Withholding for You, My Foremother

Posted by on May 13, 2013 in temple, women | 37 comments

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Dear Foremother:

As I hold this card and read your name, I think about your country, your century, your life you left long ago. Your existence in a world without antibiotics, with no choice but unmedicated child birth. Because I have this card, I know you have been baptized by proxy, released from a prison that held your spirit and welcomed into the fold of the faithful. You’ve been confirmed a member of the church, my church, a church you didn’t even know existed when you walked this earth, should you choose to accept this ordinance done for you in your name. You’ve been washed and anointed, a proxy body gently blessed with words that are specific, delicate, and surging with power.

You’ve been tenderly dressed, in a body not your own, in a garment of priesthood power to shield you, protect you, and remind you of your blessings and covenants. And for all this I am glad for you, dear Grandmother, one who walked this earth so many decades ago, that you’ve been given the opportunity to accept this service in your name, performed on your behalf. That perhaps now, years, maybe even centuries after your death, ceremonies are enacted just for you. I have not forgotten you.

But now I hold your card, and I think about the promises that lie ahead to be made on your behalf. That you will be put under covenant, as a punishment for Eve’s choice, to place your husband between you and our Heavenly Father. That you will listen to this man, as if his words were the words of God. Five days before my marriage, I made this covenant myself. I did it because I loved the man I was about to marry, a gentleman, an educated man, a man who I believed would never use this covenant to come between me and God, even though it was his right to do so, even though I had been made to promise so. In my eyes, I saw my future husband to be perfect. But even the best of men are not perfect: they commit acts of commission and omission, and mine did not necessarily advertise these to me, to tell me when he was hearkening to God and when he was not. But still, he is a good man and kind husband, and I made a covenant to hear and obey. I did not like that covenant, I would not have asked God for it, and it put my teeth on edge. But I covenanted out of sheer love for the man I wanted to give my life to, if only he could do and feel the same for me.

But what about you, dear Foremother? What of your husband? Now that your life is long gone, did he do well by you? Would you make, voluntarily, this same covenant to place him between you and the Lord, to make him the mouthpiece of God for you? If I offer to make this covenant for you today, you can accept it, or you can reject it; but the covenants are what they are, offered now, they are your only chance. If someone had drawn your card decades ago, you would have been offered a different covenant, one of strict obedience to your husband, and your covenants would have been sealed with an oath on your life and promised against your own execution. Not so now. I offer you something gentler: Just treat your husband’s words and he would treat God’s words. And when two proxies seal you up together in eternity, allow yourself to be given to him, forever swallowed up in him, as he receives you fully. A gentler, softer surrender than those who received ordinances before you.

As you can see, the sacred covenants change through time in promise and presentation. As we ask, new doors are opened. The cultures and philosophies of the human race dwindle away, and the covenants become more pure, more loving, more directly connecting us with God. I am grateful I am not bound by the covenants my mother was bound to. And I hope my children will not be bound to the exact covenants that bind me now. I hope that further light and knowledge will cease to punish the daughters of Eve for her transgression and place us, once again, on equal footing with our spirit brothers.

Now I look at your name, old Grandmother, on this pink card. You are now freed from spirit prison. Should I take you and your name and place you into another, a prison where your direct line to God you received through confirmation is suddenly intercepted by limited man? Or should I wait on the hope, dear Grandmother, that change is coming. That if I wait, you will be able to receive your ordinances without covenanting to accept the curse on our first mother for ushering in our existence. That when you receive your one opportunity to accept exalting ordinances, you will receive ordinances that tie you directly to God, where your femaleness does not create an eternal separation currently reserved only for daughters, placed under sons, in this hierarchical state of communication.

Do I enter in and bind you now? Or hope that one day there will be a better offering that I can give you, dear Foremother: an unmediated connection to God, adding upon the connection you received along with the Holy Ghost. When that day comes, I will take up this card and enter in for you. But for now, it is too much to forever bind another to a presentation of a covenant that I hope, I feel, is changing, to make a better eternity for you than the one I have entered into myself. For you, I will have to wait.

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37 Comments

  1. This resonates with me, Alisa. I find the temple hearken covenant inordinately painful. The last time I went I just sobbed and sobbed as soon as we came to that part of the ceremony. I felt a lot of guilt for a very long time about not wanting to go back to the temple, but I’ve come to peace with it now. I’m a much happier Mormon if I don’t put myself in a position where I am articulating a promise that is so hurtful to me.

