not in Primary anymore

the temple is not the solution, it’s the problem

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This post is a response to a response I’ve heard too often about women who wish to be ordained: They haven’t been/don’t understand the temple. Let me just state upfront that I support women’s ordination, and I have been to the temple—at least a couple hundred times. Seriously. And not just as a patron either. I was a temple ordinance worker before serving a mission. I can still recite nearly every ordinance I performed from memory. The only reason I bring this up is to be clear that I’m quite sure there’s nothing I’ve somehow missed in the temple dialogue. And although it’s a little more interpretive, I’m pretty sure I’m well versed in the symbolism too. Since I have yet to see this criticism elaborated upon, I can only guess as to what they refer, but I think it has something to do with our eventual ascent to “queens and priestesses.” Removed from its context, this seems like an equalizing—albeit not immediate—promise. But examined more carefully, it’s anything but.

I’m sure someone on this blog has pointed out (perhaps repeatedly) that while a man is slated to become a “king and priest unto God,” a woman is only a “queen and priestess to her husband.” “So what?” a member of the temple presidency once asked me, “Are you going to be married in eternity to God or your husband?” My husband—I think. But that doesn’t solve the problem. Priesthood holders often explain that they are only servants of God, and have no power themselves. So if a man is a priest unto God, he is His servant. Doesn’t it follow then that if a woman is a priestess unto her husband, she is his servant—and has no power herself. Consider the fact that women covenant to obey their husbands, while men covenant to obey God. In the sealing ceremony, a woman “gives” herself to her husband, while he “receives” her unto himself. In the early church, it was openly taught that a woman’s husband was her lord or god. While the church has updated its public teachings, its private teachings remain the same. These teachings are so private that, like most members, by the time I figured it out I was dressed head-to-toe in white, surrounded approvingly by my family and friends, covenanting to be a second-class citizen for time and all eternity.

The problem is these teachings don’t just stay in the temple—they permeate every aspect of our culture. Everyone knows the temple is the be-all end-all of Mormon worship, so regardless of the conciliatory lip-service paid to equality in our public meetings, many Mormons just don’t believe it. They don’t live by it either. Women are consistently expected by the Mormon faithful to sacrifice their hopes, dreams and ambitions to be a mother, and/or help their husband achieve his instead. In Relief Society, we’re always being told that we need to sustain and support “the priesthood,” which has become synonymous with men in general. So when critics of women who wish to be ordained say “They haven’t been/don’t understand the temple, they can mean only one of two things. The first is “the temple teaches our eventual equality by promising we’ll one day become priestesses”—in which case THEY haven’t listened carefully/don’t understand. Or “the temple teaches that we’re to serve our husbands for all eternity, therefore it is true and right before the Lord, and I will defend it.”

If it’s the first, please open your ears—and remember the temple ceremony has been changed, and can be changed again to reflect more updated attitudes (or continuing revelation, if you choose to see it that way). If church leadership will not reconsider its private teachings, it is because they still believe they are correct. If you fall into the second category, and also believe they’re correct, please update your method of criticism. May I recommend, “Women who wish to be ordained understand the temple, but desire to serve God directly, fully, and faithfully for eternity, with their husbands as equal and mutually supportive partners.” Thank you.

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25 Responses to “the temple is not the solution, it’s the problem”

  1. JL

    So your interpretation of that temple line is the only true interpretation? It could not possibly mean or symbolize anything else?

    “Priesthood holders often explain that they are only servants of God, and have no power themselves. So if a man is a priest unto God, he is His servant.” This current relationship of men with God does not analogize to the future relationship of men with God. The temple promises men that they can be kings and priests, not that they are now kings and priests. So if the temple does not use “priest” in the same way we presently use “priest,” what a “priest” means now is not the same as what a “priest” means in the temple or in the future. True, a priesthood holder now has no power in of himself. But the temple is not talking about a “priest” as he is now. Isn’t the promise of the temple exaltation and eternal life? To become like God? Shouldn’t any interpretation of the temple be in line with such a fundamental doctrine?

