Relief Society Lesson #8: Temple Blessings for Ourselves and Our Ancestors

If you can’t tell by now, I am the kind of girl who grabs the devil by the horns. So- with that in mind, I dive head-first into the controversy of this lesson:

In the last few months, divisiveness has arisen in regard to the temple policy of the church in regard to doing ordinance work on behalf of the dead. A letter from the First Presidency was read in meetinghouses across the world reiterating the church policy that “Without exception, Church members must not submit for proxy temple ordinance any names from unauthorised groups, such as celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims. If members do so, they may forfeit their New FamilySearch privileges. Other corrective action may also be taken.” (Letter to the Members of the Church from Thomas S. Monson, et al., 29 Feb. 2012)  

Why do you think unauthorised temple work is such as issue? Do we show integrity when we do work from groups or individuals who have asked us to not do the work? How can we show integrity in doing temple work? Consider this:

I have a friend who was married to a non-member. He did not like her wearing garments, so she made the choice to not wear them, even though she had been through the temple. Because this was a May-September marriage (i.e. she was younger than he), they openly talked about what she would do after his death—including the fact that he did not want her to do his temple work. They both were from Utah, so he was well familiar with the church and as a couple they had even done church history research. After he died, she kept her word, and has not done his work for him. This is in accordance with church policy, as he specifically asked for her to NOT have his work done for him posthumously.

I have another friend who I saw investigate the church for decades. He was a dear friend of the family, attended church on Sundays and even visited us when we left for college/university in Utah (something that my father was unable to do because of his early death from lung cancer). This friend was always available to help. Like my father, he had been a smoker since he was about 12 years old. He told me that he wanted to be a member of the church—but he wanted to quit smoking first. I saw him try to quit for at least 2 decades, without success. A few years ago, he contacted my brother and invited him and my brother’s nearly college-age brood to join him for a baseball game. They all went, laughed and had a grand time. Within a week, we had news of his death. The baseball game was his goodbye; he had cancer, but did not tell us. We were not related to him, he never married, his siblings had passed away and he left no family. Just recently, we obtained permission and did his work.  This was one of the most rewarding temple experiences I have ever had in my life.

Again: Why do you think unauthorised temple work is such as issue? Do we show integrity when we do work from groups or individuals who have asked us to not do the work? How can we show integrity in doing temple work?

The sub title of this chapter reads: The purpose of temples is to provide a place where holy ordinances are performed for the living and for the dead.  (pg. 81)

Re: “holy ordinances”. Can an ordinance be “holy” if it done in a manner that is of questionable integrity, even if the intention is good?  How can we ensure that the work done in the temple is upheld to a standard that would be pleasing to Christ?

Now- to get into the text of the lesson:

In 1905, as a new Apostle, George Albert Smith toured several important Church history sites with President Joseph F. Smith and other members of the Quorum of the Twelve. One place they visited was Kirtland, Ohio, where the early Saints had built the first temple in this dispensation. “Coming in sight of the town,” Elder Smith recalled, “the first thing that greeted our vision was the beautiful temple of Kirtland. … It was there that the Prophet Joseph Smith and [Oliver Cowdery] saw the Savior upon the breastwork of the pulpit. It was there that Moses committed to them the keys of the gathering of Israel; and that Elias and Elijah came in the power and majesty of their great callings, and delivered the keys that had been committed to their care in the days of their ministry on the earth.”

As the group walked through the temple, Elder Smith thought about the devoted Saints who built it. “When we realized that the building was constructed by people in extreme poverty, how courageous men worked during the day to lay the foundations and build the walls of that structure, and then at night stood and defended it with weapons against those who had sworn that the building should never be completed, we could not help but feel that it was no wonder the Lord received their offerings and blessed them as few people have been blest upon the earth.”

In this General Conference just passed, it was reported that “With the dedication of new temples in Guatemala and El Salvador and the rededication of the Atlanta Georgia Temple, there are now 136 temples in operation throughout the world.” (as reported here in the Deseret News)

How far is the closest temple to you? How far is the closest family history centre?

