Why I’m Marrying in a Catholic Basilica

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With the Vatican’s approval, I’m marrying my Catholic fiancé in St. Mary’s Basilica in Old Town Alexandria this Saturday.  Yay!  I’m so excited to celebrate true love, surrounded by my family and friends.

Some of those family and friends are a little befuddled.  As a former hyper-devoted Mormon, I can see the confusion in their eyes, the unstated curiosity about why I’m not marrying in the temple.  Only a few have ventured to ask the question directly.

I believe it is important to give an honest answer.  This is my story.

* * *

I felt like the Spirit had fallen into a black hole.

That’s the only way I know how to describe the day I received the endowment.

For 25 years, I had enthusiastically sung “I Love to See the Temple.”  I had installed temple screensavers on my laptops, and bought temple art to hang in my rooms.  I had taken every opportunity to perform baptisms, to visit temple grounds, and to attend temple open houses and dedications. I had made moral, dating, education, career, and life decisions based entirely on what would lead me to the temple.  I had fervently born my testimony to members and non-members alike of the importance of temple ordinances.  I had been the rude interloper who interrogated friends and warned them of eternal unhappiness when it looked like their life decisions might lead them away from the temple and the blessings of the celestial kingdom.

By June 2012, my lifelong commitment to the highest ordinances the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offered seemed to be bearing fruit.  In two back-to-back days in Chicago, I received the endowment and married an enthusiastic convert.

I knew the endowment would be a unique experience.  Friends and family and leaders had described the process at a high level.  Some alluded to being uncomfortable with certain rituals and symbolism, but they all assured me the temple was a powerful spiritual experience and I would get used to the oddness.

I also knew from Relief Society that temple worker women performed ordinances and exercised a form of priesthood authority.   This excited me.  I yearned to see what women in authority felt like, to learn more about God’s purpose for me.  I hoped I would learn something about Heavenly Mother.  On the day of my endowment, I fasted and prayed for spiritual understanding.

The initiatory felt like the start of something beautiful.  The new name I received had profound personal meaning to me.  But then I walked into the endowment room, and quickly felt enshrouded by darkness and confusion.  There was no Heavenly Mother.  Eve barely spoke.  I made a covenant to my husband?  But I didn’t have a husband yet – not until tomorrow – what did that mean for my single women friends?  Then I gave my fiancé my name, but I wasn’t allowed to know his?  Something felt seriously, spiritually wrong. 

I had majored in religious studies in college so I retreated to a mental place of curious deconstruction.  I noticed how many Masonic elements were in play, which troubled me.  I pushed that aside and instead reflected on how Joseph Smith had a talent for imbuing the mundane with spiritual import.  Even if the derivation was masonic, God could still teach me powerful lessons.  I quickly self-minimized my uncomfortable feelings and committed myself to return to the temple often until I understood the depth of its beauty.

The session ended and I stood in the celestial room surrounded by family.  There the Spirit finally returned.  I remember my sister asking for my reaction.  I told her I was confused.  I spiritually felt that the covenants I had made to God were fine, but that the trappings of how the covenants were made felt weird.

My sealing the next day is a blur.  A little odd, a little boring, nothing spiritually notable – except for the fact that as a convert, my husband’s non-member family had been excluded.  I had spent our year-long engagement convinced of the righteousness of my refusal to compromise.  Time and time again I had born heartfelt testimony of the spiritual importance of temple sealings to his hurt family.  But on my wedding day, their exclusion felt deeply wrong.  I realized that for a church focused on “Families are Forever,” excluding non-member families from celebrating key life milestones was our single most destructive missionary tool.  I could not find Christ in it.  In the ensuing months, I felt a persistent and piercing spiritual guilt that my dogmatic insistence on a temple wedding above all had been a self-righteous sin.

* * *

A week later, my new husband and I decided to visit the temple near our honeymoon city.  We thought it would be powerful to experience the endowment and sealings again, just by ourselves, with more time to reflect on their spiritual import.  Once again, a black hole descended during the endowment.  This time I noticed that Eve never covenants to God, she only covenants to her husband – and then immediately shuts up.  She never speaks again.  Her silence bothered me.  Where was my role model for the feminine divine?

After the session we knelt for some proxy sealings.  As the sealer rattled off the script again and again, I noticed a disconnect.  He was dropping a clause.  I thought it was a fluke.  I listed more carefully.  Still, there was a mismatched phrase.  The absence felt more jarring than when a teenage boy misses a line in the Sacrament prayer.  On the fifth or sixth iteration, convinced I was not mishearing, I interrupted the sealer mid-sentence.

“You’re skipping a line,” I said.  “You asked me to give myself to my husband.  You only asked him to receive me.”

The sealer looked startled.  “Yes, that’s right. That the way it’s supposed to be,” he said, resuming the recitation.

I kept protesting.  “It’s not reciprocal!  You’re missing a clause!”

The sealer flipped his ordinance script card around and showed it to me.  He was right – the clauses weren’t reciprocal.

“It’s because of polygamy,” the sealer explained.  “A woman can only give herself to one husband.  But men have to be free to receive multiple wives.”

* * *

As an enthusiastic convert, my new husband had an admirable commitment to exceeding expectations.  When he heard advice to attend the temple once a month, he promptly doubled it.  For the first year and a half of our marriage we attended the temple together approximately twice a month.   Each and every time, I prayed for clarity, peace, and deeper understanding.

The temple never got better, it got worse.  The movie change helped a bit, but not much.  My spiritual insights kept getting darker.  I noticed more incidents of sexism, more absences of women, more vestiges of polygamy, more statements of theology that did not align with everything I held dear about Christ and grace.

