The Nauvoo Temple 1840’s Dedication: Inimitable or Invalid?

by: Guest Author

December 16, 2013

This is the first guest post from our frequent commenter Rigel Hawthorne.

photo of original Nauvoo Temple

After reading the recent W&T post about regarding Denver Snuffer’s conclusions on the Nauvoo Temple dedication, I wanted to go back and examine the events.  The Nauvoo Temple dedication was certainly singular in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Ongoing doctrinal revelation, increasing population growth of the membership, and external pressures resulted in ‘outside-the-box’ action to bring the ordinances of the temple to an anxious church membership.

The urgency of this goal originated with none other than Joseph Smith.  Even prior to instructions being given in the Red Brick store, there were washings and anointings  in the Kirtland Temple.    The dedication of the Nauvoo Temple occurred in 7 parts, yes 7 parts!  I have listed the parts in order of their occurrence and described the events surrounding each part.

Part 1 occurred on November 8, 1841.  Under the direction of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young dedicated the baptismal font.  13 days later, even as construction of the temple proceeded, the first baptisms for the dead in the Nauvoo temple were performed.

Part 2 occurred on October 5, 1845, almost 4 years after Part 1.  On this day, Sunday services were being held on temporary floors, with temporary benches and pulpits.  The opening prayer is described as follows:

I [Brigham Young] opened the services of the day by a dedicatory prayer, presenting the Temple, thus far completed, as a monument of the saints’ liberality, fidelity, and faith, concluding:  ‘Lord, we dedicate this house and ourselves to thee.’

This Sunday service was in preparation for General Conference.   This was not meant to be the formal temple dedication.  Brigham Young had advised by letter a couple of months earlier that the dedication of the temple would be April 6, 1846.

Part 3 occurred on November 30, 1845, when Brigham Young (accompanied by members of the Quorum of the Twelve, Presiding Bishops, Patriarch and Stake President, President of the Seventy and Temple Committee),  dedicated the attic story of the temple.  The description of the dedication is limited to the following:

I then offered up prayer and dedicated the attic story of the Temple and ourselves to God, and prayed that God would sustain and deliver us his servants from the hands of our enemies, until we have accomplished his will in this house.

Administration of endowments would follow, beginning December 10, 1845.

Part 4 occurred on January 7, 1846, when the altar for administering sealing ordinances was dedicated by Brigham Young.  Sealings of husbands and wives apparently began immediately, and sealings of children to parents would follow 4 days later.

Part 4 occurred on February 8, 1846.  This dedication followed the conclusion of ordinance work in the Nauvoo temple.  (15, 626 proxy baptisms, 5,083 endowments, 2,420 couples sealed, 369 deceased spouses sealed).  The twelve knelt around the altar, dedicated the building to the Most High, and asked for His blessings on their move to the West.  It was asked that He enable them to, someday, return to finish the lower portion of the temple.

In spite of this departure, labor on the temple continued.  On March 27, 1846, Orson Hyde wrote to Brigham Young, advising him that the temple would not be ready to dedicate on April 6, 1846, as had been Brigham Young’s plan.  On March 15, 1846, 14 men who were laboring in the temple met together for prayer in the attic story and experienced heavenly manifestations, which some called a pentacostal night.  These manifestations included speaking in tongues, visions, appearances of heavenly beings, and the appearance of flames on the temple that did not consume the building.

Painting was taking place in the building’s main floor interior on April 6, 1846.  Due to this work and rainy weather which made meeting in the grove undesirable, the Saints who remained in Nauvoo met in the basement of the temple for an unofficial ‘General Conference.’  Announcements were published soon thereafter that 3 days of dedication services would begin on May 1, 1846.

Prior to this public dedication, however, Part 6—a private dedication, occurred on April 30, 1846.  26 participants, including Elder Wilford Woodruff and Elder Orson Hyde met together with the intention of holding the dedication early in the event that the public dedication would be disrupted by mob activity.  Joseph Young, brother of Brigham Young offered the dedicatory prayer.  The men occupied the priesthood stands, suggesting that the stands were finished in the style similar to what was built in the Kirtland Temple.

