The Discipline of Mormonism

ImageRecent posts here at BCC have considered the ideas of ordinances and covenants—the terms themselves and how the Latter-day Saint understanding of them has developed over time. In this post, I would like to consider these concepts in still another light. I believe that it is our particular regimen of covenants (which are made in ritual contexts we call ordinances) that imparts to the LDS way of life most if not all of its distinctive energy. 

Some have argued that a belief in Joseph Smith as a prophet in very deed, in the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient record, and in the current leaders of the Church as prophets, seers, and revelators are the indispensable hallmarks of being LDS. Certainly such demarcations might be invoked as the point beyond which, if one still wants to claim to be LDS or Mormon, a qualifier such as “cultural” or “social” or “lapsed” or even “unbelieving” might be warranted. But even assent to certain key beliefs does not really get at what is transformative and identity-forming in our tradition. What makes a real Latter-day Saint identifiable as such is not just her doctrinal commitments, but the way that covenants she has made have shaped her human relationships, lifestyle choices, and devotional practice.

Covenants order our communities, our families, and our lives. They have temporal and physical effects such that even if belief fades and practice lapses, the stamp of covenants upon the social, familial, and cultural topography of daily life does not wash off in a day or even for years, if ever.

This emphasis on making and keeping covenants—sacred promises made or renewed in the ritual contexts of ordinances like baptism, the sacrament, the endowment, and marriage sealing—constitutes what I have come to think of as the discipline of Mormonism (taking the latter term to refer specifically to the LDS tradition in this instance). We make more sacred promises than any other Christ-centric tradition of which I am aware, and we endow those promisees with sustained spiritual and social gravity. Some of the ways we do this include:

  1. Repetition. After baptism, by which we enter into the new and everlasting covenant with a promise to keep the Lord’s commandments (which are myriad), take his name upon us, and become a part of the covenant community of the Saints, we renew these promises on a weekly basis in partaking of the Lord’s supper—the sacrament. There has also been in the past two decades or so an accelerated emphasis on returning to the temple as often as circumstances permit. In the temple we are reminded of promises we have made in that setting.
  2. Purity requirements. Baptism is the means by which we enter into covenant, and confirmation—right after baptism—is intended to lead to cleansing by the Holy Spirit. Thereafter, we are expected—expected both socially and ecclesiastically—to maintain lives of cleanliness and repentance in connection with the weekly sacrament. This ritual purity is also required of those who would go to the temple, setting the promises made there in a category apart from New Year’s resolutions, self-improvement goals, or even legal contracts. We see legal contracts as binding, certainly, but a covenant feels just as weighty as a contract to a Latter-day Saint, even though there is no signed instrument or penal code to back it up.
  3. Disciplinary regime. This is related to the purity requirements. Covenants are treated seriously in that certain violations of them are regarded as grounds for formal ecclesiastical review and possible disciplinary actions such as disfellowshipment or excommunication.
  4. Maintenance of sacred space. The baptismal font, though usually connected with a primary room, is partitioned away and only opened for the ordinance itself. The chapel, where the sacrament is administered, is likewise to be used only for meetings of a reverent character. For all other purposes, our buildings include cultural halls or other rooms apart from the main sanctuary of the chapel. And the highest decorum and the most subdued vocal registers are expected in the temple, where regimentation prevails and where great efforts are expended to maintain an atmosphere of serenity and worship at all times.
  5. Formality and order. Also related to the purity requirements and the maintenance of sacred space is the elevated behavior and dress associated with the making of covenantal promises. The covenant-making and disciplinary framework of the Church is anchored to the geographies in which we live our lives–the wards and stakes to which we are assigned (we don’t pick and choose) and by which we are organized, or “set in order.” Sunday best is encouraged for services where the sacrament is administered, and is expected in the temples. In such settings we often address our leaders and one another by formal titles (President, Bishop, Brother, Sister, etc.). There are handbooks and policies, and even an “unwritten order” of things that all serve to spell-out and maintain the highly structured social and ecclesiastical organization of the Church.
  6. Language. There is a certain tone of language—associated and imbued with the language of scripture—that is used in covenantal settings as well. It is prescribed, even scripted, and set apart in that way from other speech modes that we use, even at Church.

