The Sacred/Secret Temple

by: Mormon Heretic

September 24, 2012

The Brigham City Temple

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.

Elder Boyd K. Packer

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 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.

  1. the reference must be very short
  2. you must stick to the melodrama part of the ceremony
  3. you can’t make it explicit (don’t use quote marks).  You can’t say “oh that’s in the temple ceremony”.
  4. 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?

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33 Responses to The Sacred/Secret Temple

  1. hawkgrrrl on September 24, 2012 at 1:32 AM

    “Without the silence associated with the ceremony, Kramer said that it might be considered off-putting or strange.” Even with the silence it can be.

    “He noted that the ceremony is very patriarchal, and women enjoy temple worship less than men.” This is absolutely correct. Changes have been made in the past (mostly to make women feel safer and more protected), and more should be made in the future (to illustrate equal responsibility for choices, and being equal in the sight of God).

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  2. Hedgehog on September 24, 2012 at 3:18 AM

    “This “insider speak” is done by men more than women, and is often used to bolster one’s personal authority.”

    Our final speaker in sacrament meeting yesterday, a woman (it’s not unusual to have a woman as final speaker in my ward but I’ve seen complaints that it doesn’t happen elsewhere ;-)), in speaking about the creation, did quote several times (without attribution) from the film. I was surprised, because I didn’t think it was something this particular member would do. So now I’m wondering, did she realise she was doing it, or was it subconscious? Maybe when we’ve heard something so many times, it just becomes part of the way we speak about those things.

    On your questions:
    I attended the rededication of the London Temple. Lets just say that handkerchief waving was distinctly foreign to the ‘English’ character; awkward and muted at best.

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  3. LovelyLauren on September 24, 2012 at 8:22 AM

    I think the “inside joke” nature of the temple can be particularly harmful if you have a bad experience in the temple for the first time. I remember thinking, “This is it? This is the great pinnacle spiritual experience of the church?” I was disappointed and disturbed in equal measure. I don’t think I would have had that reaction to the same extent if someone had been a little more clear about what was going on and what was going to happen.

    And I took two temple prep classes in two different stakes. Those are pretty worthless in my experience.

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  4. Samuel Rogers on September 24, 2012 at 8:41 AM

    I agree it’s largely not secret. I agree with the case that the “secrecy” is similar to what was seen with the Jewish temple, and I have yet to hear a good argument that adequately explains why there shouldn’t be similar restriction to a modern temple.

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  5. Niklas on September 24, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    “women enjoy temple worship less than men”
    Still at least my experience is that women are more frequent temple goers than men. Maybe it is just easier to understand the reasons why some women do not like the temple.

    I do agree that most of the temple ceremony is not secret, and even though I understand “creating the sacred space” -arguments, I wish we could talk about temple more openly.

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  6. Jenn on September 24, 2012 at 10:31 AM

    I’m with Lauren- “I remember thinking, “This is it? This is the great pinnacle spiritual experience of the church?””
    I actually wasn’t too weirded out (I first went through in 2006). I expected weirder. But I devastated that that was “it”. After being bored in sunday school for years, I had thought the temple would give me something NEW to think about… but it was just the same old story and principles, with some goofy (and to me, mostly transparent) symbols. My husband felt similarly so we emailed his grandpa, an architect for many temples in Utah valley, if it was normal to feel like we “got” 95% of it within the first few visits, and he replied that yes, he believes a reasonably intelligent person could feel that way, but it all depends on how you relate to symbolism. But my over analytical brain would then spend the whole ceremony analyzing the decisions of the film director, or the film grammar (“it is well” is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me). I finally stopped going because it was frequently a negative experience, and would do sealings or initiatories instead (which I love and would still do if I were allowed to attend with a broken testimony).
    Personally, I think the secrecy is more of a test than because the actual elements are too sacred for discussion (especially since most any mason out there knows them…) I think we could be asked to do the hokeypokey in purple socks and so long as it made us think (believe me, Mormons can find symbolism in ANYTHING), and showed our ability to honor promises, and to submit to something that we don’t fully understand and just trust in God… it would accomplish it’s purpose.

