I recently had a temple recommend interview and I have to admit to being a bit apprehensive going in. My faith has changed fairly dramatically over the past four years or so and I recognize now that while my perspective has shifted dramatically, I still accept and value versions of most Church teachings although I understand them on my own terms. The temple recommend interview underscores this for me. For members who have experienced Cognitive dissonance/ faith crisis/ transition, attending the Temple can be troubling if not downright disturbing. (Who am I kidding, it can be that way for first timers too!) But if you still value the experience of Temple attendance, the interview may be intimidating. Assumptions, cultural biases and downright prejudice may make you nervous about answering questions honestly but honesty is is foundational for spiritual seekers regardless of the path. I’m writing this for people who want to be in the Temple. I realize that there are diverse reasons for wanting to go (or not to go), but since we all have to go through a similar process, I think the process is worth exploring.
The interview questions are uniform throughout the Church. The instructions for interviewers from Handbook 2, state:
“…Authorized Church officers conduct worthiness interviews for temple recommends as outlined in the temple recommend book. . .Temple recommend interviews must be private. They should not be rushed. Interviewers should not add any requirements to those that are outlined in the temple recommend book.”
The answer to each of the questions is either a yes or a no. It is inappropriate for an interviewer to pursue any of the questions beyond that. There is an opportunity to ask questions of the Bishopric or Stake Presidency member but that is up to the person being interviewed. They should not be spontaneously asking extra questions of you. After serving in two Bishoprics, I have seen many different types of responses and spontaneously volunteered information. Some have led to very good discussions and others, not so much. I have also seen Bishops and a Stake President reprimanded for adding questions to the interview. Be sensitive, be honest, be patient with your human interviewer and enjoy the process.
I’ll go through the questions one by one and add my personal thinking on each. I encourage you to do the same.
1 Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost?
I believe in Gods. According to my experience and study, I believe in a divine director, comprised of heavenly parents, and their creative companions including Jesus who achieved a certain level of godhood before he entered mortality. I believe that we may become like them as we learn and develop godlike abilities. I do not necessarily believe in the specific deity that Joseph Smith described in first vision accounts, I believe that his experience was relevant for him at the time, but I don’t think that my acceptance of his experience as universal is necessary for the question. I believe in an influence that we have named “Holy Ghost” which helps us feel resonance when we are thinking in godly patterns.
I can honestly answer Yes.
2 Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Christ and of His role as Savior and Redeemer?
I have a hard time with the common debt/ forgiveness rhetoric surrounding the Atonement but I can’t deny the feeling that the Atonement is real and important for us to understand. My current thinking is that Christ’s mortal experience, including Gethsemane, gave him the unique ability to support us, emotionally and spiritually, when we need it. I don’t know how this works but I have felt that specific support many times in my life. I tend to resonate with Jesus’ title of Redeemer more than Savior.
I answer Yes, with feeling.
3 Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel in these the latter days?
I think that each culture and dispensation needs a unique perspective on the system of becoming like God. The scriptures record many restorations and I believe that Joseph smith helped to usher in a new perspective that continues to unfold. I can’t believe in the exclusivity claims of Mormonism, but I believe that it offers a unique perspective that jibes with my cultural experience. The more I study other faith traditions, the more I see that they are complimentary.
I answer Yes.
4 Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church?
I do, with the understanding that these men and women (yes, I sustain women as prophetesses too) are leaders of a temporal organization. The “Priesthood Keys” are, essentially, permissions to administer the affairs of the organization. I have no problem acknowledging that Church leaders have particular authorities, related to their callings. I also believe that they are each entitled to receive revelation for the auxiliaries that they have stewardship over, i.e. the Relief Society president has the right to receive revelation for the Relief Society, the Primary President for the Primary, etc. None of them have the right to receive revelation for any other individual. Any other concerns are political and are subject to change with the aforementioned revelation.
I answer Yes.