    I think the reasons you mention for not doing the endowment are powerful too. It doesn’t feel right to me to make that promise, for myself or for anyone else. And I too have faith that the covenant will change.

  2. This is beautiful and powerful, Alisa. It is a very different perspective on doing temple work and sealings, and something that is very important to consider and understand becfor just “checking off” a type of genology checklist. This is much more personal, peaceful, compassionate. Thank you.

  3. Beautiful. Your foremothers would be proud. And, no doubt, like you, they are patient.

    Bless you. Thank you for this lovely letter.

  4. When I first went to the temple I didn’t know what was coming, and I felt like I’d been slapped when I heard the hearkening covenant. Like you, Alisa, I got through it because I wanted to marry my husband.

    I’ve adopted your position by default (that is, by no longer attending the temple I do not perform vicarious ordinance work for my ancestors or anyone else’s), but your position is much more thoughtful and deliberate than mine. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Thank you, Caroline, Spunky, Melody, and Emily U for your thoughts and understanding. In the past, I have been a person to attend the temple almost weekly, and I really felt that I was doing spirits on the other side a huge service. I really tried to think about them and who they were, and thought it was beautiful that they were not forgotten in our eyes.

    But the more I began to feel uncomfortable about some of the temple ceremony that I went through–which I did because marrying my husband there was most important–the more I started wondering if I was really doing these women a service by covenanting them into submission and removing that tie they received at their proxy confirmations with God. I wanted to attend the temple, but because I was doing it in their name, they were being put under current covenants that are probably going to change for the better in the future.

    I still believe that baptisms for the dead are important if our understanding of the spirit world is correct, but as far as endowments and sealings for women, I hope wordings will again change and evolve with revelation, and that many spirits will benefit from more egalitarian language in the covenants that are made on their behalf.

  6. Very beautifully written, indeed. I have the same feeling about sealing. I have not done it for myself or others. I am waiting for that ordinance to be corrected, to empowers me as a woman and as a daughter of God and Eve and not punish me for something that we glorify in words but apparently not in action (when it comes to covenants).

    I love temples and any holy place from any religion for that matter. They are all sacred to me. But I get involved only in pilgrimages and rituals that make me feel empowered and increase my faith.

    • Yes! I understand this. What I read by modern-day prophets does not mesh with Eve being placed under covenant as part of her curse in the temple. Prior to my endowment, I had read some wonderfully venerating and inspiring teachings about Mother Eve by LDS leaders. When I went to the temple, it was all taken away, like the restoration had taught us nothing new about the importance and righteousness of her role. It was completely heartbreaking. Not to mention I had always thought the 2nd Article of Faith should apply to Eve’s actions and women as it does to Adam’s actions and men.

  7. Thank you Alisa. You summed up how I feel about the temple beautifully. It hurt to make promises for women that I did not feel comfortable making for myself. It felt wrong, when these women were not present, to bind them to something without their say. I felt like I was doing harm, not helping them. If I felt so disturbed by the temple covenants, felt they cut me off from God and put my husband in God’s place, how could I, in good conscious, make those promises for another? It’s one of the reasons I no longer attend the temple, and haven’t for years, even though I hold a recommend.

    • Thank you, Liz. Ditto.

  8. Beautiful post. The difficulty I have, though, is that it seems like you’re taking the decision out of her hands. Would you bar your daughter going to the temple to get her endowments because you don’t want her to enter this covenant? Even if she was fully aware of what she would be doing and felt it was important anyway?

    I know this part of the endowment is wrong, and that it will have no efficacy now or in the afterlife. I dearly hope it will be changed soon. Simplest, for now, would be to whisper (or even just say in your mind) “Yes” at the covenent the men make, and ignore the one the women make. But don’t deprive your foremother of the rest of the blessings of the endowment because you want to protect her from this part that will have no effect on her own progress.

    • I think it’s about *when* she’s given this choice that I’m worried about. If it’s offered to her now, she can only choose to accept an inherently problematic and sexist covenant, but if it’s offered to her after the covenant changes, say 5 years in the future, hypothetically she’ll be able to choose to accept an egalitarian covenant that doesn’t give her Eve’s curse (or she could reject this work then as well). The choice is hers to reject or accept the covenant, but not what the terms of that covenant are. We on the other side are the ones responsible for offering her the terms of that covenant, and if I wait, I think we as a church can negotiate some better terms for her–I can rely on revelation to remove Eve’s curse from the ceremony and cease to punish all her daughters with a flawed covenant.