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  7. Casey on September 24, 2012 at 11:34 AM

    I wonder if it would be accurate to say that even if women in general might attend the temple more faithfully, that they are also more likely to have extremely negative feelings about it? Or at least, those who do have such feeling, a greater proportion are women? I’m thinking of complaints about the temple — most of which, by the way, are totally legitimate to me — that often come up on sites like FmH. It’s a broad generalization, but it seems like there are more women who self-identify as faithful but being leery of the temple than there are men. But that’s just based on my impressions from the ‘nacle and growing up in the Mormon Belt, so it may not be the best sample.

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  8. NewlyHousewife on September 24, 2012 at 1:12 PM

    I also think a part of it is that women more often than not attend the temple without their spouses and due to the language and the pairing up at the veil, it is hard to feel important when most of it is based on your spouse being there. For men there isn’t that same conflict as it is assumed you will find a mate of you don’t already have one–such as 19 year olds prepping for a mission. Between the single sisters who haven’t been married, sisters who are divorced, and those who are widows, it wouldn’t surprise me if some spend most of their lives not married.

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  9. Llenrad on September 24, 2012 at 4:19 PM

    Definitely not secret. In the last year or so have started talking more openly about what happens in the temple. I of couse do not mention the things I have covenanted not to disclose. It has been nice to talk with people about the ceremony without feeling like I can only do it after going through a session; and then only having a few minutes before you feel like you need to leave beacuse you are taking someones seat or are wispering too much.

    On a side note….does anyone else miss the blonde adam and eve movie? They stopped showing it earlier this year. I perfered it over the one they show now all the time.

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  10. MH on September 25, 2012 at 1:00 AM

    Hawk, I agree that the past changes are more gender inclusive, but I think there could be even more changes to make women more equal in the ceremony.

    Hedgehog, the Hosanna shout isn’t exactly American either. Much of the temple ceremony is to pay homage to ancient Jewish practices, and the Hosanna shout is found in the Bible. While on my mission, I attended a Jewish synagogue for worship services a few times. They separate men from women and stand and sit down while reciting prayers. It really reminded me of the Mormon Temple ceremony, and I was amazed to see the Jewish influences in the Temple ceremony. I’d say the Hosanna shout is a Jewish influence, rather than an American/European influence.

    LovelyLauren, I agree that temple prep classes are almost a waste of time. My father-in-law is a former bishop and is teaching the temple prep class in his ward. He follows the manual and agrees that it is a waste of time.

    NewlyHousewife, I was single for a long time. It isn’t all that fun as a single guy going to the temple for the pair ups for the prayer circle. I know that temple workers have been instructed that they should no longer invite couples, but should invite men and women who would like to join the prayer circle. But for a long time, the standard language was to invite couples, and it is tough being a single male or female.

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  11. MH on September 25, 2012 at 1:01 AM

    Llenrad, I didn’t know it had been removed, but I don’t recall seeing the other version of the film for quite some time.

    I do remember Gordon Jump–that was really interesting the first time through the temple.

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  12. Hedgehog on September 25, 2012 at 1:38 AM

    MH: “I’d say the Hosanna shout is a Jewish influence”

    That’s interesting. It did feel like we needed someone at the front saying “Come on you lot, you can do better than that, lets take it again, we want to be raising the roof here!”. And then it’d take two or three attempts to shed inhibitions and reach the required volume.

    Or perhaps they don’t actually want us to shout? It seems so alien after all that ‘temple voices’ whispering.

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  13. Rozann on September 25, 2012 at 7:17 AM

    Speak for yourself about women enjoying the temple less. I LOVE THE TEMPLE EXPERIENCE! I went through for the first time in 1978 (probably before many of you were born!) and felt like I had come home, I didn’t want to leave and go back out into the world. As a woman I feel empowered by the temple covenants and instruction, especially the very last part. And for the record, I miss the things that have been deleted from the ceremonies, it feels less rich and meaningful, and without any trying on my part, my mind automatically fills in what has been left out. I’m sorry so many men are wicked and perverted to the point that women feel unsafe in the temple. That says more about the state of our brothers than about our sisters. My father had us read the books of Moses and Abraham in preparation for going to the temple and doing so made it all so familiar to me. It seems to me that so many young people are unprepared for the temple for two reasons, one lack of scriptural knowledge, and second too caught up in the snares of the world (without knowing it). But that’s just my opinion and I may be completely wrong. I know I feel sad when someone says how “weird” the temple seemed when they first went there. I have had experiences gaining insights into my journey through life at the temple that are equivalent to revelation; and I completely believe Pres. McKay who said something to the effect that he learned something new every time he attended, in his nineties after attending the temple at least weekly his whole life! Get a clue people, there is more there than you can see!