5 Do you live the law of chastity?
Of all the questions, this one is the most straight-forward. The law of chastity is that “You will only have sexual relations with your husband or wife, to whom you are legally and lawfully wed.”
I answer Yes.
6 Is there anything in your conduct relating to members of your family that is not in harmony with the teachings of the Church?
No-one should have a problem with this one. Do not abuse your family.
I answer No.
7 Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
This one is funny to me. It was obviously written by a lawyer who was trying to cover every angle. It was designed to weed out practicing polygamists from other groups who were trying to gain access to the Temple. It has come to have a broader meaning as Church leaders seek to defend against perceived threats, but ultimately it is a small test of loyalty to the organization. Although there are non-Mormon groups, who’s teachings I agree with, they are not opposed to the teachings of the Church.
I answer No.
8 Do you strive to keep the covenants you have made, to attend your sacrament and other meetings, and to keep your life in harmony with the laws and commandments of the gospel?
My understanding of the covenants I’ve made has changed dramatically over the years, but I find great value in a personalized understanding and application of those covenants. I believe there is great power in the commitment to the values that covenants represent. I will always attend meetings and serve in the Church as long as it is valuable to me and my service is valuable to others.
I answer Yes.
9 Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen?
I hope that everyone who is in honest pursuit of truth and understanding, regardless of where it leads them, can answer yes.
I answer Yes.
10 Are you a full-tithe payer?
There is no definition offered, it is left to the interviewee. My understanding of tithing is not dependent on the way that it is spent, but rather, The principle of generosity. I believe that willing giving allows the abundance of the universe to flow through you. whomever receives it is responsible for their own flow.
I answer Yes.
11 Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?
This can be a big one. It is generally understood that the real question is: “do you abstain from coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco?” The requirement was instituted by Heber J Grant in 1921, during the political turmoil of prohibition. Many have guessed at the purposes of certain prohibitions and prescriptions but it’s impossible to declare anything definitively and I think that’s kind of the point. It becomes our personal responsibility to understand the positive and negative effects of what we take into our bodies, the WOW simply provides a template for a deeper understanding. In order to attend the temple, I willingly abstain from certain things that I don’t find harmful in moderation. I also proactively seek to understand my body and nutrition so that I can be as healthy as possible. There are no guarantees.
I answer Yes.
12 Do you have financial or other obligations to a former spouse or children? If yes, are you current in meeting those obligations?
Pay your alimony and child support. Take responsibility and be fair.
I do not have a former spouse, or children who are in another’s care so I answer no.
13 If you have previously received your temple endowment:
Do you keep the covenants that you made in the temple?
I have already stated my position on covenants.
Do you wear the garment both night and day as instructed in the endowment and in accordance with the covenant you made in the temple?
The garments have the potential for deeply personal symbolism. Beyond modesty requirements or ill fitting underwear, the symbols of the garment can be a daily reminder of personal values. I don’t believe that they will protect me from physical harm, but the principles I internalize may direct me away from the negative consequences of poor decisions. Besides, I have grown accustomed to them and find them comfortable. I respect many who have chosen to discontinue wearing them.
I have been unable to identify any covenant with regard to the wearing of the garment.
I answer Yes.
14 Have there been any sins or misdeeds in your life that should have been resolved with priesthood authorities but have not been?
Fess up if you think it will help.
I answer No
15 Do you consider yourself worthy to enter the Lord’s house and participate in temple ordinances?
I used to hesitate at this one, especially since the question used to contain the phrase “in every way”. But this is why I am here. I believe that if you want to attend the Temple, you should be able to.
I do not hesitate to answer Yes.
As the interview ends, you have the opportunity to ask questions of a sympathetic, or more knowledgeable leader. Or maybe you just want to cut and run, but that’s it, you’re done, easy right? probably not, since the retrospection needed to seriously consider these questions requires great emotional effort. If you have serious problems with any of the questions, the Temple may not contain the peace or enlightenment you seek. There are many sanctuaries available without the strict entry requirements and I also enjoy many of them as often as occasion permits.