      Since it’s an eternal thing for the woman I stand in for as proxy, and since she’s already received the saving ordinances of baptism, confirmation, and the Holy Ghost, I think waiting a few years for more equitable terms in her exalting ordinances will pay off through eternity. Unlike baptism, which will move her spirit from prison to paradise right now and have impact to her spiritual existence, the exaltation ordinances of the endowment won’t have much affect on her spirit body. I think she can wait for something that places her on equal ground with her husband, father, sons throughout eternity and doesn’t punish her unduly for Eve’s transgression.

      • I still wonder why it’s different for someone who is dead vs someone who is living? Would you bar your daughter from taking out her endowments, even if she is perfectly aware of what that entails at this time? Why make your foremother wait, when she could also be anxious for these ordinances to get done?

        Saying there is plenty of time is fine for your own work, but how can you make that judgement for another?

      • Ah, I see your question. I had a part in my post about it, but it was getting too long and I cut it. I feel that a woman who lived, married, had children, and died long before the church was restored can wait 5 or 10 or 20 earth years to get her endowment. She won’t be resurrected any time soon, and since she’s lived her life already and has been baptized for the dead, she can wait. She knows she’s in the records and that it will be pushed through for her eventually. And she’s not bearing any children.

        If I were waiting for myself, my husband and I would still not be married in the temple, and our children not be in the covenant, and would miss out on those blessings in this lifetime. Since the exalting covenants are for those in the body–either a mortal body or a resurrected body–it matters to us. The shield and protection of the garment matter to us, but cannot matter to a spirit body. Those who are in spirit paradise don’t need their sealings until the resurrection, and they don’t bear children either in or out of the covenant.

        Would I want my daughter to wait for a more egalitarian covenant and not take the current one? Maybe, but it’s not my choice. I would certainly tell her the pros and cons as I see them, should she ask my counsel.

        Pros: you can marry a man who will only marry in the temple, children born under the covenant, you do your ordinance work for yourself, you may not be offered another chance, a life outside of the temple is rarely a fully active Mormon life.

        *None of these “pros” really apply to someone who’s already dead and in the spirit, but to someone who is living.*

        Cons: you’ll be sealed forever under a temporally sexist covenant, you’ll be forced unfairly to covenant to consequences of Eve’s transgression, you won’t get to have your husband give himself to you in your marriage. You’ll be placed in a subordinate position to your husband. You’ll give him your name, and he won’t give you his, etc.

        *Unfortunately, these “cons” apply to both the dead and the living.*

      • Thank you, Alisa. :)

      • This is a little bit of a tangent, but in reply to Frank’s question re: would I let my daughter be endowed: I wouldn’t let her be endowed the same way I was. That is, ignorant of the covenants she will be asked to make in a split second or else she will be either embarrassed in front of her family and fellow saints in the temple that day (at best), or will not be allowed to serve God the way she feels called to do so via a mission (worse), or not be able to marry the man she loves (even worse).

        I find current temple practices extraordinarily manipulative because it operates on ignorance. This strikes me as directly contrary to God’s way, which should prioritize making an informed and committed decision, rather than one made on the basis of coercion and surprise and in order to avoid unpleasant consequences.

        So, no. I would not let my daughter receive her endowment the way things currently work. Instead I would fully educate her about all of the covenants she would be asked to make. I would try to do so as evenly as I could, presenting both the harsh interpretation of the “hearken” covenant (it means women submitting to men and no longer having a direct relationship with God) as well as the more benign interpretation (women hearken *insofar* as, rather than in the same manner as, men hearken to God, which requires women to have an ongoing and close relationship with God; of course this, in some views, sets women up as judges over men, which is also problematic). I would share both the conventional understanding of the endowment and my own rather unorthodox understanding. And I think I would do a pretty good job of evenly representing both pros and cons, since I both love and hate the temple. Since it informs both my deepest held spiritual beliefs and my deepest held convictions that the church must change. And after I felt she had had adequate time to think it through, ask her questions, study it out, and make a choice, then yes. At that point I would encourage her to receive her endowment if that’s what she felt was right.

        But receiving your endowment in ignorance of what the covenants are that you’ll be asked to make, in the circumstances in which you are asked to make them, and with the eternal consequences attached to them–I find that deeply problematic. (As a side note, I do not consider myself bound by covenants I was asked to make without understanding fully in advance what those covenants are.) In fact, it is one of the things that makes me feel like the church does a better job in some ways of following Satan’s plan than Jesus’s. To be frank.

