Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness: Why a Temple? Why Sacraments?

Terryl Givens gave the following talk in my Provo ward yesterday. I couldn’t pass up the chance to ask Professor Givens if I could post it as part of our occasional “Sunday Sermons” series, and he graciously accepted.

I had a long conversation a few days ago with a much beloved daughter. We were talking about a family dear to us, of whom the last of the children just made an exit from the church. I asked what she thought the common thread to their stories might be. She said it wasn’t what I often hear to be the culprit: different accounts of the First vision, or Joseph’s seer stone, or horses in the Book of Mormon — or even polygamy or social policy. No, it was something much more fundamental. She said, the whole framework of the Restored Gospel — especially the emphasis on temples and ordinances — just doesn’t seem meaningful to many of her generation. So much structure, so many rules, so many seemingly empty rituals and ordinances. She then noted that as she was preparing her lesson for Young Women on sacraments and ordinances, she too struggled to find a convincing language, a resonant rationale. “Authority” and “obedience” don’t hold the same sway with generations who have not grown up with an almost innate deference to such concepts because, as Richard Rohr notes, they never experienced the framework of stable certainties and widely accepted verities. As the poet Robinson Jeffers noted wistfully, “O happy Homer! Taking the stars and the gods for granted.”[1]

One way a millennial might phrase the challenging question is this: “Are you really telling me that Mother Teresa has to have her temple work done, or she can’t get into heaven?” For many of us, just to be in the temple, is to feel the beauty of the holy, as the Psalmist wrote. Some of us have experienced first-hand that what transpires in the temple is “real,” because it is “discernible.” But not all of us. And so we need to find an explanatory framework, or a language appropriate to every person in every age and culture. So they can hear the gospel in ways that resonate with them.

A few years ago, another daughter of mine called me with a related question. Her calls were always a little disconcerting, because before I could answer her question, she typically said, “wait while I put this on speakerphone.” And I never knew what group of friends or roommates or newfound acquaintances were in the background. On this occasion, with no preliminary, she simply asked the question that had been bothering her. She asked, “Why would God separate two people who were in love and died, just because they didn’t go through with church rituals or ordinances?” I told her that was an excellent question, and an absolutely fair question. My answer may surprise you, but this is what I said. “He won’t.”

So let me explain what I mean by that answer, at least according to my own conclusions derived from studying what the scriptures and prophetic voices have to teach us about the question. And here, context is everything. Joseph considered that the entirety of Restoration principles and cosmic narratives were encompassed in the term, “the everlasting covenant.” That covenant took its origins in premortal worlds, when a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother presented to the multitudinous hosts of heaven an astounding proposal: we were all invited into a more profound and durable, celestial association with the gods. We were invited to participate more fully “in the divine nature.” Three aspects of the proposal stand out: 1. We would be given resources: prophets, scripture, conscience — to guide and tutor us in life of increasing virtue (involving principles of repentance and atonement). 2. We would — at critical junctures — have access to a family and to a community of believers, to school us in the practice of love. 3. And we would have resort to holy covenants and ordinances, to complete the process of incorporation into a heavenly sociality.

As James Talmage pointed out critically, the LDS faith envisions “the possibility of a universal salvation.”[2] So that objective would have to incorporate a way to include the vast billions of the uncatechized — living and dead — within its orbit. And so Joseph revealed a theology of the period between mortality and final judgment where evangelizing continues, in a process that encompasses the living and the dead with little regard for boundaries between the two. And the permeability of that membrane radically reshapes the nature of human interdependence. That great catastrophe Mormons call the apostasy was, in this telling, the dissolution of that all-encompassing narrative that made sense of our birth, our immersion in a world of pain, and our glimmerings of a divine home and a heavenly destiny. As a consequence, the meaning and function of sacraments and ordinances was almost entirely lost — or severely diminished.

To illustrate this rupture that left the everlasting covenant in tatters, we can turn to the first (English) Book of Common Prayer of the 16th century. In one section were to be found prayers to be offered on behalf of those who had died, such as this lovely petition: “Graunte . . . that at the daye of judgement his soule and all the soules of thy electe, departed out of this lyfe, may with us and we with them, fully receive thy promises.”[3] But the first Protestant version of the Book of Common Prayer (1552) removed even burial prayers offered on behalf of the dead. Wishing to shun every vestige of reaching beyond the grave, Thomas Cranmer decided such prayers “smacked of the old religion in which the living could perform religious acts on behalf of the dead.”[4] John Calvin agreed that even “commending [the dead] to [God’s] grace” was unscriptural and inappropriate.[5] Three hundred years later, in Joseph Smith’s day, Protestants were still hostile to any gestures that suggested living Christians could influence the disposition of the departed. The Everlasting Covenant, and our collaborative participation in a vast scheme of universal salvation, was abrogated entirely. The meaning of sacramentalism was stripped of its most meaningful dimension.

Paul writes, reassuringly, that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[6] But something, apparently, can separate us from his presence — else salvation would be both universal and automatic.

Latter-day Saints are committed to the assertion that something more is required, that is, the performance of saving ordinances such as baptism. If these requirements are not mere caprice on God’s part, then something objectively real must be impeding the reunion of the repentant sinner with his God and with family, something that those ordinances correct or compensate. If this is true, and I believe it is, then asking why God would separate families from each other, or children from God’s presence, merely because they neglected to perform a ritual may be the wrong question. The more accurate query would be, what is intrinsic to the structure of reality here or hereafter that will naturally disrupt harmony and associations and relationships, unless certain precautions are taken or remedies effected? What is there about the universe, our own natures, the laws of life and love, that impede our dreams of an eternal harmony? Joseph Smith’s own life was marred by tragedy and frequent loss. He came to feel through personal experience that the vicissitudes of mortality and the powers of darkness tend toward chaos, cosmic entropy, and disintegration. We humans have found that we can’t make a marriage or a family stay intact for 25 or 50 years in over half our attempts; and we think that unaided by heavenly resources, left to our own paltry devices, we can forge relationships to endure eternally?

Sealing powers may here be seen as real ways of employing and controlling actual powers or spiritual forces that counteract those effects of dissolution and fracture, forming durable bonds that connect individuals to each other and to God. In spite of the best efforts of the most earnest human individuals, marriages fail, friendships fade, and family ties falter. For Joseph Smith, the priesthood provided access to real heavenly powers that effected powerful connections durable enough to survive the deleterious results of sin, of death, or of time.

I believe that the ordinances of the gospel are the means our Heavenly Father has deployed to do this. He repeatedly referred to the most important aspect of the priesthood as its “sealing powers,” agencies that unite loved ones to each other and to God eternally.[7] That these are more than figurative powers is suggested by Smith’s reference to metaphysical capabilities associated with the priesthood: “translation [as of Elijah] is a power which belongs to this priesthood”; so is resurrection,[8] the capacity to expel demons and cure sickness,[9] the power to generate “endless lives” (a post-resurrection posterity),[10] and the need to “handle or control” such priesthood powers in righteousness.[11] In sum, the priesthood consists of such “mystery, power, and glory . . . that the angels desired to understand it and cannot.”[12]

Sacraments in this framework do not merely symbolize or portend eternal realities; they constitute them. Restoration sacramentalism is a logical extension of Augustine’s belief that “the essence of grace is love and the essence of man’s salvation that he should become loving.”[13] Mormon sacraments (with their accompanying covenants) simply channel and concretize that love into durable relationality. Through baptism, we formally and publicly agree that we accept Christ’s invitation to be our spiritual Father. We thus signal our desire to be adopted into His family. Through further covenantal gestures, we affirm our commitment to bind ourselves more closely to him and concretely establish a relationship of reciprocity, through progressively greater demonstrations of our love and fidelity. And in Mormon temple marriage, individuals enact their willingness to expand the intimate association with the Divine, both laterally through marriage and vertically through posterity. These examples illuminate Joseph Smith’s cardinal insight and most fundamental theological claim: Elijah, he came to believe, “shall reveal the covenants to seal the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers.” Sacred sacraments provide an unchanging framework for fashioning and sustaining an intimate, individualized relationship to other beings, human and divine.

