Ritual, Remembrance, and Minerva Teichert’s Art

Manti Temple's Minerva Teichert murals will be preserved by church -  Deseret News

Recently, in connection with the controversy over the church’s decision to renovate the Manti Temple, and by so doing remove the murals by the famed artist Minerva Teichert contained therein, my old friend Jonathan Green wrote a short, smart, pithy defense of the church’s decision on the Times and Seasons blog, which I think I can mostly fairly summarize as: “you’re focusing on the wrong thing, everyone; as far as murals in a temple are concerned, It’s Just Art.” I strongly disagree with this take–but I want to be clear on why.

That the murals are both beautiful and historical is undisputed; in a statement that back-pedals on the original announcement slightly (but only slightly), the church has officially acknowledged as much. The counter-point by Chad Nielsen which T&S ran following Jonathan’s post mostly articulates the feelings of betrayal which some Utah Mormons felt at this news, seeing it as a reversal of the hard-won recognition which those who long emphasized the importance of preserving the church’s physical heritage believed they had achieved. The powerful and heartfelt posts by Margaret Tarkington and Ardis Parshall (the former, a practical-minded plea for exploring various alternatives to the destruction of Teichert’s work; the latter, a sorrowful acknowledgment that certain types of artistic gifts–perhaps especially those gifts traditionally associated with the women of the church–are often dismissed in the name of standardized efficiency) cover the arguments against the church’s decision quite well, whether in terms of artistic respect, financial possibility, administrative need, or personal pain. Still, Jonathan’s arguably gimlet-eyed theological assertions–that “compared to the temple ordinances, the murals are unimportant” and that “[t]hey were created for a space in which art could never be equal or even comparable in significance to the sacred ordinances conducted there”–could perhaps rebuff all of the above concerns and more. So what additional response could be made?

As it happens, two of my fellow By Common Consent bloggers–Sam Brunson and Matt Bowman–also commented on Jonathan’s post, and their words, and Jonathan’s responses to them, sketch out the issues closest to my thinking. To put it simply, I think Jonathan’s comments rigorously, if probably unintentionally, Protestantize the temple experience, and indeed the idea of salvation in general, to a degree which even I, as an admitted cross-loving, grace-seeking, quasi-Lutheran Mormon, find a little questionable.

When Jonathan wrote that “art won’t save you,” he presumably had a very specific notion of salvation in mind: the reception of specific saving ordinances, received by specific people, performed in specific ways. This was in contrast to Sam’s–obviously true, but also obviously somewhat general–observation that artworks provide “one of our best ways to reach and understand the Divine.” Looking at the history of Christianity, one might assume that Jonathan’s implied emphasis upon ordinances puts his argument on side of ritual and order, on the “high church” side of things, in contrast to Protestantism’s leveling “priesthood of all believers.” And it is undeniably true that much of the Protestant sensibility has historically been one that reduces ritual to a contract between the individual self and God, with little or no attention paid to any other details. But while undeniable, I’m not sure it’s also entirely true–because to highlight the significance of an ritual ordinance can itself be reductive, ignoring that no practice of worship exists in a cultural vacuum.

I would argue that the salvific power of rituals cannot be contained to their words and hand gestures simpliciter, or at least not if we’re going to insist on some difference between Christian rituals and ordinances on the one hand and self-identifying magic incantations on the other. Rather, those words and gestures–those embodied actions performed as acts of worship: the breaking of bread, the clasping of hands, the recitation of words–are always, inevitably, connected with the context of their performance, creating networks between those who receive and participate in them and the whole environment, both temporal and physical, in which they are performed. What is the substance of those networks, or that context? In a word: remembrance.

Jim Faulconer, a professor of philosophy at BYU and probably the finest scriptorian I’ve ever had the pleasure to know, has written insightfully about the role of remembrance in our religious understanding multiple times–and often, those writings come back to the place of ritual in Mormon life. No, Mormon Christianity does not, and probably never could, make space of the Orthodox attachment to icons, which they see as visibly reflecting God’s grace, nor the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, which they accept as literally presenting Jesus’s atoning sacrifice in the communion wafer. But we are, nonetheless, embodied creatures, and as such the environment, the material circumstances, of the rituals we participate in attach to and work upon us through all that surrounds them. As he wrote in his powerful essay “Remembrance”:

Like most married people in our culture, I wear a wedding band, and it cannot be reduced to its economic value as a piece of gold or even to its instrumental values. That is because, beyond having economic or instrumental values, my wedding band is a symbol of my marriage. As a symbol, it is obviously connected to memory. On the other hand, though it serves to remind me that I am married, it is more than just a reminder.

