For those who are reading this who may still be believers, let me say up front that I’m not going to reveal any signs or tokens, or anything that I promised not too. Anyone who is remotely inclined can google it to watch videos of the entire endowment ceremony or read transcripts, I don’t need to share that here. However, some of this may still be uncomfortable, I know that it was for me. It never feels good to discover that you’ve been deceived.
As a youth growing up in the LDS church, it was always stressed to me how important and how marvelous the temple was. At age eight I started researching my family history. I know my way around several family history libraries and I can fill out pedigree charts and family group sheets with impressive speed. At age 18, my mom suggested that it would be a good idea for me to go through the temple and be endowed. This was many years ago, back when single women had to be 21 and heading on a mission before they could go through the temple. However, this is not a hard fast rule and my own mother had gone through the temple at age 19, never served a mission and didn’t get married until age 24. I decided that I wanted to prepare for it first. I did baptisms for the dead every week for a year. I read every LDS article on temple worship and a few books. I took the temple prep class and a few extra religion classes and I felt I was ready. I had the support of both my bishop and my stake president and had scheduled my appointment at the temple. Family members were planning on being there. When I went in for my appointment with my bishop I was given some devastating news. A couple days before he had received a letter from the First Presidency stating that young single adults who were not getting married or serving missions were not to go through the temple. Apparently, too many of them were leaving the church after going through the temple when they weren’t in the situation of being committed to a temple marriage or LDS mission. I was heart-broken. I only wanted to do temple work and seal my ancestors together. I cried for days, it seemed so unfair. It also seemed very strange to me that going through the temple would spur people to leaving the church. Wasn’t the temple supposed to teach us to be better people and to be more Christ-like? Another item that I just put on the shelf.
After my missionary returned and we were engaged I finally was able to achieve this saving ordinance and go through the temple. He didn’t tell me then, but he was scared out of his mind that in going through the temple I would think it was all too crazy and I would run out, leave him and cancel our temple wedding. Obviously, I didn’t, but it wasn’t what I expected either. The endowment ceremony was kind of weird, but I believed that if I just had faith and kept attending, these things would be explained to me. I didn’t understand why I felt more peaceful and spiritual hiking in the mountains than I ever did in the temple. Never at any point did anyone explain anything, but I kept going and waiting.
I went through the temple first and then went on my study abroad trip for six weeks. We got married less than two weeks after I got home. (Yes, I spent half my engagement in South America. Kind of crazy, I know.) For those of you who have not been through the temple (or taken a D&C religion/ Sunday School class), every individual receives a sacred name which a woman only reveals to her husband and a man reveals to no one. According to D&C 130:11, this new name is a key to the celestial kingdom and no one knows except for the person who receives it. Before the marriage ceremony a bride tells her groom the secret name through the veil. I stood in front of the veil, pausing to reflect on what at the time was a big moment to me. I leaned in to tell my husband my name and before I could the temple worker interrupted and said my sacred name. I looked at her thinking “How in the hell, do you know my secret name?”, but before I could say anything another temple worker urged me to hurry on. So we did that ceremony and moved on to the sealing room, which was basically a typical LDS temple wedding ceremony,
except for a couple odd things that happened that don’t really have much to do with Mormonism, but more to do with my family, but seriously we don’t have time for all of that back story. In the rush of the big day I didn’t think about it for a long time. What I learned later is that my ‘secret name’ was never secret. There is a rotating list of names that they give out based on the numeric day of the month. Every woman who went through on the seventh day of the month since 1983 is named Leah. Every man who went through on the 7th day of the month is named Alma. You can look up anyone’s name at Temple Name Oracle if you know what day of the month they went through the temple. Ironically, I didn’t learn this from any anti-Mormon source, but from my brother who to this day is one of the most determined defenders of Mormonism that I know.