And so the Restoration, as Smith’s vision of heaven portended, effects a distinction between simple moral goodness and the constituting of celestial relationships. The most perfect man or woman — the one who embodies the most perfect honesty, humility, purity, wisdom, kindness — is not necessarily or therefore in relationship with anyone or any God. In other words, perfect compliance with moral law cannot of itself create the sociability of which heaven consists. Virtuous attributes acquired in a vacuum are not themselves constitutive of any relationship. Even sinlessness is itself not indicative of any bond with any other person, divine or human, since one may be honest, chaste, benevolent, and virtuous, in isolation or remoteness from any other human being — as generations of desert ascetics proved. Being a good person doesn’t of itself put us into meaningful connection with anyone. That is why, according to Joseph Smith’s vision of the heavenly kingdoms, the honorable men and women of the earth are saved in a kingdom of glory but are not in the Father’s presence. Not because they do not “deserve” it or qualify for it but because they have not yet created the virtuous, love-filled relationships such a position entails. We forge relationships with individuals interpersonally in the world of action, not privately in the chambers of our own conscience or by habits of moral reflection. Section 76, Joseph’s vision of the eternal worlds, might be read in this light.[14] The Terrestrial kingdom is a kingdom of the good, honorable people of the earth. The celestial kingdom consists of the good, honorable people of the earth — who have employed the resources Heavenly Parents made available to them to be woven into the tapestry of eternal sociality, through covenantal relationships and ordinances that formalize and concretize those relations.

This groundwork also explains how seemingly arbitrary performances can be indispensable in the process of divinization. Gospel ordinances become the very ground on which the particularism of a specific, personal relationship with the Divine becomes enacted. Ordinances make possible our response to God’s invitation.

This was understood by the Anglican C. S. Lewis. In his retelling of the Fall, Eve asks the angel why some of God’s directives seem random, capricious. She was answered: “He made one law of that kind in order that there might be obedience. In all these other matters what you call obeying Him is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also. Is love content with that? Where can you taste the joy of obeying,” he asks, “unless He bids you do something for which His bidding is the only reason?”[15] In the Mormon version of this kind of covenantal interaction, an angel asks a recently exiled Adam why he is offering sacrifice to God. “And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.”[16] Martin Luther gestured in a similar direction when he reasoned that as “feasts [are] the test of temperance, pleasures the test of chastity, so ceremonies are the test of the righteousness of faith.”[17] But it is not blind obedience that is the supposed virtue here demonstrated. I think we miss the most beautiful moral of that Garden episode. What is revealed is rather a relationship of loving trust, and that relationship alone is the impetus behind Adam’s compliance. It is what Reinhold Niebuhr refers to as the love that “transcends obedience,” and was similarly described in President Uchtdorf’s recent talk.[18] It is submission to a father’s request that has no apparent grounding, rational basis, or inherent moral worth — outside of love. And the less the logical, rational, or moral motivation for obedience to that personal request, the more the subject’s loving trust is foregrounded and developed. Its very arbitrariness is the precondition for its exemplary drawing forth of love and of the bonds that ensue. This is a truth experienced by any who have known the love that is forged in the fires of devotion to a beloved’s desires rather than in the calculations of reasonableness and reciprocal benefit.

So in sum, in the LDS view, sacramental covenants are not a prerequisite to salvation — they are constitutive of salvation. They are indispensable, not because of their status as a hoop to jump through; but because they are the strategy wise heavenly parents have devised to nurture us and draw us into the most durable forms of loving association that we can find in this universe so coldly indifferent to human needs and longing. This is the sense in which Mormons believe that “a covenant is a special relationship with the Lord into which a person or a group may enter” (my emphasis).[19] And this special relationship is one in which, from the beginning of time, Heavenly Parents envisioned as available to the entire human race — not a fortunate few. At a time when Mormons were hotly criticized in the media for vicarious baptisms of Jews, I was interviewed by a Philadelphia radio station. The host, himself Jewish, asked me: “Why are you baptizing my dead ancestors?” I replied that Mormons believed our Father intended a marriage feast at the end of earthly time, and he desired his whole family to attend. As Latter-day Saints, stewards of the temples, we feel it our privilege and responsibility to put everyone’s name on the guest list. No one has to come, but we believe all should have the invitation.” He responded, half in jest, “what a beautiful idea. How do I get my name on your list?” But I like to think he was half serious. It is more than a beautiful idea. It is a belief of unparalleled generosity and liberality. Elder Robert D. Hales once pleaded with parents, “never, never, shut the door of your heart to any of your children.”[20] Latter-day Saints preach a Father and a Mother who will never shut the doors of their hearts to theirs. Ever.

As a wise daughter taught me, the parable of the treasure in the field in Matthew 16 reveals to us a hard yet necessary truth. When we find a buried treasure of great price, we need to do as the seeker in the parable. We need to buy the whole field. My testimony is that the buried treasure at the heart of the Restoration is more than worth the price of the whole field.

Terryl Givens
Sacrament talk given in Provo, Utah, 9 July 2017.
Modified excerpts from
Feeding the Flock (Oxford: July 2017)

————-

[1] Robinson Jeffers, “The Epic Stars,” in The Selected Poetry, ed. Tim Hunt (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 699.
[2] James E. Talmage, The House of the Lord (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret, 1971), 54.
[3] The Book of Common Prayer, 1549 edition, http://justus.anglican.org/resources/BCp/1549/Burial_1549.htm.
[4] Mark Chapman, Anglicanism: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford, 2006), 26.
[5] Bruce Gordon, Calvin (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), 255.
[6] Romans 8:38.
[7] Words of Joseph Smith [WJS], 4, 246, 254, 331, etc.
[8] WJS, 41, 109.
[9] Doctrine & Covenants 35:9.
[10] WJS, 247.
[11] Joseph Smith, “Letter to the Church at Quincy, 20 March 1839”, in Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 440 (Doctrine & Covenants 121:36).
[12] WJS, 247.
[13] Kenneth E. Kirk, The Vision of God (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), 343.
[14] See Ryan Davis’s “Divine Authority and the Conditions of Salvation,” http://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=3409&index=7
[15] C. S. Lewis, Perelandra (New York: Scribner, 1972), 101.
[16] Moses 5:6, Pearl of Great Price
[17] Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian,” in Selected Writings of Martin Luther, 2:51.
[18] Niebuhr explains, “There is an inner contradiction even in acts of obedience toward God. The fact the act is one of obedience rather than love means that it is not done with ‘all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy might.’” Niebuhr, Nature and Destiny of Man (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 293; see also Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Gift of Grace,” Ensign 45.5 (May 2015): 107-10.
[19] “Covenant,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1333.
[20] North America Northeast Area Broadcast, 26 April 2015.

Comments

  1. If I’d known he was speaking in the 14th yesterday, I would’ve found a way to stay at my mom’s house one more day. (I had to “settle” for the Maxwell Institute podcast with the Givens on the way home to Arizona which was also wonderful.)

