Sunday, August 14, 2016

If I could change one moment in time... talking about the temple

I was in early morning seminary at the time and someone said "what about the changes in the temple?"  Let's just freeze that moment, press pause.  There is so much awkward tension at that moment, the temple is so sacred that it is mostly secret.  So I knew practically nothing about the temple and had virtually no way to learn about its history.  I knew supposedly there were "anti-mormon lies" circulating about the temple but had been taught to ignore them.  I had picked up a few tidbits from searching in an electronic LDS reference library, but knew virtually nothing.

Press play, the teacher is responding, a man I look up to tremendously as an extremely educated and as a religiously mature man... "The wording of the temple ceremony has only been modernized and the words of the covenants themselves has never been changed."

Let's stop.  One reason I've managed to keep from feeling as angry about my time growing up Mormon is that there are very few times important to me where I feel like I was intentionally deceived.  Many of the untrue things I was taught, I fully believe the people who taught me them believed them fully and were acting with good intentions.  Unfortunately, this is one situation where I'm honestly not sure if I was intentionally lied to or not.  Significant changes to the covenants had been made within recent living memory when this moment happened.  Unless you define some of the covenants as not covenants, because they don't feel important enough to count, this statement should have been obviously not true.  Maybe that was how he viewed the subject, feeling that unedifying covenants should be viewed as ceremonial in nature and not truly part of the covenants as he understood them.

If you go back through the history of the temple there are many changes, covenants added and removed, doctrines added and removed, elements that no longer seemed helpful or useful being removed or replaced.  I would have expected that if anyone knew the basic history of changes to the temple, he would, since he claimed to know answers to questions about it.  You don't normally make bold proclamations like that regarding anything unless you have actually studied up on the subject.  But maybe that is my own personal bias showing up... I know this teacher was fully capable of forming very strong opinions about historical events that no one has any way of knowing about based on his feelings.  Typical Mormons have virtually no access to information about the temple's history, so maybe he thought he knew about the temple because of how his idea of the past made him feel but hadn't ever learned the real truth.  One way or another, I'd never really felt betrayed except by that one moment.

As a result of believing what he said, I assumed the temple ceremony had been preserved pristine as handed down from the mind of God.  Why wouldn't I?  If it had only been "language modernized" then of course the influence of man and the culture of man should have had almost no effect.  When I went through the temple the first time, I imagined the ceremony existing in a chain of unbroken existence back to Adam, imagining the sacred secrets being passed down in caves or on mountain tops, imagining everything being perfect...  But the one place I expected to find virtually uninfluenced by man had so many changes and man made influences, I was astonished.  The temple fell dramatically from representing the very pinnacle of what it meant to be LDS as I understood it to, well, I wasn't sure what.

I wish I could rewind back to that cursed moment and change it.  Here is what I wish someone had told me:

God speaks to us through and knowing the culture we are in.  Our culture is imperfect.  So, historically many things in the temple have inevitably been of human origin.  As a result, human imperfections affect it and our leaders try to respond to those imperfections by fixing them.  So yes, the temple has changed, generally in ways you'd appreciate if you knew the details.  In general the changes have allowed the ceremony to focus more on God and less on cultural things that the early church leaders found fascinating or influences from their personal flaws that they tried to project back on God.  Church leaders are human and make mistakes even sometimes in how they set up the temple.  The important thing to realize is that God accepts and redeems us despite our tendency to make mistakes.  So if something in the church past or present, even in the temple, doesn't seem right and you wonder whether  God or man is responsible, feel free to wonder.  Maybe its a genuine mistake, maybe you simply don't understand enough yet.  We don't know all of where God is leading us or where he might still be finding us lacking.  But the journey to God that we undertake in life and through the temple is a beautiful and a vital journey to undertake.

I know there are many reasons conversations like that don't happen in the LDS church.  It would undermine the entire concept of why the leadership needs to be taken as seriously they do.  But I wish it could have happened that way.  That kind of humility in teaching about leadership and history would heal quite a few of the problems in the LDS church.  I might still have left the LDS church, but it wouldn't have been anywhere near as traumatic to have tried to have stayed in.  And if I felt the need to leave, it wouldn't have been so traumatic.