Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 14: Marriage and Family—Ordained of God

Like many of the more recent prophets and apostles, Ezra Taft Benson felt it was important to preserve and build up the traditional family structure and loving, healthy environments in the home. This focus shines through in a whole section of the manual, where five chapters in a row related to themes that touch this basic concept. Chapter 14 is the second chapter of this set, focusing on the importance of the traditional family. The actual timing of when these lessons will be taught is interesting, particularly for those living in the United States, given the recent Supreme Court decision regarding homosexual marriage (more on that later).

In this chapter, the life section describes some of how Ezra Taft Benson and his wife ran their family and his feelings about family. Section one focuses on the centrality of the family in society and in the Church. Section two contains advice two married couples on how to maintain a successful marriage. Section three describes ways in which happy and healthy homes can be maintained in the Gospel. Section four focuses on how to raise righteous children in the Gospel. Section five is a shorter section talking about how families can be eternal.

Ezra Taft Benson with his family. Image courtesy LDS.org

Ezra Taft Benson with his family.
Image courtesy LDS.org

Resources for Lesson/Teaching Helps:

Suggested Hymns

“Love at Home” (Hymns 294)

“Home Can Be a Heaven on Earth” (Hymns 298)

“Families Can Be Together Forever” (Hymns 300)

“In Our Lovely Deseret” (Hymns 307)

Videos

“Come Follow Me: Marriage and Family” video collection

Object Lessons

  • Take two packages of powdered punch mix, some sugar and some water. Mix both packages of punch with water, one with sugar (following the directions) and one without sugar. First, serve the punch without the sugar to some of the class or quorum. The group should be allowed to describe the taste, which is usually bitter and sour. Then, serve the punch that was made with sugar. While the students are drinking this punch, liken the punch without sugar to a marriage in which both partners are not following the directions that the Lord has given us for marriage. If we do not do all we can to make our marriage a happy one, it can be a very bitter and sour experience. However, if we follow the directions and add that little bit of sugar, the marriage will be much more enjoyable.
  • Hold up a donut and compare it to earthly marriage: sweet and delicious but built around a big hole: “til death do us part.” Tell the sisters or brothers, “‘Do-nut’ settle for a marriage that won’t last into the eternities.” Pass around cinnamon rolls, comparing those to eternal marriage without a hole.[1]

Further Reading

The Divine Institution of Marriage

Julie B. Beck: Teaching the Doctrine of the Family

Eugene England: On Fidelity, Polygamy, and Celestial Marriage

Bruce D. Porter: Defending the Family in a Troubled World

L. Tom Perry: Why Marriage and Family Matter—Everywhere in the World

L. Tom Perry: Traditions of Light and Testimony

D. Todd Christofferson: Why Marriage, Why Family

Quotes

David O. McKay

David O.  and Emma Ray McKay

David O. McKay: No other success can compensate for failure in the home.[2]

A child has the right to feel that in his home he has a place of refuge, a place of protection from the dangers and evils of the outside world. Family unity and integrity are necessary to supply this need.[3]

I should like to urge continued courtship, and apply this to grown people. Too many couples have come to the altar of marriage looking upon the marriage ceremony as the end of courtship instead of the beginning of an eternal courtship. Let us not forget that during the burdens of home life—and they come—that tender words of appreciation, courteous acts are even more appreciated than during those sweet days and months of courtship. It is after the ceremony and during the trials that daily arise in the home that a word of ‘thank you,’ or ‘pardon me,’ ‘if you please,’ on the part of husband or wife contributes to that love which brought you to the altar. It is well to keep in mind that love can be starved to death as literally as the body that receives no sustenance. Love feeds upon kindness and courtesy.[4]

Happiness is the end, really, of our existence. That happiness comes most effectively through service to our fellow men.[5]

Harold B. Lee

Harold B. Lee

Harold B. Lee: I have frequently counseled, and I repeat it to you again, to all of you here: “The most important of the Lord’s work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own homes.” We must never forget that.[6]

Again and again has been repeated the statement that the home is the basis of a righteous life. With new and badly needed emphasis on the ‘how,’ we must not lose sight of the ‘why’ we are so engaged. The priesthood programs operate in support of the home; the auxiliary programs render valuable assistance. Wise regional leadership can help us to do our share in attaining God’s overarching purpose, ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.’ (Moses 1:39.) Both the revelations of God and the learning of men tell us how crucial the home is in shaping the individual’s total life experience. You must have been impressed that running through all that has been said in this conference has been the urgency of impressing the importance of better teaching and greater parental responsibility in the home. Much of what we do organizationally, then, is scaffolding, as we seek to build the individual, and we must not mistake the scaffolding for the soul.[7]

Howard W. Hunter

Howard W.  and Inis Egan Hunter

Howard W. Hunter: You should express regularly to your wife and children your reverence and respect for her. Indeed, one of the greatest things a father can do for his children is to love their mother.[8]

President Russel M. Nelson

President Russel M. and Wendy Watson  Nelson

Russel M. Nelson: This life is the time to prepare for salvation and exaltation.  In God’s eternal plan, salvation is an individual matter; exaltation is a family matter.[9]

Individual progression is fostered in the family, which is “central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”  The home is to be God’s laboratory of love and service. There a husband is to love his wife, a wife is to love her husband, and parents and children are to love one another.

