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Dealing with Negativity About Temples and Garments

Question

Emily from Provo, Utah, wrote:

Hello sisters. I am going on a mission in March and just went through the temple a couple of weeks ago. I have some family and friends who aren’t very supportive and warned me all about it but I love the temple and I love my garments.

Dealing with Negativity About Temples and Garments

My problem is that my roommate is about to received her endowments (she is getting married between Christmas and New Year’s) and she is very negative about it. She wants to get married in the temple but she has heard the temple is sexist and she thinks the garments are dowdy and silly.

What can I do to convince her of the truth?

Answers

Angie says:

As with many things in life, people experience the temple and garment wearing differently. Much of it also depends on the background of the person and how much they know about the topic before they experience it for themselves. Let’s look at the two issues of going through the temple for the first time and garment wearing separately from each other.

The first time at the temple is a very different experience than what they are used to for most members of the church. Even with temple preparation classes or speaking with someone who has been through the temple, there may be aspects that some may find “different” than what they were expecting. For some, this is even anxiety-producing and confusing. At any rate, it is a day loaded with a lot of deep issues to consider and carries with it a lot of emotion for a lot of people. It is not uncommon for people to need many visits to the temple before they start to feel comfortable, and for some they never do. Others are able to process it quickly and have a beautiful experience from the beginning and never have any concerns with the temple at all.

My best advice for your friend is to focus on each aspect of the temple on its own rather than only focusing on the sealing (which is the anticipated part for your friend). Encourage her to really listen to the blessings given in the initiatory and the covenants that are made in the endowment.

As for garment wearing, for most of us who have been doing that for years it is just second nature and would feel very strange not to wear them. We can hardly remember a time when we didn’t. However, even if you were raised in a home where you are familiar with garments, wearing them yourself takes some getting used to. Your clothing choices might need to be adjusted in some ways, your clothing will “feel” different, some find menstruation to be particularly challenging while wearing garments, etc. The fact of the matter is that women are just not used to wearing this type of underclothing and it takes some time for most to be comfortable with it.

My best advice is to be supportive of your friend and help her to focus on the aspects of the temple that she is comfortable with. Love her and encourage her to be positive about the temple and to look for the symbolism both in the temple and in the garment.

Tracy says:

Not knowing if you’ve already tried answering her concerns, or if you just listened as she told them to you, I’ll give a few ideas as to how you can address them, assuming you didn’t already.

Garments

Yes, garments are plain and antiquated. And? Does it even matter? They’re worn under the clothes where no one can see them. So why would it matter that they aren’t covered in chevron stripes or have a kitschy crown with the words “Keep calm and be holy”? Do they need to be fashionable and trendy? They’re underwear. Since no one besides her future husband would see them anyway, saying the garments are “dowdy” suggests she has a concern about a lack of “sexiness” for her man.

Sure, women like to “sexy up” for their husbands in the bedroom—and certainly, garments weren’t designed to be “sexy.” But wearing garments doesn’t prevent anyone from donning a negligee when wanting to be intimate. When she wants to have a romantic evening with her husband, she can just take her garments off, put on her pink nightie and bat her eyes to her heart’s content. Why should what her underwear looks like when she’s not being intimate, matter? Has she considered that her husband will be wearing the same thing? And really, all she has to do is look at nearly every married, temple going Mormon on the planet. Look at the size of their families. Temple going Mormons have larger families than most. Evidently, what their underwear looks like isn’t preventing anything from happening in the bedroom.

Sexism in the temple

There is no “sexism” in the temple. Every person, man, woman, Relief Society bulletin board coordinator, Bishop, Sunbeam teacher, and Stake President all wear the same clothing, make the same covenants, receive the same promised blessings and are answerable to the same God for the keeping of those covenants. Period.

Those are all pretty surface level responses to her pretty temporal, surface level concerns, but honestly, there seems to me to be a deeper, spiritual problem.

It’s one thing to think that the garment is “dowdy”—it is, after all, not meant to be colorful or stylish.
But I wonder what she really means by “silly.”.Silly as in “dumb”? Silly as in “what a stupid and pointless thing to wear?” Calling it “silly” makes me wonder if she really has no understanding of their importance, sacred nature, and symbolism. It also concerns me that she seems to be giving more credence to the negative comments of friends calling the temple “sexist,” than she is to everything she’s heard from gospel lessons about the temple. Did she grow up in the church? Did she go through primary? Young Women? Does she regularly attend Sunday School and Relief Society? Does she go to Sacrament meeting? Does she listen to conference? If so, then I’m wondering what is causing her to put more weight on the negative comments of her friends than everything else she’s heard during gospel talks and lessons. Did she go to temple prep classes? She should have. You might want to ask her and suggest to her that she should if she hasn’t.

Lastly, does her bishop know she feels this way? Has she been honest with him about her thoughts? How is she planning on answering temple recommend questions? Is she going to be honest? Or is she going to say what she thinks are the “right” answers? What about her fiancé? Does he know how she feels—that she’s worried her covenants with him will be sexist in nature, somehow making her subservient to him and “less than”? How is her fiancé going to feel six months after the marriage if/when she decides she’s going to stop wearing her garments because she thinks they’re dowdy and silly?

She needs to be honest with both of them. And before she attends the temple, she really needs to spend some time in a temple prep class, in her scriptures, maybe in counsel with her bishop, and definitely on her knees.

Alison says:

Emily, thank you for writing. We haven’t entertained a Circle of Sisters question in years, but maybe this will be the start of something. We appreciate that you entrusted us with your question.

The answer I will give today is much different than the answer I would have given 30 (or 20) years ago. Perspective changes over time and mine has on this issue. First of all, I want to you consider this question: Of what specific truths you are trying to convince your roommate? I don’t know the answer to this (yet), but I’ll try my best anyway.