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  14. Jenn on September 25, 2012 at 8:19 AM

    I honestly think of the temple as a spiritual language. For people who speak that language, it works so well. My sister LOVES her garments because she has read some very specific symbolism into them. My brother LOVES his garments but for very different symbolism.
    I don’t think it is intrinsic symbolism- we project onto it what we want/need it to be, or maybe what God wants it to be for us. Me, I did not love my garments. I didn’t hate them either, but it wasn’t something to be excited about- it didn’t have symbolism that “spoke” to me, despite some sincere efforts to get a “testimony” of them.

    One of the last things I did before acknowledging that my testimony was in a …not-conventionally-mormon place, was go to the sealing of my sister-in-law to her adopted daughter. The bishop had told me not to go because of my testimony issues, but he had also basically told me I was an anti-Christ and his opinion didn’t matter much to me. I felt very strongly that God wanted me to go, so I did, and I’m so glad. I realize that I don’t believe anymore in the exclusive, divinely-granted priesthood authority of the man officiating, nor do I believe that my sister-in-law would be kept separate from her daughter after death if they hadn’t been sealed… but I still LOVED that ceremony. If the goal of the temple is to create a lasting, special family relationship, to strive to be worthy of each other, to establish promises and priorities and add an eternal perspective to mortal relationships- it does that, and it does such an AMAZING job of it. It’s beautiful.

    And I DO think it is divine in origin, but not in the way many Mormons traditionally think. I don’t think the actual ceremonies or ordinances are eternal and necessary for salvation, but I can see that we as a mass of mortals would need to think that to really embrace it. But the PRINCIPALS are eternal, and good. (But then, I think the principals learned at a buddhist gompa could be just as eternal/important/divinely-given).

    Unfortunately, for people who can’t turn off/shelf the cognitive dissonance, I can’t enjoy the good part of it because the whole “this is the only, best, eternal, exclusive truth and everyone should be getting something out of all of it because it is ETERNAL and UNIVERSAL for EVERYONE” part is just too hard to stomach.

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  15. MH on September 25, 2012 at 8:38 AM

    Rozann, I’m glad you enjoy the temple, but I think you should reconsider this line: I’m sorry so many men are wicked and perverted to the point that women feel unsafe in the temple.

    I’ve never heard that women feel unsafe, and your assertion makes it sound like the temple is full or perverts. I don’t think that’s what you intended to say–I certainly don’t think the temple is full or perverts.

    However, as Kramer said, and some women have alluded to, the temple ceremony is very patriarchal in nature, and it does seem that women are supposed to be subject to male decisions. If that doesn’t bother you, then fine, but it does bother many women, and this has nothing to do with whether women feel safe in the temple. (I expect most women feel very safe in the temple.) You’re fine with patriarchy, but many women aren’t. That’s the issue, not perversion.

    Jenn, I enjoyed your comment, and agree with most of it. I can’t say that the temple is my most favorite thing to do (I find some of the Jewish and Masonic influences strange), but I don’t hate the temple either. It is a sacred space, and I dwell on the more mystical aspects of it than the more foreign and strange Jewish elements. There are some beautiful blessings we can receive if we pay attention to the spiritual aspects. If we get hung up on the mechanics, it can seem quite foreign (in an Old Testament way.)

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  16. Llenrad on September 25, 2012 at 9:16 AM

    When I asked my temple president why they stopped showing the version with blonde Eve all he said was, “We received a letter telling us to stop showing it with no explanation. We have no need to speculate on why it has happened.”

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  17. Joseph S. on September 25, 2012 at 2:00 PM

    I started using inside jokes from the temple when I was in the MTC. Many other missionaries did too. I think going to the temple every week and interacting in a church-only setting all the time just naturally leads to the development of this language. That some people retain it after the mission is not surprising. This would also explain why men seem to use these inside jokes more than women, since more men than women serve missions.