Part 7, the 3 day public dedication took place on May 1-3.  The first two days were open to all visitors.  The 3rd day was open only to the Latter-day Saints, and it was reported that attendance on that third day was 5000.  The May 1 dedicatory prayer, given by Orson Hyde, was recorded in minutes taken by Thomas Bullock:

Holy and Everlasting Father, before Thee this morning we present ourselves and acknowledge Thy mercy that has been extended to us since we have been on Thy footstool, and for this opportunity of dedicating this house. We thank Thee that Thou hast given us strength to accomplish the charges delivered by Thee. Forgive us our sins and the sins of thy people. Thou hast seen our labors and exertions to accomplish this purpose. By the authority of the Holy Priesthood now we offer this building as a sanctuary to Thy Worthy Name. We ask Thee to take the guardianship into Thy hands and grant that Thy Spirit shall dwell here and may all feel a sacred influence on their hearts that His Hand has helped this work. Accept of our offering this morning, and that soul that blesses this temple let blessings rest on his posterity to the latest generation, and that soul that shall practice evil against this temple and Thy House, set Thy face against him and let evil take the portion of his inheritance. Administer to Thy people and let Thy honor and glory fall on our heads, not in the eyes of men but in the day when the world shall become Thy dominion. May we have the honor to tune the lyre that Thou hast redeemed us from every nation and made us holy and pure and that we have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. It must needs be that offenses come, we offer it as the fruit of our labors and may the oppression under which they groaned be to our good. We ask that the angel of mercy may be round about this temple and that light may descend upon us and let us pass to the courts of the heavenly. Let Thy Spirit rest upon those who have contributed to the building of this temple, the laborers on it that they may come forth to receive kingdoms and dominions and glory and immortal power. Accept of us we pray Thee, inspire every bosom to do Thy will, cause that truth may lead them for the glorious coming of the Son of God when you come in the name of the King, the Lord of Hosts shall be the King. Gather us in Thy Kingdom through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.

It seems that the Saints were tenacious in safeguarding that ordinances were not performed without the pertinent dedication.  The various elements that would have been dedicated in one sweeping dedication were covered, though not in the fashion we would later deem as typical.  A pentocostal experience took place, but preceded the dedication of the finished temple.   One might wonder why it was even necessary to return for the 6th and 7th dedications.  Orson Hyde explained:

If we move forward and finished this house, we should be received and accepted as a church with our dead.  But if not we should be rejected with our dead.

It was as if the final dedication was viewed as ratifying the other individual dedications and, retroactively, the work that had taken place under those dedications.  Orson Hyde and Wilford Woodruff both taught that the Nauvoo Temple qualified for acceptance as a church with our dead.  Denver Snuffer teaches that it did not.  He says that criteria for rejection was met.

As I have never performed physical labor to build a temple, never directly exerted muscle or tired my back or risked life and limb, I tend to tread carefully on judging the events that took place or criticizing the pace of the construction.  As to evidence of a ‘curse’ following the pioneers because of the so-called rejection, I counter that evidence of a non-cursed status is abundant.  My ancestors who were endowed and sealed in February 1846 have a posterity reaching 6 generations that have also made temple covenants.  If curses are consequences that separate us from God, having a posterity that has been born in covenant and chosen to make temple covenants seems to fulfill the very goal that was the driving force for laboring to build and use the Nauvoo temple.

What are your thoughts?  Do you agree with Snuffer that the Nauvoo Temple was rejected by God?


26 Responses to The Nauvoo Temple 1840’s Dedication: Inimitable or Invalid?

  1. Hedgehog on December 16, 2013 at 2:35 AM

    It looks to me like a race against time. I certainly believe many were doing the best they could in the circumstances, if not all were doing so. I think the Lord accepts our best, however poor that might be.