[N]otice that if my wedding ring were only something for reminding me, then I could also have chosen to tie a string to my finger. However, though I can create such reminders—putting Post-it notes on my computer monitor or remarks in my daily planner—a wedding ring “works” differently than such things.[W]hen I wear the ring, it isn’t that, by doing so, I touch Janice in absentia. The ring isn’t a substitute for my wife. Though the ring can remind me—it can cause me explicitly to think about my marriage—most of the time I wear it without explicitly calling my wife or marriage to mind. And yet it continues to do its work, as I notice quickly if I have taken it off to work and forget to put it back on. I am more conscious of its absence than its presence, so I cannot explain its work by the way in which it is, sometimes, explicitly present to thought.

Thus my wedding ring is a memorial of our relation because it does something for me in spite of myself: even if I am not thinking of my marriage, the ring demands a certain attitude toward the world, a certain reverence and respect for Janice; it connects me to Janice even when I am not explicitly thinking of her. My wedding ring makes possible certain relations in the world by embodying those relations.

The implication of the above in regards to the debate over the murals in the Manti Temple is not that those who received the ritual ordinances of endowment or marriage or adoption at Manti are going to be able to remember them better or differently than everyone who received them elsewhere. But it does mean that those who received them in Manti are going to remember them in connection with those murals, and that those connections are not irrelevant to the memory which will save them (or so one hopes). On the contrary, the murals in the Manti Temple–those colors, those images, and those historical associations which those colors and images contain within them–call to mind covenants made and rituals performed, entirely separate from the subject who may be choosing to engage in such recollection. This is a perfectly obvious, even banal point, in other contexts: over 40 years ago, Elder Neal A. Maxwell talked about how our deepest, most essential salvific acts of remembrance often lay beyond our thinking minds, save for the grace of a particular fragrance or a song or some other material, environmental thing which triggers a “deep yearning” within us.

In responding to the point which Matt made regarding the central place of art in allowing us embodied creatures to see and feel and thus better remember that which we are called to attend to (as he put it, “art communicates meaning in ways that pure information cannot”), Jonathan compared the murals in Manti to the stained glass windows in a great cathedral: they are “only a decoration to enhance the environment of a sacred event.” But my point–and, I think, Jim’s, and many other thinkers as well–is that to reduce a baptism, a sealing, an endowment, or any ritual solely to the performed event itself, separate from its environment–from the light through the windows or the smiles of the people there or the sounds of the choir or the organ or just the echoing words of affirmation all around you–is to misunderstand what that ritual is trying to do: to change a person, to make them a better Christian, a fuller member of the Christian community, and do so by constantly recalling to mind, as Jim’s wedding ring does, the substance of that which they are called to do and be. In short, insofar as remembrance is concerned, the environment of the ritual–including the art which attends it–is, contrary to Jonathan’s assertion, inextricable from the “sacred event” itself.

Again, Mormons temples, and the Mormon believers who attend them, are surely never going to be so attached to any of the above as to become oriented around some hierarchy of revered artworks and relics. This is the church to which Joseph Smith revealed that, when it comes to the sacrament, it “mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink“–only so long, of course, that we remember, while doing so, the sacrificed body and blood of Jesus. We are probably always going to take a pretty “low church” approach to ritual, with the art and environment and materiality which attends our rituals–and thus the connections by which we hold their meaning in mind–pretty low-key (and annoyingly standardized as well). But they will, nonetheless, be there, as they must; in some hypothetical absence of them entirely, in some rigorously utilitarian, blandly-lit space, those who perform and receive ordinances will still make artistic connections in their heads–with hymns, with the sunshine outside, with the feel of the veil upon their faces. To recognize the centrality of such sensory input to the function of our memory and devotion is anything but, as Jonathan (I think too dismissively) called it, “hedonist”; it is, rather, entirely, and beautifully, human.