    Thank you for sharing this John.

  2. EnglishTeacher says:

    Excellent arguments presented here; what a pleasure to ruminate upon them tonight!

  3. mikerharris says:

    Love it. Thank you.

  4. Just thank you, both to you for sharing it, and to TG for saying it.

  5. Michael H says:

    I don’t know that Givens is quite up to his own task of rehabilitating disaffected millennials with flowery and underwhelming reasoning that rests on arguments like, “So in sum, in the LDS view, sacramental covenants are not a prerequisite to salvation — they are constitutive of salvation.” It seems to work fine in forums like BCC, but as the speaker himself says, that’s not really his target audience.

  6. Jason K. says:

    Granting the basic argument that ordinances are about formalizing loving relationality, my question has to do with the limits on the kinds of relationships so formalized. Joseph said that friendship is the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism, so what is the sacrament of friendship? I mean this as a subset of a larger question having to do with all of the people left out by the model of eternal marriage, our culminating sacrament. Must Mother Teresa be married as well as baptized to go to the celestial kingdom? Must gay men marry women, and lesbians marry men? What do do with trans people?

    Beyond any of these specific cases, the real question is why some forms of relationality count more than others. I realize that it’s possible to orient sealing away from the nuclear family and toward the whole human family, but not without some adjustment to the status quo.

  7. Jason K. says:

    I hasten to add that I’m not anti-family, but I take Paul’s words at the end of 1 Corinthians 12 about clothing the less honorable members with greater honor as a fundamental theological obligation—a preferential option for the poor, taking the broadest possible definition of “poor.” This, after all, is what Paul’s great section on charity immediately following sets out to explain. He’s calling for a radically inclusive love that Christianity has not in practice ever quite figured out, although Joseph’s most expansive talk of sealing is a singularly beautiful attempt.

  8. Though I am not LDS this article was wonderful and helped me to appreciate more deeply my own faith’s rituals and acts of worship.
    Thank you

  9. I am drawn to be praising and loyal, but I’m afraid Brother Terryl feels to me last century already. In a more analytic way, the move from a good/useful/beautiful way to “indispensable” is not well played (leave that as opinion, because I don’t have the time for a line-by-line critical analysis).

  10. Thanks for sharing this, john. I’ll have to think on it more, but my initial reaction is that ordinances like baptism, the Lord’s supper, endowment, and sealing aren’t so much themselves constitutive of salvation as they are attempts to memorialize charismatic events where God is present and provide points of formal access to that same presence to those of us who were not there for those charismatic events.

  11. Jason K. says:

    JKC: that almost sounds like a Calvinist rather than a Catholic approach to sacramentalism. I could buy into that, I think (and our language about the Holy Spirit of Promise suggests a Calvinist kind of Real Presence).

  12. “Joseph’s most expansive talk of sealing is a singularly beautiful attempt”

    Jason, can I ask which talk in particular you are referring to?

  13. One issue that underlies speech like this is the one that developed out of the divide between Joseph’s speech and acts. The divide is a later interpretative one, but it symbolizes something that is going on here, namely what of the proverbial “calling and election” speech of Mormonism? Is it sacramental, or is it charismatic? Much of later talk seems to ascribe an either/or meaning, while early meanings suggest they are one.

  14. Jason K. says:

    James: I’m thinking of D&C 128’s talk of the need for “a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children” (which I read as a metonym for the extension of the human family across time), because “we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect.” The immediate context for these phrases is baptism for the dead, but they speak to a broader desideratum (a sacramental bond connecting the whole human family) that baptism (and eventually other ordinances) was intended to effect. I may wonder about the means, but I’m fully on board with the intended destination.

    I’m also thinking of the idea in the King Follett discourse that God entered into relation with us so that we might increase in capacity. That relationship is with the whole human family, and one could argue that ordinances move that divine project forward, but the project itself (and the relationship at its heart) seems prior to any ordinance.

    My general sense is that God is more faithful to us than we are to God, and I repose my trust in that faithfulness. Ordinances may be designed to help us increase our faithfulness, but salvation comes from God’s faithfulness to us more than ours to God. I guess I’m Pauline that way.

  15. Interesting post. Bro. Givens has a lovely testimony and presents a beautiful gospel. It still doesn’t entirely make sense to me. I can accept that a covenant formalizes the human-God relationship. I would liken this to marriage formalizing the male-female relationship. For most people (admittedly not all), there is a benefit to marriage that living together does not provide. I don’t know though that the formalization creates the relationship though, which is what Bro. Givens seems to be arguing.

    Here is where Givens starts to loose me. “The most perfect man or woman — the one who embodies the most perfect honesty, humility, purity, wisdom, kindness — is not necessarily or therefore in relationship with anyone or any God. In other words, perfect compliance with moral law cannot of itself create the sociability of which heaven consists.”

    So basically, anyone who hasn’t received LDS ordinances doesn’t have a relationship with God.
    I don’t disagree theoretically that “Virtuous attributes acquired in a vacuum are not themselves constitutive of any relationship.” And yet my lived experience says otherwise. What is spirituality but a relationship with God? And some of the most spiritual people I have known are non-LDS, non-Christian. I don’t know that naming/understanding/formalizing a relationship with the divine is the same thing as having one.

    “We forge relationships with individuals interpersonal in the world of action, not privately in the chambers of our own conscience or by habits of moral reflection.” Yes! But then he seems to limit ‘action’ to ordinances. Huh? Why limit it?

    The New Testament says “Verily I say unto you, in as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” That to me is relationship building. Formalization may very well have a place (as does marriage), but it is the daily interactions, the working out of details, the choices we make within the relationship that define the relationship and decide whether or not it will last. (again not unlike marriage.)

    “Ordinances make possible our response to God’s invitation.” I can’t see it. Or I can in terms of how making a covenant is taking action. But to me it is the smallest of all actions. Again, the larger action is doing God’s work on a daily basis. I’m also left hanging then as to the opposite being true. So if we don’t have ordinances, we can’t respond to God’s invitation? That makes no sense to me at all.

    “It is submission to a father’s request that has no apparent grounding, rational basis, or inherent moral worth — outside of love. And the less the logical, rational, or moral motivation for obedience to that personal request, the more the subject’s loving trust is foregrounded and developed. Its very arbitrariness is the precondition for its exemplary drawing forth of love and of the bonds that ensue. This is a truth experienced by any who have known the love that is forged in the fires of devotion to a beloved’s desires rather than in the calculations of reasonableness and reciprocal benefit.” ***This is lovely. I really like it. I’m hesitant in tying it to covenants though. Because it seems like the temple is all about reciprocity. Why do we go to the Temple? The benefits of Temple marriage, of being more worthy of the God/The spirit, to receive answers to our prayers, to receive additional knowledge, to receive the things we need to enter the CK. All of those are things we get from the temple. We ‘give’ in our accepting of the covenants and we ‘get’ because of it.

    So going back to my starting point. I can see the value in formalizing a relationship with God. I definitely see baptism and/or the temple as that step. The rest is nice, but hazy for me in terms of truth.

  16. J. Stapley says:

    Perhaps not surprisingly, this resonates with me.

  17. I have been thinking about this all morning and trying to formulate my thoughts and then I read what ReTx commented and it is almost exactly what I felt as I read this. It is a beautiful sermon, but it has not, in my opinion, made a very compelling case for ordinances. The crutch of it is what ReTx mentions: my lived experience does not match the claims in this sermon. I have received every ordinance that is generally available to an LDS woman and I don’t believe that a single one of them has improved my relationships to others or to God (in fact, some of those ordinances have harmed my relationship with God, possibly irreparably). What has improved my relationships to others is a focus on service, gratitude, and humility. I am still working out what can improve my relationship to God. So far, ordinances are not it.

