When I was still single, I spoke with one of my engaged friends about her recent interview with our stake president in preparation for her upcoming temple wedding. I was shocked that she had promised him that she would only use birth control for the first four months of her marriage. What?! Since when were such pledges a prerequisite to temple marriage?
Fast forward two years. I was engaged myself and still living in the same stake with the same stake president. My fiancé and I scheduled our prenuptial bishop and stake president interviews. I was nervous. I had no intention of making such a pledge but the stake president held a lot of power over me. Would he refuse to sign off on my temple marriage if I disagreed with his directives about family planning (or the lack thereof)?
“Your friend probably asked the stake president for his opinion about birth control. It wouldn’t surprise me if that is what he said; he has very conservative views,” my bishop conjectured. Then he made an excellent suggestion. “I would recommend that you don’t ask the stake president for any advice. I don’t think he will counsel you about birth control if you don’t ask him about it, but if he does, just tell him that you are going to make this a private decision between you, your fiancé and the Lord.”
I did not ask the stake president for any advice and was relieved that he did not give me any. Our temple wedding was approved. Three years after our wedding, exactly when we were good and ready, we welcomed our first child to our family, without any unnecessary guilt about breaking some stupid pledge to a stake president.
I wonder how many other crises of bad counsel from priesthood leaders could be averted if we members exercised a bit more autonomy and nondisclosure. Our clergy, after all, are only regular laypeople. Unlike trained therapists, they do not have specialized training about how to counsel people without pushing their personal opinions. Let’s not tempt our priesthood leaders to give us bad advice. We can keep personal decisions to ourselves.