I freely admit that none of the above makes any kind specific case for the actually presently existing art at Manti. Take away those murals, and human beings still will find some other meaning-making art to attend to their temple rituals, as they do for every and any other ritual and worshipful act, wherever or however performed. So what’s the real loss, then? Simply that in Manti, many decades ago, a pious artist named Minerva Teichert creatively imagined a crowded wealth of possible remembrance-induing connections which those moving through that sacred space could discover–and as the testimony of many over the past couple of weeks has made clear, that remembrance has worked really well. Are the administrative needs of the church really sufficient to disregard that history of remembrance? Maybe; I don’t get to make that decision. But I can affirm, at the least, that those who defend the church’s decision by saying something is “only art” are not, I think, in fact separating the needed ritual wheat from the unnecessary cultural chaff, as they may believe. There is One whom believers hold capable of making that distinction; until then, and absent Him, perhaps–knowing all that acts of remembrance by us mortals will always require–“doing no harm” to the memories of thousands of faithful Saints should be a stronger guiding principle than it apparently often has been in the past.

(By the way: if you agree with anything in this post, or any of the others written in defense of preserving the Manti Temple murals, and you like in the Salt Lake or Utah Valley areas, don’t forget to Walking With Minerva next Sunday! I’ll be there in spirit, as will many others I know.)


  1. nobody, really says:

    I’m convinced that the “you’re focusing on the wrong thing” can be summarized much more simply.

    “It doesn’t matter to me, therefore, it doesn’t matter to anyone.”

  2. Wondering says:

    Thanks, Russell. Much better done than I could have. For some (many?) the destruction of an artistic/architectural heritage (Logan temple and various other historic buildings) feels like an attempt to destroy the memory of significant religious experience. I will remember my service in the Manti temple decades ago, and after a long time away, again a couple years ago. I don’t expect to go there again — even when in Manti. It would be a painful distraction, rather than the kind of experience it should be. I can participate in some other temple where I can equally well close my eyes against the frustration of the current hackneyed “films.” This is not a diatribe against change, nor does it matter to me as it does to some that Minerva was a woman. It is a matter of frustration with the destruction of remembrance of significant individual and community experience in the name of efficiency that could be achieved otherwise.

  3. stephenchardy says:

    I have been struggling with the “It’s just art” statement for over a week now. I have been trying to figure out why it bothers me so much. I can’t tell whether Green was trolling the likes of me, possibly taunting me, just knowing that it would cause a response, or whether that is his actual and true attitude.

    I have more experience in music than I do in the visual arts. Almost everyone thinks that they are good music (and possibly art) critics. I have worked closely with local church leaders in finding and promoting good music that enhances our worship. Many church leaders, it appears to me, see music as a tool of manipulation rather than a part of sincere worship. They want the music to stay “in its lane.” They see it as window treatments. They check off boxes when agreeing to music as part of a meeting:

    Is it approved?
    Does it offend?
    Can it offend?
    Is it inappropriate?
    Does it distract?

    Even here I am falling short in trying to say something: Many church leaders see the musical parts of our workshop very narrowly and fall short of understanding the music and the role it can play in reaching for the divine. They see music as full of potential errors, rejecting anything that is too atonal, too dissonant, too long, too risky. Let’s sing a hymn in four parts and be done with it. Maybe it is this: once the music is over our leaders want us all to say: “Wasn’t that nice.”

    Our visual arts are of course very similar. It seems to me that our leaders want us to go to the temple and say of the artwork: “Wasn’t that nice.”

    Like a good sermon, art (visual or other) can move us in ways unexpected and jarring. Good artwork should make us look at something from a new perspective and thus allow us to deepen our understanding and devotion. The temple murals, for example, endeavor to describe our terrestrial existence, with its beauty and its complexity and its pain. It can and should enhance our worship experience.

    I guess its like saying of the endowment: “It’s just words.”

  4. I approve this message

  5. Russell, let me offer a few corrections.

    Art won’t save you because salvation is only through Jesus. If art could save you, there would either be multiple paths to salvation (there aren’t) or the artless couldn’t be saved (we can). In addition, salvation is through Jesus and not the-Divine-we-experience-through-art, which is going to vary according to the artist, the artwork and the viewer. Art can be awe-inspiring and useful, but we risk turning it into an object of worship if we forget that it’s just art.