    “Doesn’t it follow then that if a woman is a priestess unto her husband, she is his servant—and has no power herself.” No, it does not follow because the premise as explained above is faulty.

    “Consider the fact that women covenant to obey their husbands, while men covenant to obey God. In the sealing ceremony, a woman “gives” herself to her husband, while he “receives” her unto himself.” Once again, is your literal interpretation the only true interpretation? There is an excellent book titled “The Savior and The Serpent.” The author asserts that everything in the temple is symbolic of Christ. One interpretation in line with that assertion is that Adam is symbolic of Christ and Eve is symbolic of humanity. In that light, much of the temple has new meaning including the parts you take offense with. You say that “THEY haven’t listened carefully/don’t understand.” But isn’t possible that they have listened carefully and simply have a different understanding than you?

    Reply
    • VNMarshall

      If Eve is more closely associated with nature and Adam with divinity/culture, then this follows Ortner’s pan-cultural pattern of female subordination because of their association with nature.

      Reply
      • JL

        VNMarshall, I read Ortner’s conclusion and skimmed the rest (21 pages was just too much). You’re absolutely right. I am just way over my head. Maybe you can enlighten me as to how this is relevant to what I said.

  2. JL

    Also, “Women are consistently expected by the Mormon faithful to sacrifice their hopes, dreams and ambitions to be a mother, and/or help their husband achieve his instead.” Men are consistently expected by Mormon faithful to sacrifice their hopes, dreams and ambitions to be a father, and/or help/provide for their wife and family.

    Of course, I personally don’t see it as a sacrifice. Its a blessing that men and women can forget about themselves and work together to build an eternal family.

    Reply
  3. Abigayle

    THANK YOU! The temple is the source of my feminist awakening and all of my feminist issues in the church. It was a very painful experience for me to be endowed and every time I Go I feel like a second class citizen. The temple, in my opinion, is the true source of sexism in the church. Thank you for being brave enough to be honest about the feelings a mm do interpretations of SO MANY people!

    Reply
  4. saving grace

    I really appreciate this article. I have felt like this for a long time and I feel like whenever I try to tell anyone they just tell me to hush up. It is comforting and a bit disheartening too to know that others feel this way.

    To those who say this is not what it means – that there is another interpretation – then please tell my why this is the exact thing the words say. They say EXACTLY that I do not make covenants directly with my Heavenly Father – that I need an intermediary. As a single women, it makes me feel like God doesn’t even want me; that I have no value to Him unless I am married. Perhaps you will tell me that I am wrong, but it truly is how it makes me FEEL.

    So, thank you very much for putting a voice to my feelings. I really appreciate it.

    Reply
  5. MO

    Any message about women and the priesthood is anything but clear in the temple. It’s so important that we start talking about this. Thank you Rebecca for being brave and bold in starting this conversation and sharing your perspective.

    I am inclined to agree with you, though I recognize that there are many ways that the language and rituals in the temple can be interpreted.

    Reply
  6. schwa-lady

    This post reflects the ideological divide between some Mormon feminists and mainstream Mormons. Mainstream Mormons will have varying reactions to these parts of the temple ceremony, but they’ll be careful in assuming that the language is simply a matter of deeply-rooted sexism. That is of course a possibility (that it’s a result of sexism). It’s also possible that it’s part of God’s plan that women be inducted into their husband’s priesthood. I know plenty of Mormons who believe this and who also manage to have truly equal partnerships. I don’t know if the current male-female priesthood gender roles are part of God’s eternal plan, but I’m open to it because I believe the truth claims of Mormonism, including that the Prophet is both a seer and a revelator and may have access to knowledge that I don’t. Where Mormon feminists and mainstream Mormons come into conflict is over that bit of theology: Mormon feminists don’t appear to be open to the idea that their paradigm may not be God’s paradigm–and that the person best suited to reveal information about God’s paradigm to his disciples is the Prophet.