    I did find dedicatory prayer you quoted grated on me slightly though:
    “and that soul that shall practice evil against this temple and Thy House, set Thy face against him and let evil take the portion of his inheritance”
    Maybe I’m just squeemish, but I prefer not to ask such things myself. It seems to come from a different mindset, but perhaps one common to the time.

    I haven’t read Snuffer’s book. However, whether or not the temple was ultimately rejected (and it was certainly destroyed), I don’t think that has any bearing on whether particular ordinances performed in good faith by/for particular individuals are accepted or rejected. I think they are a whole different issue. In other words I don’t believe any rejection would be retro-active.

    I suppose another thing to look at would be whether those ordinances were later repeated for those individuals once new temples had been built in Utah. I have no idea whether they were or were not.

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  2. Andrew on December 16, 2013 at 7:32 AM

    Hedgehog – I imagine there were many repeats of ordinances for those individuals, though probably not for the reason you were alluding to. Record-keeping was difficult at the time and sometimes records were not shared between temples, which led to a fair amount of repeat ordinances for individuals.

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  3. Nate on December 16, 2013 at 8:09 AM

    I’m unclear on exactly what Snuffer believes about the Nauvoo ordinances. Does he think they were invalid because they were not done in a properly dedicated building, or were done by a priesthood “in apostasy?” If that is his belief, it sounds like you have presented ample evidence to the contrary. What is his evidence for his position?

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  4. Mormon Heretic on December 16, 2013 at 8:40 AM

    Rigel, great post, and I think you’ve brought an interesting, compelling argument.

    I’d love to have Snuffer tell exactly what he thinks, but I’ll try to substitute since I’ve read his book. Snuffer’s position is complex. His main point is that God says that these ordinances to the inner group (Brigham Young and the apostles) shouldn’t count because they were done in the Red Brick Store, not the temple. He doesn’t consider those as valid. Therefore, future ordinations performed by Brigham in the temple weren’t done in the proper authority, and were therefore rejected by God. His evidence is the destruction of the Nauvoo Temple, and the trials suffered by the pioneers as they moved west.

    Yet Snuffer still finds great value in the temple, and I don’t think he would tell people not to go. Snuffer seems to consider the temple ceremonies as still useful and legitimate. (I hope I’ve summarized Snuffer well, but that’s what I think he would say.)

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  5. log on December 16, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    The Temple was never completed, and this by admission of both friend and foe alike; the Lord never came to the temple to restore anything; the Prophets were both slain with no successor chosen according to the scriptural commandments (D&C 43); the people were moved out of their places with wrath and cursings; the Lord never did speak again to the body of the Church in his own voice after January 14, 1847 (D&C 136); Zion was not established; miracles and visitations of angels became a matter of rumor.

    Whatever counter-theory to Snuffer’s is proposed, it needs to account for the data we have, not the rose-colored traditions we are spoon-fed through official channels.

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  6. log on December 16, 2013 at 9:42 AM

    And not since Joseph have we had a man enter into the presence of God and Christ while in the flesh – odd, I think, because of this.

    D&C 107
    18 The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—

    19 To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.

    Lacking the power of this priesthood, as admitted by President Packer in 2010, and since power and authority are the same thing, says D&C 121:37, and utterly bereft of the fruits thereof – ascent to the heavenly throne, according to D&C 107:19 – why do we pretend to have this priesthood?

    And since we don’t have this priesthood, whose idea was it to impertinently append “by the power of the Melchizedek priesthood which I hold” to our often vain and futile attempts to heal and bless within the Church, which blessings require faith and not “priesthood lines of authority”?

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  7. log on December 16, 2013 at 10:17 AM

    Whatever Joseph gave in the Red Brick Store was not the real thing.

    My argument takes this form.