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for sharing.

  19. My general sense is that God is more faithful to us than we are to God, and I repose my trust in that faithfulness. Ordinances may be designed to help us increase our faithfulness, but salvation comes from God’s faithfulness to us more than ours to God.

    Jason, that is so well said — completely agree.

  20. To me, ordinances are necessary steps, just like mortality is a necessary step. I’ve no idea why they are necessary (or why they seem to be limited to performance by mortals), but we’ve been instructed that they are necessary, so that’s enough for now. We know everyone will have the opportunity to accept, just as the choice was given for mortality. We have a God who could not accept those who rebelled against Them, not one who just accepts everyone. I can hope that for those who chose against this mortality there is another (n+1) chance, but there’s no indication of it thus far.

    More to the OP, he gave a bit of a simplified answer to his daughters question. The rest of the OP seems to explain how there are necessary steps, including baptism and sealing, and that everyone will have an opportunity to accept them. So it’s less “He won’t” and more “He won’t, unless those people decide they don’t want to accept the covenants of baptism and sealing”.

    This – “sacramental covenants are not a prerequisite to salvation — they are constitutive of salvation” – is just splitting hairs.

    And is it just me, or did his daughter seem to be asking more about same-gender marriage efficacy in the hereafter?

  21. Jason, you’re more knowledgeable than me about the ins and outs of Calvinism, so I’ll take your word for it.

  22. MikeInWeHo says:

    “It is submission to a father’s request that has no apparent grounding, rational basis, or inherent moral worth — outside of love. And the less the logical, rational, or moral motivation for obedience to that personal request, the more the subject’s loving trust is foregrounded and developed.”

    Am I the only one reading this who finds this notion rather chilling? We demonstrate our love for God by obeying irrational (or perhaps even immoral) commands? Jehovah’s Witnesses believe God commands them to utterly disown and shun family members who leave the faith. Are they demonstrating how much they love God?

  23. Loursat says:

    There are a lot of really strong objections in the comments. However, I still find the crux of Brother Givens’s sermon quite satisfying. For its stated purpose, I think it succeeds. The idea that ordinances serve to facilitate our relationship with God and with each other is fundamentally right. If I’m teaching a lesson about the significance of ordinances, this idea can help me get to a place where the Spirit can make itself felt.

    To the extent that ordinances and priesthood have an independent “saving power” over us, they are like magic, and they are empty, because the only thing they require so little of us. The more our discourse about ordinances devolves toward priesthood “power” as a magical black box, the more susceptible we are to the idea of raw authority as its own (empty) justification.

    So Brother Givens’s sermon has lot of problems, but, above all, it gives us a really good place to start. The idea of ordinances as connectedness puts our daily actions front and center. Priesthood is not a power that casts its spell; priesthood is an invitation for us to do something meaningful. As a teacher, I can work with that to help people care about being part of the Mormon community. And talking about ordinances in these terms gives us a context to work through the problems that people have pointed out here. That’s so much better than what we have now.

  24. peterllc says:

    The idea of ordinances as connectedness puts our daily actions front and center. Priesthood is not a power that casts its spell; priesthood is an invitation for us to do something meaningful.

    That’s a message I could wholeheartedly endorse, though I don’t see how the OP makes that argument. I mean, sure, we have statements like

    Sacred sacraments provide an unchanging framework for fashioning and sustaining an intimate, individualized relationship to other beings, human and divine.

    but what does that mean in practice? What do temple-married Mormons do that the rest of us cannot to create “the virtuous, love-filled relationships [that being in the Father’s presence] entails”?

    This statement

    We forge relationships with individuals interpersonally in the world of action, not privately in the chambers of our own conscience or by habits of moral reflection.

    obviously argues for doing something meaningful, but would seem to undermine the significance of a single “seemingly arbitrary performance” if what really counts is repeated interactions.

  25. My daughter is one of these young people now a quarter century old. High achiever, straight A’s at an ivy league school, professional marketing director at a nonprofit who raised 33 million dollars in the last 4 years, a professional musician, also stunning in appearance. She has never had a Mormon guy ask her out, although she has asked plenty of them out. I think she intimidates them.

    She met a wonderful young man, a pharmacologist, part time artist, incredible cook, a naturalist, a son of the South who caught 6 ft alligators and climbed 100 ft pine trees in college. He is so kind and polite, he loves people and seeks to do what is right. He treats his parents with such decency and helpfulness.he adores her. They are perfect for each other and they married earlier this year. I could not have imagined anyone better for her.

    His family is Catholic and his mother is sort of a free spirit. She memorized some elaborate ritual and baptized him a Catholic by herself when he was a baby. The priest was not amused.That is about as far as he got in religion. He is deeply respectful but honestly does not believe.

    One day he was looking at our wedding picture, my wife and I standing in front of the Salt Lake temple. He asked if that was where Mormon girls want to get married.She said yes. He said if that is what you want then I will convert, but you have to understand that it would be insincere, only on the surface. My daughter said, you had better get started, You have to be a member for at aleast a year before they let you set foot in the temple. He thought for a moment and they queried, so then my mother would not be allowed to attend my wedding. And she said yes and neither would mine. He said, not happening.

    This is not a question my daughter merely asks. It is one that she lives. Why religion and church and ritual, if such a fine young man can develop (far better than any of the LDS boys she ever met) entirely without direct religious influence, then what is the point? They do not attend church at this point.I don’t have the answer and it seems Bro. Givens is preaching to a select choir, I doubt my daughter’s new husband would get past the second sentence of this talk.

  26. I have found much worth thinking about in the posted sermon, including some valuable and beautifully expressed ideas, but the argument does not work for me. That is, it is inconsistent with most of my experience of ordinances and with many of my observations of persons who develop right family relationships and personal relationships to deity without any LDS ordinances and of persons with LDS ordinances who nevertheless have abusive family relationships and no discernible relationship to the divine. Of themselves, the ordinances do not “make possible our response to God’s invitation” to become the kind of new creation Christ would have us become. They have in some cases facilitated establishing such relationships, familial and divine, that could lead to or constitute salvation. But, in other cases, “the less the logical, rational, or moral motivation for obedience to that personal request, the more the subject’s [fear of loss or punishment, rather than his] loving trust [may be] foregrounded and developed.” And, of course, in no case does participation in the ordinance have anything to do with loving trust in or fear of God unless the subject actually first believes that such participation in the ordinance as administered is a “personal request” from God. The whole concept of angels standing as sentinels to prevent those who do not have certain arbitrary words, etc., from accessing the presence of the Father (BY, Journal of Discourses, 2:31) is exclusionary. I have seen a great variety of attitudes in the celestial rooms of our temples. They range from gratitude, peace and love to confusion and disbelief, from smug self-righteousness in being part of the in-crowd to comments that strike me as comically out of place or even blasphemy. There is a similarly wide range of responsiveness to the sacrament each Sunday, particularly, but not only, when the Bishop is so hung up on absolutely accurate recitation of magic words, rather than concept and intent, that we engage in apparently vainly repetitive, but certainly uncomfortable and distracting, hocus pocus before getting to participation. I conclude, that it is not the ordinance, that is constitutive of salvation, but instead, when ordinances contribute to salvation, it is the intent of the participant and what good the participant is able and willing to derive from them. The idea of participating out of loving trust is beautiful, but celebrates rather than explaining or justifying the arbitrariness. The ordinances “cannot of [themselves] create the sociability of which heaven consists.” Perhaps I’m just out to lunch.