The temple turned me into a Mormon feminist.  Desperate to understand what was going on, I dove into Mormon academia and the Mormon bloggernacle.  Feminist Mormon Housewives’s essay “The Mormon Priestess” remains the single most powerful post I have ever read.  It dissected every linguistic problem with temple ordinances I was struggling with.  For the first time I felt supported in my ever-growing conviction that perhaps the spiritual problem wasn’t me, it was the temple itself.

Another bloggernacle post linked to the just-published Joseph Smith Papers including the original D&C Section 101 on marriage.

“All marriages in this church of Christ of Latter Day Saints should be solemnized in a public meeting, or feast, prepared for that purpose.”  …“Marriage should be celebrated with prayer and thanksgiving, and at the solemnization…[the officiant] shall say, calling each by their names: ‘You both mutually agree to be each other’s companion…keeping yourselves wholly for each other.

This felt true.  If the Church had followed its original practice, we would not have excluded my husband’s non-member family from our wedding.  But public celebrations had been cancelled and this section of scripture removed after the publication of D&C 132 on polygamy.

Meanwhile, my marriage had descended into disarray.  It was horrible by every definition of the word.  Increasingly in response to my personal prayers, I received answers that did not match my husband’s will.  I went to the temple, promised to “hearken” unto my husband, and then came home to a reality where his edicts caused enormous pain.  The disconnect prompted a spiritual crisis – everything I knew about the gospel and priesthood in the home had convinced me such conflicts should never happen.  My wrestling with that theology underpins my post on women’s ability to override bad priesthood leadership.

On one of my temple trips with my then-husband, I endured an endowment session just so I could enter the celestial room.  “Dear Heavenly Father,” I prayed as I promptly descended into tears.  “I don’t like this.  I don’t have a testimony of this.  Whenever I come here I find pain.  I wish the way I felt inside the temple matched the way I feel outside, when I stand on its tranquil grounds.  But it doesn’t.  Nevertheless, I believe you answer prayers.  I don’t know where else to turn.  My entire life I have been taught that this is where I should go to have my most heartfelt prayers answered. And I desperately need your help.”

That day is when I first received powerful spiritual confirmation that I could seek divorce.  But I wouldn’t follow through for another year.  Because despite the unmistakable whisperings of the spirit, I convinced myself I was a sinner and my revelation was wrong.  It took another year to scale the spiritual mountain of decades of teachings that nothing justified divorce, or ending a temple sealing, or disobeying a husband.  My answers and my spiritual witnesses did not align with those teachings, so clearly the problem must be me, my selfishness, and my sins.

* * *

After my divorce, and after my sealing had been cancelled, I continued to attend the temple.  I suspected my negative feelings about the ceremonies were all-to-likely bound up in my terrible marriage.  I knew I needed to wrestle with the two problems separately.  With distance from my ex, however, my spiritual concerns did not fade.  Instead the sexism became even more glaring.

With a recommend about to expire, I went to the temple one more time.  In the celestial room I prayed for an hour, cataloging all of the above once again for God.  “I hope others find peace and refuge here,” I told Him, “but I don’t.  Maybe someday in the future I can, but not now.”

Today I focus on serving Christ through the faith I know and love.  I love the Book of Mormon.  I love our emphasis on personal study and spiritual revelation.  I love the tight-knit communities we foster.  I love our sincere commitments to wholesome living.  When I stopped attending the temple, I redoubled my commitment to my baptismal covenants.  I vowed to mourn with those who mourn, to comfort those who stand in need of comfort.  I vowed to use any talents or skills I might possess to be a voice for the voiceless.

* * *

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How my Catholic fiancé and I chose to be together is a story for another day.  But suffice it to say, in our relationship I have found nothing but joy, trust, respect, and spiritual peace.

A few months ago, while attending one of the mandatory Catholic pre-marital counseling programs, a Priest spoke on the sacrament of marriage.  He expounded upon Catholic theology that  “Marriage is based on the consent of the contracting parties, meaning their will to give themselves, each to the other, mutually and definitively, in order to live a covenant of faithful and fruitful love.”  He spoke on the reciprocity of giving for more than ten minutes.  It filled a void in my heart.

I’m not a Catholic, and I have no intention of ever becoming one.  I recognize the Catholic Church’s own institutional problems and sexism.  But in their doctrine of marriage they have tapped into something divine.

Starting November 3, I look forward to our equal partnership as husband and wife, based on our mutual gifts and abiding love.

Comments

  1. Congratulations on your marriage and thank you for writing this post. I’m not sure how much the temple ordinances can change in order to make them palatable to me (or at least free of the vestiges of polygamy), but it would be the easiest thing in the world to separate weddings from temple sealings. That is already the case in many parts of the world, and it would avoid so many hurt feelings and painful decisions for couples whose loved ones can’t be in the temple. The church requires enough sacrifices without causing unnecessary wedges in families.

  2. I agree completely, Rebecca. I was stunned to learn that there are only 5 countries in the world where weddings are even legally allowed to be done in temples — and I think it’s only in the United States where the one-year punishment delay for not electing to be married/sealed in the temple first is in force.

  3. I am a single woman. I am in my 30s. I have only participated in initiatories for the past several years. I can’t bear the endowment session. I love being in the celestial room, I’m glad I’ve been able to attend my sisters’ sealings, but it feels like another place where my earthly experience is ignored, that who I am, on my own, apart from another that doesn’t even exist, doesn’t matter.