Throughout the world, the family is increasingly under attack. If families fail, many of our political, economic, and social systems will also fail. And if families fail, their glorious eternal potential cannot be realized.

Our Heavenly Father wants husbands and wives to be faithful to each other and to esteem and treat their children as an heritage from the Lord.  In such a family we study the scriptures and pray together. And we fix our focus on the temple. There we receive the highest blessings that God has in store for His faithful children. [10]

L. Tom Perry

L. Tom and Virginia C. Perry

L. Tom Perry: The Church . . . is the scaffolding with which we build eternal families. . . .

The Church as scaffolding is perhaps best represented by a statement the Prophet Joseph Smith made about his role as the leader of the Church. He said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” Eternal principles are the scaffolding the Church provides. These eternal principles are embedded in the doctrines of the kingdom of God and are reflected in His eternal plan of happiness. We meet as members of the Church to teach and learn from each other the principles of righteousness and to receive saving ordinances so the scaffolding is steady and stable as we build our eternal families.

Notice that the Church is not meant to do the work of parents; rather, it guides the work of parents. The Church offers an eternal form. As builders of eternal families, we are reassured by promises that if we build according to this eternal form, our efforts can provide the safety and protection we seek for those we love most.[11]

Make the honoring of family traditions—holiday traditions, birthday traditions, Sunday traditions, dinnertime traditions—and the development of new ones a priority throughout your lives. Honor them, write them down, and make certain you follow them. Studies show that the reason young people join gangs is for the tradition and ritual of belonging to something larger than self. That is what a family should be. Be certain you are creating a rich environment in which your family can look forward to special times of the year when traditions hold you together as a great eternal family unit.

Understand that this is neither a simple nor an easy solution. Just as Rome was not built in a day, neither are family traditions. Family traditions can offer basic and lasting support, but there’s a lot that must be built around them. Perhaps family traditions work only when they create a role for every member of the family and when there is united effort to build them. This means family members need to spend time together and learn how to work together. When it comes to families, there is no such thing as quality time without a certain quantity of time.[12]

LDS Church Administration Building

LDS Church Administration Building

Official Church Website: No one fully knows the root causes of same-sex attraction. Each experience is different. Latter-day Saints recognize the enormous complexity of this matter. We simply don’t have all the answers. Attraction to those of the same sex, however, should not be viewed as a disease or illness. We must not judge anyone for the feelings they experience. Members of the Church who have same-sex attractions, but don’t act on them, can continue to enjoy full fellowship in the church, which includes holding the priesthood, carrying out callings, and attending the temple. Unlike in times past, the Church does not necessarily advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite sex. Same-sex attraction itself is not a sin, but yielding to it is. However, through repentance Jesus Christ will offer forgiveness.

A Deeper Look

As mentioned at the start of this post, a recent Supreme Court decision in the United States cleared the way for gay marriages everywhere in the country. Since most of the individuals who visit this blog are from the United States, it is likely that this will be a subject of some importance to those reading this post. Due to the timing of this lesson, it is highly likely that the subject of homosexuality will either come up in class, be a subtext to the discussion though never mentioned directly, or be on people’s minds while they talk about families. Homosexuality is a very complicated and sensitive subject that could cause hurt feelings, heated discussions, and a loss of the Spirit in a class setting if discussed improperly. This is particularly true since homosexuality is a relatively common but little-understood experience and there is likely either individuals who experience homosexual attraction or individuals who have someone close to them who experiences homosexual attraction in the classroom.

Supreme Court

Regardless of whatever stances members hold, it is important to maintain what Joseph Smith called “the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism”: friendship. The Church is an opportunity to develop and practice principles of friendship and love (which Christ himself said was the second great commandment) with individuals who have both similarities and differences from ourselves. We need to make sure that everyone feels welcomed and loved at Church. On the other hand, we do have to make a stand for what we believe. As an instructor, in order to navigate this issue and guide class discussions appropriately, it is helpful to fully understand and be able to quote the official Church stances on the issues at hand.