  27. Loursat says:

    What do temple-married Mormons do that the rest of us cannot to create “the virtuous, love-filled relationships [that being in the Father’s presence] entails”?

    I suppose I’d give two answers to this, or maybe a two-part answer. The first answer is: nothing. Non-temple-married relationships are not inherently less virtuous or love-filled. The kinds of things that people do to build community are the same, regardless of whether they are married in the temple. The contributions of temple-married Mormons are not more valuable than contributions of others.

    The second answer is: By receiving ordinances we make a formal statement of faith and hope in the promise of an eternal community. We commit ourselves to live accordingly. We receive ordinances because we believe that this act will help us live up to that ideal. Whether this act has real, transcendent power in a person’s life is very much a personal question.

  28. Hedgehog says:

    ““It is submission to a father’s request that has no apparent grounding, rational basis, or inherent moral worth — outside of love. And the less the logical, rational, or moral motivation for obedience to that personal request, the more the subject’s loving trust is foregrounded and developed.”

    Am I the only one reading this who finds this notion rather chilling?”

    No. Me too.
    The address as a whole didn’t make much sense to me…

  29. I usually quite enjoy Bro. Givens’ musings. And while i find interesting things here….I didn’t quite hit home with me.

    One thing I do love about Mormon doctrine….if you’re going to believe that ordinances are necessary for salvation, then I LOVE that they intend on providing those ordinances for everyone.

    Where I find myself disconnecting from Mormon Doctrine on ordinances, is that so often we seem to talk about ordinances like they are an end. Like THEY are the things that provide you salvation. But they’re not.

    Look at any other gospel dispensation…and ask yourself what you’d be critiquing them about (and what the bible critiques them about), if they thought that it was the sacrifice of an animal that provided them redemption and reunited them with God….or that the Priest’s journey through the temple on the day of Atonement until they reached the mercy seat was the reason that in that moment Israel was redeemed, even if only for a day.

    You’d be accusing them of missing the mark.

    In the book of Hosea, God says that he wanted “mercy instead of sacrifice”…but the word that gets translated as mercy is hesed…which apparently means WAY MORE than just mercy. It means relationship…it means devoted love, it’s the kind of love that makes you want to spend every second in someone’s presence, and fall asleep to the sound of their breath with joy in your heart.

    God is saying “It’s not your ritual sacrifices that have the power to save you and knit you to me…it is your desire for union, fellowship, relationship.” Christ basically says the same thing in his last prayer….constantly stressing the need for RELATIONSHIP if you want to be saved.

    Ordinances don’t grant you relationship any more than sacrifices granted the Israelites relationship. They are merely symbols of the relationship you are supposed to be seeking. To say that ordinances are necessary for salvation is to mistake a beautifully letter-pressed invitation to a wedding feast for the wedding feast itself.

    If anyone has read Eckhart Tolle’s work…how can one argue that he has NOT been born again by fire and by the holy spirit, and now speaks with a new tongue? There was no baptism for him….but there is a total and complete newness of life that sees God and the divine in everything, and a teaching that endlessly stresses the kind of things we hear in the sermon on the mount.

    Who will be more the advantaged come the time to enter into the kingdom heaven….one who received an invitation to be reborn through baptism…or one who was actually reborn and transformed in God even though they never got the official invitation telling them to?

  30. Mark Clark says:

    Lots of words, but little substance. Sorry, but consider me unconvinced. Givens could have said the same thing by saying, “sacraments are important because people whom I believe had revelations from God said so.” Isn’t that the basis of Mormonism? It is true because Joseph Smith and subsequent followers who rose to be authorities in the community said so?

  31. MikeinWeHo and Hedgehog: Absolutely chilling. A terribly dangerous thing to say. It makes God out to be a sociopath.

    The worst part of this talk, though, is that it says absolutely nothing new. Essentially, his claims boil down to “It’s required for salvation”, which is what the church has said all along. Those arguments, the appeal to ““Authority” and “obedience” don’t hold the same sway with generations who have not grown up with an almost innate deference to such concepts”. Disappointingly thin gruel.

  32. “It is submission to a father’s request that has no apparent grounding, rational basis, or inherent moral worth — outside of love. And the less the logical, rational, or moral motivation for obedience to that personal request, the more the subject’s loving trust is foregrounded and developed.”

    It’s fascinating to me that several posters see this so negatively. After reading your comments I can see your points. I genuinely don’t feel that way though. I did decide as I wrote my original comments that this is not a relationship that can have an intermediary. It can’t be the prophet or your bishop or Br. Givens telling you to jump off the cliff and die for no reason other than God tells you to. That to me is chilling (and yet I think we do this all the time in the church). But I guess I have so many experiences where I felt the request for trust did come from God himself, that I am comfortable that even if I don’t understand why he is asking me to jump (it usually seems completely arbitrary and irrational), when I do jump I have never failed to discover I have the ability to fly (although at least once that happened after I was all bruised and bloody from hitting the ground). And because most of these actual events have been small leaps from rock walls and fences, my confidence that should I be asked by Him to jump from a true ledge is strong. To me this is trust and faith in God. A relationship that is built inch by painful inch.

    I’m wondering though if those with the negative reaction have a vastly different metaphor that maybe I can’t see.

  33. Olde Skool says:

    I appreciate this discussion so very much, and am grateful that Givens’s address was posted here as a springboard.

    I am not Mike’s [July 11, 2017 at 7:05 pm] daughter, but I could be; I am her older doppelganger. I was never asked out on a date at any point in my life by an LDS man. I was fortunate (indeed, prompted by God) to marry a fine, righteous, kind, and nurturing Jewish man whose stabilizing influence set me on a more committed LDS path and with whom I had righteous and kind children. When we divorced, I cannot tell you how many LDS people suggested to me that it was because I was less committed to my non-temple marriage. Alas, it happened as so many divorces happen: two well-intentioned people discover that they are ill-suited and unhappy together, despite their most strenuous endeavors.

    I have subsequently been blessed to marry another non-LDS man, whose goodness changes me every day for the better, who adores my children and who has helped to make our lives together feel actively celestial. When I heard in the Eternal Marriage class in RS a couple of weeks ago that my marriage was just less valuable to God than those of the other women in attendance, I felt wounded and said so. One woman responded by suggesting that I was doing all the necessary labor toward exaltation but would not be paid for it, and would miss out entirely on the rewards outlined in the parable of Matthew 20. It’s not just the virgins and LGBT folks from Jason K’s first comment who are on the doctrinal outs in Givens’s formulation.

    I guess what I’m saying is that, all too often, my experience among ward members on this topic (whom I generally love and respect) has reflected the kind of pharisaical obsession over box-checking that dk identifies in the comment above.

    My own view of sacramentalism aligns with the notion that sacraments are symbols of necessarily invisible relationships that one has committed to (with God, with others). Some on this thread have called it Calvinist; I’d say it’s rather Zwinglian, and I’m happy to be in the company of a thinker who described the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as a “wedding ring”: that is, not the marriage itself, but a proclamation to all and a reminder to the self that the relationship exists.

  34. It can’t be the prophet or your bishop or Br. Givens telling you to jump off the cliff […] But I guess I have so many experiences where I felt the request for trust did come from God himself

    I’m sure it’s not news to anyone here that there can be tension between institutional authority and personal revelation. In my case, the decision to not marry in the temple was sparked by as clear a revelation as I feel I’ve ever received. I realize that this is an experience that will likely remain unwelcome in Sunday School as it conflicts with the institutional line, but if I’m the one doing the jumping, I kind of insist on being the arbiter of the source of the command.

