Guest Post: Women and the Temple Changes — A Live Wrestle

By Tara T. Boyce

I haven’t written on the temple changes but not because I haven’t been thinking about them. I’ve been thinking a lot. I tried writing something yesterday, but I didn’t publish it because I didn’t know what I wanted to say, because I didn’t know what I felt. I still don’t.

I’ve been thinking about my past experiences in the temple. About women and their inherent power and the power limited toward them. About change. Correction vs. revelation. Responsibility and accountability of institutions and responsibility and accountability for my own faith. I’ve been thinking about women who have been ostracized or excommunicated for advocating for some of these temple changes. Some who have come back and others who probably never will.

I just want to get out my feelings right now—in the middle of things—because it’s a step in the process that I rarely write about while in it. So here goes:

I don’t feel clarity. I feel glad and hopeful yet confused, and at times angry and very, very suspicious. More suspicious than ever. There have been powerful experiences I’ve had in the temple but there has also been so much confusion and a lot of resentment from it. I did a lot of work—reading, praying, pondering, studying—to try and make sense of it and there were times when I felt like I found some real answers. And now all that work feels unnecessary and wasted because many of my previous questions and doubts were just eliminated but without any explanation as to why. As if, no big deal. Policy changes. About woman’s eternal role. I feel the anger swell in me like contractions.

I’m suspicious of deliberate or unintentional mistakes—abusive, spiritually damaging and destructive mistakes—guised under the term revelation. It makes me feel sick. I felt sick at the Be One celebration when we celebrated a prophet supposedly receiving the revelation to remove the Priesthood ban. IT NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE. It was wrong. Say it. Say “I’m sorry we ever thought God thought less of you and we didn’t let you have temple ordinances that we believed would exalt you or we cared more about what past leaders did than finding real answers for you.”

But there will always be enough silence from leaders and enough spiritual experiences from God for that small window of uncertainty to make me feel paralyzed. Were the past 150 years in the temple a result of corrupt and sexist views? I believe so. But my leaders won’t say that and I continue to feel slightly guilty for thinking it.

I’m glad for these changes. It will be simpler for my daughters and for young women. They won’t wonder, like I did: “OMG is God actually hierarchical?” And women are below men in that hierarchy for the simple sake of order? In moments of doubting my own self-worth after attending the temple, I approached God with “What do you think of me? What does all this mean?” I asked. For the first time, I literally doubted how God felt about me. God told me, “You know how I feel about you. Hold onto that. Despite what you feel in the temple; know I love you and see you and value you. Despite what you feel in the temple.”

What do my past feelings mean and what do I feel now? I know God works us through the doubt and fuzziness. I know God makes up the difference. But He has also always promised to hold those who place stumbling blocks or caused suffering or practiced unrighteous dominion accountable. He will hold me accountable too. Where do I go from here? What do I do?

Right now I’m waiting. I’m listening. I thought I’d share that publicly because I think that it’s important to recognize that there are others out there not saying anything, who don’t absolutely know everything so we wait. If we don’t actually need to wait, if our leaders know something that will make this less traumatically uncertain for us, please tell us. Please talk about it with us. In the meantime, I’m waiting for God’s voice directly to me because I refuse to have a mediator anymore. I will be here—unveiled and open.

As I read over this, as I sit here, writing in the dark, because it’s so late and I can’t sleep, and I have a massive headache, I’m feeling in the back of my mind and in the back of my chest, “But of you, it is required to forgive all men.” And I don’t even want to write that right now. I know it pisses people off—it pisses me off—and I think that phrase is often used as a dagger to force people who have been wronged or hurt to be quiet, to shut up. And I believe in accountability and I believe in saying what’s true and what I feel and I hate liars and I hate deniers and I hate everyone who doesn’t say anything and tells me to shush and tells me to doubt myself that I don’t know that I’m not righteous enough that I must not get it that I should feel this and I should say this. I hate that all and still, right now, against all odds and against all my will, I literally feel God telling me, “But of you, it is required to forgive all men.”

Even if no leader apologizes or explains or cares and what a freaking waste of decades of pain and struggle of real people and real faith and their real relationship to you? I want your justice because I’ve already felt your mercy.

“But of you, it is required to forgive all men.”

For the first time, I cry.