  4. Thank you for this. The temple has become increasingly problematic for me as well. I have felt God’s presence there at times, but I find the endowment ceremony boring at best, and offensive and claustrophobic at worst. I haven’t been for years, and your post offers me a place outside the temple. While I can see how the endowment is supposed to relate to Christ, I cannot find him there. It’s the worst liturgical experience.

  5. Carolyn, thank you for sharing your journey in this post. I discovered a fondness for Catholic mass on my mission. In recent years, my appreciation for their approach to Christianity has grown. Though, like you, I don’t ever see myself joining. Still, it’s a blessing to find places where we can feel calm and nourished. Your experience spoke to me on that level in particular. Congratulations on your upcoming wedding.

  6. Mazel tov, as I believe the Roman Catholics say!

  7. Kevin Barney says:
  8. Congratulations! Mixed faith marriages can be wonderful as long as everyone has the proper expectations, and it sounds like in your faith journey, you’re in a good place.

    I just want to put in my two cents for Eve’s portrayal in the endowment. Apart from Satan, she’s the only character in the whole drama that has any personality, that makes any of her own decisions, and that ultimately exercises any decisive free will. Adam behaves not only like a robot, but pathetically blames Eve for eating the fruit. God, Jesus, and the messengers are equally bland, all of them simply being God’s yes-men, and God Himself behaving a bit tyrannically, giving contradictory commandments without bothering to bring any clarity to the paradoxical situation, setting them up for a lifetime of existential shame. Thank heavens for Eve! She’s the only one with any sense, and thanks to her, we we are here living the same drama symbolically. When I “consider myself Adam or Eve,” I certainly can’t relate to Adam, but to Eve! Whenever we are faced with the paradox of existence and we make a choice, we stand with her! She and her daughters are the decisive ones.

  9. I am widowed, and my new wife is also widowed. Because she was sealed to her first husband, she cannot be sealed to me while she is still alive unless that first sealing is cancelled. That policy rings false to her, and for that reason she will not go to the temple for endowment sessions. She tells me she will not attend an endowment session until the policy changes, and I don’t blame her.

  10. sarah_jwh says:

    I feel like I left an incomplete comment, so I’d like to add a couple things.
    First, we’ve been counseled to marry the right person at the right time in the right place, and I’m glad you’re doing what’s best for you. I think it’s great. Congratulations
    Second, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one uncomfortable in the temple. I live practically down the street from one, just a mile and a half away, and I never go. And we get counseled to go often, and I just can’t make myself do it, and I feel like there’s something wrong with me, and I’m comforted to know I’m not alone. I’m all for people living the way that is best for them (so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else) but have difficulty allowing myself the same leeway and feel like I’m failing when I can’t do everything and don’t fit in the boxes quite right.

  11. Carolyn, I’m so excited for your marriage this weekend! I appreciate your sharing this part of your story.

    For those who may not be aware, you can go to the celestial room at the temple after performing at least one ordinance. This means that if you participate in one initiatory ordinance, you can ask any temple worker to let you go to the celestial room. You don’t have to dress in robes, just wear white. If someone tries to tell you you can’t, ask to speak to a shift coordinator or temple president/matron; it’s in the handbook. I know that this policy of participating in one ordinance prior to visiting the celestial room doesn’t make up for the pain/sexism of other temple ordinances (and Carolyn, I absolutely understand and respect your decision!), but if sitting in the celestial room brings you peace, this is one way to go about it without having to sit through a painful endowment session.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Nate, I appreciated your enthusiastic take on Eve.

  13. I shared that enthusiastic take on Eve (the “Two Trees” type model: https://ldsmag.com/article-1-12563/) before I went to the Temple. Mormon doctrine really is radical about her.

    But if Eve is so decisive and wise and empowered, why is her reward to submit to the unthinking robot, and sever her personal connection to God?

  14. Eve is the mother of all living.

  15. Through some of my female friends, I have become aware of the language of the endowment. I guess I just didn’t pay that much attention to it before. It’s a confusing mix and feels derogatory to women, both married and single. Plus, it’s dull. Once you get past the video, it’s just constant repetitions with no observable benefit.

  16. Thank you, Carolyn, for sharing your story with such candor. May your wedding day be as glorious as you dream!

  17. Samantha Ellsworth says:

    Your story, is my story. Thank you so much for posting.

  18. The reality is that endowment was originally a method of insuring the secrecy of polygamy originally. I’ve never found it inspiring, just sort of creepy.

  19. All happiness, Carolyn! Thank you for sharing your trajectory.

  20. Thank you so much for sharing your poignant faith journey with regards to marriage. I found this post to be very necessary and healing. I am a married returned missionary as well as a childhood sexual abuse survivor who nearly lost it when I first went through the temple (in the mid-1990’s) and the temple workers touched me naked and then put my garments onto my nude body for my first time ever wearing the garment. I was in tears and just pretended they were tears of testimony/spirit because all my relatives kept commenting about how certain they were that loved ones from the other side must be all around me making me cry that day and I hadn’t yet outed myself as somebody who had been sexually abused. I remain horrified by that particular ordinance, even though I understand it has been changed somewhat since then to remove the nudity part (I wouldn’t know–I never returned to repeat it for any deceased persons, for obvious reasons). Thank you for writing this and letting me know that I am not alone in feeling uncomfortable with what goes on in the temple. Everybody around me is always gushing about how powerfully they feel the spirit inside there, but I have always felt very, very icky. Especially since watching that Netflix documentary about the Freemasons and realizing that we simply copied their entire ritual and tossed in some scripture and nudity. (Hello, philosophies of men, mingled with scripture?) I wish you well in your new marriage–I cherish the idea of an interfaith family! My mother forced my formerly Catholic dad to convert before she would marry him, and my childhood abuse is one of the many horrific results. Oh, how I wish she had allowed Dad to remain Catholic! Maybe in the resulting interfaith home, we kids would have been allowed to choose our own paths, and I could have found a better, safer, and healthier fit for my spiritual and emotional growth.