As should be obvious to anyone reading this summary of LDS formalities, they come with an inherent risk. It can be tempting in a tradition such as this to slide too far toward a legalistic, even pharisaical approach in which the means of solemnizing covenants and investing them with seriousness become ends in themselves. Unfortunately, stories of policies being rigidly enforced to the wounding of the actual people they were meant to bless are known to most members of the Church. So are stories of members who rebel against any kind of high expectation for behavior, dress, or language such that they fail to appreciate the goods that times and places of formality have to offer. But when it is done right—when LDS practice weds and balances its sense of covenantal gravity with “kindness and pure knowledge,” when we open ourselves to the dramatic tension of living with both high expectations and deep patience for ourselves and each other, when the Church is as true as the gospel (to borrow Eugene England’s beautiful phrase), then our attitudes and actions combine to invest our covenants with lively force and we gain access to some of the richest veins of grace that being a Latter-day Saint has to offer.

Questions: In what other ways does LDS practice impart gravity to the covenants that form its core? Are there practices—official or otherwise—that might detract from them? How do other faith traditions that you are familiar with compare to the LDS approach to sacred promises? What are some specific examples of how covenants contribute to the formation of LDS identity? To what extent does the density of local LDS populations impact the way that covenants are perceived and lived? Is there one covenant or many?

NOTE: This post is the sixth in a series based on the monthly themes from “Come, Follow Me,” the new youth curriculum for the Church. Here are the previous posts for JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMay, and June.


  1. Some would say that these tactics are what keep members in your church obedient and “in line.” A lot of what you wrote follows closely to the B.I.T.E method of mind control.

    As someone who wants to believe in the church this is a little disheartening.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    Allina, I think that is an unfair comparison.

    Morgan, I like this as a sort of Religious Studies approach to the topic. As one with an amateur historian’s impulse it is really good to think of things in different ways. E.g., regarding repetition, my tendency is to contextualize the rituals and covenant making when there really wasn’t much repetition at all. However, for the virtually all current church members repetition is the context.

  3. It can be tempting in a tradition such as this to slide too far toward a legalistic, even pharisaical approach in which the means of solemnizing covenants and investing them with seriousness become ends in themselves. Excellent point and well said! So what exactly are the true ends that each of these practices point to and shouldn’t we focus more attention on those than on this? Isn’t there a danger of worshiping the icons including the brethren? How would that differ from worshiping Aaron’s golden calf? Isn’t religion the moralization of spirituality? Therefore shouldn’t we follow the spirit if we are able instead of the prophet? Where is the training for that?

  4. Thank you, Morgan; this is an absolutely wonderful post. It’s one of those things that will be recognizable to those who “get” Mormonism but a puzzle, something to pick apart and argue against, to those who don’t.

  5. Angela C says:

    Does this put us in the category of the Catholic church with a series of rites that mark the passage of time (these sacraments also theoretically should require an increase in spiritual progress at each stage)? How would you characterize their series of sacraments by contrast? I think this is one of the many layers of framework that make Mormonism enduring, but not IMO the whole thing. Maybe the 2x4s, but not the drywall.

  6. Allina, that is a serious stretch. Seriously, stretched that far pretty much any ritualization would fit the comparison – as well as pretty much any passionate teaching of strongly believed doctrine.

    Excellent, Morgan. Thank you.

  7. Antonio Parr says:

    Thank you for this thought-provoking post.

  8. Great explanation of the “2x4s” to
    provide a framework to who we are and our culture.
    I don’t know how folks feel about this, our structure works like Catholicism to a degree- formal repentance, disciplinary process, and rituals (I’m selecting a few from your examples).
    Thanks, I’ll use in my toolbag for suite discussions with my friends.