There are a number of web pages and a website that the Church has set up to deal with the issue. Probably the four most important ones to look at are as follows:

Gospel Topic: Same-Sex Attraction

Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction

The Divine Institution of Marriage

First Presidency Letter, 29 June 2015

It is also important to understand that Church stances on specific parts of the issues at hand have shifted from time to time as more information has been revealed and accepted, and that high-ranking Church leaders may hold and express opinions that are their own and not the official stance of the Church at the present time. Thus, if previous leaders such as President Spencer W. Kimball, President Boyd K. Packer, or others describe homosexuality as a disease possibly brought on by parental failure, masturbation or satanic influences and curable by special treatments or heterosexual marriage and current Church official sources state contrary, it is the current stance that should be used to represent the Church and its beliefs, not the former. We do believe in supporting the living prophet, not just venerating dead ones, after all. That is why it is important to be read up on current Church literature on the subject. As a matter of understanding on the issues cited above, the Church website for “gays and Mormons” does declare itself to be representative of the official stance for the Church and states that: “No one fully knows the root causes of same-sex attraction. . . . Attraction to those of the same sex, however, should not be viewed as a disease or illness. We must not judge anyone for the feelings they experience. . . . Unlike in times past, the Church does not necessarily advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite sex.”

There are three big questions that I see that should be highlighted in a discussion on homosexuality:

  • Is homosexual orientation a sin?
  • Where does the Church draw the line on homosexual relationships and why?
  • How are Church members to treat people that are openly gay or supportive of gays?

I don’t have time to go into great detail on each question, so a paragraph or two each will have to do. Those who want more detail should explore the sites listed above.

First, is homosexual orientation a sin? A point to first be made is that the Church differentiates between homosexual orientation and homosexual sexual activity and that the former is not a sin, but the latter is: “The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them.”[13] This position—that same-sex attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is—is reiterated consistently in all current Church resources that touch on the subject, from “For the Strength of Youth” to the sources linked above.

The root cause of same-sex attraction is a more dicey issue in Church discourse, historically. The root concern comes from the question: If God wants people to not carry out homosexual sex, why does same-sex attraction exist? It’s really a bit of a theodicy problem for Mormon theology—the question of why if God is perfect in attributes and all-powerful do things that are either contrary to his will or harmful to humans physically, emotionally, or spiritually exist. In the past, some Church leaders have indeed held that same-sex attraction was not anything based in the innate biology of an individual (since that would implicate God to one degree or another) but rather stemming out of poor choices of either the individual who experiences same-sex attraction or her/his parents. Currently, the Church has backed off from harsh positions of this sort and holds that the origin of same-sex attraction not a choice, but is complex, not well understood, and that we simply do not know why it exists. As such, it encourages Church members to not judge or condemn those who do experience same-sex attraction. The Church’s website Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction has the most in-depth look at this question.

Turning to the second question: Where does the Church draw the line on homosexuality? Essentially, the Church holds to the idea that sexual intimacy is meant to only occur in marriage and that marriage was only meant to occur between a man and a woman (or in certain time periods, between a man and women). While Church leaders have indicated that sexual intimacy is an expression of love between two individuals and it satisfies a physical need, it is something to be tightly regulated to ensure that children will be able to be born and grow in a healthy, stable environment:

Marriage is far more than a contract between individuals to ratify their affections and provide for mutual obligations. Rather, marriage is a vital institution for rearing children and teaching them to become responsible adults. Throughout the ages, governments of all types have recognized marriage as essential in preserving social stability and perpetuating life. Regardless of whether marriages were performed as a religious rite or a civil ceremony, in almost every culture marriage has been protected and endorsed by governments primarily to preserve and foster the institution most central to rearing children and teaching them the moral values that undergird civilization.

It is true that some couples who marry will not have children, either by choice or because of infertility. The special status granted marriage is nevertheless closely linked to the inherent powers and responsibilities of procreation and to the innate differences between the genders. By contrast, same-sex marriage is an institution no longer linked to gender—to the biological realities and complementary natures of male and female. Its effect is to decouple marriage from its central role in creating life, nurturing time-honored values, and fostering family bonds across generations.[14]

As such, the Church holds that:

While maintaining that feelings and inclinations toward the same sex are not inherently sinful, engaging in homosexual behavior is in conflict with the “doctrinal principle, based on sacred scripture … that marriage between a man and a woman is essential to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”

Because the Church believes that the sacred powers of procreation are “to be exercised only between a man and a woman lawfully wedded as husband and wife … any other sexual relations, including those between persons of the same gender, undermine the divinely created institution of the family.” Accordingly, the Church favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.[15]

This concern for preserving traditional family for the sake of children extends to worries over how societal acceptance of homosexuality will affect the strength of traditional families. The “The Divine Institution of Marriage” document is the resource that is probably the clearest on this particular area of concern.