      • I find current temple practices extraordinarily manipulative because it operates on ignorance. This strikes me as directly contrary to God’s way, which should prioritize making an informed and committed decision, rather than one made on the basis of coercion and surprise and in order to avoid unpleasant consequences.

        Excellent point, Amelia. I really like how you put this!

  9. Interesting. I had never looked at it like this before. Do you believe that if the covenants change, anyone who made the previous covenant will be held to it? I always just figured (without really thinking about it) that I would be held to whatever the most recent covenants were. But like I said, I never really thought about it, and maybe that’s not right…

    • I think you bring up such an interesting point, Christi. Of course I don’t know, and can only speculate. But the people who I spoke to who were endowed prior to the change in the early 1990s tell me that they feel that they are bound by the covenants they made at the time when they were making them for themselves. My in-laws tell me they still feel bound by the execution oaths they took, that to them “they’re still there,” and in place. A new person going through today would have no clue that these existed at all.

      It would seem odd for me to be bound by covenants that I haven’t made or that will be made by other people in the future, but I’m not going to throw out your idea. I think it’s an interesting one that deserves consideration.

    • This is similar to a question I had while reading your post (a beautiful post, by the way). I do not believe a just and merciful God could expect anyone to be eternally bound by an inherently flawed covenant. Which I believe the hearken covenant to be. If the covenant really is wrong–if it’s truly unjust and unmerciful and incorrect to redirect a woman’s relationship with God through her relationship with her husband so she no longer has an unmitigated relationship with God–then I can’t believe that such a covenant would bind her eternally. Instead, I would assume the most correct form of the covenant would be what is binding in the eternal scheme. Believing that the particulars of an incorrect covenant are what is binding feels a little too “letter of the law” for me.

      That doesn’t mean I think this line of thinking about the temple is problematic. While I don’t think that a deceased woman would be in eternal submission because her proxy work was done while a flawed covenant was in place, I do think it’s good to think about the consequences of participating in temple work when these problems exist. Of even symbolically or temporarily accepting women’s submission to men and disconnect from deity. Not just because of how it might impact a deceased spirit’s choices and understanding, but because of how it impacts my own choices and understanding. And that of my sisters and brothers.

      Anyway, I’m glad this question came up because it was one I was curious about while reading.

      • Beautifully put, Amelia. I hope you, and Christi, and Em are really on to something more true here. Less literal, more merciful.

      • Another thing I thought of, maybe our foremothers would be more likely to accept the endowment if the covenant was changed? I wouldn’t think there is a time limit on these things, but maybe the hearken covenant would turn them off to the whole thing all together?

  10. Well here is my selfishness. When I go to the temple I often am able to overcome my discomfort by thinking “this isn’t really me saying yes. I am not agreeing to this for ME.” But of course I already did, years before I ever met my husband I agreed to submit to him because I wanted to go on a mission. And even if I’m not now making those covenants for me, I am still making them for a real person.

    I guess I just don’t take it all that literally. As you’ve pointed out, covenants have changed over the course of the last 200ish years, and even within the lifetime of people today. Like Christi I guess I just thought I’d be bound by the most recent version, and since they are getting progressively less oppressive someday my covenants would not be oppressive. Since time is only measured to us, and spirits exist outside of time, whatever covenant I make now coexists in time with every past and future version, and will not be limited by the narrow scope of humans who are influenced by their own prejudices and traditions. I just cannot conceive of an eternal existence characterized by women being second-class citizens.

    That said I have not done an endowment in a year and a half, I feel more comfortable doing initiatory. But I was thinking of doing an endowment session this weekend.

    • I don’t think you’re selfish. I think that’s a pretty natural thing to think.

    • Em – this is something very interesting that I hadn’t thought of. That time is only linear to us, not to God, and that covenants made now coexist with past, present, and future versions. Or at least with the essential pieces of truth that exist in those versions. Since I believe the current endowment contains untruth that will eventually be expunged, I could view an endowment I took part in today as unreal in God’s non-linear time but real only in that the true parts of it transcend time. That kind of mental backbend might get me through an endowment session :)

  11. This is beautiful. Generation after generation have wanted better for their children. I think this is such a compassionate, loving desire – to want better for your forebears also. I would love to re-covenant for my dear Grandma someday when I could give her a better offering.

    • Thank you, Mountaingirl. I do feel like it’s a way of turning my heart to my mothers, by wanting the temple covenants to be less oppressive for them. It’s too late for me, but not for them.