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  18. h_nu on September 26, 2012 at 4:51 PM

    I think it’s amazing the broad, unsupported, and silly assertions the author seems to have made… It’s doubtful that he knows that “women enjoy the temple less than men”. It’s certainly not a scientific statement, just another liberal-intellectual claiming to know something which he doesn’t.

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  19. Anon on September 26, 2012 at 9:58 PM


    Is it true that they are only showing the older temple video now? I went to the temple to take out my endowment and was quite unhappy with the experience, but I have been thinking of going back. However, I’ve heard the newer video (Blonde Eve?) is much better and I was hoping I could watch that version.

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  20. Jon on September 27, 2012 at 8:07 AM

    The first time I went through my step dad asked what I thought once I got in the celestial room. My response: “That was weird.”

    I remember as a kid people would scorn other religions that wouldn’t do an immersion baptism – and then say the baptism wasn’t any good because of that. I wonder if they continue to say that now that the initiatories are only symbolic. I liked it when they weren’t only symbolic. I’ve heard that you used to have to get completely nude since you would get a full “bath” or something. I think that was on Mormon Stories. Is there any truth to that?

    The endowment is interesting in how it teaches the pattern covenant-token-sign. The same pattern in taught in the BoM (in Alma) for baptism (covenant to follow Jesus-actual baptism as a token or symbol-the sign is the accompaniment of the Holy Ghost). So many of us get baptized when we are young that I wonder how many of us skip the personal covenant part.

    I agree with Jenn. As a people we can see patterns in anything. Just read some of the really far fetched conspiracy theories out there where they find patterns in numbers and everything. Or look at the Catholics that see the image of Mary in many things. Or how we look at rocks and boulders and see likeness of nature/people in them.

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  21. Bishop Rick on September 27, 2012 at 6:11 PM

    Jon (20)
    You would get fully nude (under a robe).
    By that definition, we are all fully nude under our clothes.

    I think the Temple Ceremony is secret.
    You can say sacred if it makes you feel better, but even sacred things can be discussed outside the temple with non-Mormons to boot, so I don’t feel that definition is totally accurate.

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  22. Joseph S. on September 28, 2012 at 2:41 AM

    Bishop Rick (21)
    Not a robe, but a shield. And it didn’t shield much.

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  23. Jon on September 28, 2012 at 8:44 AM

    If that is all he meant by nude then that wasn’t as big of a deal. I thought he meant, not even a shield.

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  24. Rigel Hawthorne on September 28, 2012 at 6:00 PM

    If you watch the movie September Dawn, the initiates walk fully nude into an ordinance room, get into a tub, and have gobs and gobs of oil poured onto your head. This was representing the 1850s era washing and annointing by a non-LDS director. I would think that the ordinance must have done research to accurately represent the ordinance at that time, but don’t know for sure. It doesn’t bother me if that was the case at the time. The room was rather dimly lit in the depicition, which made it look unfamiliar, but I suppose lighting sources at the time were not as luminous either.

    My sister will be disappointment about the removal of the blonde Eve movie. She felt that the blonde actress gave Eve a more intelligent portrayal.

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  25. Rigel Hawthorne on September 28, 2012 at 6:05 PM

    I don’t make inside jokes from the temple, generally.

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  26. Bishop Rick on September 28, 2012 at 8:08 PM

    Joseph S (22)
    I didn’t really like the term “robe”.
    I think “shield” is more accurate.

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  27. MH on September 28, 2012 at 11:24 PM

    Rigel, I haven’t seen September Dawn, but I have heard it plays pretty loose with the facts, so I question how much homework the director did. In 1857, there were no temples completed in Utah. (St George wouldn’t be completed until 1877, and SL was 1893.) There was an endowment house completed in 1855, so I guess it is possible that may have been used. Do you remember the setting?

    I’m still trying to remember a specific instance of a person being washed fully nude, and I can’t think of any, so I question this. I know that in the Kirtland Endowment (which was really what we would call Washing and Anointing), they often washed in “perfumed spirits” (such as whiskey and cinnamon, if I remember correctly.) With alcohol and cinnamon being much less plentiful than water, I don’t think they bathed in the stuff. Some of the early Kirtland references discuss washing the face and the feet. (What’s really ironic about that is this: can you imagine coming out of the temple smelling like whiskey?)