  35. Jason K. says:

    Thanks for your comment, Olde Skool. As I wrote my comment, I was thinking that probably a majority of church members are on the doctrinal outs in Givens’s formulation. I’m really unhappy that your RS treated you that way. I think that putting doctrinal abstractions above people is an ethical loser every time.

    And yes, the Zwinglian idea is lovely enough to dissuade me from insisting too vehemently on the Calvinist reading :)

    peterllc nails it: revelation by definition cannot be judged according to current church doxa. Otherwise 1978 never would have happened. Sometimes God leads us to do unexpected and even unorthodox things. The discomfort about that is totally okay, I think.

  36. Michael H says:

    I’d throw some popcorn in the microwave to see Givens address some of the critiques on here.

  37. Jeanette says:

    Givens’s talk would have resonated well with me twenty years ago, when I was in 20’s. But now, as with much of Mormonism, it is painful because it excludes so many people, myself included. I can understand the how Mormons find value and meaning in ordinances as a way to draw closer to God, to have a physical action to manifest and inward spiritual journey. But as necessary to salvation? That seems completely arbitrary.

    At age 40 I married, for the first time, to someone who is not Mormon. We have two children, almost 7 and 5, and I love them in a way that is difficult to explain. While parenthood is the most challenging thing I have ever done, and I don’t claim to be do a particularly good job at it, my feelings of love for my children is the most profound experience I have had in my life, and, unlike many phases of my church life (including serving a mission and temple attendance, both of which I valued), it requires no mental gymnastics whatsoever.

    The suggestion that I would be separated from them in an afterlife (which we know very little about) because they were not “born in the covenant” or otherwise sealed to me is simply repugnant. That the situation could be remedied by proxy work is also offensive, because the message is the same: for purposes of salvation, a life of service and devotion to one’s children does not have sealing power.

    Some might call my perspective short-sited and terrestial. Well, it is terrestial. It’s my life, right now, and I believe in a God who does not want us to feel “less than” during this life if we are really trying to be good people.

  38. Jason K. says:

    Jeanette: I’m pretty sure I don’t know you, but I’d rather go to hell with you than to heaven with a God who would exclude you. I want no part of a God who is basically just some middle manager obsessed with making sure that the right boxes are checked. (I don’t really think that the Mormon God is that, although some people seem to want him to be.)

  39. I think we as members do ourselves a disservice when we skip over the time between death and the Celestial sorting (Alma 40:11), using the covenants required for Celestial (sealing, baptism, etc) as a way to separate and look down on those who haven’t gotten it yet.

    No one, not even those sealed in the Temple, can be sure that they are going to be sealed when they get to the Celestial sorting (which may or may not involve a funny looking hat). Sure, it’s nice to get sealed earlier if you can, but even sealed marriages fail. Even sealings to parents can be broken if that sealing won’t be nothing but happiness for everyone involved.

    I have two sons from my first marriage who aren’t sealed to me. I have no idea what will happen in the future, but I do know that whomever they are sealed to will be happiness for them and that checkbox will get checked off.

  40. This could have (should have) been a beautiful article but I fear Bro Givens style seems more designed to impress that to inspire or inform. What a waste of great wisdom. Such a turn off that should have been a total turn on. Inspiring doctrine. If this is representative of the Academic world I am ever so grateful to not have been a part of it.

  41. Samurai6 says:

    Wow, tough crowd. Good thing my talk from Sunday didn’t get posted somewhere online for everyone to pick at. I liked the Givens sermon but am also sympathetic to some of the criticisms. You’ve got to walk a lot of fields to find treasure. I appreciate everyone that generates thoughtful content for me to walk through in my search.

  42. Understanding salvation in terms of relationships is a common theme woven throughout Givens’ writings, and one that resonates with me. Our fundamental desire for belonging, and God’s infinite desire to reconcile us, gives me a lot of hope. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

  43. Super tough crowd. I thought it was brilliant, and feel it opened my eyes to a new understanding. It feels there is a lot of truth in it to me.

    The largest objections seem to center around desiring ordinances to not truly be necessary for salvation. I’ve heard the notion before, but it’s surprising to me the number of objections given that it seems to be a fairly foundational claim of the Church to my understanding. (As in the primary reason God needed to restore His authority to the earth in the first place?) While of course interpretations can vary, is it not also quite straight forward biblically as spoken by Christ?

    John 3:5 “Jesus answered “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

    And if that were not enough, even more explicitly Christ declares in the Book of Mormon immediately upon personally visiting the Nephites in 3 Nephi 11:
    31 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.
    33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.
    34 And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.

    The idea that ordinances are in some essential way necessary for salvation seems pretty deeply grounded. The idea that for heavenly relationships to continue, they need to be formalized as recognition and a signal that such relationships are forged and intend to persist (in the heavenly society and government we live in hereafter) – is as satisfactory an explanation as I’ve come across.

  44. I agree Kisa, ignorance is bliss.

  45. Dog Spirit says:

    I really enjoyed reading Givens’ talk for what it represents: a thoughtful and well researched talk that is far, far more meaty and interesting than what I typically encounter in sacrament meeting. Thanks for being willing to share it here!

    I also appreciated the thoughtful questions and critiques that have followed. So many of you articulated thoughts similar to mine. These responses also modeled what I’d love to see more of at church.

  46. ReTx, My negative reaction is not so much based on a different metaphor as it is on a significantly different experience and observation. For me the experience of a clearly recognizable “request” from God is extraordinarily rare and has occurred only with respect to some matters of extreme importance. Given that rarity, there is no way to build trust “inch by inch.” (I have taught rappelling the inch by inch way — beginning at or near the bottom rather than the top of the cliff. It prevents a great deal of anxiety. I sometimes wish it worked for me in this area, but it doesn’t.) In fact, I it seems that by answering over 99% of my prayers with silence, God has taught me that He trusts me to figure out the answers that matter well enough — sometimes, of course, “with a little help from my friends” and others. That approach cannot be reconciled with a glorification of obedience to the arbitrary requests by God, because it is so extraordinarily rare that any such request can be determined to have come from God. I have also observed some others quite confident that their impulses were inspiration from God, only to find after acting on them that either their confidence was misplaced or God was a sadist or sociopath. I don’t much care for the latter alternative.

  47. I learned so much from this Sunday talk. Thank you. THANK YOU.

  48. “in fact, some of those ordinances have harmed my relationship with God, possibly irreparably”

    I felt similarly while reading the OP. The typical LDS rationale for participating in ordinances and making covenants made sense for me….until my endowment and sealing. I find the wording in those ordinances and covenants harmful and they do not match up with my own personal revelation of my relationship to God as a woman here on earth.

    I am a millennial (albeit barely). Having our most sacred ordinances and covenants so mucked up with problematic history and culture renders those ordinances and covenants less authentic in my eyes. Of all the places I should go to feel closer to God and less entrenched in the philosophies of man, it should be the temple. But the temple is where I see and feel those problems most acutely. So I’m left asking myself – why bother?