While the Church has maintained a strong position against homosexual marriage, when it comes to the question of how Church members are supposed to treat people that are openly homosexual or supportive of homosexual marriage and relationships, it is striving to be as compassionate as it can be while (figuratively) sticking to its guns. As stated in the recent First Presidency letter issued to Latter-day Saints to counsel them after the Supreme Court ruling:

The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility—even when we disagree. We affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same‐sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. Indeed, the Church has advocated for rights of same‐sex couples in matters of hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment, and probate, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.[16]

Again, as stated elsewhere:

Jesus Christ commanded us to love our neighbors. Whether sinner or saint, rich or poor, stranger or friend, everyone in God’s small world is our neighbor, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Latter-day Saints believe that our true commitment to Christian teachings is revealed by how we respond to this commandment. This love is tested every day of our lives. We may know individuals with same-sex attraction in our workplaces, congregations and town halls. As people with hopes, fears and aspirations like everyone else, these neighbors deserve our love. But we can’t truly love the neighbors next door if we don’t love the neighbors under our own roof. Family members with same-sex attraction need our love and understanding. God loves all his children alike, much more than any of us can comprehend, and expects us to follow.[17]

So, in final summary, the Church holds that same-sex attraction is not a sin, but acting on those desires is, though repentance and redemption is always available through the Atonement. Sex is to only occur in marriage and marriage is only to occur between a man and a woman in order to create healthy and stable children. Regardless of what other individuals choose to practice in regard to homosexuality, however, they deserve to be treated with love and compassion. Hopefully some of these resources will be useful as the topic comes up in Church in upcoming weeks. Happy teaching!

Ezra Taft Benson and his wife, Flora

Ezra Taft Benson and his wife, Flora

Disclaimer: I have tried to summarize the Church’s position on a few questions relative to homosexuality, however something must be understood: This blog is not an official Church site and does not necessarily represent the Church’s position entirely accurately. The resources I have linked to this blog do, however, represent the Church’s official position as of July 2015.

[1] Boice, Trina (2014-11-09). The Ready Resource for Relief Society Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson (Kindle Locations 1362-1364). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[2] David O. McKay: Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), 154.

[3] McKay, Teachings, 43.

[4] McKay, Teachings, 149.

[5] McKay, Teachings, 182.

[6] The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 280.

[7] Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, Oct. 1967, 107

[8] Howard W. Hunter, “Being a Righteous Husband and Father, ” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 50.

[9] Russell M. Nelson, “Salvation and Exaltation,” CR, April 2008, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/04/salvation-and-exaltation?lang=eng

[10] Russell M. Nelson, “Salvation and Exaltation,” CR, April 2008, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/04/salvation-and-exaltation?lang=eng

[11] L. Tom Perry, “Traditions of Light and Testimony,” Ensign, December 2012, https://www.lds.org/ensign/2012/12/the-tradition-of-light-and-testimony?lang=eng

[12] Perry, “Traditions.”

[13] http://mormonsandgays.org/, accessed 17 July 2015

[14] “The Divine Institution of Marriage,” Mormon Newsroom, accessed 17 July 2015, http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/the-divine-institution-of-marriage

[15] “Same-Gender Attraction,” LDS.org, Gospel Topics, accessed 17 July 2015, https://www.lds.org/topics/same-gender-attraction?lang=eng

[16] http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/top-church-leaders-counsel-members-after-supreme-court-same-sex-marriage-decision

[17] http://mormonsandgays.org/ accessed 17 July 2015

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Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 13: Priceless Blessings of the House of the Lord

This is the temple chapter for the Ezra Taft Benson manual. The life section focuses on the example of temple-going that his parents set for him. Section one focuses on all the wonderful things that temples stand for and can remind us of. Section two focuses on the relationship between the temple ordinances, receiving the fulness of the priesthood, and exaltation by referring to several scriptures about Adam’s life. Section three focuses on the blessings gained through temple attendance. Section four deals with encouraging members to do temple work for deceased individuals. Section five focuses on teaching children about the temple so that they will be excited to go. Section six focuses on returning to the temple over and over to gain a better understanding of the ordinances and increase our flow of revelation.