From Alan’s side of the experience, it always bothered him that I had to tell him something secret, but he was not allowed to tell me his name. He felt like it was a bad way to start a marriage, from square one he was keeping secrets from me. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the ordinance revolved around a couple sharing their secret names with each other? That seems a better way to show togetherness and commitment. I have had other friends confess that they felt that the temple ceremony is sexist because of this and other elements. I have known men who claimed authority over their wives because of the temple endowment ceremony, to the point that they justified abuse. I tried not to ever think about it.
Years later (2008ish) I was working on genealogy, going through files and papers that had belonged to my grandfather. I found a woman who had been over-looked in regards to her temple work. She was in a family of 15 children and every member of her family had been sealed together but her. I was so excited that I had found her and I could help her. I had what I thought was a very spiritual experience. I cried. I knew that she must be so excited that I could find her and join her to her family. I made the preparations and was so excited to seal her to her family. I was promised that something special would happen and nothing did. That temple ordinance was similar to hundreds of others that I had experienced, in fact it was rushed and I was surprised that nothing special happened. Another one for the shelf. On several occasions I have told this story to close friends, or at least the first ‘faith-promoting’ part, and I usually cried because I believed it so hard. I never shared how empty the actual temple ordinance felt for me.
Let’s come back to early 2013. So my head is still spinning about all of these new things I had learned. And my mind would kept going back to ‘What about the temple?’ ‘We have these promises that we will be sealed together. The temple is the only way to do it. I WANT to be with my family forever. No one else makes these promises. I know that Joseph Smith lied about many things, but I really want the temple to be true. I want to believe that all of the sacrifices, temple attendance, serving in callings, thousands of hours sorting through family history records and temple work was for a purpose.’ It was not a concept that I wanted to let go of. This was the part that hurt the most. If I let go of the LDS Church, I had to let go of the belief that I hadn’t been wasting my time.
A few things happened. First Alan and I went on a date. Harmless enough. We’re a little bit of the nerdy persuasion and one of our favorite things to do is go to dinner and then browse Barnes & Noble. So after dinner we headed to the bookstore and there at the front was a display of books, including one about free masonry. I picked one up and opened to a random page. On that page were illustrations of signs and tokens of the priesthood that I had seen and made dozens of times in the temple. (Well, not exactly. There is a very slight variation on one of the tokens, but it was still similar enough to be disturbing to a believer.) So there was some solid basis to the rumor that I had heard that the LDS temple ceremony was copied from the Masonic temple ceremony. When this happened I would still classify myself as a believer, but this hurt. I had been taught that the Masonic temple ceremony was nonsense, but the Masons was a good service-oriented organization that Joseph Smith had joined. So LDS temple ceremony was an imitation of nonsense? There, in a book for anyone to see were the sacred tokens that were supposed to get me into heaven. And the book wasn’t “Mormon Temple Secrets Revealed”, it was a book about the history of free masonry. It turns out that part of the reason that some of the people were angry at Joseph Smith and out for blood is that he was sharing the masonic rites with non-Masons, and heaven forbid, with women! To free masons of the 19th century, this was an unpardonable offense. After the LDS church moved to Utah, for many decades, the free masons refused to allow members of the LDS church to join the lodge in Utah. You can read more under Mormonism and Freemasonry. This is a topic that there aren’t a lot of pro-church sources on, due to the secretive nature of the LDS temple, but there are volumes and volumes written about free masonry from both pro and anti sources. The point isn’t for or against, the point is that Joseph Smith was made a 3rd degree mason and very shortly after he reached that, he taught a inner group of members the temple ceremony that include signs and tokens that bear an uncanny resemblance to masonic signs and tokens.