  9. Stargazer says:

    If we are going to be open enough to consider analyzing our reasons for beliefs and structure and commitments (like from an anthropological POV) we need to be open to things “looking weird” from academic and analytical viewpoints. Faith in and of itself looks weird, like a completely illogical reason to do something. There are definitely elements of propaganda in our church publications and websites, which is a label used for governing styles we don’t agree with (although we have plenty of our own “positive” governmental propaganda), there is also plenty of “Socialist realism”, i.e., an ideal image of LDS people that tends to look great in photos but can make members on the inside think that is how they are supposed to look and act every Sunday.

    So if something looks like “mind control”, two thoughts: first: if applied poorly from an unrighteous effort, it probably is. People whose families had a fairly conservative application of some of the more legalistic cultural trappings of Mormonism (as opposed to LDS doctrine) speak of having to “heal” from their authoritarian upbringing and learn to realize what the gospel itself has to offer. My second thought is that, we need to especially teach our children about their own choices early in life. 2 Nephi 2 puts agency squarely into an eternal principle, and so we even teach our family that being baptized is a CHOICE they can make. Honestly, I can see that culture is conditioning, and so the question is, is it really a choice? Speaking as a parent, I feel like I would like to shape the thinking of my children so that is a type of cultural conditioning as well. If I help my children develop autonomy and critical thinking skills, allowing them to question the why’s and wherefores, then they will at least have some skills to allow them to analyze the gospel as they grow up and decide if it’s still the right fit for them, hopefully through study and prayer.

  10. Stargazer, I agree with your comment – but, again, the key is “applied poorly from an unrighteous effort”. As I said, that standard is applicable to every organization that has existed throughout history; it is in no way unique to the LDS Church.

    That’s important to understand.

  11. Excellent post Morgan. Some things to very seriously reflect over here.

  12. Good thoughts. I like this, “What makes a real Latter-day Saint identifiable… is not just… doctrinal commitments, but the way that covenants… [shape his/her] human relationships, lifestyle choices, and devotional practice.”

    @Howard. “Therefore shouldn’t we follow the spirit if we are able instead of the prophet?” I think the short answer is no, we should follow the spirit and the prophet. Unless those holding the keys of the Kingdom have abused their power to the extent that it would be justifiable to take them to a general church court over, then public loyalty to those keys and to those charged with exercising them is our duty as members of the Kingdom. We may have private beliefs/opinions/even revelation about the future that differs from the current state of affairs, but it is not within the right of our stewardship to publicly dissent until something extreme enough warrants seeking a church court, and even then our loyalty must remain with the decision of the court. To my understanding, the spirit will not / cannot dictate otherwise, as it would be contrary to the order of the Priesthood.

  13. Thanks for this post. My husband is speaking on covenants and being a covenant people tomorrow and I happened to read this just before he wanted to discuss his talk with me. It gave me a little to add to the discussion.

  14. Chris Kimball says:

    An almost trivial addition to the ways LDS practice imparts gravity is the use of ritual language, the same words every time, a formula. A recent conversation with a family member highlighted for me that there alternatives to a formula (even ritual alternatives), and that using the same words every time has a defining power. We baptize with particular words, leaving us with a normally unexamined question whether any other formulation could be correct/valid/permitted/recognized?

    More generally, I really like the post as descriptive of Mormon practice and experience. It is perceptive and recognizable. The “What makes a real Latter-day Saint identifiable . . .” sentence makes me sit up and pay attention. A lot of ink has been spilled over the meaning of “real Latter-day Saint” and this post can be read as an entry in that discussion. One that I find true to the culture and everyday practice. Part of the strength of the post is that I can turn each numbered paragraph on its head to describe ways that individuals can and do feel themselves to be outsiders, not or no longer a “real” Latter-day Saint. (Not that I’m defining real or not real, but that I know people do it to themselves in these ways.)

  15. I’m enjoying a lot of these contributions, thanks, all.

    Chris, I agree. I made a nod to ritual language at item 6, but it was pretty vague, so thanks for bringing that out.

