be done for singles. Well, they are leaving in mass and we just simply watch…as if nothing could or even should be done.

    And lest anyone miss the connection : singles + empowerment over their own program = less masturbation ( i. e. more marriage. )

    Then more marriage would in turn = more Church retention, hence more happy, heaven-bound Mormons.

    Or is my math incorrect?

  98. Blah blah says:


    True thanks for that ….

  99. Blah blah says:


    Singles are not fighting for masturbation rights. They are fighting for a way to have love in their life …hopefully eternal. Some stay in the Church while others leave. But they are all just looking for a way.

    Between the day they are baptized and the day they get married can spread out into several decades sometimes. And you say that all sexual release is evil?
    You may be right. I honestly don’t know. But with all respect, I doubt your qualifications. As zip do some Bishops, sadly.

  100. Blah blah says:

    As I do some Bishops, sadly.

  101. Blah blah says:


    To bring the mastubation topic back into line with the OP… How does one have integrity in the Bishop’s office when one knows there are gaping double-standards.

    For example, I recently knew a single woman who confessed to sexual sin and was disfellowshipped. Her female friend in the same ward, also single, had Bern sexually active for nearly two years and had repeatedly told the Bishop as much.

    The difference between the two women? The first was a confident woman who frankly admitted her error. The second woman was “the Ward victim” who turned on the tears every time she was in the Bishop’s office.

  102. Something I neglected to state, many often conflate the statement “that sexual sins are more serious than any other save murder” to include masturbation. That is not the case at all according to the Handbook and I am not conflating it either. That is why I stated it is not a serious transgression.

  103. Blah blah says:

    I forgot to say, the second woman (the victim) had gotten away with nothing more than probation for two years. These women were in the same ward at the same time …with the same transgressions, just different discipline.

    Could not this trend and those like it lead to white lies?

  104. Blah blah says:


    I appreciate that. Really. But it will still keep you out of the temple, and maybe unworthy for sacrament.
    Lots of gray here, I’m afraid. No wonder folks leave offended. They don’t know how to balance an ironclad law with and ironclad set of hormones. So, they fall out so as not to get squooshed between the two. Others abide the squoosh.

  105. Thanks for the comments everyone but I get the feeling this conversation has run its course. Maybe in my forthcoming post on the history of Onanism in the Church we can hash this out again.

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