The temple garment was a constant reminder of the temple covenants that members had made to practice polygamy. The early members of the LDS Church in Utah were so resistant to giving up polygamy because they had made covenants to practice it. (And the symbols on the temple garment are traditional signs of free masonry.) However, in the last days of his life Joseph Smith tried to distance himself from polygamy. With the printing of the Nauvoo Expositor it became apparent how destructive polygamy was to the community. So Joseph Smith stopped wearing his temple garments and instructed others to do the same. Joseph, Hyrum Smith and John Taylor were not wearing their garments at Carthage Jail. Willard Richards refused to remove them. Joseph and Hyrum were killed, John Taylor was severely wounded, Willard Richards fared much better. Here is the original folk tale about garments giving someone protective power.
Below is a picture of a display case of personal belongings of Joseph Smith found at the Salt Lake City Daughters of the Utah Pioneer Museum. Of interest in the top left corner and lower right corner there are Masonic emblems owned by Joseph Smith. In the top right corner are two pieces of the drawstring of the underwear that Joseph Smith was wearing when he was killed. 19th century LDS temple garments did not have draw strings. They were a one piece clothing item like this. Thus showing that Joseph Smith had taken off his garments before he went to Carthage Jail in an effort to distance himself from polygamy and the temple.
Then I started closely examining my scriptures and it was painful to realize I had never made the connection before but celestial marriage=temple marriage=polygamy. The temple is about polygamy. The ceremony has changed significantly since the early days of the church. Originally the all of the ordinances, washing, anointing, endowment and sealing were done in one block, and it took 8 hours. Obviously the ordinances have since been broken up and many parts have been removed, since the current endowment session is roughly 2 hours. If you do your research and read transcripts of the earlier version, it actually makes a lot more sense, but not in a way that brings comfort. Many of the parts that clarify what is going on were taken out. Polygamy is the original reason that the temple weddings took place behind closed doors. These polygamous weddings/ sealings were illegal and they had to be kept secret from the public and sometimes the groom’s other wives. Polygamy and the temple was always connected in the scriptures. And the reason that the LDS Church can not fully abandon polygamy is because the doctrinal basis for polygamy and the doctrinal basis for the temple are one and the same. This is why a man can be sealed to multiple wives (divorced, dead or living), but a woman has to have previous sealings cancelled before she can remarry in the temple. The sealings and the doctrine behind them are about polygamy. This is why the oaths that women make in the temple are not the same as what men make. It is because it is designed to allow for multiple women to be subordinate to one priesthood leader. (I’m not sure how polyandry coherently fits into that puzzle.)
1 In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
2 And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
3 And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.
This is the scripture that we are taught in seminary about the temple. If you follow the cross reference on new and everlasting covenant it takes you to D&C 132, famously know as the section on polygamy. For brevity I’m not going to quote the whole section, but go read it. Seriously, it will open your eyes. Read how the doctrine of polygamy is explained and how the revelation threatens Emma if she did not accept it.
Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, recorded July 12, 1843, relating to the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant and the principle of plural marriage.
3 Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.
4 For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.
5 For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.
6 And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.
7 And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.
Many faithful will argue, ‘Yes, there are some problems with polygamy, but it had to be restored for there to be a fullness of all things’. There is one big fat problem with that. The Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Atonement was supposed to fulfull all of the laws of the Old Testament, including polygamy. Matt 5:17-18 I was always told the Atonement is the reason that we no longer practice animal sacrifice. The Atonement fulfilled that law. So either the Atonement is powerful enough to fulfill the laws of the Old Testament including polygamy, or it isn’t. To say that polygamy had to be restored to modern times implies that they don’t believe that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was sufficient.
