Covenants: The Stuff of Dreams and Nightmares
I have been thinking and writing about temple covenants during the past few weeks. I am writing a paper for an upcoming Mormon Studies conference and am in the middle of cataloging the changes to the Law of Obedience covenant over the last hundred years. My feelings have alternated between catharsis and anger.
One of the things that I’m finding is that the language for the Law of Obedience covenant that women make, including the things that are promised to them, are made increasingly unclear with each successive language change. Melyngoch’s discussion of the word “hearken” on the Zelophehad’s Daughters blog illustrates some of this problem. This has left me feeling that the authors of these changes never intended to alter the meaning of the covenant, only the language that was used to make the covenant. This has made patriarchal temple covenants easier for some LDS women to accept but more difficult for some to understand and see clearly.
I’m also listening to Brene Brown’s new book Dare to Lead, which is about using research around vulnerability as the foundation for thoughtful and effective leadership strategies. Throughout the text she repeats the phrase “clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Clarity of instructions or feedback is beneficial to colleagues who must act on those instructions or feedback. Avoiding hard conversations by avoiding clear feedback or instructions is not a good leadership strategy, suggests Sister Brown.
This “clear is kind” tip for leaders does not mesh well with my understanding of the history of women’s covenants in LDS temples. Men’s covenants do not change much over time and use clear language. Women’s covenants grow more confusing over time, employing words and phrases with multiple meanings. “Unclear is unkind.” What hard conversations are LDS Church leaders avoiding? What hard conversations are we avoiding?
This has left me feeling a lot of regret and sadness about my experiences in LDS temples. I wish that I had known in advance what I was expected to covenant. So many of my covenants were dangled in front of me with the carrot of a sweet setup in the afterlife. I now struggle with a belief in the afterlife. How am I supposed to make sense of the specifics of eternity if I am questioning its existence?
I wish I had been able to make covenants that could grow with me as my faith has grown and changed. I wish that my covenants had less to do with obeying God and more to do with seeking God. I wish that my covenants had been less about affirming correct answers and more about searching for questions. I wish that my covenants had been less about what God promises and expects me to promise, and more about what we expect of each other in our communities.
What is your experience with clarity or confusion over temple covenants? What covenants do you wish you had been able to make in the temple?