Logan, Utah Temple

Logan, Utah Temple

Resources for Lesson/Teaching Helps:

Suggested Hymns

“High on the Mountain Top” (Hymns #5 and #333)

“What Was Witnessed in the Heavens” (Hymns #11)

“Rise, Ye Saints, and Temple Enter” (Hymns #287)

“Turn Your Hearts” (Hymns #291)

“Families Can Be Together Forever” (Hymns #300)

Videos

“Strength Beyond My Own”

“Time Well Spent”

“Temples Are a Beacon”

“Endowed With Power”

“Why Mormons Build Temples”

Object Lessons

Get two envelopes; put a picture of the temple on one envelope. Put cut-outs (paper dolls? magazine people?) of family members in each envelope. Seal shut the envelope with the temple picture. All the while, talk about the one family going to the temple and the other not going. Then dump both envelopes containing families upside down. The family in the envelope that was not sealed will fall out all over the place. The family in the sealed envelope, will be all together.[1]

Have a talent contest to see who can comb their hair without bending their elbows or talk on a cell phone without touching it? Ask two sisters to eat a candy bar without bending their elbows. What’s the punch line? It can’t be done, unless they help each other. Our ancestors need us as much as we needed them. Together, we save each other.[2]

Further Reading

David A. Bednar: “The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn,” CR, October 2011

Richard G. Scott, “The Joy of Redeeming the Dead,” CR, October 2012

Quentin L. Cook, “Roots and Branches,” CR, April 2014

First Presidency Letter: Names Submitted for Temple Ordinances

Terryl L. Givens: “The Heavenly Logic of Proxy Baptism”

Terryl L. Givens: Latter-day Saint Temples in Context: Restoration, Romanticism, Anthropology and Passibility

Quotes

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Dieter F. Uchtdorf: Temples are an unyielding witness that goodness will prevail. President George Q. Cannon (1827–1901), First Counselor in the First Presidency, once said, “Every foundation stone that is laid for a Temple, and every Temple completed … lessens the power of Satan on the earth, and increases the power of God and Godliness.”

While each temple increases the influence of righteousness in the earth, the greatest blessings, of course, come to those who actually attend the temple. There we receive further light and knowledge and make solemn covenants that, if followed, help us walk in the path of discipleship. In short, the temple teaches us about the sacred purpose of life and helps us get our true physical and spiritual bearings.[3]

Gordon B. Hinckley

Gordon B. Hinckley

Gordon B. Hinckley: The Lord has made it possible for us in these holy houses to receive our own [ordinances]. Then we have the opportunity and responsibility of extending these same blessings to those who have passed on without the privilege. But in the very process there comes into our own lives a refinement of character, together with increased spirituality. It is interesting to reflect on the fact that although many on the other side may not receive the ordinances done for them here, those who perform these ordinances will be blessed in the very process of doing so.[4]

I hope that everyone gets to the temple on a regular basis. . . . If we are a temple-going people, we will be a better people, we will be better fathers and husbands, we will be better wives and mothers. I know your lives are busy. I know that you have much to do. But I make you a promise that if you will go to the House of the Lord, you will be blessed; life will be better for you. Now, please, please, my beloved brothers and sisters, avail yourselves of the great opportunity to go to the Lord’s house and thereby partake of all the marvelous blessings that are yours to be received there.[5]

Possible photo of Joseph Smith.

Possible photo of Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith: The greatest responsibility resting upon us is to look after our dead.— they without us cannot be made perfect.[6]

2007-04-1040-elder-richard-g-scott-590x332-ldsorg-articleRichard G. Scott: Temple and family history work is one work divided into two parts. They are connected together like the ordinances of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost….

Father in Heaven wants each of us to receive both parts of the blessing of this vital vicarious work. He has led others to show us how to qualify. It is up to you and me to claim those blessings.

Any work you do in the temple is time well spent, but receiving ordinances vicariously for one of your own ancestors will make the time in the temple more sacred, and even greater blessings will be received.[7]

B. H. Roberts

B. H. Roberts

B. H. Roberts: While the Gospel is preached in the spirit world, it appears from all that can be learned upon the subject, that all the outward ordinances, such as baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, anointings, sealings, etc., etc., must be performed vicariously here upon the earth for those who accept the Gospel in the world of spirits. This is the work that children may do for their progenitors, and upon learning this, the hearts of the children are turned to their fathers; and the fathers in the spirit world, learning that they are dependent upon the actions of the posterity for the performance of the ordinances of salvation, their hearts are turned to the children; and thus the work that was predicted should be performed by Elijah—turning the hearts of the children to the fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children—was accomplished in restoring the keys of knowledge respecting the salvation for the dead.[8]

John A. Widtsoe

John A. Widtsoe

John A Widtose: It is a great promise that to the temples God will come, and that in them man shall see God. What does this promised communion mean? Does it mean that once in a while God may come into the temples, and that once in a while the pure in heart may see God there; or does it mean the larger thing, that the pure in heart who go into the temples, may, there, by the Spirit of God, always have a wonderfully rich communion with God? I think that is what it means to me and to you and to most of us. We have gone into these holy houses, with our minds freed from the ordinary earthly cares, and have literally felt the presence of God. In this way, the temples are always places where God manifests himself to man and increases his intelligence. A temple is a place of revelation.[9]

