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.
Interesting analysis, and I know this is a real struggle for many. What I think lacking here is the idea that the temple is a holy place for a community of worshipers, and when you observe people there whom you know to be not keeping commandments/covenants as is traditionally understood, it mocks believers (and their God) and detracts from their sacred experience. For instance, to see my cousins witness their daughter’s sealing in the temple while actively criticizing church leaders on social media (and clearly not keeping that covenant to build up the kingdom), is disturbing.
the unity created by a group of people honestly seeking enlightenment is what allows for the feelings of peace and joy in the temple. Ulterior motives and judgemental attitudes would certainly detract from that spirit. The scenario you describe is part of the politics I mentioned.
Who are you to judge? Do you know his heart? If your cousin can answer the temple recommend questions, let the guy watch his daughter get married.
given that he and his wife officially resigned their membership the day after the wedding and sent vicious emails around to the family members who had been there, his heart wasn’t in it…
No parent should ever be denied the right and privilege of witnessing their child’s wedding.
Glass house? I submit that you are dwelling on the sins of your relatives is the greater of the sins.
I would propose that, if one attends the temple with a focus on another individual’s worthiness, perhaps one is attending with a mistaken focus. We all sin, and if sins were perfectly transparent to everyone in the temple, there would be enormous distractions. I like what I heard an elderly man say, 40 years ago; “if every sin had an odor, like tobacco, church would be a very stinky place”, and I presume the Temple would be, also. I attend the temple to focus on my spiritual growth, not that of others.
“if one attends the temple with a focus on another individual’s worthiness, perhaps one is attending with a mistaken focus”
I like this. Since I am not a “Patti-Perfect” woman (drive too fast, curse too much, have four beers a year, prefer to sleep in the buff sometimes) “twisted Sister”, I’ve avoided getting a recommend for fear of finger-pointing people who may know of my imperfections & weaknesses. God certainly knows of them! And I count heavily on His Grace. But another reason is just as you described, not wanting my presence to detract from another’s experiences there.
This is a thoughtful, sensitive and common sense approach to these questions. When I was bishop and my executive secretary come to me for a temple interview, when I asked the question about tithing, he responded, “No, I don’t pay tithing, but I pay more than I owe in tithing in fast offerings because I was a missionary in the Philippines and I know that fast offering funds go to help the poor and needy.” I said, “that’s good enough for me” and signed his recommend.
The most assuring story I have heard about temple recommend interviews was told about a couple from Washington, D.C. who took the train to SLC to get married in the temple (this was before there were temples in the East). When they got to the temple, they realized they had lost their recommends on the way. When the temple president couldn’t reach their stake president or bishop, he sent them over to the Church Office Building where they were assigned to President Hugh B. Brown. He interviewed them, signed their recommends, embraced them and said, “In this Church we believe in breaking rules, not hearts!” Would that every church leader had such an attitude!
I love the way you are Bob. I loved “Why I Stay” and even though I may be distancing myself from my church activity because of honest concerns and emotional pain, I somehow get the feeling that you would give me a hug, wish me well, and let me know you would be excited if I ever were to come back. Oh how we need much of the church to be like that. Given how rejecting the church can be, a part of me feels like I need to be “out a bit” to catch people as they are tossed out of the good ship Zion and help them as I see them as having a huge need.
Daniel – Very good job. I love how you acknowledge that for some the temple can be painful.
Daniel, I fear your generous spirit is getting the better of you.
It seems to me as though a non-member could get a temple recommend, so elastic are your criteria. I believe you are diluting Mormonism, making it easier to work around. This has risks.
Just about any conception of deity or the Godhead looks like it will fly, untethered as it now is from what Joseph Smith taught, his understanding being only “relevant to him at the time.” Jesus as Savior is dispensable, despite the overwhelming and incessant testimony of the scriptures, where Christ is not just a kindly helper. And the Holy Ghost can be demoted from personage in the Godhead to an “influence”.