The physical distance and ability to attend the temple has greatly increased since George Albert Smith’s day.  Now, because I like to highlight the participation of women, I think is it valuable to relate the idea of women’s involvement in international temple and chapel construction. Indeed, the Relief Society first started because a few of the women gathered to sew shirts for “temple workmen”. (see the Relief Society Minute Book) We all know that in the early days of the church, members picked up saw and hammer and were a part of the physical construction of chapels and temples. Even when the international church building program began in 1956, many members outside of the American southwest can recall physically working on temple and chapel building sites. (A darling elderly sister once smartly told me that she helped to pull the ropes and construct the steeple of the Sutherland Chapel in Sydney, Australia- “sliding down it was a good game!” she said of the steeple before clarifying that she was respectful after it was in place).

In this period, prior to the modern obligation to obtain governmental approval and compliance with municipal construction codes, member women in the 1950’s-1970’s made meals and laundered clothes for the member-men who were the main construction hands at the chapel and temple build sites. The sisters also went to the building sites after the men had finished work in the evenings to sweep, clean and re-stack bricks so the men had a fresh work site to return to the following day. In addition to this, the Relief Society was the major fundraising source to finance construction of the chapels and temples in this period. They sewed, hemmed, crafted, cooked, baked and cleaned for money that was donated to pay for construction (see the Claremont University Mormon Australian Women’s Histories). Personally, I have a vague memory of a service auction where my mother baked pies to help pay for the chapel construction of our then-small branch in New York. I was rather unhappy at my mother’s delicious pies going to someone else. I was also upset because we used to have primary at my house because there was no chapel, so the idea of having primary someplace other than my bedroom was not well-received. I got over it. This “home” former-branch is now a stake.

In short, the unpaid financial contribution of WOMEN in the church made it possible for chapels and temples to be constructed. Every time you see a church building that was constructed prior to the mid- 1980’s, take a moment to appreciate the back-breaking, penny pinching, fund-raising dedication of time, talent and money that was given by women that made that building possible. Church records often neglect to reflect this work of women, only reporting on the physical statistics of the buildings and number of male priesthood leaders at the construction sites. I think is it a sin of omission to forget the dedication of the women who worked so hard for us to have chapels and temples, so I like to remind, and thank the women “of a certain age” in our wards, and ask them what they did to help in building the local chapels and temples.

I also thing is it imperative to understand that these women did the work for us; they wanted their posterity— you and me, to have chapels and temples to meet, become friends, and grow together in the spirit of Christ. Our foremothers worked to construct these buildings for us; do not forget them or their contribution.

“What is it that drives people to sacrifice all if necessary to receive the blessings available only in the temple? It is the faith and their spiritual witness of the importance of covenants with God and the immense possibilities they open up to us. In the temple, the house of the Lord, we may participate in ordinances and covenants that span the distance between heaven and earth and prepare us to return to God’s presence and enjoy the blessings of eternal families and eternal life.” – Ardath G. Kapp, The Joy of the Journey, 1992, p 15.

If you are in an area that has a chapel or temple that was constructed prior to 1980, ask if anyone there helped to raise money to fund the building, or if they worked physically on the building. Ask them to share a secret or something fun about the construction of that building. Then ask them to share why they did that work. (Then share the answers in the comments here!)

From the manual:

Each [temple] has been built to one great eternal purpose: to serve as a House of the Lord, to provide a place sacred and suitable for the performing of holy ordinances that bind on earth as in heaven—ordinances for the dead and for the living that assure those who receive them and who are faithful to their covenants, the possession and association of their families, worlds without end, and exaltation with them in the celestial kingdom of our Father.