I feel the resentment begin to leave me, but I will not forget it. And I shouldn’t. Is this how forgiveness starts? A release of the flood?

I cry again.

 

Tara T. Boyce is a woman, Mormon, wife of one (Mormon joke that’s not actually funny?), mother of two girls, writing instructor at BYU, and re-emerging-after-too-many-silent-years-of-pondering writer about all things woman and Mormon. She blogs at Womormonings, www.taratboyce.wordpress.com

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20 Responses

  1. LMA says:

    This is so powerful and lovely (insert many, many heart emojis). Thank you for sharing how you’re feeling when you’re not sure how you feel, and when it’s delicate and messy. This is so powerful and describes a lot of how I’m feeling. Thank you for putting it in writing. I loved this part: “I’m waiting for God’s voice directly to me because I refuse to have a mediator anymore. I will be here—unveiled and open.” That is so incredibly powerful.

  2. leslie dostoyevsky says:

    Thank you for writing this. I appreciate your honesty and restraint. I will go a bit further:

    I am a 30-year member, and have recently come to realize that the Church I joined has never been, and is not. I felt free when I got my testimony, but that wasn’t a testimony of this Church; it was a testimony of God and love.

    Temple ordinances did not engender love, peace, comfort, and they were not of God. The changes cannot be of God, for:
    It is impossible to defend the Church as the perfect organization of Christ on the Earth, while dismissing the Church’s repeated changes in revelations, ordinances, and beliefs as simply the normal mistakes of humans, when we specifically state that every other Church, every other religion, CANNOT be of God -because- they’ve changed their revelations, ordinances, beliefs due to human interference.

    As well, male leaders of cults, sooner or later, take on excessive powers and titles, money, rights, demands, … and women. I do not believe Jesus revealed to Prophet Joseph that Joseph should command married and single young women to marry Joseph, and that a girl’s refusal would send the girl’s family to hell.

    The Temple was not, nor is now, righteous.

    • Andrew R. says:

      If only it were that easy to throw away years of feeling the Spirit, “knowing” what is/was right, doing my best, etc.

      I can not deny God, and yet, maybe because of my indoctrination, I can not see how any other religion comes close to the God I know and love.

      You are correct in what you say, and yet I hold out hope that this is God’s church. Because if it isn’t I don’t know where to find Him – and the idea that He doesn’t exist leaves me colder still.

      Yes, I’m a privileged man in this space. However, having lived this “privileged” existence for 50+ years I can tell you that changes like this do make me wonder if it is all true.

    • Tara says:

      Thank you, Leslie. I wrote this weeks ago and since writing it I have much time to ponder and wrestle. I realize another thing I lost in the temple: confidence in my intuition. We can call it the Spirit or the inner voice. I don’t know. But when I wrestled to make what I felt was gross and ugly and cruel to match what someone else told me was God, I ignored a lot of my inner voice, and a trust in the God I know and love and worship outside of the temple. I lost some of that trust for a while. But these new changes have revived in me the confidence I need to be able to say: I don’t feel God there, or in this. I believe in sometimes testing thing–giving scriptures and leaders the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes there isn’t doubt. Sometimes your intuition tells you: no. Something about changing the heart and epitome of Mormon worship (the temple) has allowed me to say they are no bounds on my intuition. I’m learning the power of trusting in it.

    • Miriam says:

      Amen. I have wrestled with the temple and the polygamy issue and finally decided to tackle it head on. God has been so merciful, leading me to the truth through prayer. I was told that Joseph and Emma told the truth all along about him never practicing polygamy. I’ve read countless pages of information from Brigham Young’s own mouth in conference addresses and others, from the Joseph Smith papers, from accounts from Emma, accounts from Joseph, seeing doctored and edited church history accounts from William Clayton and others after the martyrdom. I was told that the temple ceremonies were hijacked by BY, which is why none of this temple ceremony stuff makes any sense. I’m so sorry you are caught in the fray as well as so many other women who are trying to make sense of it. You have to take this one heavenward. You won’t get answers from the church, because there are only answers no one wants to believe because it was easier to throw one woman under the bus with her husband for the sake of an earthly kingdom. You see the fruits today…as long as your eyes are open to see and you are willing to go where most people don’t dare. Hugs!