Come Unto Christ

In the manual, President Benson is quoted as teaching that “The temple ceremony was given by a wise Heavenly Father to help us become more Christlike.” There are several ways in which I can see that that works. First, going to the temple is one way to follow Christ’s example. I know that LDS temples today are not exactly the same as the Jewish temple of Christ’s time, but it is still significant that the Christ went to that sacred ground often. Many of the stories of his time in Jerusalem center on experiences and teachings in the temple. He cleansed the temple because “the zeal of thine [God’s] house hat eaten me up.” (John 2:17.) When He came to visit the Nephites, it was at the temple in the land Bountiful. So, in a way, Christ could be said to be a frequent temple attender.

Christ Appearing to the Nephites

Christ Appearing to the Nephites

Second, the ordinances of the temple point to Christ. It is not my place to reveal too much about the ordinances since, as Elder Steven Snow once said, “We hold those things sacred, and we don’t feel that that should be talked about, and we feel that’s blasphemous when others have published that material online.”[10]  The ordinances do, however, relate the significance in the Atonement by outlining the context of that sacrifice in the Plan of Salvation, and driving home the significance of the Atonement in our lives through symbolism and imagery. As Bruce L. Olsen said at the San Diego Temple on one occasion, “the Savior and His atonement are found on every turn in the temple and are the foundation of each ordinance.”[11] One pamphlet from a temple open house also states that, “Everything done in the temple . . . is done in the name of Jesus Christ because the Savior and His atoning sacrifice make possible every hope and blessing of the temple,” and that the endowment features “the central role of Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of all God’s children.”[12]

Third, the temple teaches to live the kind of life that Christ lives. At the heart of saving ordinances are covenants that bind us to live commandments that bring us closer to God. In the temple, we “make sacred promises of honesty, chastity, and service to God and to others” which “become anchors of stability in daily living and pathways to God’s eternal blessings.”[13]  These covenants are a way in which the Lord tutors us “step-by-step . . . to become like Him.”[14] Again this is reinforced by some of the imagery and symbolism of the temple ceremonies. Hugh Nibley pointed out parallels in early Christian writings about washings and anointings: “[The washing] is followed by an anointing, which our guide [Cyril] calls ‘the antitype of the anointing of Christ himself,’ making every candidate as it were a Messiah. . . . Furthermore, the candidate was reminded that the whole ordinance ‘is an imitation of the sufferings of Christ,’ in which ‘we suffer without pain by mere imitation his receiving of the nails in his hands and feet: the antitype of Christ’s sufferings.’”[15] The main focus of this part of temple ordinances is not to literally become Christs, but to help us remember to live Christ-like lives and take part in the Divine attributes.

There is much in temple work to turn our minds to Christ and to help us to follow His example in our daily lives.

San Diego Temple

San Diego Temple

A Deeper Look

Recently, I’ve seen a small uproar in the Mormon community over the potential portrayal of a Mormon character in a TV series. What has been the biggest concern is that the character is to be introduced in a scene where he is seen in temple garments the whole time. We as Latter-day Saints tend to keep quiet about the specifics of temple worship because they are sacred to us, and such a portrayal is a violation of the sacred. Such secrecy on the parts of Mormons, however tends to lead towards concerns by those not of our faith, since silence is often linked to the sinister. If they don’t want it known, it might be reasoned, it must be because it is too terrible for potential recruits or outsiders to know about. I have heard people worry about animal sacrifices, sexual content, covenants to do harm to non-Mormons or overthrow the US government,[16] blood oaths to not reveal temple information on pains of gruesome deaths,[17] and so on. In response, many Mormons have adopted the mantra, “sacred, not secret,” emphasizing that we keep quite because of the sacred nature of the covenants, but that anyone can partake in them once they are in a position to understand the ceremonies as a sacred experience in proper context (i.e. as faithful members of the Church). They do not have the same meaning and power outside of proper context and for those who do not view them as sacred.

There is value in this approach. It is a way to teach that the temple rites are not sinister, just something we want to keep apart from the world. Recently, however, I read some writings by Richard L. Bushman (an eminent Mormon historian) that achieves that same end by turning the phrase “sacred, not secret” on its head, which I thought I would share. He wrote:

With remarkable skill, Joseph Smith and his successors adopted practices that set these buildings apart from all other spaces. They achieved a separation of the sacred from the profane like the one that like the one that Mircea Eliade sees as the point of every church in the modern city.