    Anyway, I’m just look for a better reference for this complete bathing. I didn’t see it in a quick look of “Mysteries of Godliness” by David Buerger.

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  28. Rigel Hawthorne on September 29, 2012 at 12:35 AM

    The details are a bit sketchy, so I may not remember all of this. The non-committed son of the over-zealous bishop-type character played by Jon Voit was ordered out of bed to go and get his endowment one morning, not being forewarned and prepared. He questioned Voit that he couldn’t go without getting a recommend, but Voit indicated as bishop, he was the decision maker about who gets recommends.

    Then there was a brief scene in a dimly lit room, depicting what I described. No exterior temple shot was taken as I recall, and you are right, in that they may have been trying to represent the endowment house. Brief moments of the washing and annointing and moments of a group receiving the endowment were depicted.

    I certainly question the accuracy of the homework done. From the older style dialog used for the depiction of the endowment, it would appear that some homework was done.

    The tone of the scene as with the depiction of Brigham Young and other LDS leaders in the movie would lead a watcher to believe that no reasonable person would want to affiliate with the Mormons without threat and coercion.

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  29. MH on September 29, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    Yes, as I’ve heard, September Dawn was a bit of a hatchet job on Mormons and Brigham Young especially. The Endowment House is several hundred miles from Cedar City, so I find the representation as straining credulity. Your depiction of the events seems quite fictional–I can’t imagine anyone being rousted out of bed to get an endowment done–that just seems really strange. Endowments were for members that demonstrated worthiness; it wasn’t done without the participants willingness, so I find that depiction really strange and without merit. People aren’t walking around the temple completely nude, so I find such depictions lacking credibility. I don’t think the shield is the most modest thing a person could wear, (it is probably analogous to a hospital gown that covers the necessities), but nude depictions seem designed for shock value and are lacking authenticity.

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  30. Jon on September 29, 2012 at 9:55 PM

    The depiction that Rigel talked about is what I remember from the Mormon Stories’ interview, not that story, just the temple ordinance. Of course, that doesn’t really mean anything, it could have been a different podcast I was listening to, or it could have been one of the anti-mormon guys that are just spreading falsities. It would be interesting to know if there is any truth to it.

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  31. Natsy on September 29, 2012 at 11:22 PM

    Jenn – I love your comments. Your spiritual path and revelations sound nearly identical to my own.

    I haven’t been to the temple (and at this point, it’s looking like I never will go) but when I was 13/14 years old in Sunday School my teacher was talking about the priesthood and brought up how woman were in charge of some ordinances in the temple (or he said something like that) and then concluded with the statement “but you wouldn’t want men in there for that part anyway.” and he said it in this way that had me totally freaked out. It sat there percolating for years and everytime someone brought up the temple I would get this uneasy feeling because of what he said and the shadowy references others made when I tried to ask them.

    Finally, I spoke to my friends who have gone through the temple and they gave me the real details of how it works. I thought it sounded strange but nothing to freak out about. I wasn’t imagining some kind of bizarre naked ceremony anymore.

    (Now, I’m just not concerned with going through, because I don’t think I really believe anymore, which is a totally different subject.)

    Point is I think the Church should be MUCH more open about what goes on in the temple.

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  32. graceforegrace on September 30, 2012 at 11:01 AM


    I actually was a temple worker for a year after we were married and from what I can remember (I haven’t been to the temple in awhile), the only thing that we strongly promise not to reveal are the signs and tokens. Other than that, I always thought it was fair game to discuss the movie and other things that go on inside the temple.

    I would be curious to know what “5 parts” of the ceremony aren’t allowed to discuss, but it appears that now you can’t even tell me that when we are in the temple!

    My thoughts on the temple is that we make it too big of a deal to keep it hush-hush. If we were more open about it, it wouldn’t be such a big deal for people and we could possibly have better missionary moments. Furthermore, from personal experience, people could be better prepared before going through the temple.

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  33. MH on September 30, 2012 at 1:40 PM

    Those 5 parts are the signs, tokens and names.

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