Guest Post: Painful Vows and Empty Promises

by Charlotte Wild

In June of 2009, I knelt across an alter in a Salt Lake City Temple sealing room. I was staring into the face of my one and only. My best friend. My soon to be husband. Tears were streaming down my face because I was so thrilled to finally be marrying this wonderful man. I was glowing and I thought that my heart would burst from happiness. I could see in my fiancé’s eyes that same happiness.

Before going to the temple for the first time, someone told me that I wouldn’t be able to remember everything that I heard and saw on my wedding day and so I should plan on going back again and again to remember the happiest day of my life. To prepare for that big day, I took temple prep classes. The classes felt like every other class in the church that I’d taken. Nothing new was covered but instead I heard lessons that I’d had for years. “The temple ceremony is full of symbols.” “Let’s draw out the plan of salvation on the board.” “You will wear white clothing.” “You have to be worthy to enter.”

In these classes, the teachers never mentioned the vows that I would hear on the day that I got married. The words to everything are “sacred, not secret”, which basically amounts to the same thing. I knew that I would make promises and so would my husband. But it bothered me that I wouldn’t know what all those promises were until I was already in the room, in front of all our friends and family.

But, I felt like I knew one thing for sure. I had been taught my whole life, what made my wedding vows special was, instead of “til death do we part”, I would promise, “for time and all eternity”. And that is what I wanted dearly. I wanted to be married to my sweetheart for time and all eternity. I wanted him to be mine forever.

Staring into this great man’s eyes across the alter, I let all the words of the officiator  performing the ordinance wash over me and only took in the familiar phrase, “for time and all eternity.” My dearest wish. A promise to be fulfilled by a loving Father in Heaven. I felt like a portion of my patriarchal blessing, received years before, had been fulfilled. “There will be a time when you seek a mate and I bless you that this individual… will take you to the house of our Heavenly Father and there be sealed for time and all eternity. This is a great responsibility as you give yourself to your companion as he in turn gives himself to you.”

My husband and I went to the temple infrequently after we got married. We felt guilty that we lived so close to a temple and yet always seemed busy. After doing several endowment sessions, I started to notice things that bothered me. Wording that seemed one sided. And also, now that I was an “endowed member”, other women who noticed these same things wanted to talk to me about them.

“Do you think the temple ceremony is sexist?”

I learned that this question could be a trap. Some women would ask it because they wanted to confide in me their doubts and concerns about some promises that they made in the temple. But other women wanted to find out if I was “one of those women”, women who might be….feminist.

I wanted to try harder to find strength and peace and comfort in the temple endowment. I made goals of how often I wanted to attend. And sometimes, I did find strength and peace and comfort in the ceremony. I felt strength from a loving Heavenly Father. I felt peace in this quiet and beautiful place. I felt comfort hearing about the plan of salvation.

But I also felt pain and confusion.

I decided that instead of doing endowment ceremonies, I would try sealings, temple weddings for people who never had the opportunity to get married in the temple. For a long time, I loved those. I would look at my husband across the alter like I had on the happiest day of my life.

Then I heard someone point out how even the language in that ceremony were unequal. A man promises to “receive” the woman. The woman promises to “give” herself to her husband. I had never absorbed those words while I was listening to the officiator saying them. I asked within myself, “Is that really what they say? Why haven’t I noticed?” I didn’t want to believe that the inequality extended to my marriage vows.

I soon attended a dear friend’s wedding, and I listened carefully to the words. “…receive her unto yourself to be your lawful and wedded wife…” “…give yourself to be his lawful and wedded wife…”

My heart hurt. I felt sick. Our perfect and beautiful wedding day. Our promises. The promise that I thought that Heavenly Father had given in my patriarchal blessing. “…as you give yourself to your companion as he is turn gives himself to you.”

But he didn’t. My sweetheart didn’t give himself to me. He was not required to give himself to me. He received me like a gift but I was given no such reciprocal promise.

My heart hurt realizing that my special patriarchal blessing was never going to be fulfilled. Not in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and not in the temple.

A short while later, in an Institute class, we were studying Church History and the teacher told us that the following week we would be learning about polygamy. In preparation, I opened my scriptures to section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants. As I read about “the new and everlasting covenant”, I realized that that meant “plural marriage” in these scriptures. It said it in the heading of the chapter. But that couldn’t have been right. I had always learned that ” the new and everlasting covenant” simply meant “marriage in the temple”.

My mind reeled and wrestled with itself. That couldn’t be right. What about our vows on the day I was married?