    You’re making a hash of Protestantism. I’m no expert, but high church vs. low church is a divide within Protestantism, as is regarding the Eucharist as a memorial versus an embodiment of the true presence, and Protestant views of art ranged from affirming art to stripping altars and banning music from the churches. But we can save that for another day.

    Of course the difference between saving ordinances and magic incantations isn’t in the words themselves: it’s in the divine sanction under which the ordinances are conducted and the power at work through them. It’s a mistake to reduce ordinances to their memorial function, but even with respect to their memorial function, it’s a mistake to reduce their context to the mortal and earthly side. It’s not that these ordinances exist in a cultural vacuum, but that the most important participants, context and even location are heavenly. If people sealed or endowed in Manti are hampered in remembering their temple ordinances without the presence of a certain set of murals, something has gone badly wrong in how they have created a network of contexts and relationships in which to enmesh their covenants. What we should recall to our minds are the promises and covenants, available each time we go to any temple on earth, not the fleeting constellation of people, sensory experience and wall decorations that comprised an initial temple visit. If that isn’t happening because people are too focused on the artwork, then that is an urgent argument for removing that piece of art from the temple as soon as possible, even at the risk of imperfectly preserving the artwork.

    This is part of the significance of repetition and variation in ordinances. We sing different sacrament hymns each Sunday, while the sacramental prayers are constant, because although the hymns may usefully illuminate various aspects of the ordinance, the focus of what we contemplate needs to be on the words of the sacrament prayers (and certainly not on the specific hymn that was sung and the people we were sitting next to the first time we participated). The music and words of a hymn, like the other artwork that may accompany an ordinance, are possibly useful or beautiful, but not an inextricable part of the ordinance itself. Perhaps “I stand all amazed” is my favorite hymn, but if I’m disappointed by the sacrament any week it isn’t sung, and the sights and smells offered in the chapel that day fall short of my expectations, I’ve failed in how I have approached the ordinance.

    To offer one final correction: you note that there is one capable of separating ritual wheat from cultural chaff, but you call him absent. The good news of the restored gospel is that not only is he present, he has established a church led by people authorized and inspired to act at his direction, including the separation of wheat and chaff in some contexts. Were it not so, there would be no point in building temples, no matter how we decorated their walls.

    I think we can draw useful parallels to the use and discarding of “Mormon” as a term of identification. I strongly identify with it as a point of connection to a heritage and history I’m proud of—but if we’re content to be members of a religious movement rooted in a particular historical context, instead of aspiring to be the true restored Church of Jesus Christ, then we’ve failed in a basic sense that no cultural heritage can redeem.

  6. your food allergy is real says:

    Jonathan, you note that salvation is through Jesus, and imply that therefore art is not relevant to salvation. Does that necessarily follow? It seems possible or even likely that the way Jesus saves individuals varies as widely as the individual paths we take in life. Is Jesus allowed to use art to save some of us, even in the context of ordinance?

  7. lastlemming says:

    I’m going to take what is probably an unwelcome detour to reframe the question. President Nelson has taught that salvation is an individual matter, but that exaltation is a family matter (to which I always append, “and there is really only one family”). In that context, the endowment is an ordinance of exaltation, not salvation (the ordinances of which are covered in AoF4). I would submit that it is much more difficult to dismiss art as an instrument of exaltation than as an instrument of salvation.

  8. nobody, really says:

    Hey, Johnathan:

    Can “art” help us increase our faith?

  9. Jonathan’s statement that “the difference between saving ordinances and magic incantations isn’t in the words themselves: it’s in the divine sanction under which the ordinances are conducted and the power at work through them” is the ultimate in arrogance. And basically what is wrong with a lot of LDS thinking. Are you seriously implying that there are only these 2 options?

    For me, any number of things can lift our spirits and inspire, including music and art. It doesn’t need to have LDS sanctioned authority to have religious significance. The art of Van Gogh inspires me. The snappy tunes of Jackie DeShannon inspire. Even Bon Jovi inspires me with the following: “It’s now or never, I ain’t going to live forever.” In fact, Jackie inspires me more than many LDS hymns.

    I haven’t seen Teichert’s murals, she didn’t have the priesthood. But I love her work. Years ago, I attended a funeral in Cokeville, Wyoming. The church has four Teichert originals. It was my introduction to her work. She is a woman artist/muralist who loved the Church, but the Church didn’t always love her back. Let’s pay tribute to her and leave her murals in place. And a key point is “in place.” And she is a woman.