“For a believer, the church shares in a different space from the street in which it stands. The door that opens on the interior of the church actually signifies a dissolution of continuity. The threshold that separates the two spaces also indicates the distance between two modes of being, the profane and the religious. The threshold is the limit, the boundary, the frontier that distinguishes and opposes to worlds—and at the same time the paradoxical place where those worlds communicate, where passage from the profane to the sacred world becomes possible.”

Before the Manhattan temple was completed in 2003, a few score people were allowed to walk through the rooms. The spaces were still obviously a construction site, with tools on the floors and door frames were still obviously a construction site, with tools on the floors and door frames and trim still missing. Carpets were not laid, no paintings were on the walls, scaffolding was still up. And yet these observers, dressed in their Sunday best as instructed, walked in silence through the rooms, many with arms folded. Already before the dedication, the temple aura was there.

After each temple’s dedication, the full array of measures for sacralizing the temple spaces goes into effect. No one enters the Mormon temple unless they have been interviewed by their bishop to determine their elemental worthiness. Eliade notes the importance of thresholds to sacred spaces: “They are symbols and at the same time vehicles of passage from the one to the other.” At the thresholds of Mormon temples, a man in white clothing stands to examine each person’s credentials. After entering, temple-goers change from street cloths into white temple clothing. Everywhere in the temple they speak in hushed tones. The rooms themselves are spotless, cleaned thoroughly every week. The religious scholar Jonathan Z. Smith says that “taking care” is one sing of a sacred space.

Perhaps as important as anything, Latter-day Saints pledge not to speak of the temple ceremonies outside its walls. Sometimes Mormons, a little embarrassed by this prohibition, say the ceremonies are sacred, not secret. But it is probably just as true to say: the ceremonies are sacred because they are secret. The full temple ritual can be read on the web, like so much other information these days, but the availability of the ceremony, or lack of it, to the curious public is not the point. What matters to Mormons is that the participants in the temple ritual refrain from speaking of it. The restraint on discussion outside the temple hallows both the rituals and the spaces in which they are performed.[18]

Brigham City, Utah Temple

Brigham City, Utah Temple

I have pondered a lot on why temples are so important and what gives them power. Sometimes I’ve asked myself: Why do we have to put so much time and effort and money into building temples rather than just going to mountain tops as was often done in the Bible? Why do we talk so much about feeling the Spirit and receiving revelations in the temple and what enables it to be a place where that can take place better than elsewhere? It almost seems as though it’s a magic place where things out of the ordinary take place, but why would that be so?

A faithful Latter-day Saint might be tempted to say that it is so because it was dedicated to be so by priesthood power. While I believe that is part of it, I do not believe that that is the whole answers to the question. To me, the temples are sacred and powerful because we make them so. It is largely the state of mind, the emotional and spiritual preparation and expectation that we have going in, and the actions and attitudes we take while in the temple that turn it into a sacred space where we can commune with God. The walls of the temple exist both as a literal and a figurative threshold—a boundary that keeps what is going on inside separated from both the world and the worldly things. Once we cross that threshold, we change into cloths that are specific in color to the temple, speak in whispers rather than normal tones, and take place in ordinances only performed in the temple. All these indicate that it is something different from everyday life. Creating that threshold and expecting sacred space on the inside of that boundary likewise creates sacred space within our mind while we are in the temple, opening ourselves up to the power of the experience. This is heightened by practices sometimes done by Mormons to prepare for entering the temple prior to actually being there by listening to sacred music on a day in which one intends to attend the temple, fasting, prayer, scripture study, and so on. Speaking of what goes on inside the temple only inside the temple is another expression of that boundary and the creation of sacred space, as indicated by Richard L. Bushman. It is a way to keep the ordinances separate, special, and unmixed with the worldly. As he wrote, “The ceremonies are sacred because they are secret.”

Salt Lake Temple Image courtesy LDS.org

Salt Lake Temple
Image courtesy LDS.org

As another way of looking at the same idea, there was an old article by Hugh Nibley in which he spoke of ancient temples across the world and observed that:

In his recent study of a primitive Egyptian temple complex, Egyptologist Philippe Derchain declares that “one can almost compare the ancient Egyptian temple to a powerhouse where diverse energies are converted into electric current or to a control room where, by the application of very little effort … one can safely produce and distribute energy as needed along the proper power lines.” (Le Papyrus Salt 5825 [Brussels: Memoirs of the Royal Academy], vol. 58 [1965], p. 14.) Such powerhouses were not confined to Egypt; we find them everywhere, in the Old World and the New.

The ruins of such centers of power and control still comprise by far the most impressive remnants of the human past. Today the great plants are broken down and deserted; the power has been shut off. They mean nothing to us any more, because we don’t understand how they worked.