  21. wreddyornot says:

    Thank you for sharing your trials and triumphs. Blessings to you and congratulations, Carolyn. I hear you and hope I fully understand and have sufficient empathy. I am for you and women all of the way. I stand for a correction to this grave inequality.

  22. Thanks for writing this and congratulations! I resonate strongly with your experience. I’ve only been back to the temple twice since my endowment and sealing and feel no real desire to go back. I’ve thought several times that I need to keep going back until I understand/appreciate it – reading your experience of doing just that, I think maybe I can just let this go. I just don’t like it. I very much wish someone had been more honest about what was and wasn’t to be found there before my endowment to lessen the immense disappointment.

    Sorella, I’m so sorry that the temple was a source of so much pain. I have never considered what the initiatory might be like to someone with traumatic experiences.

  23. Unfortunately, your story is my story, except I never got the happy second marriage. I do wish the Church leaders had been more open to listening to what women were actually thinking 40 years ago. We were unhappy then and many of us still are.

  24. TinyNavajo says:

    Carolyn, I thank you for this post and your feelings on the temple. I have my own issues with the temple and the endowment that I’m trying to overcome. I’m glad to read that I am not the only one. I still follow Christ and his teachings but the temple endowment doesn’t feel quite right to me. I do feel the spirit in the celestial room and I’m grateful for that. Thank you again.

  25. Congratulations to you two cuties!

  26. SorellaM,
    I do not know how long ago you were endowed, but the initiator has changed substantially in my lifetime. You might discuss your concerns with your stake president and try it again. It can be a beautiful experience.

  27. ” I recognize the Catholic Church’s own institutional problems and sexism.”

    The sexism in the Catholic church is not comparable to the sexism in the LDS church. In the Catholic church no women have any church authority or power but then 98% of men do not have any authority or power either, they are in the same boat as women. In the LDS church every. singe. boy. and man has power and authority. Not the same at all.

  28. I think one of the main problems with temple attendance is that we are taught that due to its sacred nature we can not discuss the ordinances outside the temple. If only there was a way for open and honest conversations about doubts and concerns to be had – I feel this would be helpful to so many.
    I must say being a convert I found my first time to the temple was an anti-climax.

  29. Congratulations, Carolyn! I wish you all imaginable happiness! And thank you for the thoughtful post around this important subject. I hope the Lord will hear our prayers.

  30. Congrats on both your new life together, and your enlightened perspective!
    @Claire, there is no reason we can’t discuss what goes on in temples, when most of what we do therein is copied from the Freemasons’ ceremonies. Silly, silly man-made rule invented by the most ancient boys’ club of all to silence the lower classes and not godly at all. I would chastise the church for such secret combination-like behavior, but the very phrase “secret combinations” was a popular New England term used to decry secret societies in Joseph Smith’s day. I wouldn’t want to plagiarize . . .

  31. I’m not the first person to say it here, but thank you for sharing your observations and conclusions about the endowment and the sealing. What you’ve said echoes a lot of how I feel about those ordinances. I remember attending my youngest brother’s sealing, the first I’d ever attended, and being really struck by the disparity in the ordinance. And I also remember being in an endowment ceremony and feeling really grateful that I was single, because then at least I could feel as if I was binding myself directly to God, rather than my non-existent husband. I stopped attending a few years back, after I let my recommend lapse. Though I do dearly miss the Celestial Room. I’ve never felt a more pure conduit to God than when I’ve been in that room.

    I was really struck by something when I was reading Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling a few months back. The Restoration is incomplete and won’t be complete until women are included in it. I was reading the chapters about the restoration of the priesthood and the formalization of the Church’s institutional hierarchies, and women are not mentioned in any of it. Women aren’t mentioned anywhere as part of the institution, not even in a secondary role. Women aren’t included because, in my opinion, Joseph never thought to ask about them/us. Prophets are shaped and molded by the social forces that surround them and given the time and setting, it’s not surprising that women were forgotten.

    And when I say “forgotten” I mean as parts of institutional structure and foundation, as separate from family and husbands.

    But I could go on and on about this. :-D Thank you again, Carolyn, and I hope your day is everything you hope it will be and more.

  32. Fairchild says:

    I have said it before here that for women the endowment is a total bait and switch from what we are taught in Young Women’s. After six years of divine nature and individual worth, covenanting with God only through your husband is quite jarring. Which is the true doctrine? Temple teachings or YW teachings? They contradict each other and this is the problem all females brought up in this church face. So, don’t blame us if we don’t love the endowment. It’s not what you taught us.

  33. @Fairchild: Amen.

    I’ve said this before too. I can write you a gorgeous 25-page academic paper about how the “submit” “obey” “hearken” language that the Apostle Paul used in the New Testament was actually super progressive for that era, and how Joseph Smith’s decision to establish the Relief Society and include women in temple ordinances echoed Paul while adding in layers that were also super progressive for his era. For a while, that explanation was enough for me.