    Would you take the St. Francis murals by Giotto and others out of the Assisi Cathedral? Hell no, location is critical. They took the “Black Paintings” by Goya off the walls of the house where they were painted, and moved them to the Prado in Madrid. Big mistake, they should have been left in the house where they were painted. They are the location where the artist went mad. Their position on the walls has significance.

    Teichert’s work was made for the Manti Temple; to move them would be a travesty. And I don’t appreciate snobbery.

  10. James Stephens says:

    “It’s just art”…………..and Michelangelo’s David is just a piece of stone right? Following that train of thought, Joseph and Hyrum’s blood-stained clothes in the Church History Museum would be considered just dirty laundry. There are three teachings that are being forgotten with this line of thinking:

    Gordon B. Hinckley: “Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured.”
    Brigham Young: “You cannot separate the temporal from the spiritual, for they are one under the Lord.”.
    13th Article of Faith: “…If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”

    Saying that art is not a necessary part of ordinances is like saying seasonings and condiments are not necessary for food. Yeah, they’re not essential for my nutritional health, but they sure as heck help things taste better. If done with the right amount, seasonings and condiments can uplift dishes to be more enjoyable. That’s the same case with art and ordinances.

  11. Aussie Mormon says:

    food allergy:
    “Is Jesus allowed to use art to save some of us, even in the context of ordinance?”

    If it was going to be part of the ordinance it would actually be part of it.

    “Jonathan’s statement …. is the ultimate in arrogance. And basically what is wrong with a lot of LDS thinking. Are you seriously implying that there are only these 2 options?”

    Surely something is either something is divinely sanctioned or it isn’t.

    “Let’s pay tribute to her and leave her murals in place. And a key point is “in place.” And she is a woman.”

    So we should never remove artwork once in place, especially if a woman painted it?

    “location is critical.”

    In a single room endowment experience, a garden mural doesn’t apply to most of it. Niether does a world room mural. And having seen the photos of the world room murals in question, most of the mural doesn’t match the content of the world part of the endowment anyway.
    Further, once the changes are made, and it’s a video endowment, the lights will be off for all the actual world and garden presentations, and will only be up for the portions where people are actively participating in doing things, so not a lot of time for looking at the murals.

    “Following that train of thought, Joseph and Hyrum’s blood-stained clothes in the Church History Museum would be considered just dirty laundry. ”

    You can’t compare a historical item in a museum to murals in an endowment room. They exist for completely different reasons.

  12. your food allergy is real says:

    Is there not more to salvation through Jesus than bare ordinances?
    Why is it either Jesus or art?

  13. Aussie Mormon says:

    Art might bring you to Jesus, but art is not itself Jesus.

  14. Jonathan,

    Thanks for the reply. As I wrote elsewhere, I appreciate the push-back on the high church/low church distinction; Matt Bowman’s original response to you over at Times & Seasons got me thinking about Protestant vs. other approaches to thinking about ordinances, but in retrospect I’m not sure how much insight that provides to this particular debate. Because ultimately, as least as I think over what you’re written and what I’ve written in response, it seems to me the real disagreement isn’t over the ordinances of salvation, but rather is over the nature of salvation itself.

    Your comment that “the difference between saving ordinances and magic incantations isn’t in the words themselves: it’s in the divine sanction under which the ordinances are conducted and the power at work through them” strikes me as a distinction without difference; in the end, there is still the assumption that there is a magical “power at work” in specific words that in themselves do salvific work. Now if we believe (as I do) in an omnipotent God capable of dispensing grace and declaring salvation, then obviously I can have no basis for declaring that God couldn’t divinely sanction certain rituals as salvific. And your subsequent point about “repetition and variation in ordinances” underlines this in an important way: if, as I suggested in my original comment, the ultimate purpose of ordinances is to mark moments of assent and covenant, and build character-shaping and repentance-inducing and community-fortifying memories through them, practices of humility and association that will make us into the sort of creatures which God has called us to be…then why the assumption that certain of those moments have to be always done in the same way? Why the assumption that ordinances are any different from hymn singing, or from sermon-giving and sermon-hearing, both of which, as you note, vary constantly? Since I do, in fact, take seriously the idea that rituals have forms that in general find their signification at least partly in those forms themselves, then maybe I’m just another believer in magic (divine sanctioned magic, of course) too, and all we’re debating about is details.