Now, we all love the idea of a sealed, perfect family. But. Many of us are not from ideal situations and the concept of being sealed can be problematic. Just last week, I met a wonderful, inspirational woman who is divorced. Being me, I asked her how she felt about still being  sealed to a man who was so clearly not worthy of her. She told me, “It doesn’t bother me. I mean, I am sealed to my parents, and my ex-husband- well, that ordinance won’t stick anyway. He isn’t worthy of the temple, and even if he was, our situation was so wrong that it could not be blessed by the spirit. So I am not sealed to him anyway.” (I love smart, strong, women- so although this woman doesn’t know it yet— I have her back for anything. I admired and loved her immediately for her spiritual intellect).

With this in mind, what is the Holy Spirit of Promise?

In cases where there is an unjust obligation, will the sealing of the Holy Spirit of Promise remain intact?

Elder Bruce R. McConkie in his book Mormon Doctrine clarifies this further. He states, “The Holy Spirit of Promise is the Holy Spirit promised the saints, or in other words the Holy Ghost. This name-title is used in connection with the sealing and ratifying power of the Holy Ghost, that is, the power given him to ratify and approve the righteous acts of men so that those acts will be binding on earth and in heaven. ‘All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations,’ must be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, if they are to have ‘efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.’ (D&C 132:7.)

“To seal is to ratify, to justify, or to approve. Thus an act which is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise is one which is ratified by the Holy Ghost; it is one which is approved by the Lord; and the person who has taken the obligation upon himself is justified by the Spirit in the thing he has done. The ratifying seal of approval is put upon an act only if those entering the contract are worthy as a result of personal righteousness to receive divine approbation. They are ‘sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.’ (D&C 76:53.) If they are not just and true and worthy the ratifying seal is withheld. … (bolding is added and the resource and more information is here)

Consider that phrase, “just and true”. Is it just and true to do family history research work? I think so. The goal of this lesson is clearly to teach that we are to do temple work. But if the temple is not available, or we have been asked to NOT do the work for certain family members, groups or individuals, or you are uncomfortable or unable to attend the temple, you can still find joy in doing family history work and collect the information.

Consider this: I attended an academic regional history conference last year. One of the presenters at the conference submitted a paper on her personal family history. I have no idea if this woman was LDS or not, but her paper was brilliant! Her area of research was her great-grandfather. He was an explorer who travelled to every continent by ship in the name of Empire. Her research was in finding all of the children he had fathered in his travels, and reported on how the family had taken the newly discovered connection of a very global and multi-national family from hemisphere to hemisphere. She was clearly not Anglo-Saxon, though her great-grandfather was, and she delighted in the multi-nationality of her family heritage. She included the fact that not all of this newly discovered family were delighted to know how many children great-gandfather had willy-nilly fathered around the world. With this in mind, I know some people might see roses, whilst others might find skeletons. My point is that there is joy in knowing who our family are, even if the situation of the family relationships are not ideal (and don’t kid yourself–  very few family lines are clean-cut and ideal). This woman was so delighted in doing her family research, and spoke warmly of her travels around the world in meeting her extended family that she made me want to do my family research.

The manual includes some stories of George Albert Smith’s personal family history research, so feel free to share those if you are inspired to do so, but better yet, add some of your own family history stories or  invite others to share some fun family history stories.

In closing, I like this quote:

“As a child of God, I feel in my veins not only the physical elements of my creation, but the spiritual principles I have understood for perhaps billions of years—principles such as perfect love, faith and the power of truth. If I try to translate this understanding into a place I can visit on earth, I think first of the temple.” – Deborah Eldredge Milne, Reflections from a Broken Mirror, 1998. P 352.

I believe that perfect love, faith and the power of truth can be found is seeking our mortal roots, and understanding that we do not come from bloodlines of perfection, but we can be perfected in Christ.

 Do you have any family history or church or temple construction stories to share?

Spunky

Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

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10 Responses

  1. Born25 says:

    What a post here.. We really have to be thankful to all our ancestors. They begin what we have now. They are the ones who open our eyes to know more about everything in our surroundings. We should not neglect what they have been given us.

  2. Diane says:

    Spunky

    Thanks for this post.

    You asked,”Again: Why do you think unauthorised temple work is such as issue? Do we show integrity when we do work from groups or individuals who have asked us to not do the work? How can we show integrity in doing temple work?