    But we’re in a new era. And we’re a church of continuing revelation. And the theology we’ve taught young women for decades is about their personal empowerment and relationship to Christ. It tells them that their role model is Heavenly Father and they have the seeds of divinity in them. But then we get to the temple and learn, oh, no, your role model model isn’t Heavenly Father, it’s … nothing? You’re not destined to be a Goddess, or even to make covenants with God himself, you’re destined to be a “Priestess unto your Husband.”

    We can try to twist the temple into some interpretation that echoes what we learned in Young Women, but that’s not actually what the ordinances say. At the end of the day, I’m a lawyer, and the text says what it says. It says I’m supposed to hearken unto a husband. That text matters.

  34. Life is about agency and choices. You have chosen to go in a different direction. Good luck.

  35. jaxjensen says:

    “I very much wish someone had been more honest about what was and wasn’t to be found there before my endowment to lessen the immense disappointment.”

    “I think one of the main problems with temple attendance is that we are taught that due to its sacred nature we can not discuss the ordinances outside the temple.”

    We talk of all sorts of sacred things outside the temple, including Christ himself. The only parts we ought not discuss are those that we’re specifically told not to disclose during the ceremony. Everything else, the covenants made, nature of the ordinances (telling people that they’d be nude and being touched!!), the teaching about God/Mother/ Satan… all can and have been taught outside the temple. You’ve covenanted not to disclose certain things, so don’t. ALL other is fair game.

    But if having detailed discussions outside the temple with someone who isn’t endowed bothers you, then do it in the temple!! A non-endowed person with a recommend is allowed in the doors and into the foyer. And you can talk about everything you think they should know right there. Or ask the temple presidency to use a side room. So if the privacy of your home, or a classroom in your church building, doesn’t feel sacred enough, then use the temple itself to discuss the temple. There is no reason that anybody should go through and be unprepared… which only adds to our shame of the comments above telling us what they didn’t know. It doesn’t HAVE to be that way now… no policy changes necessary.

    Carolyn, wishing you all happiness with the new marriage. Congrats!!

  36. I recognize and sympathize with the difficulties you’ve experienced in the temple. But at the risk of oversimplification, isn’t the reason you’re getting married in a basilica, rather than a temple, because you’ve chose to marry a catholic, rather than a Mormon? Or are you saying you targeted your husband because he wasn’t a Mormon so you could avoid the temple issue?

  37. Jimbob: Even if I were marrying a Mormon, I would not want to get married in the temple again. It’s that painful.

  38. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It resonates with so many including me. I appreciate your willingness to share something so personal. May your wedding be wonderful with all you love around you!

  39. Eternal life is a choice. Obedience to the laws and ordinances; including temple ordinances are necessary for eternal life. I have come to the conclusion some will be happier not choosing this path…and that’s ok.
    Elder Oak’s taught in the last conference, “The purpose of God’s plan was to give His children the opportunity to choose eternal life.
    Under the great plan of our loving Creator, the mission of His restored Church is to help the children of God achieve the supernal blessing of exaltation in the celestial kingdom, which can be attained only through an eternal marriage.
    Finally, God’s love is so great that … He has provided a destiny of glory for all of His children..The purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ is to qualify His children for the highest degree of glory, which is exaltation or eternal life. For those who do not desire…God has provided other…kingdoms of glory.
    In the end I believe all will be happy in the choices they made in this life.

  40. Beautiful and important post. Your story of the temple mirrors mine, without the abusive spouse. I truthfully barely listened to my wedding ceremony so I didn’t notice the language. I can’t believe in the literal ceremonies because the spirit flees every time I am there. I grew up in a home that derided Mormon Feminism and whispered when a Young Women’s leader that I loved left, that she went too far with Feminism. I pray constantly that the temple wording changes before my daughter is old enough to go. I just won’t lie to her about my feelings. I keep a recommend and attend with a big family event, but that’s it. I wanted so much to love it that it breaks my heart. I just simply can’t believe in a Heavenly Father that trusts or values his daughters or sons over one another based on sex. I tried to reconcile it for so long, then the spirit told me I could let it go and know it isn’t true.

  41. My first experience in the temple was at age 12 when they rounded us up to do baptisms for the dead. The old Logan temple basement where the font sat on 12 oxen was not heated and that January day it was probably 20 below outside. The font had strong whiffs of rubbing alcohol (freezing point of -128 F) and the couple inches of ice that formed on the water overnight had been thrown down on the oxen and had not melted all day long.

    We wore nothing except thick wool sacks that hung almost to our knees with holes cut in the top to poke our heads out. It was not enough to keep us warm as we sat there shivering. It also felt too much like wearing a dress and i was most definitely against cross-dressing at that age. I caught a glimpse of the trouble girls wearing dresses go through trying to keep from showing too much to gawking young boys.

    The girls sat shivering on the opposite side of the room. We noticed Melissa, the ward hottie, was not there. Yet she had been in the car with some of us. Then we heard the snickering whisper, Melissie is “on the rag” and was not allowed to participate. I didn’t know what that meant at the time but my ignorance was quickly dissipated. Her shame was magnified on the bus the next day by dozens of jeering boys, to the point of tears, of laughter and pain.

    The old men determined we must each be dunked 40 times. They did one boy then one girl in turn and many of the girls were shaking and crying and collapsed long before the end. They were allowed to be helped back to the locker room early. But as for us boys, we would die first before showing any weakness. Except for Grout and Ramaroos and Beak who managed to sneak back to the locker room before their turn in the font, leaving an extra 120 names to be done by others.