    Allina: I can see how a summary such as I have made here, concentrating a lot of information about the discipline of Mormonism into a few words might lead to the impression that we are a totalitarian military cult of some sort. But if you are a member of the church, or if you know Latter-day Saints, you also hopefully know and have seen that we’re not automatons. In fact, an interesting corollary to this post might be to consider the many ways that the regimentation of LDS life is mitigated in practice. We take the edge off with humor, with mild forms of rebellion (colored shirts at church, anyone?), and so forth. This would be a lot of fun to think more about, and I invite folks to submit suggestions as to how Latter-day Saints try to “keep it real.”

    To several commenting on 2x4s vs. drywall, I think I basically agree. Covenants are the inner framework of LDS life, but they are not the whole story. The point of this post is that without covenants (2x4s), there isn’t really anything to hang the drywall (particular modes of life, aesthetics, and cultural practices) on—the religion loses its essential character. That said, I am fascinated by the regional variations that I know exist for LDS practice and experience but which we have scarcely begun to catalogue or describe. I hope that the establishment of continental history centers for the Church and other efforts to recognize and respect a certain amount of local variation and adaptation among the Saints will receive more attention from scholars and leaders alike.

  16. SteveF,
    I see you allowed for a difference between personal revelation and the advise of LDS prophets which certainly can exist because prophets dispense general public advice and the Spirit often provides specific personal advice but in acting on personal revelation you then make a jump all the way to public dissonance. Why so extreme? My comment was simply about following the Spirit instead of the prophet not public descent. In other words one follows the Spirit all the time so when the prophet and Spirit agree one acts in concert with LDS prophets and when they disagree you simply follow the Spirit’s direction or this can occur by exception through generally following the prophet but following the Spirit when so prompted.

  17. glasscluster says:

    Thank you all for commenting.

    In my mind, I am a “real” Latter-day Saint. By this I mean I covenanted to choose the Lord’s ways instead of being hell-bent on my own will and preferences. I choose to deal with the suffering of others and discipline myself as Jesus did. It is hard and takes a lot of humility…which I struggle with…as evidenced in the way that every time I go through an endowment I feel very frustrated and downright critical of the ritual that, to me, perpetuates attitudes in the Church toward women that conflict with my sense of who I am to God.

    What puzzles me is that I seem to be alone in this. From what I can see, we as a church go along with this aspect of temple ritual…though it may offend our intuition. Though Allina’s comments struck me as extreme…I do identify with her…and feel that some of what we do seems, well, mindless. We call it “faith” to do things we don’t understand or even support. That is what disturbs me most…to love the Church and its Christ-centered teachings…to want to live a life of discipleship…but to be in a place where I feel it more Christ-like to reject (at least privately) aspects of ritual that the Church defines as the pinnacle to worship for a Latter-day Saint.

    On the other hand, church participation is rewarding and endearing and cleansing…befriending others, learning to listen…I love that and the process makes me feel close to God. The initiatory ceremony in the temple empowers me function peacefully with people who are different than I am…to understand that I can deal with complex issues and responsibilities. But the endowment reverses the effect of the initiatory for me…leads me to feel less endowed with God’s power, not more. Ironically, it is through avoiding the endowment that I stay committed to my covenants to serve both in and out of the Church.

  18. glass cluster,
    Very well said and clearly expressed. Thanks for putting it in words.

  19. Old Man says:

    Glass cluster,
    I respectfully challenge your perspective. Women are promised a great deal in the initiatory, while men are placed under more responsibility. And I would submit that the aspects of the endowment that offends your soul may be due to a misunderstanding of the endowment itself. And with all due respect, the endowment is not the pinnacle of worship for the Latter-day Saint. It does point towards that experience, but it is a gate, not a destination.

  20. Old Man, I respectfully challenge any assertion that dismisses the real and easily understandable difficulty some people have with some aspects of our institutional worship – especially any assertion that labels that struggle as the result of ignorance.