The most sophisticated electronic gadget in perfect working order is nothing in the hands of one who has never heard of electricity, and it would only frustrate even an expert if he found no power outlet to plug into. Perhaps the old powerhouses were something like that. And did they ever really work?

A great many people went to a lot of trouble for an unusually long time to set up these mysterious dynamos all over the world. What could they possibly have derived from all this effort? They must have gotten something, to have kept at it so long and so enthusiastically. . . .

The idea that divine power can be conveyed to men and used by them through the implementation of tangible earthly contrivances and that these become mere antique oddities once the power is shut off is surprisingly confirmed and illustrated by the Book of Mormon. Thus the Liahona and the Urim and Thummim were kept among the national treasures of the Nephites long after they had ceased their miraculous functions.

Before the finger of the Lord touched the sixteen stones of the brother of Jared, they were mere pieces of glass, and they probably became so after they had fulfilled their purpose. And the gold plates had no message to deliver until a special line of communication was opened by supernatural power.

In themselves these objects were nothing; they did not work by magic, a power that resided in the objects themselves so that a person has only to get hold of the magical staff, seal, ring, robe, book of Moses or Solomon or Peter in order to become master of the world. The aids and implements that God gives to men work on no magic or automatic or mechanical principle, but only “according to the faith and diligence and heed which we … give unto them” (1 Ne. 16:28) and cease to work because of wickedness (see 1 Ne. 18:12). . . .

But what about all these ancient powerhouses—what would happen if they were restored? Nothing, in my opinion. They might be repaired and put in working order, but that would no more make them work than setting up a Liahona or Urim and Thummim, with all of the working parts in order, would enable us to use them. Without power from above, nothing will happen, for this is not magic.[19]

Solomon's Temple

Solomon’s Temple

Thus, drawing the idea to the modern temple, the buildings themselves are not magic but work “according to the faith and diligence and heed which we … given unto them.” The Lord pours out the influence of His Spirit and gives power to the ordinances of the temple because they are done in the way He has directed and because we have created a sacred space in which we have mentally and spiritually prepared ourselves to receive certain blessings from above. Our reticence to speak of the rituals performed within the temple outside of the temple is just a way we express those feelings about the temple and give power to those buildings and the experiences we have inside.

[1] http://www.mormonshare.com/lds-object-lesson/families-can-be-sealed-together

[2] Boice, Trina (2013-11-13). The Ready Resource for Relief Society Teaching: Joseph Fielding Smith (Kindle Locations 1985-1987). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition

[3] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Temple Blessings,” Ensign August 2010, https://www.lds.org/liahona/2010/08/temple-blessings?lang=eng

[4] Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (SLC: Deseret Book Company, 1997), 622-623.

[5] Hinckley, Teachings, 624

[6] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 6051-6052). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

[7] Richard G. Scott, “The Joy of Redeeming the Dead,” CR, October 2012, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/10/the-joy-of-redeeming-the-dead?lang=eng

[8] B. H. Roberts, The Gospel: An Exposition of its first principles; and Man’s Relationship to Deity, 3rd ed. (Salt Lake City: Desert News, 1901), 245.

[9] Widtsoe, John A. “Temple Worship.” The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine12 (April 1921), 56

[10] Snow, Steven. Fireside, 10 November 2013, Logan, Utah. Cited from Chad L. Nielsen notes, in author’s possession.

[11] Bruce L . Olsen, San Diego Temple Coordinator Workshop, September 11, 2011.

[12] Brigham City Utah Temple open house brochure (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2012).

[13] Brigham City Utah Temple open house brochure.

[14] Bonnie D. Parkin, “With Holiness of Heart,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 103.

[15] Cited in Tad R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement (SLC: Deseret Book, 2000), 295-296.

[16] It must be acknowledged that during the 1800s, it was standard to pray for the Lord to take revenge on people who had been involved in Joseph Smith’s death. That is the closest thing I am aware of that could be taken this way. Such is no longer the case.

[17] Covenants are made to not reveal certain, very sacred parts of the endowment ceremony. In times past these did include symbolic punishments attached to each of these obligations, to emphasize that recipients would rather do such and such than reveal the information at hand. As time has gone on, references to punishments have been removed from the endowment ceremony while retaining agreements to not reveal certain information.

[18] Richard Lyman Bushman, “Joseph Smith and Creation of the Sacred,” in Jospeh Smith Jr.:  Reappraisal after Two Centuries, ed. Reid L. Neilson and Terryl L. Givens (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 104-105.

[19] Hugh Nibley, “Ancient Temples: What Do They Signify?” Ensign, September 1972.