Tithing and the Word of Wisdom have become matters of opinion with little definite that can be said about either. Here you fudge, though. The Law of Chastity also comes without a definition in the interview – but you go ahead and supply one in that case. We can supply one for tithing as well: It’s ten percent of your income, payable to the Church. Everyone knows this. There is no “in-lieu-of tithing” or “I am generous” option. Everyone knows whether or not they pay a full tithe. I do agree that the Word of Wisdom is less rigid although there are some definite guidelines here as well.
The Restoration? It too is diluted to a “new perspective” on things and is applicable only to cultures for which this new perspective might jibe. It apparently has no universal normative value for the salvation of every human being.
Leaders of the church are recognized by a de facto acceptance that they are the leaders of a “temporal organization”. (Not clear what this means, where it begins and ends.) You could apply this to General Motors. But is or is not the President the only man on the earth authorized by God to possess all Priesthood keys? Does the Pope or the Dali Lama have any, or is this irrelevant? If the church’s claim of exclusivity is dubious, why would its president need the exclusive possession of priesthood keys?
Thus, all that seems necessary for a temple recommend is to consider these questions as ambiguous, as a spacious expanse wherein one’s own interpretation and comfortable nook can be found.
A final word about the “exclusivity claims of Mormonism.” Without these claims, the Church has no reason to exist. None. It is the message. The proclamation of and rationale for this message are powerfully given by Christ in D&C 1.
Obviously, people can find value in the Church without accepting its exclusivity claim, but the mission of the Church is not fulfilled by providing a good experience.
The Church’s claim is straightforward and unambiguous: It is the only organization authorized to perform ordinances essential to the exaltation and eternal life of the living and the dead. Period. It is the only one even performing them for the dead, or claiming to perform them for the dead, as far as I know. Any of the billions of our brothers and sisters (those accountable for their actions, of course) who have passed on and desire to become joint heirs with Jesus Christ – and I certainly believe they will become such – will enjoy this only by accepting the first principles of the Gospel and by having ordinances performed by mortal proxies in our temples, either during the remaining years of this dispensation or during the Millennium. There is no other way. It’s that way because Jesus Christ says it is that way. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the sole custodian of valid baptisms on Planet Earth, the gate repeatedly stressed in the scriptures and especially in 2 Nephi 31.
God didn’t wait 6,000 years to provide yet another church with no more authority than any other faith tradition, a church valuable only for those whose cultures happen to jibe with it. For that matter, it doesn’t look to me like current American culture jibes with it. What then?
Thanks for sharing your perspective, Tim. I fear you are trying to cheapen and demean mine. The original directive for tithing was “ten percent of your INCREASE annually” which has plenty of room for interpretation, but so does “income” for many people like me who are self employed. I have always been generous in paying tithing as I have felt directed by the Holy Ghost.
I do not discount the possibility that the Holy Ghost may be a personage and I certainly believe that (he) is an essential member of the Godhead.
I willingly acknowledge that Jesus’ role in Gods plan is central and essential, I simply understand it differently than you do.
I do not wish to be an apologist for my point of view so I won’t address all of your criticisms, but I will encourage you to allow that my experience, study and perspective have led me to an understanding that is just as valid as yours.
This is reminiscent of the kind of mental gymnastics I went through in my early years as a new convert to the Church to pass the temple recommend questions. There was never any doubt as to my obedience to the laws and ordiances, including the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Tithing, which I followed to the letter. It was the finer points of belief and testimony that continued to escape me, leading me to ultimately conclude that I had never become fully converted. This realization came at a rather unfortunate time, namely two years after my temple marriage and soon after discovering my wife and I were pregnant with our first child. I continued in obedience to the Church’s teachings, but I could no longer truthfully answer the temple recommend questions, and I have not been to the temple nor sought a temple recommend since then. I have, however, blessed three children, baptized one, and given another the priesthood. I’ve been blessed to be able to participate in these things, but a testimony is just something that has eluded me in spite of my good faith efforts. This is not to say I do not have solid, strong beliefs and values; rather it seems Heavenly Father just made me a bit differently and that I just have to accept that He will continue to guide and shape me on His own time.