      • anon says:

        Miriam – I am honestly confused about your post. Please clarify to help me understand. Are you stating that through prayer God revealed to you that Joseph Smith never practiced polygamy?

      • Miriam says:

        @Anon. Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. There is a paper trail I was led to that helped me come up with specific questions to ask the Lord. The answer was not what I was expecting at all.

      • Miriam says:

        I actually found evidence all over the place that he and Emma fought polygamy to the very end. You don’t have to take my word for it. In fact, please don’t.

      • anon says:

        Well then, this is an interesting predicament. Either the evidence you choose to believe is accurate and true or the church claims are accurate and true. Since they are opposed they can’t both be accurate and true. While I encourage evidence seeking, research and study, and seeking out the ‘paper trails’, I have to be a bit suspicious when there are opposing and contradictory paper trails. Obviously you have chosen to believe one narrative, and I will not rebut that narrative. This is the predicament with all religions, with all religious claims – too many conflicting narratives and evidences.

      • Miriam says:

        Yep. All good points. Sounds precisely the predicament Joseph Smith had, to which he took directly to the Lord, and recieved an answer he was not even expecting. So, then it really comes down to the discerning of spirits and revelation. Do you trust others to dictate the narrative? Which source you believe? Lehi says there is opposition in all things. There are voices of light and voices of darkness in this world, and “by their fruits ye shall know them.” Correct me if I am wrong, but the fruits of hierarchy, the fruits of polygamy, the fruits of believing that women are somehow less than men and that God really is a “respecter of persons”, the fruits of building up a kingdom of God here on this earth at all costs by belittling those who try to make sense of a very broken church history narrative (even disciplining people in the process much like the Catholic Inquisition), the fruits of constantly changing temple ceremonies and gaslighting those who question and don’t allow for open discourse are not fruits that are good. There are so many rotten fruits that we are being made to swallow and pretend they have no mold. Both Mormon and Paul (NT) state you can pray for the best spiritual gifts and receive. Christ himself says to seek, knock, ask and it shall be given. Nephi and Jerimiah say that cursed are men and women who rely on the arm of flesh. And so, I am taking these prophets and Christ’s words for it and asking for the gift of discernment. And so…to humble seekers, that is why I say, I don’t expect you to take my word for it. If you don’t think it’s a question worth taking to the Lord, I respect that.

      • anon says:

        My challenge with relying on taking anything to the Lord via prayer and spiritual confirmation is my concern that as mortals we are plagued with confirmation bias and have a strong tendency to receive answers tailored to our emotional state or desires or hopes. The problem with prayer is played out when millions of people pray with real intent and still arrive at different answers. Person A can testify with complete sincerity and passion while Person B testifies with equal passion and sincerity yet they still arrive at different conclusions, both claiming that God revealed his will to them.

        I have read numerous articles of people claiming, even testifying, that they know with an unshakeable certainty that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, yet that Brigham Young was not a prophet and that he corrupted the restored church. That is a logical gap which I cannot bridge. If Brigham Young was a false prophet who corrupted the restoration then it must call into question whether Joseph really restored God’s one true church in the first place, for the restoration was supposed to be incorruptible. Therefore, the claim of succession of keys and the presidency of the church as directed by the Lord would have to be false. My only conclusion is that if the church today is false, if Russel Nelson is not a true prophet, then Joseph Smith could not have been a true prophet. If Brigham Young corrupted the church, then it never was the Lord’s church to begin with.

      • Miriam says:

        I see what you are saying. For me, the bridge between Joseph to Brigham is not a problem because I don’t believe there was ever a bridge. But, as you say, to each their own…and then at that point, the real issue is what is revelation if it is all relative anyway? I appreciate the discussion!

  3. PJ says:

    I loved this so much! A raw “SFD” (Shitty First Draft if you follow Brene Brown). I can feel your inner turmoil and anguish of trying to make sense of things- things you have been taught and believed and things that your heart and soul are telling you today.

    I loved how you said, “I’m waiting for God’s voice directly to me because I refuse to have a mediator anymore. I will be here- unveiled and open.”

    It sounds like to me feelings that go along with betrayal and you’re working through them. That’s so tough but will be worth it as you come to know and trust yourself and see things how they really are and have been and how they should be in your eyes and then being able to live that way honestly and truthfully.