  49. Jason K. says:

    Steve S: As part of the “tough crowd,” I don’t think that I particularly disagree with you. My primary concern, as a committed reader of the Epistle to the Romans (which admittedly might make me not very Mormon, given our paltry attention to that text), is that making ordinances part of Law turns them from instruments of life to instruments of death. I’m pretty fully on board with Givens’s emphasis on relationality, but the question is: what kind of relation are we talking about? With Paul, I don’t believe that a relationship founded on obedience does us any favors if becoming part of the messianic community (Zion, in Mormon-speak) is supposed to be the outcome. Givens seems to agree with this point when he acknowledges that, left to our own devices, we often fail at sustaining relationships. But the other side of the picture is that some relationships in fact seem to succeed without having fulfilled the Law in any formal sense (see the comments by Olde Skool and Jeanette)—and Paul’s central focus in the Epistle is on just such circumstances. This is not to contest the idea that ordinances can improve our odds of success. Paul insists in Romans that he has no interest in abolishing the Law, which he recognizes has its place in the grand scheme. It just can’t be the whole scheme. Admittedly, if someone were to press Givens on this point, it might turn out that I don’t really disagree with him, either. It’d be an interesting conversation to have, in any case.

    Dog Spirit: amen, on both points.

  50. Wow, tough crowd. Good thing my talk from Sunday didn’t get posted somewhere online for everyone to pick at.

    This is no ordinary sacrament meeting talk; as the OP states in the footnotes, it’s a modified section of a book that came out on Oxford Press last week. Brother Givens can handle the heat.

  51. “The largest objections seem to center around desiring ordinances to not truly be necessary for salvation. I’ve heard the notion before, but it’s surprising to me the number of objections given that it seems to be a fairly foundational claim of the Church to my understanding.”

    From the first two paragraphs in Givens’ talk, I assumed the point of the talk was to frame ordinances in a way to appeal to a generation of people who just do not see the benefit of ordinances. I did not see it as a sermon to those who already agree with the Church’s foundational claim that ordinances are fundamental to salvation. My critique came from that understanding. I am part of that generation and someone who does not see ordinances as necessary. I felt like I may be a member of the target audience (although that could be a product of my ego more than my reading comprehension). As the target audience, I thought I’d explain why it just didn’t achieve its objective with me, although as I stated before, ReTx had already taken the words right out of my mouth.

  52. Loursat says:

    The mystery of rituals seems to be a big sticking point. If what we’re trying to do is accomplished by mundane effort (as I think it is), then what is the point of ritual? If ritual is about nothing more than a show of obedience, well, that’s just the thing that puts people off—it’s empty.

    One answer to that question stems from the fact that God is always inaccessible. We can’t be with God in the way that we are with each other, so creating a community that includes God must require something more than or different from what we do with each other. Now, we can commune with God through prayer and the ministrations of the Spirit, and we don’t need any rituals for this. But at some point we face the question of whether, as a community, we need more than this in order to approach God together.

    Ritual worship—for Mormons, the worship that involves ordinances—is a collective effort to reach God in his (or her) transcendence. This is where arbitrariness is part of a ritual’s power. The arbitrariness of an ordinance is not in our willingness to do something stupid or destructive—not at all. A ritual is arbitrary because it is an attempt to reach what is unreachable. We have no rational basis to think that a ritual will connect us with God, but we do it anyway because we agree, as a community, that it is worth a try. It is a way of saying to each other and to God, “Here’s what we believe, and here’s what we hope might become our reality.”

  53. Jason K. says:

    I like that, Loursat. I can buy into obedience as absurd, because that lets obedience participate in the economy of grace. And there might even be traces of this thinking in the OP’s acknowledgment that ordinances are arbitrary, as you say.

  54. Steve S says:

    Jason K, I really appreciate the tone of your response. Yes, I’m on board with not being comfortable with the part of the talk discussing seemingly arbitrary obedience as a virtue. That aside, I think the primary point and emphasis of the talk is a good one in whole, and I think you may be right that it doesn’t sound like there is a whole lot of disagreement between your two understandings when really pressed.

    For example, you say, “But the other side of the picture is that some relationships in fact seem to succeed without having fulfilled the Law in any formal sense.” Seems to aline with Given’s story and answer, “She asked, “Why would God separate two people who were in love and died, just because they didn’t go through with church rituals or ordinances?” I told her that was an excellent question, and an absolutely fair question. My answer may surprise you, but this is what I said. “He won’t.””

    I could be wrong, but my reading of this talk is that while the ordinances are a means and appointed way of providing actual relational power with the divine, it seems without access the empowering relationships with God are still available to those that seek them who yet do not have current knowledge or access to the formal authorized ordinances. And at some future point, in this life or the next, that formalization act must be done as a signal that the relationship with God exists, has been officially accepted, and the desire and intent is to abide in and by that relationship eternally.

    But while that may be the whole correct way and order of heaven to solidify and solemnify that relationship (the formal way God wishes to offer that relationship to His/Her children on earth, that is desirable to fill the whole earth establishing the proper order of heaven), it is not the law itself that saves, but the (covenantal) relationship. And without access, God would not deny that relationship and covenants coming from the heart of the individual. The law eventually to be fulfilled to formalize that one has already in heart accepted and lived that relationship (and therefore why would they not want to formalize that relationship in God’s appointed way, acknowledged and accepted in the heavenly society?)

    EBK, really good point that I didn’t think about. That if his target audience is those who don’t believe in the necessity of ordinances, it would make sense that people holding such views would respond in higher numbers in the comments here.

  55. Mark Clark says:

    Jeanette, “The suggestion that I would be separated from them in an afterlife (which we know very little about) because they were not “born in the covenant” or otherwise sealed to me is simply repugnant.”

    I feel the same. The teaching that families can be together forever is not unique to Mormonism. Many cultures established well before Mormonism believed that they would be reunited with their loved ones upon death. The significance of the Mormon teachings about families in the afterlife is that the Mormon God will separate families simply because the one family member was not “faithful” to Mormon “covenants” in the case of an LDS family. In the case of non-LDS families, they’ll be separated if one joins the LDS church and makes and keeps LDS “covenants” and makes it to the Celestial Kingdom and the other family members after death either don’t have proxy ordinances done for them or don’t accept them in the afterlife. Wouldn’t it best if all family members sinned a lot and then were all cast together in the Telestial Kingdom? They might have more fun and still get the benefits of being together in the afterlife. I don’t quite understand what the point of trying to get to the Celestial Kingdom is. At any rate, the Mormon concept of heaven is more exclusionary, and over seeming minutiae, rather than inclusive and hope-inspiring.

  56. I’m enjoying the discussion. I’m a firm believer in the value of ritual and ordinance/sacrament. I like the relational approach and have (and would again) use it myself were I to give a public address. (My private musings are more likely to start from a fundamentally monist view of being, in which there is no distinction between the actions of the “body” and meaning to the “soul”).

    I am not in accord with exclusiveness or arbitrary necessity. I don’t think the OP makes the case, and now I’m curious enough to look for the book (because I’m not sure he’s really trying — “He won’t” is a big tell.)

    In reading all the comments and reflecting again on the OP, I am called back to the wedding of a niece and her now-husband that I just attended. It was a Jewish ceremony, celebration, ritual. The words of the very thoughtful rabbi did almost all of the same work that Brother Givens does here.

  57. The temple provides a key that unlocks a door to greater personal righteousness and revelation.

    We don’t walk through a locked door just because we have a key.

    Keeping our temple covenants entails living the life of a saint. That’s walking through the door. Christ like love and service. Personal purity. Service in the church. All of that involves sacrifice.

    Do that and your temple covenants provide the basis for revelation that can penetrate the veil. I’ve experienced this. I wouldn’t have understood it and the connection to the temple without having it happen for myself. But it did.

    So while I understand how some people will say that they don’t see much personal benefit from the temple, I can only say with as much kindness as possible that you’re likely doing it wrong.