This essay does indeed appear to water down the temple recommend questions to the point one can make a legalistic argument for his or her temple worthiness. It is similar to another concept I encountered early on, called “borrowing a testimony.” When I could not drum up a sufficient testimony of my own, I was invited to borrow my future father-in-law’s testimony, then later the testimony of the bishop in what was to become my ward. It was just another way of saying that while I do not yet believe the teachings in my heart and mind, I acknowledge their influence on the lives of these believers and am willing to give the benefit of doubt. It feels wrong now, and somewhat childish, to continue to rely on this level of testimony, as though by now I ought to have grown spiritually to the point my testimony can stand on its own. Maybe I’m setting the bar too high for myself, but as it stands the bar–and temple worthiness–remains out of reach.
I wish you the best in your spiritual journey and hope it continues to move you to a closer relationship with your God and creator.
Perhaps you are too hard on yourself, T.J. Thanks for the well-wishes.
T.J, I also think you may be too hard on yourself. There is this from DC 46:13-14: “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.”
Quite a gift, and the only one in that section with “eternal life” specifically given as the end result – and it’s for believing (and being faithful).
The point of my response was not to determine who and who does not qualify for a temple recommend. It was to point out that the church has doctrines, they aren’t in a state of constant flux and aren’t so plastic that anyone can make what they want of them. That we know little of the eternal worlds to come does not invalidate these doctrines.
Where to draw the line for each question? I don’t know; I just think there is a line. Daniel and I seem to disagree on where that line is and I am content with that. There is no ill will on either of our parts.
Thank you for your vote of confidence. I think the key word here is “believe”, which were I sufficiently legalistic, I might convince myself was the same as “going through the motions,” which is roughly where I am now in my faith journey, at least in regard to the LDS Church. I cannot say I am entirely blameless in this regard. Like Daniel, I have very rich, deeply felt beliefs about God and mortality, which are difficult to reconcile with Church doctrine. I could choose to let go of such “foolishness”, to fall in line and accept the teachings of the gospel. But I’m afraid that by doing so, I would be rejecting a beatiful gift that God has given me, and I would forever feel that I had sold my soul for the opportunity of earthly blessings.
The blessings of this world are not meant for all of humanity to experience equally. This is where some people get the idea that “life is unfair.” Is it fair that black men were denied the priesthood, or that children of gay and polygamist parents are denied baptism? Is it fair that some are denied the blessings of marriage and family? Is it fair that others are denied sanitary living conditions or a basic sense of security? I’m privileged to enjoy the blessings that I have in my life, and that doesn’t make me any better or worse than anyone who does not have these things. So I’m content to recognize that some things are just not for me, right now, at this time in my life, or even in my short time on this earth.
In fact, this could very well be my test, my trial. I do everything I’m supposed to; can’t I just fudge a little on the interview questions? I can’t think of an earthly downside. My wife and I could go to the temple together. We could reconnect, be at one spiritually, which we haven’t been in a very long time. My family would be much better off for it. My church service would be better off for it. And no one could ever catch me in a lie, because, hey, I’m living my covenants, every last one. But there are two people that know my heart, and in the end, they are the only two who matter. I can’t lie to myself, and I can’t lie to God. Nor can I creatively twist the interview questions to better match what I believe in my heart, for while each is simple and beautiful, they are not the same. And, at least for now, I am okay with that.
The old maxim is that honesty is the best policy. Men and women can and do deceive others. The Holy Ghost cannot be deceived. Stick to your ethics.
As for mortality, some will be born during the Millennium, while others were born in Eastern Europe before WW2 and were shipped to Auschwitz. Perhaps they are in the next world shaking angry fists at God at this very moment. But maybe they aren’t. Until I get this information, and it is unlikely I will get it in this life, I am going to be reserved in my judgment of how history unfolds and how God plans for his children’s mortal probation.
I go by Tim. Some kind of autofill provided Timothy.