From babyhood on, we talk to our kids about the temple. We sing songs, refer to it reverently (this is what the temple means…) and casually (I might not be here when you get home, I’m going to the temple). And then one day, on a cold Thursday afternoon, Stefan stands in the parking lot ready to go inside for the first time.
One of the reasons Stefan rushed to get his mission call was to attend the temple with his roommates regularly this semester. His three returned missionary roommates have been going for a few years and his friend Seth (who has a mission call to Birmingham,England) wants to go at least once a week with Stefan.
Perhaps of all things Mormon, the temple generates the most confusion. I’m writing this today for my children and for my friends of other faiths– and for the rest of you who have been through the temple, you can either skip to the next blog now or read through and correct my mistakes at the bottom. 🙂
One of our favorite Mormon quips is, “The temple is sacred, not secret.” This is true, but because the temple is so very sacred, we often treat everything about the temple as a big secret. But there’s so much I can tell you (more than you likely want to read). Yes, you can look on the internet and find unauthorized scripts of the temple covenants and even video depictions, but I’d rather you talked to me or another member rather than gleaning information from outside sources. Because the temple is sacred and only understanding lends meaning to our words and actions.
Visitors on Temple Square often find it odd we don’t let people in the temple to look around. I’ve heard tourists argue with the volunteers, “C’mon, just let me have a look around. Who can I talk to?”
The volunteers will usually smile and say, “The missionaries.”
Trust me, we WANT you to come in and look around, but entering the temple is a commitment and not one you want to take lightly. Nothing about the strictures on who can enter the temple are meant to be mean or exclusionary– they are simply to protect you from the responsibility of promises you might not want to make. Lifetime members usually enter the temple for the first time when they are preparing for a mission or getting married. Newly converted members may enter the temple a year after their baptism. A member can also choose a time that simply feels right for them, but they are almost always over twenty-one when making that decision.
Exceptions are children being sealed to parents and youth entering the temple starting at age twelve to participate in baptisms for the dead. I’ll cover those in a bit (maybe in another post), but the primary difference is they are not making covenants for themselves.
What are those promises? First, anyone entering the temple must obtain a recommend signed by their bishop (local leader) and stake president (also a local leader over a slightly larger area). The recommend process means you have to sit down twice and answer a series of questions regarding your temple readiness and worthiness. The interview is valuable in it’s own right; you have to personally take stock of your testimony of the divinity and atonement of Jesus Christ, your personal honesty, how you spend your time, how you treat your family, are you living the Word of Wisdom? Questions about tithing are in the interview as well as questions about abuse within your family, viewing pornography or failure to pay child support. Anyone mistreating their family or others cannot honestly obtain a temple recommend. Oh sure, people can lie– but those lies will compound their sins, the effects of those sins and cloud their judgment and decision making abilities. Not wise.
Ponder this for a minute, if every person in the world had to sit down every two years and honestly obtain a temple recommend, the world would be a pretty perfect place. We wouldn’t need prisons or drug abuse centers, all children would be loved and well cared for. Don’t misunderstand me, Mormons have no monopoly on goodness. I admire the faith and purposeful living in friends of many faiths, but I think we can all agree a personal assessment and commitment to do better is valuable for everyone. Sadly, we have our share of evil within the church, but if we all seriously attended our temple covenants, many of the heartbreaks of life would disappear. We would still mourn together over death and separation but not of abuse and abandonment.
Sigh, this is getting long already, but hang there, it’s about to get really interesting.
Mormons don’t wear garments before going through the temple for their own endowment (I promise I’ll clarify that word in a bit) (again, sealings and baptisms aren’t part of this distinction). Many a time, I’ve been asked if my kids wear garments. Nope. Good old Hanes or Fruit of the Loom or whatever is on sale at the moment. In fact when I shopped with Ben and Stefan for their own garments, they couldn’t even try them on before entering the temple. But trying on underwear would be weird anyway, right?
Thankfully, LDS Distribution Centers have a generous return/exchange policy and very reasonable prices because you can’t buy garments anywhere else.
What are garments? Representative of the coats of skins the Lord made for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21) when they were cast out of the Garden of Eden, garments are a solid daily reminder of the covenants we have made with God. An endowed member wears them every day, everywhere, day and night (but generally not when exercising– although I know some people who do) (and not at any time when you would normally be naked like bathing or having a baby or please don’t make me go on…)
Wearing garments does promote modesty in women (let’s face it, most men’s clothes are pretty modest already) but it’s not horribly restrictive. The top looks much like a fitted t-shirt with short sleeves and long enough to tuck in– so sleeveless, bare midriff and dipping neckline/backline styles are out. The bottoms are like bike shorts that go to the knee, so anything too short is out, but many women including myself, choose to wear even longer, capri length garments when wearing pants just because they are so comfortable.
When reading clothing suggestions on various photography sites, I’ve found it interesting their recommendations for looking your best in photos are almost always garment-standard: nothing sleeveless, longer lengths, etc. Let’s face it, most of us look quite a bit better with a little more clothing.
The only time I’ve found garments really restrictive is in Washington D.C. in August with the humidity at 100%. Let’s face it, any extra layer feels pretty miserable in that kind of heat. Clearly being Mormon in the humid parts of the world requires a greater degree of faith. Last two notes: garments come in lots of fabrics and are white except for military issue green. There’s always a buzz among the Mormon women when a slightly different style/fabric hits the distribution center. Most women wear their bra over their garments (another most-asked question).
Making covenants with God is the central purpose of temple worship.
When Stefan went to the temple Thursday, he received garments as a reminder of the covenants he made with God. As every Sunday School kid knows, a covenant is a two way promise with God. And the collective covenants made in the temple are called the endowment– our promises to God endow us with power from on high. The temple covenants are pretty simple: obedience to God’s laws, chastity, a willingness to give of time and talents for God’s work on earth and consecrate our lives to God.
Simple, but powerful. Again, ponder all the problems in the world that would simply disappear if we all kept these promises. Oh yes, we’d still have accidents and disagreements, but we’d have more respect for each other even in the midst of conflict. Another important aspect of the temple is everyone is equally and intrinsically valuable before God. We approach God one by one as brothers and sisters, each soul of incalculable worth.
in future posts– baptisms for the dead (probably not what you think) and sealing children to parents (pretty much the best thing ever). And if all goes well, a bit on temple marriage too.
p.s. please forgive my lapses, I certainly don’t want to set myself up as the expert for anyone– simply another voice.