The Sacred/Secret TempleBy: Mormon Heretic
I had the pleasure of attending the closed-circuit dedication of the Brigham City Temple yesterday afternoon. My family was able to walk through the temple a few weeks ago. While the architecture seems somewhat reminiscent of the Salt Lake Temple, it is one of the newer, much smaller temples that the church now builds. Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presided over the dedicatory service.
Elder Packer grew up on Brigham City, so it is a hometown temple for him. Speakers noted that Brigham City was named after Brigham Young, and the temple was the only temples to hold a painting of both Brigham Young and Lorenzo Snow. Snow was stake president in Brigham City, and was known as the Brigham City apostle. Elder Packer could be known with the same title now.
Elder Packer repeated the phrase that temples are sacred, but not secret. That phrase stuck out to me, because I was able to attend Brad Kramer’s presentation at Utah Valley University on Wednesday of this week. Kramer discussed the taboos associated with LDS temples in a presentation was titled “Keeping the Sacred: Silence, Taboo, and Power in LDS Discourse”, and he specifically addressed this phrase that Packer used. Kramer noted that LDS temples are an open secret. Anyone with any curiosity can do a quick google search and actually watch the LDS temple ceremony if they are so inclined.
Kramer noted 3 categories for discussing the temple. (1) There are about five parts of the temple ceremony in which patrons are absolutely prohibited from discussing outside the temple. (2) Other parts of the temple are considered fair game to talk about. Elder Packer produced a short book about the temple (you can read it at lds.org) that is often used in temple preparation classes.
Then there is a third category that is neither absolutely prohibited, nor is it really fair game to talk about. There can be some latitude for talking about the temple ceremonies. Kramer noted that in the past, it was acceptable to talk about the temple while inside the temple. However, newer regulations require that temple workers can no longer answer questions about the temple, and workers have been directed that if asked a specific question, then patrons should be referred to the temple president for answers. It has been my experience that the president is often not available to answer these questions. Kramer said that temple presidents often don’t answer questions when asked, but simply stonewall about the questions. Kramer noted that this has been a source of frustration among some BYU faculty who remember a more openness about temple questions inside the temple. Because of the increased official silence, Kramer noted that younger people, frustrated by the lack of candor about the temple, are more likely to talk openly about the temple ceremonies than older generations.
He also noted that the secrecy of the temple is part of the holiness of the temple. We are told that this secrecy in temple ordinances is “more sacred than scripture.” Inside the temple, patrons are asked for almost absolute silence, and that we should speak only when necessary; when we do speak, we are to use our “temple voices” (whispers) as a sign of reverence. Patrons are told that they should contemplate, rather than discuss the temple while serving there. The concept of holiness is something done collaborative with God and other people, and it depends on secrecy.
Non-members and non-endowed members often feel outside of the conversation when members talk about the temple. One teenager said that when endowed members discuss the temple, it is like an “inside joke” in which only certain people understand what is happening. Kramer used the example of this photograph, which has been widely circulated among Mormons on the internet. Nine Moons said it was distributed with the caption, “Don’t forget Stake Temple Day is February 29th! All day long!!” While some people would recognize Michael Ballam (on the right), most people would not understand what the photo has to do with the temple. This is an example of the “inside joke”.
Those who have been to the temple understand the photo. Inside the temple, patrons watch a film about the creation of the earth. There are two versions of the film presentation for the temple endowment, and both men play a version of Satan in one of the two versions of the film. Without that inside knowledge, it really is an unremarkable photo.
Kramer noted that Mormons sometimes quote the temple ceremony without attribution, so that “he that can hear, let him hear”. Kramer noted that apostles do quote the ceremony quite frequently such as Elders Packer and Holland, but they have also counseled against members doing this. Members have been able to quote the ceremony without attribution in a way that might be analogous to “fair use” in copyright law. For active Mormons, it seems to be a gray area when discussing the temple, and Kramer noted 4 rules for proper etiquette when referencing of the temple ceremony.
- the reference must be very short
- you must stick to the melodrama part of the ceremony
- you can’t make it explicit (don’t use quote marks). You can’t say “oh that’s in the temple ceremony”.
- you can sometimes blame it on independent or academic sources
This “insider speak” is done by men more than women, and is often used to bolster one’s personal authority. Because of the silence associated with the temple, the temple experience becomes a profoundly spiritual experience. Without the silence associated with the ceremony, Kramer said that it might be considered off-putting or strange. He noted that the ceremony is very patriarchal, and women enjoy temple worship less than men.
What are your thoughts about the temple? Do you agree that the temple is not secret? What were your experiences in attending a temple dedication?