    It’s incredibly easy for a man to dismiss a woman’s experience about something, and the fact that I know many (and I mean many) faithful, dedicated, intelligent, insightful female saints (many who know the Savior and understand and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ better than I do) who also struggle with exactly what glasscluster described leads me even more toward not dismissing but rather trying to learn from that perspective.

  21. Ray,
    Word brother.

  22. @Howard. I had to think of an extreme example before I could imagine the Spirit prompting a person to do something contrary to following the prophet. I understand what you are saying about when general guidelines are given that they do not necessarily apply to every unique circumstance, and I think our leaders and prophets have said as much. So to me, following the prophet entails listening and giving high consideration to the guidelines, but recognizing that caveats can apply as dictated by the spirit. By giving this respect and consideration to guidelines, even if a caveat applies to your individual circumstance, I would still say the person is following the prophet. But there are also policies, public stances, and commandments that are meant/intended to be universal (more than just guidelines). My comment was to show that the Spirit will not ask us to live in open opposition to the accepted policies and commandments of the church, as it would be opposed to the order of the Priesthood.

    To me when you say follow the spirit instead of the prophet, it implies no need for the prophet’s guidance once you have reached a certain level of spirituality. That we can simply follow what we believe to be right, and when the prophet happens to fall in line with our opinion, then we will follow him–which in reality is not following at all. Maybe that was not your intention, but I know such a notion is false. One of the purposes of the keys of the Kingdom is to provide overall guidance and order to the church, which spiritually benefits every and any member willing to accept this guidance, for we all have blind spots from time to time, and it is not within our stewardship to view the Kingdom as a whole and determine what is best on a collective basis. Because I don’t view exceptions to those things stated or intended as general guidelines as not following the prophet, I believe only in the most extreme circumstances does “follow the spirit instead of the prophet” apply. Therefore, I prefer and think it is more beneficial and proper to use the guideline “follow the spirit AND the prophet”. They go and work together.

  23. @Endowment discussion. I’m not sure if any one is endorsing such a thought, but I think it would be a sorry thing to dismiss the whole of the endowment because of a few sentences in an hour plus long presentation. Brigham Young had a great responsibility in organizing and systematizing the rite, and I know and believe his testimony that he was guided by the spirit and God in doing so. I don’t think Brigham Young ever claimed it was perfected in its entirety, so it should not come as a surprise that some cultural aspects of his era should creep in from time to time. But to focus so much on these things at the mercy of missing the incredible beauty, symbolism, and revelation of many great mysteries and power that one can walk away from this ceremony with would be a shame indeed. If we recognize mistakes, they are the mistakes of men. It is the Devil that riles up the hearts of men and women to contention and anger, let not these things enter our hearts. Let us rather act in compassion towards the mistakes of leaders past and present, recognizing our own imperfections as mortals, and let not these mistakes be a stumbling block towards being enriched by the Spirit of the Lord, and coming unto the glorious blessings available through the endowment even coming unto the Lord Himself. I am grateful for tremendous blessing the endowment and the presentation of the endowment are to me, even if there are some mistakes of men. I look forward to a time when any mistakes can be corrected, and I understand feeling uncomfortable with them as they stand, I just hope this doesn’t take away from the great many truths and opportunities that we have been given and/or are available through the ceremony. In the end I hope we can take advantage of these blessings and be grateful to the Lord and the leaders who sought and received revelation to get us where we are today.

  24. SteveF,
    I agree with much of your view but offer this brief powerful exception; Christ is our example and he was a Great Prophet, he spoke directly with God. Are we not to become prophets too?

  25. Agreed, and although we might not obtain and be able to exercise all the keys of the kingdom, for there is only one on earth that can do so at a time, that we can become prophets and prophetesses to act in our own spheres is a wonderful concept to me, and one I think that is worthy of seeking. In fact, the vision of becoming and nation of kings and queens, priests and priestesses, is to me the very same idea.