He had promised:
“…receive her unto yourself to be your lawful and wedded wife for time and all eternity with a covenant and promise that you will observe and keep all the laws, rites and ordinances pertaining to this holy order of matrimony in the new and everlasting covenant…(emphasis added)”
Then I had promised:
“…give yourself to him to be his lawful and wedded wife and for him to be your lawful and wedded husband for time and all eternity, with a covenant and promise that you will observe and keep all the laws, rites and ordinances pertaining to this holy order of matrimony in the new and everlasting covenant…(emphasis added)”

I had promised to keep all of the laws, rites and ordinances of this “new and everlasting covenant”. The covenant of plural marriage. The covenant of eternal polygamy.

On my wedding day, I promised to be a polygamist wife for time and for all eternity.

I felt sick. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry and cry and cry. Our perfect and beautiful wedding day. I had been so naive.

I promised myself that I would never go to the temple again. I couldn’t. I had been right to be worried about going into that building on my wedding day without knowing what promises I would be making.

Now, it’s the beginning of 2019 and I get word that the language through all the temple ordinances–initiatories, endowments, and sealings–have changed. The language has been changed to bring balance to the covenants made in the temple between genders. The word is that in the sealing ceremonies, both partners receive each other.

“…as you give yourself to your companion as he in turn gives himself to you…”, the words of the patriarch, from 15 years ago, come back to my mind. Questions swim in my mind, “Does this mean that my covenant changes retroactively? Is there a way to get sealed again with these new words?” But there are not answers to these questions because the prophet of the LDS Church is silent. These changes were supposed to be a secret from people like me.

Because, no matter what the answer is, it doesn’t truly matter to me now. I don’t want a temple marriage.

This summer, I will celebrate my 10th anniversary. My husband and I are planning on going out into the woods to be in the presence of the God and Goddess who created this world. I’m going to promise to give myself to my husband and he is going to promise to give himself to me.

Charlotte is a nature photographer, bird watcher, wife, and mother of two. She is still consciously uncoupling from the LDS Church.

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7 Responses

  1. Lily says:

    I have always enjoyed Exponent but the negative temple stories are getting old. I consider myself a radical feminist and I have never found the temple to be a problem. My world view simply never accommodated the idea that women were second class in the eyes of God or that they didn’t have direct access to God or that my husband was allowed to rule over me. Never believed that – didn’t see it.

    • Jennifer says:

      That’s interesting. My mom is the complete opposite. Conservative, non feminist and never found the temple to be problem. I think the difference was that she didnt mind having having her husband be between her and God.

    • Violadiva says:

      Lily, I’m so glad you’ve been a follower of the Exponent stories. Our mission statement includes the following ideal: “The purpose of Exponent II is to provide a forum for those who identify as Mormon women to share their life experiences in an atmosphere of trust and acceptance.”
      I invite you to consider that the stories you see here will be unlike any other place, and that they’ll be the stories of the lived experiences of actual Mormon women. When you say, “…the negative temple stories are getting old. I consider myself a radical feminist and I have never found the temple to be a problem.” – it sounds as though you’re dismissing the feelings of other “radical feminists” who experience it differently. In the comments of Charlotte’s post, an empathic response to her vulnerability and pain would be ideal, even in spite of not agreeing with her perspective or our editorial prerogative to publish it. If you’re interested in writing a guest post of your own about the positive feelings you have about the temple, we would be pleased to post it.

    • Ari says:

      I know some feminists like you who are able to focus on other aspects of the temple, such as its function as a spiritual tool for interacting with the divine — and for them that function negates any cognitive dissonance that they might feel if they focus on the temple’s narrative. But, I am definitely one who feels strongly about the symbolism in the narrative. Different women have different needs, I guess.

    • Charlotte Wild says:

      I, also have never accommodated the idea that women were second class in the eyes of God and didn’t have direct access to God. I think that that’s why when I went to the temple, and I listened to what I was promising and what was being spoken, it was so jarring to me. I had never heard of women needing to promise away their direct access to God because of the choices of Eve…and yet, that’s what the words meant.
      My husband and I justified it (in what I’ve gathered is a very common way), that I would hearken to him but only as long as he is hearkening to God. But those aren’t the words. It’s, hearkening to your husband as they (not if they) hearken to God.

      Why couldn’t we both hearken to God and then counsel together? That’s what we agreed to do in our marriage and have done. But it isn’t what we covenanted. And so were we breaking that covenant? We didn’t know. I found out that that is what most couples that had problems with the wording decided to do.
      Are there other covenants in the temple that I can reword in my mind? Is it okay if everyone who goes to the temple, rewords the covenants the way that they like them? Or do the words to the temple covenants matter?

  2. Caroline Kline says:

    Charlotte, I think many of us can identify with your grief over the prior temple language. It was so painful for me as well. I love that you and your husband are now exchanging reciprocal vows that you two have chosen. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

  3. RB says:

    I appreciate these stories. They are helpful.

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