    But I can’t get away from the fact–as Jim’s arguments in my original post emphasized, and which any perusal of the scriptures will confirm, I think–that the whole purpose of establishing a church in the first place is exactly community and remembrance. Joseph Smith could have been an itinerant preacher, after all, as so many Christians who have felt God’s call have been: he could have gone from village to village, providing saving ordinances, even endowments, and then moving on. But no: Zion, the beloved community, the Christian fellowship, heaven on earth, etc., etc., is the real goal. Which means that every salvific ordinance must be pointed towards that which actually, really, in the end, truly saves: loving membership in God’s kingdom.

    Again, we see this everywhere; we see it in Alma’s description of the whole point and purpose of baptism in Mosiah 18:8-10. And so as I try to make sense of the mystery of salvation in my head, I find myself unable to separate “promises and covenants” that we are to constantly recall to mind, from the “the fleeting constellation of people, sensory experience and wall decorations” that inevitably and necessarily shape our recollections, and thus shape us into loving Christians, the sort who mourn with those that mourn, comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things. I just cannot not see how that transformation-through-memorialization can be accomplished without being attended by and with a whole contextual, phenomenological world of associations. And yes, that means art.

    So maybe some art is deepened through repetition, through the invocation of constant forms. Maybe’s God’s purpose in establish a few very exacting ritual forms (though note, to hearken back to the admittedly poorly constructed high church/low church distinction, that we hold of such forms to be very few in number: sacrament prayers, baptismal prayers, prayers at the temple altar and veil, and that’s really about it for the whole length and breadth of Mormonism) is because He recognized that such expectations and routines are helpful in enabling broken mortals like ourselves to ground ourselves in our commitments. I don’t know. But whatever my confusions on this part, I still feel that insisting “art won’t save you because salvation is only through Jesus” is eliding what salvation actually is. It can’t be, think, the reception of Jesus-sanctioned words and signs. (If it is, then what’s with all this “endure to the end” crap?) It is rather, I suspect, the reception of Jesus-sanctioned words and signs that enable and assist in our conversion into saved persons. Remembrance is essential to that conversion, and art–materiality, sensory input, just stuff–is, I believe, essential to remembrance. It’s all one big ball of wax, I think.

  15. James Stephens says:

    Aussie Mormon,

    “You can’t compare a historical item in a museum to murals in an endowment room.”

    Aren’t they one in the same? We preserve Joseph and Hyrum’s martyrdom clothes because it’s a physical reminder of their sacrifice. Murals are a physical reminder of the sacrifices of pioneers. I am disturbed that this puritan iconoclastic perspective is being entertained by Jonathan and yourself. You cannot replicate an immersive endowment by simply just making the lights brighter in one room. That’s not to say that you can’t and have a meaningful endowment in a stationary room (I did in Bountiful), but changing the nature of a historic temple so drastically will only serve as a painful reminder of what was formerly in it’s place.

  16. The arguments against art and preservation in this comment thread show little nuance, though they sure are trying very hard to–which may be a symptom of their lack of appreciation for art in the first place.

  17. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I’ll confess to not having much appreciate for art. It just doesn’t do anything for me. I can be surrounded by art and feel…nothing. It doesn’t bother me, but it also doesn’t inspire me. However, I recognize the value it has for others and have seen ample evidence of its meaning and impact on the spiritual lives of those I know and those I observe. Deliberately dismantling, or erasing, or disposing of art that many people have found inspiring is, at best, insensitive and thoughtless. While there may be potential with all works of art, there really wasn’t evidence that the art to which we are referring was leading to idolatry or that it was detracting from the message in the temple. If art doesn’t lead to salvation, and it doesn’t, it certainly aids in enduring to the end (and sometimes even aids in enduring through a temple session). Art, along with music, sunsets, groves of trees, laughter, etc. help to invite the Spirit and make this life manageable. Failure to recognize these as gifts from God is a failure to allow Him to touch our souls in ways that speak to us individually. I don’t like art. But I wouldn’t like a world without it.