  26. SteveF, I teach the oldest youth Sunday School class in my ward, and I post a summary of each week’s lesson on my personal blog each Saturday. You might be interested in the lesson summary focused on Elder Oaks’ General Conference talk, “Two Lines of Communication”. You can read it at the following link:

  27. Thanks, I’ve always enjoyed what I’ve read at your blog.

  28. Ray and Howard,
    Thank you for truly hearing my concerns about the endowment…for advocating for me.

    Old Man,
    I agree with you. I don’t understand the endowment.

    But your well-meant response –“If you understood, you would understand”–took me in a little circle to nowhere.

    Such a response I’d use on a whiny, belligerent teenager…not on an adult who desires a testimony of the endowment process, who has arguably valid concerns.

    Your words reinforced my theory that portions of the endowment teach (well-meaning) men that they must speak for women in matters of highest spiritual importance.

    Steve F.—

    Thank you for imagining what troubles me about the endowment.
    But you have no idea, as I have not explained it.
    I do thank you for posing the idea that cultural insensitivity may exist in the temple ritual…and in time it may be changed or at least examined.
    Sacred does not mean never altered.
    If that were the case, revelation directing one thing would never be reversed.

    Like you said, it would be a shame to “dismiss the whole endowment because of a few sentences in an hour.” And I will go back and find the good and blessings in it…
    Interestingly, as I put my concerns on the shelf, get outside my head, and engage in worship that involves helping living people…I can let the confusion of the endowment go.

    Maybe that is the first step to living a covenant life.

  29. Just wanted to add my voice to those thanking Morgan for this post. I like it.

  30. @Steve F.
    I appreciate the sentiment you communicate, but it seems easy enough for you to let go of potential mortal “mistakes” when they don’t affect you personally. It would be much easier to not worry about it when you aren’t the one required to make a covenant which doesn’t meet the definition of a covenant (a 2-way promise with God) that places you in a hierarchical position below your doctrinally defined equal partner, which is then reinforced in most of your promises, in which you are continually promised to remain in a hierarchical relationship (oranges are to apples as bananas are to oranges) comparing your husband to you as god is to him. It is very troubling, more troubling to some women than a simple “I guess we make mistakes in the temple, oh well” can satisfy.

    Sorry if I sound belligerent- it’s more that I just don’t understand the virtue of clearly seeing a hierarchical pattern in our covenanting, and thinking “I guess it’s a mistake that will get corrected eventually.” If we are making mistakes in our sacred covenants, what is the point of covenants in the first place? Isn’t that what is supposed to set our church apart, that we have the restored priesthood and God’s real covenants? If the covenants reflect mortal mistakes, what makes us any different from any other church? And if they aren’t mistakes, how can we possibly reconcile what we see in the temple with what we’re taught about marriage being a partnership of equals, with no hierarchy and no single authority line?

    “In the Church there is a distinct line of authority. We serve where called by those who preside over us. In the home it is a partnership with husband and wife equally yoked together, sharing in decisions, always working together.” E. Packer

    There really is no comparing marriage with hierarchies of reporting in the church- marriage is different, period. Thus, we’re left in an impossible situation where it seems like our covenants/promises are not consistent with our doctrine… but if we acknowledge that it’s a mistake, then we acknowledge that we’re not so different from other faiths: getting a lot right but missing the mark on key points, e.g. ordinances.

    Thus, especially when *you* are the one required to be tied into these hierarchical covenants/promises, the “this could be a mistake” concern can be a burden too heavy to just put on a shelf, waiting for it to be corrected.

  31. @Kelsey. I agree this is not as big of a concern to me personally as it seems to be for several people. And being male I think I probably did not recognize this as a potential issue as quickly as I would have if I were on the other side–honestly before I was married it didn’t even cross my mind. And so I feel like I understand where you are coming from, and think you make some really good points.