    IF temple ordinances are necessary for salvation THEN those ordinances cannot be changed or altered. (Joseph Smith)

    IF ordinances necessary for salvation are changed or altered THEN those ordinances are invalid. (Isaiah 24:5, D&C 132:8-11)

    Temple ordinances have been changed and altered. (historical fact)

    Therefore, those temple ordinances are not necessary for salvation OR necessary temple ordinances are invalid.

    Take your pick.

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  8. log on December 16, 2013 at 10:26 AM

    And, to follow up my previous comment, currently in moderation, the alternative to Joseph not giving us the real thing is that we are in deep doo-doo.

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  9. hawkgrrrl on December 16, 2013 at 10:54 AM

    “IF temple ordinances are necessary for salvation THEN those ordinances cannot be changed or altered.” Then the question becomes which part is ordinance, and which part is ceremonial? Because the ceremonial parts weren’t even written down for about 40 years. Changes happened for sure in that time. And we know subsequent to them being written down, there have been changes to the ceremonial parts. I think a first pass is to reduce the “ordinance” to only the participatory part.

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  10. Nate on December 16, 2013 at 10:58 AM

    I don’t know how Snuffer can object to the validity of Red Brick Store ordinances or pre-dedicatory ordinances. How do you account for the Tabernacle in the wilderness?

    And log, “the Lord never did speak again to the body of the Church in his own voice,” “Zion was not established; miracles and visitations of angels became a matter of rumor.”

    I think it’s really up to God to choose the kind of prophets He wants to lead the church, and how He wants to speak to them. I don’t think its a sign of punishment, or lack of faith on their part, or ours. We wait upon the Lord. Additionally, accounts of church leaders and members having miraculous visitations did not cease, nor were they “rumors” but rather widely published, as in the examples of Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith. Written and published accounts of miraculous priesthood healings and visions among members are abundant in the post-Joseph Smith church, and I continue to hear about the all the time, and have experienced some myself.

    I think God spoke to Joseph Smith in “his own voice” because that is how Joseph Smith felt inspired to interpret the manifestation of the Spirit to him. But when Joseph Smith said “Thus saith the Lord,” Joseph didn’t see the words written by the finger of God upon tablets of stone. Joseph put the revelations in the 1st person to add emphasis. That was his style.

    But that’s not the style of President Monson. But if he wanted to, he could say, “Thus saith the Lord, it is pleasing in my sight that the sisters of Zion shall depart to preach the gospel to the gentiles at 19 years of age, and the elders at 18.” Because President Monson DID feel inspired to make that change, and he has the right to state it like that if he wants to, because that is what it is. “Whether by my own voice, or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”

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  11. Jeff Spector on December 16, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    It seems common fodder since the beginning of the Church to have those who cry “lo here and lo there, we have a fallen Prophet..” It is what has driven the splinter groups since the very beginning. Their own perceived lack of legitimacy of the LDS church Leaders from back in Joseph’s day. But, yet, many of those Churches are small or non-existent at this point.

    So, what does it prove? But their fruits, ye shall know them….?

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  12. mark gibson on December 16, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    “……ye shall be rejected as a church with your dead, saith the Lord your God.” is regarded by the splinter groups as an accurate prophecy; yet it comes from a revelation that they reject because it also introduces baptism for the dead.

    The largest splinter group (RLDS) believed the practice to be “permissive” at best, but only in a designated Temple. Eventually this stance was abandoned and the Nauvoo-era sections of the Doctrine&Covenants removed.

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  13. log on December 16, 2013 at 8:30 PM

    I think a first pass is to reduce the “ordinance” to only the participatory part.

    The problem is, hawkgrrrl, that the only parts of the temple rites that I am relatively sure survive unaltered are baptisms and confirmations for the dead(!) and perhaps the sealing rites.

    Literally everything else has been altered and changed.

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  14. Rigel Hawthorne on December 17, 2013 at 3:59 AM

    Whatever Joseph gave in the Red Brick Store was not the real thing.