    I wouldn’t feel confident in that assessment if it was only my experience. But the prophets point the same way. They experienced the same thing. Once again, the answer comes from a combination off looking to the prophets and personal experience with God.

    I can see why others disagree, but there’s not a whole lot that can be said to dissuade from what God and his servants revealed.

  58. Motown. When you say “you’re likely doing it wrong,” you are making an unfounded, unrighteous judgment by generalizing from your experience based on the unfounded supposition that the Lord will interact with each of His children in the same way He has interacted with you. For some who engage in Christ-like love and service, personal purity, service in the church, and sacrifice, the temple has simply not increased either personal righteousness or revelation. Your argument is as inappropriate as the assumption of some human parents that each of their children is treated appropriately when they are given equal parental attention and resources when in fact the children are individuals with different needs. Please get over yourself.

  59. Thank you JR.

  60. Mark Clark says:

    “So while I understand how some people will say that they don’t see much personal benefit from the temple, I can only say with as much kindness as possible that you’re likely doing it wrong.”

    I was long taught that the primary purposes of the temple were 1) for your own covenant-making and salvation and 2) to do proxy ordinances for dead people as that was the only way that they could be saved. However, I have heard from many different sources that names are recycled and that ordinances are performed for the same people over and over again. Temple presidents know this is going on, and so do the brethren. Yet they keep insisting that members need to go to the temple more than they already are. I get the sense that there is an unwritten purpose of the temple to instill a stronger sense of groupthink among members and serve as a litmus test for religiosity that spouses can measure against each other to increase and enforce strict adherence to the LDS church. The temple is used as a tool to keep core rank-and-file members paying lots of money to the LDS church, to keep them busy with what can only be described as busy work (which is pretty much all work related to the temple), and to keep them going in to meet with local leaders at least once every two years to be screened. Because how embarrassing would it be if you couldn’t attend your son or daughters wedding in the temple. How embarrassing would it be if someone found out that you didn’t have a temple recommend. How disgraceful would it be if you couldn’t go with your spouse to the temple.

    The temple is a control mechanism to keep activity rates high, revenue high, and adherence very strong. What about saving dead people, you ask? That is really only of secondary importance.

  61. Mark – Motown’s comment was rather offensive in its attempt to portray his spirituality and spiritual experiences as superior to those unlike him.

    But your rant about control does the exact same thing by portraying active Mormons (different than you) as entirely negative (and under mind-control) without any thought to real lived experiences within the church (which are a mixture of both negative and positive and all things inbetween).

    Such comments make me think the authors are really writing more about themselves (waving a flag about their own life experiences) than the groups they are portraying. Then again, at the end of the day I suppose it is what we all do.

  62. Mark Clark says:

    ReTx, did you bother to read my comment carefully? What did it say: Recycled temple names are evidence that the primary purpose is not work for the dead, but the reinforcement of cultural norms for the living membership through social pressure, community monitoring, and fear of being shamed. How are you inferring “mind-control” from my comment? Furthermore, how are you inferring criticism of the Mormon membership from my comment? It is a criticism of the leadership, who insist that the purpose of repeat visits to the temple is work for the dead.

  63. Hi Mark –

    Yes. I did read your comment. Carefully…? Well… It’s the internet. I wasn’t planning on writing a paper on it or anything. With that though… I will apologize for one thing I said. I shortened ‘control mechanism’ to ‘mind-control.’ My error as there is a difference.

    “How are you inferring criticism of the Mormon membership from my comment?” Not sure how I can not…?

    I can’t help but going there when I see the rank-and-file painted as being so gullible as to be taken by church leadership for their money, in need of being kept busy by busy work (and implying there is no possibly way they might actually find meaning in ritual at the temple as it is nothing but busy work), that they submit passively to ‘screening’ (while I’m not a fan of interviews personally, I have friends who find TRIs meaningful) and one large reason they hold T.R.’s is because they are controlled by the leadership over embarrassment at not being able to attend family sealings.

    How is it not critical of a group of people to say they are submitting to all of the above? That the rank-and-file’s behavior is – (a) all the same, (b) all motivated by the same thing, (c) and that motivation is a mechanism of control as applied by the leadership – comes off as a pretty big blanket criticism to me.

    My argument is that the rank-and-file (or general membership) don’t actually exist in the way you are using them. People are people. Motivations and experiences vary. Someone like Motown who is deeply committed to a path that makes sense to her/him within the church does not mean s/he is under a mechanism of control. I’ll argue it means s/he’s a person who has found a powerful way within the church for her/him to connect to God (although I’d be the first to admit that there is more than one meaning possible here and I have no doubt plenty of negative examples could be added). And her/his experience does not mean your experiences with the church as an organization has to be exactly the same. Your experience is that the church used control mechanisms on you and you found no connection to God here (I realize I’m interpreting by saying that. I may have it wrong.). Your experience is just as valid as MoTown’s. As is mine, which is different than both of yours. I object to both of you telling me my experience has to fit in either of your life boxes.

    Cheers.

  64. This (link) is an example of the kind of inconsistency that drives young people nuts.

  65. Mark Clark says:

    ReTx, what is a significant reason that LDS believers are attending the temple repeatedly? To save dead people! Are you denying that it is? If so then there is something wrong with you. I’m not criticizing them for going for that reason. After all that is what they are taught is the main reason to do temple work. Time and again I have heard LDS believers say in church meetings that the primary purposes of temple work are 1) to make covenants for themselves and 2) do important ordinances for the dead. The leadership has a responsibility to inform its membership that they are recycling names at the temple. If it made that information more prominent, I have no doubt that it would drastically affect temple attendance. I have every reason to believe that many members would question the purpose of temple attendance. The rank-and-file cannot be blamed for acting on what is bad information. You’re grasping at straws in trying to pin me down as attacking the membership.

    “My argument is that the rank-and-file (or general membership) don’t actually exist in the way you are using them”

    You’re going off on tangents at this point. If you’re going to attack an idea, learn to be able to address the main point(s) of that idea and provide specific reasons why it is incorrect. You have yet to do that.

  66. … but the price of real estate nowadays!

  67. It’s my personal understanding that God isn’t excluding people from degrees of glory who could be there; people will end up self selecting themselves into the societies that they’re capable and comfortable in functioning in.
    I don’t think that the angels standing at the gates of heaven are looking to know if you know some random piece of trivia; they’re administering a drivers license-esque test to see if you know how to drive. It seems likely that the Celestial Kingdom is full of covenant making, ordinance performing people. If true, and if you’re not a covenant making, ordinance performing type of a person, then it’s possible that the Celestial Kingdom isn’t for you.
    To make a metaphor, let’s say that the angels at the gate were administering a choral music appreciation test; and you just couldn’t pass it. Then one day, you somehow sneak in, and there you are. But what do you do with yourself? It doesn’t take long to discover that this place is all about choral music. All of the radio stations are choral music, all of the jobs are about writing, practicing for performing choral music, all of the social and recreational activities are about choral music. You can’t stand it. You love violent rap so much that you didn’t even know that there was music besides rap, and nobody in this place can even tolerate the type of music you want to share with them. So eventually you’re honest with yourself and you leave to go find people who are more like you.
    Now of course, stretched to an extreme all metaphors fall apart, but it’s my understanding that this is how it plays out. There are scriptures which talk about persons not being comfortable in the presence of God. Judgement day is going to be you saying “I’m comfortable being X degrees of Glory away from God.” The church is here to help us learn how to drive X down to 0.