Since the days of the Exodus, the people of God have been instructed to seek divine audience on holy ground. From the first mentions of it in the Bible, we learn that this temple communion is so important that the House of the Lord was made portable. Moses led the people through the desert with tabernacle in hand so that this special influence would be available to them. Later, Solomon built the temple that the people really needed, providing a stationary place for them to visit and offer themselves to the Lord. This is where they communed with Jehovah.
As Mormons, we have a special connection to that portable temple. We believe that as Joseph Smith was about the work of re-establishing the gospel of Christ for the latter days, he reintroduced the temple ceremony on the second floor of a small store. Over the years, places were made sacred by the ceremonies performed there, sacred ground dedicated in the places the people of God needed. Once the early Mormons found a home in Utah, they continued to build temples where they needed them and today they can be found all over the world. This is where we commune with Christ.
Because of the beauty and sacredness of the temple, we strive to be there. Every step, every promise, every goal we make is to point us towards the temple and the rituals performed inside. We believe it requires preparation coupled with a readiness and willingness to live by the covenants made there. If you are born into the LDS church, you are taught this your whole life. If you are a convert to the church, you are told you must wait at least a year from baptism to further your ritual progression in the temple. This isn’t new, not really. Ezekiel (44:9) taught that no stranger, uncircumcised in heart (or flesh, but we’ve let that go) shall enter into the Lord’s sanctuary. Joseph Smith translated this for us in modern terms, telling us “no unclean [unworthy] thing shall be permitted” (D&C 109:20) to enter the temple.
And then how do we know that we are ready? How do we know that we are worthy?
Brigham Young, meticulous and literal man that he was, standardized this for us. He introduced the temple recommend, and in 1857, the temple recommend interview was born. It has changed a lot over the years, for the better I think. (Apparently there is no longer a need to ask if we are all washing our bodies on a regular basis. Although, we admittedly talk much more about our underwear choices.) Truth be told there are fewer, more general questions now. And I think that is a step in the right direction. Which is to say, a step back towards what Ezekiel said.
I’ve come to a place wherein I think there is very little the ecclesiastical leader needs to ask in the temple recommend interview. I accept these questions: “Are you worthy to enter the temple? Are you circumcised in heart? Is the Savior known to you?” If you can’t answer these questions, it is probably in your best interest to take a break from your temple attendance and question whether or not you really want to be there.
I can take or leave the rest of the questions as they are now… except the tithing question, which should straight up just be thrown out. Possibly the Word of Wisdom question as well, since that wasn’t actually meant to be a commandment (VERSE TWO, my friends. D&C 89, *verse 2*). But I digress… I don’t mind them as conversation pieces or rhetorical questions. I like the idea of the bishop reading through these standards of Mormon worthiness, and asking you to evaluate yourself and your spirituality. We’ve become lazy about directing our own spirituality when we base it entirely upon saying “yes” or “no” at the right promptings in a 10 minute interview. These questions should be insightful and thought provoking, not interrogative. And the point should be to edify, not to punish. It all too often becomes a checklist, like that of prized chattel. And the bishop or stake president becomes the inspector that lets you know where you’ve been found wanting and whether you can be kept around. And all too often, our lay clergymen inject their own standards into the interview process, and this can go horribly wrong.
What end do these questions serve? If a bishop decides a member is struggling with any one of those questions, how does it help that member to be kept from the temple?
God doesn’t need us to be clean. God doesn’t need us to be circumcised in heart. Christ doesn’t need us to know Him. But because we are unclean, and we are uncircumcised in heart, we need to know Him. God does not need us to wipe our feet on the mat outside the door of His House so that we don’t scuff up the place. He is much more inclined to invite us in, sit us down, and wash our feet for us.
Here’s the truth as I see it: If you struggle with your testimony of the Savior or any other aspect of the gospel, the best place to wrestle with these things is on sacred ground. Communion with the Lord in the place He has made most holy so that we could better understand Him and the gospel is why he made a place most holy at all. The whole reason was to give us access to Him, not the other way around.
I’ve thought about this a lot over the past few months as I’ve done my best to hang on to my relationship with the church white knuckle style. I’ve tried to frame it in a way that isn’t raw and personal. But, the truth is that it is raw and personal. My stake president has denied me that access to the Lord that we find only in the temple. He refused to renew my temple recommend, and took away my husband’s (who supports me), because I am an active, public supporter of Ordain Women, which he believes is a group working in opposition to the church. I don’t believe that is at all true, of course, but it seems like he can’t hear that. Is he so focused on punishing Ordain Women that he doesn’t actually know where my heart and mind are at? Taking away my recommend doesn’t make sense to me. He has told me repeatedly to pray about this issue until I can see the truth he sees, but then wouldn’t he want to send me to the temple? If my spirituality and understanding and testimony were his main concern, wouldn’t the appropriate advice be, “Sister Silverman, I think you should spend some time in the temple praying about these things!”
I admit that I am angry about this, but mostly I have so much more sorrow. I just want to go back to the temple. There is so much about the endowment and history and the inherent sexism that I struggle with there, but my most favorite place to be in the world is the celestial room. There I can sit with my husband, both of us dressed in the robes of the priesthood, and bask in the presence of our Heavenly Parents and Savior. I ache for it. It is where I need to be right now, as I sort out my faith in the gospel and my faith in the church. I simply cannot understand how it is good for me to be barred from the temple while I stand at the precipice of my faith, and I can’t be the first person who has felt this way. I think it might be time to rethink why we keep people from the Lord’s house, and to seriously evaluate if we are breaking their faith more than helping it.