    If that is your argument, then wouldn’t you also have to reject the endowment ceremony itself, as it was likely received in Joseph Smith’s office and research room in the Red Brick Store (while he was studying the papyri from which came the book of Abraham) and not while he was in a dedicated House of the Lord?

    For those who are willing to consider that Joseph’s church headquarters office was legitimately a place for revelation and instruction, the following excerpt from Joseph Smith Jr’s Red Brick Store, by Launius and McKiernan is of interest:

    On May 3, 1842, Joseph Smith prepared the assembly room of his store for the
    introduction of secret temple ceremonies. These religious ordinances. Smith be-
    lieved, were a restoration of the celestial law of God to the earth. Five or six men
    aided Smith in preparing the room for this ritual. Lucius N. Scovill, one of these
    men, recalled that the prophet explained “that the object he had was for us to go
    to work and fit up the room preparatory to giving endowments to a few Elders.'”*^
    James Henry Rollins, another who assisted in preparing the assembly room, re-
    membered “carrying water and other commodities to the room above the store.
    Afterwards I found out it was to give endowments to some of the Brethren.'”**^
    The men apparently prepared the room by painting a mural of a pastoral scene
    in the northwest comer and by arranging several sprigs of cassis, olive branches,
    cedar boughs, and other evergreens about the room. This pastoral setting paral-
    leled the Garden Room in later Mormon temples and was probably the model for
    such later buildings. With all the preparation, the upper rooms of the store were ill-suited to the conducting of temple rituals. It was, however, the most adequate location in
    Nauvoo before the completion of the Temple. The prophet believed that the cere-
    monies could only be conducted in an upper room, and the assembly room of the
    Red Brick Store was the only place of adequate size in Nauvoo during 1 842 and
    1843 where people could assemble with relative privacy.^’ Brigham Young, for
    example, noted that in spite of the limitations of the store, Joseph Smith divided
    “up the room the best he could.” He added that when finished it “was arranged
    representing the interior of a temple as much as the circumstances would per-

    Joseph Smith did have an order to this process including the mandate that it be at a minimum in an upper room. Where did he get this mandate, if not from revelation? It was not written down, but the above book also quotes Heber C. Kimball in a communication to Parley P. Pratt:

    “We have received some pressious things through the Prophet on the preasthood that would caus you Soul to rejoice I can not give them to you on paper for they are not to be riten.”

    If the argument about rites being conducted in the Red Brick store as not being justified because of absence of a written revelation documenting the command to proceed with such, then one would also have to acknowledge that the prophet was commanded not to write some things. This is not that unusual, as writers of the Book of Mormon also spoke of things they were commanded not to write. There was no official announcement made that endowments were being administered in the Red Brick Store, though word trickled out. Again, the absence of such announcement at that time evidences prophetic design.

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  15. MB on December 17, 2013 at 9:28 AM

    If one of the evidences that God has rejected the ordinances and work you’ve performed is trials, horrendous weather and death, then St. Paul is in deep trouble.

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  16. Rigel Hawthorne on December 17, 2013 at 5:11 PM


    I find the use of trials as evidence a bit confusing as well. I think of the Martin Willie Handcart survivor who said of his trial:

    We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that company ever apostatized or left the Church, because everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities

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  17. Yes, the Church has been rejected with their dead... on December 17, 2013 at 10:26 PM

    In April 1842, the Prophet said: “The Church is not fully organized, in its proper order, and cannot be, until the Temple is completed, where places will be provided for the administration of the ordinances of the Priesthood.

    History of the Church, 4:603; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Apr. 28, 1842, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Eliza R. Snow; see also appendix,

    Any endowment performed prior to completion could not have been a full and valid endowment

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  18. Rigel Hawthorne on December 18, 2013 at 1:12 PM

    That is a really interesting quote, but I don’t see that it is a strong argument for your point. Yes, the church was not fully organized and in its proper order until the temple was completed. That quote does not specifically say that endowment given outside of the temple is invalid. The Red Brick store was ill-suited for the thousands of ordinances that needed to be done.