    My grandfather was a bit of a local legend in the baptistry. He was immune to the cold and could stand in freezing water all day long, sparing the other old men the misery. He was at the end of a difficult day when he had his second stroke in the baptistry. After a quick priesthood blessing failed to revive him, they dragged him out and left him in a snow bank until they got around to calling grandma to come get him. When he walked back into the temple about 6 months later, the other old men thought he had literally returned from the dead and ran away from him.

    Because of my name and a striking physical resemblance to him, the old guys recognized me as his offspring and assumed a similar immunity to cold water..And being the youngest and most bullied of the deacons, I was the last one to be baptized. They had to get the work done, no slacking off for the boys like they did for the girls. Are you ready for 160 baptisms, they asked? I gave a hearty, yes siree.

    The vigorous shivering set in before we hit 20 dunkings. From there I experienced all of the symptoms of hypothermia in turn. At the end it felt like a warm flaccid spiritual glow, I knew I was near heaven and nothing seemed to matter. My vision and hearing was gone and I could almost sense my ancestors coming for me.

    I could not stand up and had to be dragged out of the font. They turned me over to the care of 2 stout elderly women who carried me into the men’s empty locker room. I was too weak to pull the sack off. They undressed me and even at that age i did not care, although later I felt horribly embarrassed.They wrapped me up in warm blankets and rubbed the life back into me.The horrible shivering started up again and continued for what seemed like hours. The old women muttered to themselves, “sometimes the brethern do get carried away.”

    That spring I ran a sub 5 minute mile when about 8 inches shorter than my adult height. I was cursed with a strong cardiovascular system that prevented me from entering heaven’s gate with celestial glory beyond that first time in the temple. I was left to live and love and suffer much over the next almost half century.

  42. the one thing that helps me with the temple portrayal of Adam and Eve is that Eve stops speaking and being heard is a symptom of being in the Telestial world. And, I look around me at this Telestial world we live in and for centuries, women’s voices have been muted. In politics, in religion, in families. Bringing this world to a higher standard is Christ’s purported standard for returning, maybe some of that is elevating women.

    Saying that, I know a lot of old men and women that think I should just shut up and accept my subservient role because that’s how their iteration of God wants it. That’s possibly the most painful part of the temple for me. That there are some men and even women, nodding and saying “that’s right, just be a good girl and let the men do the thinking and leading.”

  43. jax, I agree with you that we ought to be more open about discussing the things that we don’t promise to keep confidential. But regardless of the fact that only those few things are off limits, church leaders do teach that the sanctity of the temple means that we don’t talk about the ceremonies outside the temple, not just the few things we make a promise not to disclose. I remember with the last set of changes to the initiatory, for example, our local temple posted signs in the locker room with a quote from President Hinckley saying that we don’t talk about the temple ordinances outside the temple. I agree with you that this is just a tradition, not a mandate of the ordinances themselves, but it’s a tradition that even church Presidents have taught as something that’s required. I think Bishops and Stake Presidents have a special responsibility with first-time temple attendees to discuss the ordinances in more detail than you would normally hear. But I imagine that not all agree.

    In any case, you’re right that you can go to the temple itself and have discussions about the endowment liturgy.

  44. BeeCee, I thought the rule was that you were allowed to go to the celestial room without even doing any ordinances. I know a few people that have done that.

  45. As I understand the husband will be responsible and accountable to God for his wife and family. That is a lot! I respect and honor men who fulfill their obligations in the right way. I happened to marry a man who wanted to leave everything to me. He did not want the burden of his priesthood responsibility. Eventually he wouldn’t even find a job and left the children, the home, and financial responsibilities upon me. Oh, to find a husband who fulfills his family duty! Those that marry good men, be grateful!

  46. So frustrated says:

    Ali,

    Doesn’t this infantilize women by making the husband the intermediary between the woman and God? Outside the temple, we (mostly) preach equal partnership. Unfortunately, it’s a different story inside. We’re supposed to celebrate Eve’s wise and brave choice, but then she’s punished for that choice by being made to hearken (obey) to her husband/lord.

  47. SorellaM: no more nudity, or touching, except fingers lightly on hair of head. That said, I fear your memories are such you should still stay away. God understands.
    Carolyn: Congratulations on your marriage. I wish you both all joy.

  48. Carolyn, I remember that you have written earlier about your journey toward this marriage. It’s a joy to hear of your wedding. Congratulations and best wishes.

  49. AnonThisTime says:

    Carolyn,

    Thank you for sharing such beautiful, poignant, and personal thoughts. I’ve been an active and temple-recommend holding member for my entire life. Like you, I was moved by the initiatory ordinance the fist time I experienced it (and still find the initiatory blessings beautiful), but have never particularly enjoyed the endowment, no matter how much I’ve engaged with it, either spiritually or intellectually. I’ve tried, fasting, pondering, praying, just attending, and have really never had what I would call a particularly moving spiritual experience in the temple. I can find meaning in the ceremonies if I try hard enough, but it takes significant effort on my part. (For the record, I do find the symbolism of the temple and the idea of eternal commitment profoundly meaningful, but I have the benefit of being in a loving, non-abusive relationship).

    As a man who has attended the temple for decades, I’m embarrassed to say that I was, for many years, oblivious to the sexism inherent in the endowment and the give/take/receive distinction. Over the years I have been fascinated to see how different women react to this. My wife, for example, loves the temple and the temple experience. Not only is she not at all bothered by what she experiences there, temple attendance and worship are a source of significant joy and strength to her. But I have known a number of faithful, believing, orthodox women who have experienced challenges with the ceremony similar to what you described. Like others on this thread, I wish this topic could be explored more openly

    What is most hearbreaking and challenging for me is this: I have no idea whether the men (and sadly, is is only a group of men) who have the power to make changes to the ceremony are even aware of your concerns and experiences and perspective. Setting aside for the moment how the Q15 would react to your experience if they knew about it (I suspect some would be more sympathetic than others), what is sad for me is that as they set policies for all of us who, for whatever reason, are trying to remain actively engaged in the LDS faith, including temple worship, I have no idea whether they are aware that so many people like yourself — believing, faithful, committed members who have genuinely tried to find meaning in temple worship — can have such negative experiences.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing. Congratulations on your marriage and best of luck.

