The Temple is More than a Milestone

Guest Post by Nicole Sbitani. Nicole is an adult convert, a non-Black woman of color, and a professional diplomat. She blogs at nandm.sbitani.com and writes microfiction @nsbitani on Twitter. The content of this post does not represent the views of the U.S. Department of State or any other U.S. Government agency, department, or entity. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and in no way should be associated with the U.S. Government.

I can’t count the number of times a friend whispered to me, voice heavy with shame, that they didn’t “get” the Temple. Or that they eventually grew to love the Endowment ceremony but the first time was uncomfortable or even distressing. Or that they still don’t like it one bit, but attend out of duty or familial pressure.

We craft a narrative of righteousness around frequency of Temple visits; uncomplicated, positive feelings about every aspect of the Temple; and most of all the “correct” progression through ordinances as milestones. This attitude breeds spiritual arrogance and intolerance in many members and feelings of shame and confusion in others.

To treat the Temple as a checkbox on one’s to-do list for the Celestial Kingdom is to fail to honor its sacredness. The Temple is the House of the Lord, and attending the Temple and performing saving ordinances for ourselves and our ancestors should fill us with awe and reverence for God. If we find attending the Temple is something we want to brag about, then we have turned the Temple into the great and spacious building in our hearts. Matthew 6:1 reads: “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them…” It is human nature to seek worldly praise, but we are called to do better. When we serve others in the name of the Lord, we humble ourselves and offer glory to the Most High.

My favorite verse in the Book of Mormon is 2 Nephi 9: 28-29: “O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God” (emphasis mine). I found that studying and preparing for my own Endowment helped immeasurably with my understanding and comfort with my first visit to the Temple. There is no hypocrisy in learning as much as we can about the Temple while respecting its sacredness.

In the April 2019 General Conference, Elder David A. Bednar quoted President Ezra Taft Benson regarding the Temple, saying “The temple is a sacred place, and the ordinances in the temple are of a sacred character. Because of its sacredness we are sometimes reluctant to say anything about the temple to our children and grandchildren. As a consequence, many do not develop a real desire to go to the temple, or when they go there, they do so without much background to prepare them for the obligations and covenants they enter into.” It is our responsibility to make sure we and others are prepared for the Temple.

In practice, this means that we cannot force someone to go to the Temple before they are ready. I married a non-member and received pressure from others in the Church to make sure I received my Endowment at that time. I took a few Temple prep classes, but they didn’t resonate with me as a recent convert. I had more questions about the Temple and wanted more time to study them, since I had only recently learned it existed. I wasn’t ready to go through the Temple when I got married, and I was glad I waited until a few years later. Thankfully my Endowment escort, a dear friend and roommate, was not only kind and patient but understood what I needed and recommended an excellent book called Your Endowment by Mark A. Shields. The book’s tagline is “Gain Greater Joy and Satisfaction in Your Temple Service”, and it caters to both new and returning Temple-goers. I can’t imagine how different my first Endowment would have been without that book and without careful study of the Scriptures about Creation.

At the same time, we should not judge or shame those who do not attend the Temple. Many of those are people who earnestly wish to attend but struggle with the harm they have experienced there. I, like many members without a Priesthood holder in the home, understand that feeling. Some parts of the Temple ordinances are inherently inequitable. The most egregious wording in the Endowment that contradicted what I knew about Heavenly Parents who loved sons and daughters equally was changed a few years ago. But other inconsistencies remain between men’s and women’s access to Priesthood power and God, not to mention the fact that there is literally no place for intersex people or those who don’t identify as male or female.

As multiple prophets, seers, and revelators mentioned in the April 2021 General Conference, most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not married. Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear knows that women outnumber men in the Church. It’s clear that messages of lower access for non-men as well as structural barriers for marginalized populations will continue to be a problem for many until major changes are made.

When we approach the Temple with reverence and treat its patrons and non-patrons with compassion, we truly honor the most holy site on Earth: the dwelling place of the Lord.

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6 Responses

  1. ElleK says:

    I love this, Nicole. Like you, I studied and read and prepared extensively before receiving my endowment. I took two temple prep classes, read the whole Pearl of Great Price through twice, and muscled my way through The Holy Temple by Elder Packer (which was a waste of time, as it doesn’t talk about the endowment at all).

    Despite all that, the temple was a bad experience for me. I didn’t recognize the God I thought I knew. I tried going back over and over, for years, trying to love it. Finally, I made peace with the temple not being one of my “spiritual languages.” God speaks to me in different ways, and that’s okay. It’s also okay that many other people love it. I’m hopeful that the church will continue to loosen up on talking about the endowment outside the temple, especially in temple prep contexts.

    • Nicole says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Every perspective is valuable, and it makes perfect sense that our “spiritual languages” (like almost everything else about us) would be unique.

  2. Mindy says:

    I absolutely agree that temple worship is personal and should not be treated as some proof of righteousness. I also agree that we should give people time and space to prepare, in addition to a clearer expectation and understanding of what actually happens there. I don’t usually talk to people about the temple anymore because it represents so much pain for me and joy for others.

  3. Caroline says:

    So many good points here. Amen to not judging others regarding feelings about the temple. I see temple worship as I do so many other religious practices — as a spiritual discipline that works for some and won’t work for others. And as you mention, there are very valid reasons for some people to feel alienated and hurt in the temple.

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