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  19. log on December 18, 2013 at 9:12 PM

    No, the fact that the endowments and washings and anointings and garments have been altered and changed from the beginning means they are invalid or unnecessary.

    Take your pick as to which they are. In no case can they be valid or necessary.

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  20. log on December 18, 2013 at 9:31 PM

    *”In no case can they be valid or necessary” should read “In no case can they be valid and necessary.”

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  21. Rigel Hawthorne on December 19, 2013 at 10:54 AM


    That is a stronger argument for your case. If you hold to a very strict definition of “ordinance” and “change”, I can see your point of view. Question…do you believe that endowments occurred in other dispensations, and if so, do you believe that the ordinance and garment was identical to the endowment ceremony as introduced by Joseph Smith? Would you, furthermore, say that any garment that is not made from the skin of an animal is also invalid?

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  22. Jeff Spector on December 19, 2013 at 2:08 PM

    One point I think is important during this discussion of changes and validity. Point one, is what really changed, the learning or the ordinances themselves? Clearly, changes to the presentation and learning have changed, but not so sure the ordinances themselves are actually different. Certainly, some of the manner in which those ordinances are given have also changed, but the overall content is the same. Now, I also realize that some other changes were made prior to my joining the Church over the hundred years or so that the Temple ceremonies have been in existence, other changes have been made and maybe, those need to be examined.

    In the final analysis, has the fundamental purpose of Temple ordinances been dramatically altered? My vote is that I don’t think so.

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  23. MH on December 19, 2013 at 4:42 PM

    Jeff, from Snuffer’s point of view, he says that Joseph Smith only did *individual* ordinances, rather than *group* ordinances. Brigham did group ordinances where we are each to consider ourselves respectively as Adam and Eve. Of course Brigham did this for efficiency purposes, but Snuffer sees that change as rather dramatic, and calls the entire latter-day ordinance into question. Yet despite that, Snuffer would say that the ordinance has some important teachings in it, and it is still a worthwhile ordinance to participate in.

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  24. Rigel Hawthorne on December 19, 2013 at 6:18 PM

    But most Christian churches have important teachings and ordinances that can provide worthwhile experiences for participation. So if the latter day ordinance is in question, then why not participate in any Christian church until a proper restoration is given?

    Is there a reference for the individual ordinances? Interesting to think about being the ‘only one’ in an endowment session. It would be like your initiatory experience being continued onward.

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  25. Jeff Spector on December 20, 2013 at 8:42 AM

    We partake of the Sacrament ordinance as individuals, but in a group setting. If you go to the extreme, the change of the sacrament from a communal cup to individual cups makes it invalid. I see no difference unless the efficacy is tied to a personal experience such as the initiatory. But that has been personal for other reason such as privacy.

    The argument in this case, for me, is a non-starter such it is method, not purpose or intent.

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  26. Rigel Hawthorne on December 20, 2013 at 6:52 PM

    Snuffer would say that the ordinance has some important teachings in it, and it is still a worthwhile ordinance to participate in.

    These kind of arguments get me. Temple ordinances are worthwhile to participate in–ok. So we need a lot to Temples to bring the ordinances to the people. This requires financial resources and stewardship. We need the buildings to be maintained. This requires tithing and volunteer work. We need volunteer staffing to keep them operating. This requires organization and training. The training must be correlated and translated into multiple languages. All of this requires planning and administration by an efficient central organization, collection of tithes, and protection of the financial assets that secure these structures and programs. So the message to keep participating in the temple ordinances because they are the closest thing we have to a valid endowment and throw those that are doing the work to make them available under the bus seems a little inconsiderate to say the least.

    If you believe that the endowment is not valid, then it seems like you would have a moral obligation to speak out, as many do, that the resources to operate temples would be better managed as donations to the poor and needy.

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