  50. So frustrated- All are alike and valued the same in God’s eyes. Covenants are made individually with God before the sealing. We will stand and be accountable one by one before the Lord. In no way was Eve “punished” by marrying Adam. It is sad to hear such a perspective. Adam will be held accountable to God for guarding and protecting his family. This is a burden and a blessing to those who hold the priesthood. A woman has been blessed if she has married a faithful companion who understands his stewardship. I did not.

  51. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    ” I wish the way I felt inside the temple matched the way I feel outside, when I stand on its tranquil grounds.”

    I spend this time of year bracing myself for annual grief triggers, many of which are, unfortunately, tied to elements of my worship tradition. It is an extra cruel fate to have one’s worship experience be the source of intense emotional and physical pain. Though I see the Endowment through biologically male eyes, my ears and heart respond empathetically to the sorrow it brings to female friends and family members. Revelatory creativity can and should respond to this crisis and help make the way attendees feel inside the temple as peaceful and more holy than the way attendees feel when they stand on the tranquil grounds. I hope this message rises to the highest council in the church.

  52. Ali, if it’s such a blessing then why does a husband not covenant to do those things to his wife? Why do men covenant with their husbands, but husbands not covenant anything to their wife? She may as well never exist, he doesn’t need her. She however, desperately needs him in the temple ceremony.

    The boy Joseph saw the Father and Son in response to his prayers. We are promised to be led by God and have a tremendous amount of religious self determination. We are taught that in primary, in young women’s, then we go through the endowment and don’t even get to speak and covenant with our Heavenly Father, but to trust in the arm of flesh. It’s antithetical to the rest of our doctrine and teachings. I have never once heard outside of the temple that man stands between God and I. Not in the scriptures, not in conference talks, never. That’s why to me, my spirit cries that it is corrupted and will change.

  53. I meant women covenant with their husbands.

  54. I find it baffling that the endowment retains these elements that are so at odds with what is generally taught outside the temple. It seems like almost everyone knows it is wrong, including the apostles, who teach something very different over the pulpit. The reason it is such a shock it because it is at odds with what we all are generally taught from a young age. So why in the world hasn’t it been changed? When other elements of the ceremonies have?

  55. Carolyn, I’ve enjoyed watching your journey from afar, and especially seeing your happiness. Though our life situations are of course quite different, I’ve felt some resonance with you, maybe just in the experience of finding surprising happiness outside of the narrative you were told all your life was the only way there. So many good wishes for your big day.

  56. E: “It seems like almost everyone knows it is wrong, including the apostles, who teach something very different over the pulpit.”

    I felt as if I’d been the victim of a particularly cruel bait and switch.

  57. I too have been reading your posts about your journey and wish you well in your marriage.
    I also wish that there was an acceptable time and place to discuss temple ordinances.

  58. I’m really happy for you that you fell in love again. Congratulations! I’m sure your wedding will be beautiful.

    Your story felt so familiar. During my first endowment ceremony I felt as if I’d been slapped in the face. The next year my husband and I were temple workers, and this hastened our disillusionment with the temple. We’re active in the church but it’s hard to imagine ever going back to the temple.

  59. Erin Gentile says:

    For accuracy and clarity, let’s not forget that women and men all make many covenants individually, directly with deity, during the endowment ceremony, “before God, angels and these witnesses.” We equally raise our own hands, bow our own heads and say “yes.” We women are not unable to covenant directly with our Creator. The one case of covenanting re listening to our husbands as they listen to the Lord is an outlier.

  60. I like the quote from Elder Hanks- “To believe in God is to know that all the rules will be fair, and that there will be wonderful surprises.” Someday everything will make sense.

  61. Carolyn: I love your story and this writing. I’m sorry for the hard times, and maybe I love the story because it has a happy ending. Congratulations. Best wishes.

    And I agree and could add stories to your issues with the temple and with (LDS) Church marriage practices and teachings.

    All by way of positive reinforcement before noting that this is among the most subversive pieces BCC has run, in my memory. In Fight Club tradition, we do not talk about the temple being less than a wonderful experience for all. We do not talk about the wording being problematic or just wrong. We do not talk about temple sealings not working out and being canceled. We do not talk about divorce. We do not talk about spiritual confirmations to take a different path. We do not talk about happy marriages in a different tradition.

    Subversive, and wonderful. Thanks.

  62. I would be cautious If the purpose of this article was to undermine the power and authority of the church or the temple. A very dangerous, slippery place to be.

  63. Ali (11:52): In case I triggered that comment, or for the record, I don’t read any such purpose or intent in the article. I read a very personal story. As always, the effect on readers will vary. That’s what stories do.

  64. Ali, I agree with you that it will be made right in the eternities. A lot about the temple has changed since it first began during the restoration. A lot of things people felt offensive were taken out after the church surveyed it’s members in the late 80s. The church sent me a survey recently about the temple. They sent me one years ago about how much time callings took up. Both times, I gave my honest answers. I do feel our prophets and apostles need our help and prayers to aid their inspiration. I have heard that temple attendance is way down among the millennial and gen x generation, and I think they are very concerned about why.

