Guest Post: One Man’s Experience with the New Temple Endowment
Much has been written about the January 2nd changes to the temple endowment to make it more equitable for women. I have thoroughly enjoyed the perspectives that have been shared on this important topic by the Exponent II bloggers and guest posters. By sharing my own experience here, I want to be clear that I submit this as just one more perspective to add to the discussion, and by no means as a rebuttal or criticism of anyone else’s experience.
Like many others, I celebrated hearing about the changes to the temple ceremonies. After having served for many years in bishopric, high council, and other leadership callings, I had come to know well the pain felt by many women regarding the blatant inequity existing between women and men in the temple. As I became more aware of these things, my temple attendance dwindled as I felt increasingly less comfortable with the treatment and placement of women in the ceremony, knowing that many women would take those rituals as an indication of their place and value in the eyes of God.
On what I genuinely thought would be my last visit to the temple several months ago, I distinctly remember thinking, “I never want my two young daughters to hear the words that I am hearing right now. NEVER. And if I don’t want them here, then I shouldn’t be here either.” So when I heard that changes had been made, I felt compelled to witness the extent of the changes myself.
Before I discuss my impressions about these positive changes in the endowment for women, I have to first acknowledge with disappointment that there was little-to-no progress to speak of in making people of color more represented in the presentation of the ordinance, and the changes to the Law of Chastity covenant seem to have been carefully and deliberately reworded so that, no matter what changes may happen to marriage laws or public opinion, our LGBTQ community will remain unwelcome in the House of the Lord. So, while I celebrate the positive steps forward for women’s equality in the temple, I want to recognize those in our midst who are still waiting and hoping for change.
The prelude to the new endowment—-which is a statement from the First Presidency that will be temporarily played regarding the changes—-already left me feeling hollow and angry. Somehow the statement manages to explain that changes needed to be made to the endowment without acknowledging that there was ever anything wrong with it, and certainly not apologizing or taking any kind of responsibility for the pain that has been caused by the inequities of the past. It feels as if they’re pinning it all on God, as in “I guess God used to really want women to covenant to hearken to their husbands rather than to God directly, but He has recently informed us that He changed His mind on that point. . . . Don’t kill the messengers!”
They further explain that these changes have come through revelation from God, and due to their sacred nature, not only should we not discuss the specifics of the changes outside the temple, we should not even discuss that there have been changes. I had always been taught that, with the exception of the handful of things that you specifically covenant not to discuss during the endowment ceremony, the rest of what one experiences in the temple can and should be discussed with family, friends, and others who could be relied upon to treat such conversations with the reverence they deserve. So it was puzzling to me why Church leadership would require complete silence on this topic.
If this truly is revelation from God, why can’t we publicly rejoice and give thanks for such a blessing? I suspect that most Church members would agree that the First Vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith was among the most sacred revelations ever given, yet we send missionaries out by the tens of thousands to tell that story to anyone who will listen. The fact that they are demanding silence on the entire topic makes it seem like a subtle acknowledgement that serious mistakes were made with the previous ceremonies, and they’d rather not have those mistakes—or the fact that corrections of such mistakes were necessary—in the public domain (which, by the way, is absurd to even attempt; there are no secrets in the Information Age. All this prohibition will accomplish is keeping the Church’s most ardent defenders silent during the public discussions/debates that are bound to happen.)
Once the actual endowment began, I was again disappointed by the inequity that remains. Right at the start of the old endowment, there was some language about what the men and women in the room had been anointed to become in the eternities. It had always felt to me like the part talking about what is in store for faithful men went on and on with grandiose phrases like “kings and priests unto the Most High God” and “rule and reign in the House of Israel forever.” This had bothered me because, when it came time to talk about what the eternities have in store for faithful women, all that was offered was a short phrase that essentially assigned them as eternal possessions to their husbands. In the new ceremony, I anxiously listened to the men’s part (which, to my ear, had not changed) wondering what new, more substantive language they might have added for women. Were they to be queens and priestesses unto the Most High God? Would they rule and reign in the House of Israel? Would they be granted some other new honors entirely? It felt like a punch in the stomach when I heard the same short, unceremonious phrase as before, with just the small change that “to your husbands” had been swapped with “in the New and Everlasting Covenant.” At best this change doesn’t transform the original meaning much at all, and at worst it suggests a destiny for women of eternal polygamy.
Of course, not all of what I saw and heard was negative. My heart sang when I heard Eve covenant to hearken to God rather than to her husband, using the exact words that Adam uses to make the same covenant. I also noticed that the pronouns throughout the ceremony had finally been changed to include Eve. For instance, rather than “I am looking for messengers from my Father,” Adam now says, “We are looking for messengers from our Father.” And the super-offensive practice of male characters referring to visiting “the man Adam in the Telestial world”—as if there is no other person present there—has now been changed to include Eve.
I also really loved hearing Eve’s new monologue from the Pearl of Great Price at the end of the slideshow portion of the ceremony. It was beautiful and inspiring, but it just left me wanting to hear more of her voice in the earlier parts of the story. In the entire hour-plus of dialogue included in the endowment, I counted 13 lines of dialogue spoken by the only woman in the story (which is generous; two of those “lines” consisted of “Who are you?” and “Is there no other way?”).
I’ve heard it said that Eve now speaks more than Satan (I guess that’s a win?), but that is most likely due to how many scenes there are where Satan is not present at all. When he is there, he is talking. The same is not true for Eve.
What remains most striking to me about Eve’s part in the presentation of the endowment is how often she is actually present and where the matters at hand clearly involve and affect her, but she is silent. I understand that Church leaders are trying to keep as much of the dialogue as they can to what can be found in scripture, but there is still a lot of non-scriptural dialogue that could easily be given to her. Why couldn’t she be the one to tell Satan, “We are looking for messengers from our Father” or the one to ask Peter, James, and John to prove they are true messengers? There is so much more that could be done to include her and recognize her value as a person—separate from her husband—in this story. Sadly, those opportunities, if considered at all, were dismissed.
The last time I went to the temple, I said that I never wanted my daughters to hear the things I was hearing. Despite the significant improvements that have been made, unfortunately my opinion on that point remains unchanged. I don’t want my daughters to be subtly taught the message that, when it comes to matters of their own spirituality and salvation, they need to always take a back seat to the men around them. Until that message is rooted out of the ceremony entirely, the temple will not be inspired enough to earn their participation. And if I don’t want them there, then I shouldn’t be there either.
[Photo by Adam Segal-Isaacson https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51914203]