  18. Turtle, I love art, but generally agree with your comment. I do disagree with one statement: “art doesn’t lead to salvation.” I believe fervently that it can.

    Aussie, you seem to enjoy pithy statements. Most of them, however, don’t make a lot of sense. For example: “If it was going to be part of the ordinance it would actually be part of it.” Clever, I guess, but meaningless. I vote we move all the Australian Aboriginal rock art to a museum in Sydney, or destroy it, and build boring strip malls in their place. See I can be clever also.

  19. Aussie Mormon says:

    “I vote we move all the Australian Aboriginal rock art to a museum in Sydney, or destroy it, and build boring strip malls in their place. See I can be clever also.”

    If you want to move a aboriginal rock art into museums I would support that. That way more people could see it, rather than those able to hike for many hours into areas that need special permission from the local aboriginal group.
    Much like the murals in question that can only be viewed by a small subset of members who can travel to the manti temple and have a temple recommend.

    “Aren’t they one in the same? We preserve Joseph and Hyrum’s martyrdom clothes because it’s a physical reminder of their sacrifice. Murals are a physical reminder of the sacrifices of pioneers”.

    The purpose of endowment room artwork wasn’t to be a reminder of pioneer efforts though. It was to set the scene for the live endowment.

    “changing the nature of a historic temple so drastically will only serve as a painful reminder of what was formerly in it’s place.”

    The outside of the temple is still there, and the inside of the temple had already been modified multiple times.
    Prior to seeing news articles with people up in arms about this, I just thought that they painted a garden room to look like a garden and that was that.

    But both of you are again treating this artwork as pure art rather than an assistive element. An assistive element that will no longer be needed. And if they can successfully peel it off as they say they will now see if they can do, then it can go into a museum where everyone can appreciate it rather than just the tiny minority of church members who can visit a manti temple endowment room. Surely that’s a much better idea for everyone that says it should be kept as a reminder of pioneer efforts and/or the artist.

  20. Margaret says:

    What is art? Art is expression. As one of my friends posted in a comment on facebook, “ordinances ARE art–they are an expression and manifestation of the power of God.” The endowment, in particular, is art. It is an interactive play (a play where the actors interact with the audience, and even in its modern film form, the workers standing in for the actors interact with the audience). It would be hard to imagine a more artistic device than an interactive play as God’s choice for bestowing his saving ordinances and his endowment of power. Why the play? Why the interaction? Why not just put hands on your head and say “endowed” and it is done. Because there is power in the expression. There is power in witnessing the expression by others. Christ is the creator. What is creation other than art? What is art other than creation? Why did God make the beauties of the Earth? An ugly earth with no adornment would work just as well for a place of testing. Because the expression and the creation–the art–are part of the divine. They are part of the expression of God’s bestowal of love and power on his children.

  21. It would be hard to imagine a more artistic device than an interactive play as God’s choice for bestowing his saving ordinances and his endowment of power. Why the play? Why the interaction? Why not just put hands on your head and say “endowed” and it is done. Because there is power in the expression.

    Margaret, that is both a wonderful and, given the actual topic of discussion, perfectly obvious example, and I’m embarrassed that in all the words I’ve written here about the theological role of remembrance in making ordinances actually salvific, I never recognized this point right in front of me. . Why communicate the ordinance of endowment in this way? Because performance–like all art–makes us part of the ordinance, thus making it more memorable, because we don’t just receive it–we literally do it, as God literally did create the universe. It makes us part of the divine, which is so much more easily recalled to mind than being passive observers of such. Thank you for adding this point!

  22. Phillip says:

    Thank you for this well written article. Gospel ordinances are meant to be aesthetic not literal experiences. A baptism is not a literal washing away of physical sins nor is it a literal death, burial and resurrection. It’s an aesthetic experience that reaches our minds and spirits in a deeper way than purely literal facts. The endowment ordinance is the same, and the murals serve to enrich the experience. They are also a significant touchstone to our Restoration history.

    I see the removal of the Manti Temple murals as a microcosm for some of the problems the church experiences due to the fact that our male-only leadership feels little responsibly to the sensibilities of church membership as a whole. How many millions of dollars does our male leadership spend each year preserving the literal basketball courts that make up most of our houses of worship, and yet we cannot preserve this one artistic treasure? It feels symptomatic of a church ruled by unimaginative, male-only businessmen.