    • Tara says:

      This is a lovely and encouraging response. I am learning to trust myself and realize now that is something I lost in the temple. I did/do feel betrayed and choose to grow from this experience. Thank you.

  4. josh says:

    I agree that the lack of any real explanation by the Church (the Brethren) for these changes is troubling. And then we were told to not discuss this outside of the temple. It’s as if someone is saying “please move along” or “nothing to see here” or “never mind”. Thinking people don’t like this kind of change even if they agree with the change itself.

    I understand why the changes were allowed to take place. The way it was explained to me was: there is a difference between the endowment and the presentation of the endowment. I buy that explanation. But what bothers me is that I have heard forever that each time we go to the temple we can learn something new. Maybe it’s words. Maybe it’s images. Maybe it’s symbols. Maybe it’s feelings. But always something new. So I looked and looked and looked. And now something very overt from the session has been eliminated and we aren’t supposed to discuss it? I feel I was mislead by what has been eliminated because I was searching for truth in words and symbols.

    • Tara says:

      I worked very hard to find many answers myself with how things used to be, including ancient symbolism of veils, etc. There was so much yearning in my search for meaning and understanding, and for those to suddenly be eliminated with no real explanation (almost like a shrug), caused a lot of problems.

  5. Anna says:

    I really like the idea of not having anyone as mediator between me and God. The church needs to teach more of that and less follow the prophet.

    There is an old Oriental idea that religion is the finger pointing to the moon, it is not the moon itself. But my experience withMormonism was that then you look where that finger points, it isn’t really pointing at anything but itself. Maybe the church talked about a loving God, but it told me that it was the only way to find that God. Rather than pointing me toward God, it only taught me to doubt that God cared about the female half of his children, or the LGTB 1/10 of his children. They were not pointing where I should look, but telling me that I should look at them to know God, that they spoke for God and I should listen to them to follow God, not pointing toward God, but pointing toward themselves.

    So, I checked into church history and remembered gut feelings from primary. Primary was when I learned to not trust my own eyes as to where the moon was and started looking at where others pointed. Everyone around me told me to look at where a group of old men pointed and not to trust my own eyes. But I saw nothing but darkness where others pointed.

    Then I dared to ask about the darkness I saw in the temple. I was told I should only ask about such sacred things in the temple and referred to the temple president. Who after listening to my questions, told me I was headed to hell (yup, he said “helll” right there in the temple) for asking such questions. There was no loving God where he pointed.

    It still took me years to learn to trust that Eve sacrificed life in the garden so that we would each be able to know good from evil. We would know for ourselves good from evil. We just have to learn to trust our own ability to see the moon for ourselves.

    Men will point to themselves and tell us to listen to them because they know what God wants for us better than we can possibly know it. Then they ask us for obedience to them and ask for money, all in the name of God. But Eve didn’t accept mortality so that we would have to listen to prophets who profit from our obedience. She gave us our own internal prophet if we will just listen.

    So easy but so hard, because we want what is easy, or what brings us power and money, or we want security or community acceptance, we want a human being who promises to give us what we want.

  6. Michelle says:

    Thank you for this honest reflection, Tara. When I heard about the changes, I called a trusted friend and went to the temple for the first time in months. Although I was encouraged and relieved at the changes, I’ve been struggling with negative feelings ever since. I thought I’d finally be able to be like all the faithful, obedient women in my ward, in my family and in the rows of the temple chapel… you know, ones wo LOVE THE TEMPLE SO MUCH. Nope, no cigar. Honestly, I’ve been angry and confused. Mostly because nobody is acknowledging all of the pain and loneliness and shame i’ve endured for years because I’m not one of THEM. And when I’ve tried to find a middle way by stating that I’ve found other ways to connect to God, and that maybe the temple resonates more with some people than with others, and that we each need to find how we best connect to God and nurture that connection, I’ve been SHUT DOWN and SILENCED. As though I should have been obediently going to the temple, even though listening to some of the language and taking that veil and putting it over my face was like taking a knife and cutting my own heart out.

  7. Suze says:

    I actually loved veiling my face in the temple. For me doing so never felt subservient or degrading. For me it was an opportunity to shut out everyone and everything EXCEPT God. It was just me and Him in what was to me a very private and very sacred few minutes to commune with Him. I felt very exposed and like I had lost what to me was a significant part of my worship with God when I did not veil my face.

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