    We shouldn’t do baptisms for groups of people who do not wish to be baptized. For example, Jews do not want to be baptized by Christians and rightly so. Their Jewish identity was nearly annihilated by Christians in the the Holocaust. In an attempt to protect their children many Jewish parents had their children adopted into Catholic families so they wouldn’t be caught up in the work camps. For, the Lds to do this is the same thing forcing people to give up their natural identity is wrong, plain and simple.

    I’m also deeply disturbed by the fact that the Church took it upon themselves to not only baptized Thomas Jefferson and his slave woman, but, have his slave sealed to him. This bothers me so much and on so many levels that I can not even begin to make a coherent statement. The words sick to my stomach comes to mind, but, I can’t fathom why the church would even consider this to be remotely appropriate.

    • Diane says:

      I want to add, I do agree that their is a great comfort in knowing your family history, even if you don’t like your family. I love the show,”Who do you think you are” I have found some of the histories of people like Martin Sheen, and Ashley Judd, Gweneth Paltrow to be quite fascinating.

    • spunky says:

      I agree with you, Diane. That is why I wanted to focus on familial relationships and point out church policy on not doing the work for those who do not wish it so. I also read about the extremely problematic sealing of Thomas Jefferson to a slave whom he had fathered children with, though they were never married, and she may have been / likely was unwillingly sexually obligated to him (here is the link, for those interested). This is why I chose to also address the Holy Spirit of Promise– to remind people that sealings and ordinance work can only “take” if all parties, including the Holy Spirit, are in favour of the work. I believe that in heaven, we cannot be obligated to unrightful, earthly masters, else it would be hell.

  3. Caroline says:

    Spunky, as usual this is wonderful. Thank you for your insightful thoughts on this topic.

  4. Annie B. says:

    That does comfort me that you mentioned the Holy Spirit of Promise and how that affects the ordinances. Not only for the sealings of slave owners to their sexually abused slaves, but of polygamous unions. I believe the rhetoric in the early days of the church gave many women no choice but to accept a polygamous union. I consider the scripture in D&C 132 commanding women to accept polygamy or be destroyed to be the spiritual equivalent to giving orders to someone while holding a gun to their head.

  5. Melissa Shogren says:

    Thank you so much for this invaluable blog posting. I was to teach a lesson on this chapter, and was feeling listless about it because as a convert, my RS audience, would know way more about Temples (and be bored by it). I based my lesson on your blog, and they loved hearing the thoughts from an Aussie sister! I visited in Canberra back in 1979, and have some fun, and mixed feelings about my visit. But, your info was GREAT! Thanks so much.

  6. Libby says:

    Spunky, thank you! I’m teaching this lesson today and am using a bunch of your ideas (though our meetinghouse and temple were built post-1980, the reality of women contributing to building construction is going to resonate well).

    As for my family history story: 15 years ago (or so) my grandmother was engaged in a book project. She was trying to compile short personal histories from all of the descendants of one particular ancestor. I was her editing/tech/design/layout support, and she was very concerned about a piece of information that made her uncomfortable: in the mid-1800s, in impoverished circumstances in England, this ancestor’s unmarried mother would regularly bribe him with a cigar if he would rock the baby to sleep. (Okay, there’s really no part of this story that didn’t bother her, but the cigar was pretty much the last straw.) She was all for leaving it out of the book, but I said if that detail went, so did I. There’s no value to a dishonest family history, and immense value to an honest one.

  7. Susan says:

    I can’t help but make a comment about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. There is no proof that he fathered her child and he denied the rumors. He has no male decendents so the DNA tests are not reliable. Also, I don’t understand how he and Sally could be sealed without a marriage date. The church needs to have better screening of names submitted so that problems will stop, especially those involving famous people. Most people who turn in names for temple work are honest and sincere but there seems to be a few who aren’t.

    http://eyler.freeservers.com/JeffPers/jefpnotg.htm

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