    Early on in my marriage when my wife and I were trying to figure out and establish our general roles and responsibilities to and with one another was when we first started discussing these very things you mention. At the most fundamental level we could not make complete sense about what we were being advised to do from the church’s standpoint, and so we sought answers through prayer. We both believe we received further light and knowledge on the subject, and gained a greater appreciation for gender roles and order for the family in a Priesthood structure. Seeming contradictions and “troubling” friction of ideas became a benefit to us when we let it. Although uncomfortable at first, these things can be a wonderful opportunity for growth. This is why I believe it would be wrong for the church to give us all the answers to the seeming troubling questions, it would in many ways be taking away opportunities for growth. So I leave it up to those who hold the keys of the Kingdom to decide when it is appropriate to reveal to the general membership answers to such questions. For now, my wife and I have found solace in receiving our own answers through prayer.

    The church will continue to progress towards Zion in preparation for the millennial reign of the Lord. But we don’t have to wait for the church to so progress to try and reach such a state individually.

    I will go ahead and comment on one of your points though. You said, “but if we acknowledge that it’s a mistake, then we acknowledge that we’re not so different from other faiths: getting a lot right but missing the mark on key points, e.g. ordinances.” I think it is important to acknowledge that we are like many faiths in many respects, including that our spiritual light and knowledge is not perfected. There may even be knowledge in other faiths that has yet to have been gathered into our faith just yet. The key difference is that God has restored his authority to the earth, that through the authorized ordinances we have the opportunity to strive and receive the full blessings of God to hopefully one day reach a point that we can receive all that He has. Policies, procedures, and even presentations of certain aspects of ordinances may and have changed from time to time (such as how the law of obedience is portrayed), but when done under proper authority the blessings available are the same yesterday, today, and forever.

  32. I also would add, Kelsey, that even if the temple ordinances are not perfect (complete, whole, fully developed), and even if some of our core beliefs and practices contain “mistakes”, there still are HUGE differences in our theology and that of other religions and denominations – and that is true particularly with regard to the temple.

    Jan Shipps is one of the foremost non-Mormon authorities on Mormonism, having studied it extensively for about 50 years. I heard her say in a presentation that if the LDS Church stopped its focus on temples it would cease to be interesting to her as an outside observer and researcher – that it was our temple theology specifically that she saw as the core uniqueness of Mormonism. I would hate to discard that incredibly powerful, distinctive theology simply because it isn’t perfect yet.

  33. @SteveF Thanks for the kind and thoughtful response. I appreciate your perspective and admire you and your wife’s approach. Your last paragraph inspires some additional questions for me though. I agree that temple policies, procedures, and presentations have changed, but what I referred to in my first comment was the actual promises that are made. If the authority we have is correct, but we use it to make and enforce flawed ordinances, how does that make us any different than the early church, when it had the correct authority but started falling away from Christ’s teachings during the dark ages? Having the real authority is great, but to what end if we use it to require improper promises of our women that are at odds with our doctrine? I ask these questions genuinely. I am truly struggling over this.

    @Ray you make an interesting point- “let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.” But my concern remains- what do we do with the bath water in the mean time? I feel like my integrity is on the line, and it feels morally impossible to endorse or accept the treatment of women in the temple. Isn’t the “throw the baby out with the bath water” approach what we often expect of converts? “Your church has many good truths, but it doesn’t have the full truth, and thus you should join our church”? Before attending the temple, I thought that we promoted our church because it was the one true church, and that we expected converts to join because while there beliefs were great, they were missing key truths or teaching them just a little bit wrong. And yet once I attended the temple, I felt that admonition falling short- “the temple has many good truths, but it doesn’t have the full truth” – indeed, it contradicts full truths that we have taught over the pulpit. In some ways I feel I have been sold a bill of goods regarding the “one true church” talk; leaving the temple as a destructive force for my testimony.

    Thanks for the respectful conversation. I know my concerns here are the concerns of many, and I wish there was a simple answer. I also wish there was a way for us to discuss our temple concerns with leaders- not just local leaders, who are powerless to affect temple procedure (and who in my experience have never ever thought of these things before) but individuals who have a real say in how these things are carried out.