    Reply
    • spatty

      Schwa lady, I don’t think you understood the post at all. She is writing about one of the most common responses that those who support ordain women get from mainstream mormons- “the temple solves everything”. If Mainstream mormons think that the temple solves everything, how can they think the language is a result of deeply-rooted sexism? That’s the entire point of the article. They haven’t made that connection. The purpose behind OW is to stop the deeply rooted sexism that is very present in our church and doctrine. There are many strong supporters who agree that we don’t understand God’s will, and who also know that revelation is subject to the individual’s social paradigm, regardless if they are a prophet, seer, or revelator.
      I also believe in the church’s claims to truth. I believe in the Book of Mormon, especially when it says that all are alike unto God. I believe that a prophet directs this church under the guidance of a loving heavenly father and mother. I may not know the will of God in its fullness, but you have absolutely no idea what I do or do not believe.

      Reply
  7. Triple Flip

    Rebecca, this took a lot of courage to post and I thank you. I agree absolutely. I thought I must be crazy because I just could not see how it was empowering. I read the Gaskill book listed above but it is woefully silent on women’s experience with the temple. I have heard it said elsewhere that there are two endowment ceremonies running concurrently: one, the men to God, and the second, women to their husbands.

    Reply
  8. Lori Burkman

    I love this with the passion of 1,000 burning suns. Thank you for addressing the pink celestial elephant in the room!

    Reply
  9. Jenne

    I recently studied the etymology of the word unto and found that it does not mean what I had previously thought it meant . Think of the Jaredite barges that were “tight like unto a dish” or think of the phrase “unto itself.” Both these usages imply that the antecedent is like the other. I don’t know if it is true to form to think of it this way but it does open the possibility in my mind that “unto your husband” might be “just as your husband is a king and a priest just like God is king/queen, priest/priestess.”

    Reply
    • Kelly Hawker

      Jenne, I LOVE your comment!! That makes so much sense to me, I personally feel great about that interpretation. It reinforces the egalitarian culture we want..

      Reply
    • SLM

      Your on the right track. There certainly is a pattern that repeats itself throughout the temple, but that pattern supports the claim that Eve (women) is to Adam (men) what Adam is to God. The phrase, “unto your husband” therefore means that Adam will be a King and Priest like unto God and Eve will likewise be a Queen and a priestess like unto Adam. Eve’s relationship with Adam is patterned after Adam’s relationship with God.

      We see further evidence of this pattern in the “hearkening” covenant. The actress who plays Eve in the temple addresses Adam and covenants to obey the law of the Lord, and also to hearken to Adam’s counsel as he hearkens unto God.

      Many women choose to read this as a conditional statement, but that interpretation doesn’t really hold up in the larger context of the endowment. The word “as” denotes a simile, a comparison between how Eve covenants to Adam and how Adam covenants to God. The wording of the old endowment (pre-1990) makes what is happening clearer when Eve addresses Adam and covenants to “obey your law as you obey our Father.” Here, it’s clear that “The Lord” referenced in the current endowment is not Heavenly Father—“The Lord” refers to Adam. Eve addresses Adam to make her covenant, but when Adam covenants, he addresses Elohim and promises to keep “Thy” law (not “the law of the Lord”). It’s a parallel covenant where the husband names The Father as his ruler and Eve names Adam. This is the last time Eve speaks at all during the endowment.

      When a woman make her own covenants, she likewise promises to obey “the law of the Lord” and to “hearken” to her husband. Again, though the old language was changed (it used to say, “observe and keep the law of your husband and abide by his counsel in righteousness”), the essence of the covenant relationship did not. “The Lord” refers to each woman’s husband. We see this again during the veil ceremony before a couple is sealed. We are told that we are to converse with the Lord through the veil, but when women go through for themselves, it’s the husband who stands in that spot to receive his bride’s new name and tokens. He has become her Lord.