  65. You are not alone. Just be glad it was 2012 and not the 90s like me. Despite having studiously gone through temple prep, I had no clue what was about to happen. I really thought it was a beautiful building where people whispered, you could go and pray and read or whatever. My Dad was active enough to hold a recommend but hadn’t been since his own marriage 20 years earlier. As we are driving to the temple, he turns to me and says, “things are going to happen to you in there that are going to freak you out.”

    Yep Dad. You were right on that. Problem was he was my escort and totally stressed and confused about everything. The naked thing was something someone should have warned me about. I still think about that and it makes my skin crawl.

    I left and was super confused. To justify it, and kept thinking of good LDS people that I knew and thought they have all done this so it must be ok.

    I’m active in the Church my wife is also. She won’t go because she says the anxiety is so extreme she can’t handle it (she only has anxiety problems in the temple).

  66. Kristine A says:

    I appreciate you sharing your story Carolyn and identify with quite a bit. I find the group of us “priestess essay” mofems to be my kindred spirits. And yet still my favorite part of the post is the utter joy on both of your faces being together. I can’t believe we think “true happiness/joy” (whatever that means) is only found in mormonism! :)

  67. I’m so glad to have stumbled across this. It may be the only piece I’ve read by a member of one our faiths discussing the beauty of the other. Thank you.

    I’m so sorry to hear about your first marriage, but I hope and pray that this one will work well for both of you and for your children, if you have any.

    If you (or anyone) would like to delve further in to what we believe about marriage, beyond what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (ie, Handy-Dandy Book of Things Catholics Believe) has to say, John Paul II’s addresses on the topic are fantastic. When grouped together, they are called Theology of the Body. Over several years of Wednesday addresses, JP2 talks lots and lots about spouses’ mutual self-gift. He also talks about what that tells us about God.

  68. I absolutely adore the part of the story where you tried to correct the sealer. Not the reason why you had to, but that you both genuinely saw the problem, assumed it was a mistake, and had the inner strength to speak up about it. The reply, of course, was tragic, but I surcharge the vintners of his explanation and the way in which it presents so clearly the way in which polygamy is still impacting us.

  69. It is interesting Leonard R, I feel like the leaders keep trying to disassociate with polygamy. With Hinckley declaring it non-doctrinal on national television. With Elder Cook recently saying that it is over and not happening again. With how quickly they excommunicate people on even a whiff of polygamy. I think because of the temple, there is still a majority of the older generation that thinks that it will be back at least Celestially, and that is a knife in the heart to many. Then others use it as a weapon, that you’d better get used to it because that’s the way God loves it. You silly women, your feelings don’t matter- your eternity is being part of a heavenly harem. Go hearken and give yourself so you can cling to your man and at least be part of his harem and he can drag you to heaven if you please him and he chooses to call you in the Resurrection. How can that ever be a functional eternal marriage?

  70. Mormom, how do you get on the list for these surveys?

  71. Mormom, has “heard that temple attendance is way down among the millennial and gen x generation, and I think [general authorities] are very concerned about why.”

    If they must wonder why, then they have not been paying attention to the disaster that temple preparation classes have been for decades, or to the false [with few exceptions] teachings commonly spread about non-existent covenants not to speak outside the temple of covenants made in the temple or temple clothing or ritual, or to the commonly floated idea that the current form of the temple rituals and covenants was revealed to Adam and others and has never changed, etc. If that were the case, they would need more than our prayers; they would need to be directed to posts and comments such as those that can be read here. I suspect they simply can’t keep everyone happy at once and that something has to reach a critical level before they will make further changes to what may have been progressive language and ritual in the 19th century, but is now both offensive and inconsistent with current church teachings about matters including marriage, consecration, knowledge being necessary to any meaningful exercise of agency, and inconsistent with some of their own demonstrations of loud laughter. I suspect that by long familiarity, they may have lost any sense of the actual words being used. Promoting as a fact the mere goal that the temple is a place of peace and revelation for all who are “worthy” to attend doesn’t help either.

  72. Reading these comments reminded me of watching my daughter standing in the hallway of the Washington DC Temple in debate with a Counselor in the temple presidency. It was time for the veil ceremony where she was to divulge her new name to her soon-to-be husband and wanted to nothing to do with it.

  73. Lovely, Carolyn. That Mormon Priestess essay had a profound effect on me too. Briefly related tangent – My husband and I teach the 12-14 year olds in our ward. Yesterday, a boy in our class asked if Christ could be found outside of our faith tradition. Both of us answered with a resounding “YES!” and then went on to talk about the beautiful devotion of many of the different faiths in our particular geographic corner of the Christian community. Then the boy (a very thoughtful kid) said, “Well what if it’s easier for me to understand Christ at one of those places?” Both of us answered with a resounding, “THEN YOU GO THERE!” Which is all to say, your approach to things continues to resonate with me and we may or may not be released soon. ahem.

  74. Cynthia H says:

    Thank you, Carolyn. I can no longer bring myself to attend the temple for many of the same reasons. I went through the temple for the first time before my mission. No one explained to me that when I was married my husband would not share with me his new name, but that I would share mine with him. I just thought he forgot to share it with me at our sealing and so many months later I asked him about it. I was shocked and hurt that he could not share it with me. I’ve since been able to look it up and I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. It can’t be that sacred if it’s on a rotating list. Needless to say, that was the beginning of the unraveling for me.
    Wishing you much happiness in your marriage!

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