I wondered why I didn’t make the connection before between polygamy, that doctrine that Mormons ‘no longer’ practice and don’t like to discuss, and the temple. Then I sat in the back during one of the Young Women’s lessons and realized I know why I didn’t ever make the connection. It’s because they don’t actually talk about it in church. The lessons about the temple are full of very vague and nebulous words like “special”, “happy”, “sacred” and “forever”. But years of church attendance and a temple prep class doesn’t actually give you a clue as to what is going on there. The temple experience is full of rituals in which the participants are covenanting to be loyal to an ideal that is not fully explained to them. By making promises to the LDS Church (not to God, the promises are made before God), members are increasing their commitment. Originally they covenanted to practice polygamy and keep it secret, now they covenant to be obedient to the LDS Church. (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by the way is a trademark of belonging to Intellectual Reserve, Inc, which is managed by The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It has legally been a corporation since 1923.) LDS members who have been through the temple are more likely to be obedient and conforming to the rules and doctrine. It is believed that if you get married in the LDS temple it will help to ensure that you have a happy marriage and a moral life. It gives members a feeling that they are being initiated, that they are committed to something divine and special and they often willingly brush inconsistencies under the rug. The tokens (and the penalties and oaths which have been removed in 1930 and 1990) represent what members are committing to do to themselves if they disobey. There is definitely fear involved. Despite the psychological pain the prospect of polygamy brings to many members, both men and women, they set it aside because they were told that this is how they can have an eternal family and that concept is so important.
Growing up I had many times been told the story of Wilford Woodruff and a dream he had in regards to temple work. It was a faith-promoting story about how the founding fathers of the United States came to him and
urged him to have their temple work done.
“I will here say, before closing, that two weeks before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, “You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God.” These were the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and they waited on me for two days and two nights. I thought it very singular, that notwithstanding so much work had been done, and yet nothing had been done for them. The thought never entered my heart, from the fact, I suppose, that heretofore our minds were reaching after our more immediate friends and relatives. I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon Brother McCallister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others. I then baptized him for every President of the United States, except three; and when their cause is just, somebody will do the work for them.” (Journal of Discourses Vol. XIX, pg 229) President Wilford Woodruff, September 1877, addressing members in the Salt Lake City tabernacle
There is a huge problem with this story. Wilford Woodruff lied. If you view his journal accounts of the time period in question (and Woodruff was a meticulous journal keeper, keeping 31 volumes of journals), there is not mention of a dream or vision. He did mention that he compiled a list of 100 prominent men and had their temple ordinances performed for them. But when he told this ‘faith-promoting story’, he neglected to check his facts first. All of the founding fathers had already had their work done, sometimes multiple times. One of the first things that early members of the church did when they were taught the concept of baptisms for the dead was do baptisms for their dead ancestors and when they ran out of those names, they did proxy baptisms for the founding fathers. (To see further details and sources concerning this story, see Pure Mormonism.) To me this story left me with 2 alternatives 1) Wilford Woodruff lied publicly to encourage people to get more involved in temple work and was encouraging to people to redo work that had already been done (essentially busy work) when they could have been reading or serving their neighbor or spending time with their families. How can one tell when a prophet was speaking as a man and when he is speaking on behalf of God or 2) The temple ordinances were meaningless. If the founding fathers had had their work done and then appeared again asking for it, then when it was done the first time, it didn’t mean anything if they were requesting it to be done again. Or perhaps it was a mix of both options. Wilford Woodruff lied to keep the people engaged in temple work to increase their commitment to something that wasn’t nearly as meaningful as the rhetoric makes it out to be.
I understand why people go to the temple, why they search for hope, peace and reassurance there. Sometimes life is painful. Losing a loved one hurts! I understand how they wish that obedience will ensure that they will have a beautiful after-life with those they love. It’s a nice idea, isn’t it? The problem is that it’s all based on a lie. Joseph lied about polygamy, the first vision, the Book of Mormon and a hundred claims in between. Why should I believe that a person who can’t even be honest to his only legal wife has the power to grant eternal salvation? Why should I trust his claims to me in regards to me and my family? Why should I trust people who perpetuate the lies and demand 10% of my income to participate in their temple rituals?
I like to believe that there is an after-life. I still believe that families are important! I like to believe that after death I will be greeted by friends and family who have gone on before me and I will wait there for the loved ones who left behind. But I don’t know and I don’t believe that anyone can really know until we get there. And I don’t believe that believing a lie or secret handshakes can ensure that I am with my family forever, no matter how much I wanted it to.