  23. Loursat says:

    The idea that gospel ordinances require us to blot out cultural context and cultural experience is disturbing for a few reasons, but I’ll mention just one. There is no other way for God to speak to us than through our cultural context. Among its many other purposes, art is often a channel for God’s voice. That’s why the argument that “it’s only art” and “art can’t save us” misses the point so badly. Of course art can’t save us, but it is one of the ways that God chooses to teach what can save us. How foolish to dismiss that blessing.

    My point here is not that we ought to save the Manti Temple murals at any cost. Though I’m inclined to think that the murals are priceless, what to do with the murals is a question that also depends on many other considerations. Let’s just not be suckered by some alleged principle that the gospel allows us, or even encourages us, to do without art.

  24. On further thought, I’ll make one more comment, this one more on point with Russell’s OP. Here’s another reason why it’s misguided to suggest that gospel ordinances require us to wipe out cultural context.

    One of the great teachings of the Restoration is the central theme of the temple: the idea that exaltation consists of joining us with God and with each other in bonds of love, family and friendship. This union is not a byproduct of salvation through Jesus Christ; rather, being perfectly joined together is salvation. This idea goes beyond the traditional (and very beautiful) Christian notion that salvation brings us into God’s love. Joseph Smith’s visionary understanding of the sealing power adds the idea that the relations of kinship and friendship that we create in this life will endure in the eternities. In receiving the atoning grace of Christ, we do not experience a radical break from the work of this life. Instead, Christ’s grace allows us to extend and perfect the sacred work of relationships that give this life its deepest meaning.

    Jesus’s perfect love shows us how to love each other, and when we learn to love in this way, we love each other in our fullness, with all of our warts and all of our complexity. The fullness of who we are includes our culture. The love of God does not wipe out cultural differences. Gospel ordinances do not require us to minimize or deny cultural difference. Properly understood, the gospel requires us to do the opposite: to celebrate our differences as manifestations of both the diversity of God’s creation and the uniqueness in every one of our brothers, sisters, and eternal friends. The miracle of God’s love is that it allows us to find perfect unity in all our diversity, without giving up what makes us who we are.

    The whole point of the gospel is to help us know each other and love each other more fully. Just as we cannot be saved without each other, so the ordinances of the gospel are impoverished if we try to strip them away from the context in which we receive them. It is dismaying to read Jonathan Green’s comment that “what we should recall to our minds are the promises and covenants, available each time we go to any temple on earth, not the fleeting constellation of people, sensory experience and wall decorations that comprised an initial temple visit.” He has it entirely backwards. The ordinances of the temple ought to heighten our feeling for the precious constellation of people and the lovingly created surroundings in which we experience them. Otherwise, we have not begun to grasp the meaning of those ordinances.

  25. It is absolutely art that will save us. Specifically art made by devotional feminine social status quo challengers, such as Minerva Teichert that holds the power to save us.

    That and Jesus, but He’s the whole reason she made this art. Frankly, I believe in both of them, and am lucky to be blessed with just enough flour to bake on their behalf this Sunday for starters … forgive the pun.

    All are welcome at the common table and encouraged to bring a loaf of homemade bread and a chair. Because, it’s one thing to bake for our community of Mormon creatives, but it’s another to also be expected to seat them.


  26. Oh boy. Thanks for writing this.

    I’m different. Art matters deeply to me. When people talk about the spirit speaking peace, I wish that we had a more inclusive word than “speaking.” Because listening to words, all that auditory stuff. That doesn’t work for me.

    Art works. But shoot. All of this controversy over whether or not it matters in our sacred spaces (which to me is like asking if I matter), and people try to argue their righteousness or faith by saying it doesn’t. What it feels like to me, and yeah… I’m different… it feels like they are saying, “Hey. You don’t matter.”

    To plug a different medium: I’m a droid and it’s abundantly clear this church “Doesn’t serve [my] kind.”

    I wish a different approach could be taken: Hey if it matters to one lamb, it matters to us!

    But people in power in the church want to demonstrate their faith or something by throwing those of us who are different under the bus. “No need to worry about that lost sheep. It didn’t belong. We’re better off without it. I mean it should have tried harder to keep up.”

  27. Adam fell that man might be, and men are that they might make and keep covenants.

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