      This interpretation is supported by Brigham Young and other early saint’s writings on the role and destiny of women. Polygamy also makes sense because one God can have many, many priestesses and priests (the priestesses being wives and the priests being sons). Brigham Young believed in kingdom building and that a man received additional glory by taking more wives and having more children through those wives. I really don’t doubt that this is how Brigham Young viewed the temple covenants. It wouldn’t have been a problem in his day and age as women were not seen as equal beings to men.

      Our modern prophets have been moving towards a view of equality between men and women (equal partners, and whatnot), but this is a very recent development in our church. Go back a few decades, and there are plenty of General Conference talks and other writings about men being the rulers in their families. I’m grateful that the church is moving towards a more equal view of men and women, but the temple ceremony is one place that does not present an equal view of the destinies of men and women.

      Reply
  10. Kelly Hawker

    Rebecca, I love your post so much! Thank you so much for articulating how so many of us feel!
    I think Jenne’s comment above about the word “unto” gives a much more empowering interpretation of that part of the ordinance.
    I still feel very uncomfortable with the promise we make to obey our husbands, because I don’t feel that any man, or any person, has reached that level to be trusted with a blank check in this life. And that promise is held over the heads of so many women in the Church (abused or not), which I know God is offended by. How could he not be? We’re his daughters!
    Anyway, I just really hope that changes. The Temple should not be a place where faithful people feel uncomfortable.

    Reply
    • Orso

      Kelly, the covenant a woman makes to hearken to the counsel of her husband is conditioned on the husband hearkening to God. It’s not a blank check. Any man who interprets it that way is wrong.

      Reply
      • SLM

        More likely, it’s a simile, a comparison that uses “like” or “as.” Eve covenants to hearken to Adam as/like Adam covenants to God. It’s part of the overarching pattern in the temple in which the wife-to-husband relationship parallels the husband-to-God relationship.

  11. Stephen Douglas

    Wives are not bound to obey disobedient husbands. That’s where the power of women is. And any man who is in a loving relationship with his wife will tell you, he’s not in control in his marriage. It is a partnership with the ultimate goal of serving together. I still say Rebecca and anyone else who feels the need to be validated as equally important as men is just not getting it. NOTHING in our church is about position or status. It’s about service. God allowed His Son, His favorite Son, to suffer on our behalf. His goal is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man–man, the specie, not the gender. There is no up or down in callings, only forward or backward, depending on how you magnify your calling. If you are released from being the temple president and matron to a new calling as nursery teachers, it is a forward movement in calling.

    If you can’t see that position means nothing, you really don’t understand the Gospel, period. It reminds me of how ignorantly members go up to someone who is called to be a bishop or a stake president, or even a general authority, and congratulate them on their calling, as though their position were some status symbol to be sought. That is absurd.

    The Atonement of Christ should be our only concern, how prepared we are individually, first, and then how we assist others in preparing, to be worthy of said atonement. These discussions to validate unnecessary feelings are not only a waste of time, they will lead to apostasy.

    Reply
  12. Monique

    I used to have these same concerns and reservations about the temple, that is until I had a MAJOR breakthrough. Now everything is coming up roses for this feminist. I wish I could impart that to each of you. But how?
    (I’m usually in the Chicago temple on Wednesdays at noon. Meet you there?)

    Reply
    • SLM

      Quite honestly, I don’t feel that we, as women, should have to do huge mental gymnastics in order to convince ourselves that the temple isn’t sexist. I looked at your link, and it looks like that’s what this blogger is doing (and she cites Valerie Hudson’s Cassler’s “Two Trees” which, while comforting, assumes many things that are not supported by the actual temple ceremonies). The endowment has been changed before in order to more accurately convey eternal truths, and I hope that in the future we will see additional changes so we don’t have spin things to try to make them fit with what we know about women’s equality with their brethren.

      Reply

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