  12. Hey Alisa,

    I don’t like the wording of the temple covenant either. I did wonder if you were suggesting that God really demands that we uphold unjust covenants. That seemed hard for me to swallow: If They do, then They’re not worthy of our worship. Do you think that the covenant your mother covenanted to is still in effect–she has to uphold that harsher wording? If not (if God does not expect us to uphold unjust covenants), then is there any issue with doing proxy work for an ancestor now? Can we imagine that just because someone did a proxy at a specific time and place when the wording was different that that is the only covenant available to them throughout eternity? I can’t accept that. What do you think?

    • It isn’t what I assumed, but I think you may be on to something. I certainly wouldn’t rule out the idea that one can’t be held to an unjust covenant, at least by God. But I have certainly felt harmed in my life by this unjust covenant, and I have had mortals hold this covenant over my head.

      • I do see what you mean by present harm. That is a still a problem. Although we may wonder if (1) the pain is very different on the other side of the veil where they (likely) see things somewhat clearer, and (2) Is there really much less pain in being under the covenant, or not participating in a covenant because of the wording and being upset about that? Admittedly, the levels of pain here are subjective, and would vary from person to person. The fact remains that the pain, as you point out, does exist.

      • Now I don’t know for myself, but my understanding of our theology is that people in the spirit world are on the same side of the veil that we are. As in, they still have no memory of the pre-mortal existence, and according to revelation live in the same society there that we do here. I assume a woman in the spirit world is expected to be subservient to her husband whether in the spirit or the body. That is why I would not place her under such a covenant right now.

  13. Wow! I love this post, Alisa! You highlight so well the problems with the hearken/obey covenant, as well as the questions raised by its changing over time. From one prison to another–great point!

  14. Alisa – “which I did because marrying my husband there was most important…” Wouldn’t a deceased sister consider “marrying her husband” (being sealed to him) also more inportant? Seems like you’re depriving your foremothers the privilege of being sealed to their husbands. You say “They’ve waited this long, they can wait another 5 or 10 or 20 years.” I wonder how you would feel, in the Spirit World, if you weren’t sealed to your spouse and children.

    • Wondering, what would be the difference between a spirit body that has been baptized and confirmed a member, washed and anointed, but is not yet sealed to her spouse and a spirit body that is sealed to her spouse? What would be the very real differences for that person?

      On the other hand, what is the difference for a living Mormon couple who is not sealed in the temple and having children and one who is living, sealed in the temple, and having children?

      I can answer the second scenario and say that there is a difference for a non-sealed active Mormon couple bearing children and living on earth today. But I believe there is no difference in the first scenario where the spirits are not bearing children. The blessings, or “pros” (as I mentioned in my comment to Frank above) of the endowments and sealings are for people who have bodies. As long as they get this work done for them prior to their resurrection, I don’t think it’s necessary now.

      • I think you’re not correct. When work is done vicariously, the ordinance has to be accepted AND the person must honor the related covenants, even if in the Spirit World. Handbook 2, 2.1.2. You seem preoccupied with child bearing when in fact, the sealing ordinance consists of many covenants. Multiplying and replentishing the earth is just one of them, and in fact is said even when older couples (past child bearing years) are sealed in the temple.

      • I’d ask you again, which of the blessings of the sealing would they be able to enjoy while only in spirit bodies? They can’t inherit kingdoms, principalities, dominions, etc. etc. until they are resurrected. They can’t multiply and replenish the earth (which they even aren’t blessed with in proxy sealings). So what blessings of the sealing do they get in spirit bodies, as opposed to resurrected bodies? What advantage does having a spirit body give them in the sealing? I say, it doesn’t matter one bit to a spirit body. That sealing is meant for beings who have bodies. Period. They only reap the benefit of their sealing when they are reunited with their bodies.

  15. Just my 2 cents, but I would think we’d only be held to the correct covenant, whatever that turns out to be.

    We are human and while some things come to us directly, word for word, from God (“This is my beloved Son, hear him.”) and many more things come to us indirectly and are subject to interpretation.

    I believe covenants are primarily about humility and obedience. While we may not have the exact proper wording for all the covenants (as evidenced by changes over time) I believe that what we’ll be held to in the eternities are the correct principles and covenants. i.e. I think we’ll get credit for doing the best we can here on earth, but if an incorrect interpretation changes the meaning I feel we’ll be held to the “correct” interpretation in the next life, not the incorrect mortal interpretation.

    And that is what I believe for myself.

    • But what would it mean for them being placed under that covenant now before the truth is more fully revealed? It would mean that they, like me now, would experience the pain of being forced to be punished for Eve’s transgression. Even erroneously.

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