  34. @ SteveF I forgot to add that it’s hard to strive towards the blessings promised in the temple, which you highlight as a benefit of having God’s true authority (“when done under proper authority the blessings available are the same yesterday, today, and forever”), when the articulated blessings continuously emphasize that as a result of obedience, I get to be in a relationship where my husband is to me as god is to him. I love him dearly, but that is not what either of us signed up for or wants. Ever. So the blessings of the temple, rather than being beautiful, inspiring, and motivational, instead are hurtful and demeaning. And obviously completely unmotivating. I can’t imagine ever hoping for those blessings to be realized.

  35. @Kelsey. I think you are asking a lot of good questions, a lot of questions that I think you may get better results finding in prayer. I want to reiterate the idea that the church, while to me it holds far greater light and knowledge than any other faith teachings I am aware of, which in large part includes truths portrayed in the temple, yet it does not contain all light and knowledge that can or ever will be revealed. If you accept this principle, then you will realize that from time to time you can, and probably will if you are striving, reach the edge on certain principles where the church will no longer be able to give you full/perfect answers. Is it the church’s responsibility to give all answers to all questions once you reach this edge? And if not, will there be concerns from time to time that they are unable to resolve for you? My feeling is that the answers are no and yes respectively–that you will have genuine concerns that can arise that the church because it is not the proper time in its progression as a whole, will not be able to answer for you.

    If you have faith, or did once have faith that God restored his authority to the earth, and that that authority is found in the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS, then try to draw from that faith and believe that there most likely are satisfactory answers to your questions. Fear has a nasty effect in causing super tunnel vision making a concern, often a genuine concern, become all consuming filling your eye and then body full of darkness rather than the light and warmth that comes from the Spirit of the Lord. If you can put fear aside, and try and look at the whole of things, which you may be doing, then you will have a much easier time individually seeking and approaching the Lord and ultimately find the answers to the questions you seek.

    For this particular concern, I do not want to take away your opportunity for growth by giving you all the answers that were given to me. But in an attempt to be helpful, I will try and offer some starter suggestions. First off, I think it can be helpful to try and understand, with a positive benefit of the doubt attitude, why Brigham Young when systematizing the temple rites line upon line, might have portrayed the Law of Obedience with the separate husband and wife covenants you mention?

    Personally, I feel BY’s perspective went something along the lines of seeing the family as having a Priesthood structure. And since it had a Priesthood structure, it seems logical to pattern it after the most common Priesthood structure that existed in the church at the time–a quorum. Just as a Priesthood quorum most commonly has a president standing at its head, so also he could have believed the family would have a like structure, and put man or the husband as standing at the head of the family. But I really doubt in BY’s mind that this somehow made or suggested husband or wife being greater or lesser than one another–just as much as a quorum president is not greater or lesser than a counselor in the presidency or other members of that quorum simply by virtue of that calling. He probably believed that the husband had the right to revelation as it pertained to the family as a whole unit, but that the wife still had equal right and access to God and revelation for herself and her children. I can imagine BY simply seeing such an order as part of a division of gender roles/callings, that didn’t insinuate any type of inequality of personal value and/or rights.

    I think Brigham Young was right, that the family does indeed have a divine Priesthood order. However, I think as you are pointing out with more recent general authority discussions on the matter, it seems Brigham’s concept of what that order is may or may not be the full story after all. Although a full revelation does not currently exist on the matter, it seems that line upon line we could be learning a new story. And if we gain a more perfect revelation on what a family priesthood structure ought to be, I think it is at that time that any adjustments will be made temple ceremony if needs be.

    And one final thought (since this is getting quite long), what if in addition to the covenants you and your husband have made, that you make those covenants in reverse. Is there not a way in which they could coexist? I think they might be able to, and if so the current wording and covenants may not even be incompatible (although possibly incomplete) with the system you seem to insinuate that church authorities are alluding to now.

    Anyway, I hope this might help in some way, and I wish you the best on your journey for answers.

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