Faithlessness

I used to think that in order to be faithful, I had to respond positively and happily and supportively to every policy and practice in the church. Anything critical of anything related to the church was the equivalent of being critical of God himself. Any concern showed lack of faith, lack of gospel knowledge, lack of testimony, lack of loyalty, etc.

With regard to the temple, that meant I had to love the initiatory, love the endowment, love the sealing, love the garments, love the clothing, love the dressing room, and probably even love the cafeteria food (if applicable).

With regard to gender, that means I cannot: want parity between girls’ and boys’ programs (and budgets); expect the quorums to provide the ward dinner at least a tenth as many times as the Relief Society is expected to provide it; pronounce that it is inappropriate for a middle-aged married man to ask my teenage daughters questions about their possible sexual behavior; voice my concern that so few women pray and speak in general meetings; note that men in leadership are given titles and women are not; explain the problem with having no women designated as “authorities”; and absolutely, positively cannot want the priesthood (even while being required to honor and admire it).

With regard to race, that means I had to whole-heartedly support the exclusion of black men and women from the priesthood and temple ordinances until 1978, agree with various and sundry authoritatively given reasons, rejoice when the policy changed, and (almost) condemn the practice (and blame Brigham Young) when the church published “Race and the Priesthood” earlier this year.

Cognitive dissonance? Yes. Easy to navigate? Ask Randy Bott.

While the race policy changed when I was only 14, I spent years prior to the change asking my parents why it was so. It made no more sense to me to keep someone out of the temple for having a different color of skin than it did for people to hate me because I had a different color of hair, but the policy elevated color to a level of importance that was incomprehensible to me. Even then I couldn’t support something that seemed so wrong, but I was sure there was a missing piece that would clarify the issue. I was sure it was just me, lacking in faith, lacking in spiritual insight, lacking in understanding. (It should also be noted that Jeffrey R. Holland said he prayed for years that it would change…before he was an apostle. Proving, apparently, that my lack of enthusiasm for institutionalized racism wasn’t necessarily evil, even if it did contradict church policy.)

To be clear, I didn’t pull these odd ideas about supposed faithfulness out of the ether. They were, and are, prevalent in our church today. Here are some examples from a post at Wheat & Tares:

you people complaining about the “sexist elements” really are clueless and are completely missing the point of the endowment. Try reading Genesis, Moses, and Abraham lol These films are approved by true apostles of jesus christ……..at least thats what you should know to be true if you are in fact viewing the film in the house of the lord.

 

As for those thinking the temple ceremony is inherently sexist, it is obvious you simply don’t have a clue what the temple or gospel is all about…..sorry to be blunt, but you are missing the entire point….

 

The temple isn’t sexist. If you think it is, then you don’t understand God or the temple.

This type of comment is incredibly common. If you “make the church look bad” — even with truth — some throw down the apostate card. And who wants to be labeled an apostate? Suffice it to say that there are any number of people who have been disciplined, sanctioned, and even excommunicated for publishing the material the new church essays are finally acknowledging as fact.

Overburdened Spiritual Shelves

In 2007 I wrote a post titled “The Prayer Thing: Why Women Aren’t Worthy to Open Meetings.” To the best of my recollection, that was the first time I dared write anything publicly that was openly critical of a practice, implementation, or leader. Some might say that was the day I whooshed down the slippery slope. I’d say that was the day I regained my sanity and started working through the truth rather than putting so many things on my crowded “spiritual shelf.”

That’s not to say I still don’t have a shelf. I do. I’m an active member with a temple recommend, so I have to be able to answer all those questions appropriately. Doing so requires a shelf for all those things I still don’t get (or the leaders don’t get or…) But my shelf is no longer loaded down with dusty volumes I’m pretending aren’t there. Rather, it is stuffed with issues I take down on a regular basis to revisit, reevaluate, reconsider in light of any knowledge I have gained and/or authoritative changes since my last perusal.

On the issue of women praying, for example, it’s off my shelf entirely. It is resolved. First the handbook changed to more clearly reflect the intent. Then — yes, after some public pressure — our church leaders corrected the issue by example. When Jean A. Stevens gave the benediction in the Saturday morning session of General Conference, it debunked some of the myth. The next afternoon when Carole M Stephens gave the invocation, the long-held practice was obliterated. No matter how entrenched in tradition, I have not come across a single bishop or stake president since who insists that women can’t say opening prayers in Sacrament Meeting when they can in General Conference, even though before this event my non-scientific evidence says about thirty percent of wards in the US were enforcing this non-policy.

When — after a week of craziness and much public questioning — the General Women’s Meeting finally became an official part of General Conference — instead of an addendum held before but printed after — another volume on my shelf was relegated to the dustbin.

When the church published the polygamy essays the horrendous, bloated polygamy volume came down, was dusted off, and looked at carefully. The only conclusions I could honesty reach were that all the bizarre stuff I (finally) learned from “anti-Mormon” sources in the early 90s was (finally) being acknowledged as fact…and it still makes no sense at all. Back to the shelf, more problematic than ever.

Temple Experiences

The first time I went through the temple (in 1985, the week before I married) I was startled by many things. Mostly it was the ritual and symbolism that threw me. I wasn’t prepared for how pervasive it is in the temple, when it plays a relatively small part in our day-to-day worship.

I had taken temple prep, but the course (in my experience) doesn’t even mention most of the things that tend to be troubling to people. I told my mother I was scared about the initiatory and surprised that women performed ordinances in the temple, but other than that, I expressed no concern about anything. I thought it would be sinful (or at least faithless) to do so.

I didn’t love it, but I was expected to say I did and expected to say it was the most spiritual thing I’d ever experienced in my entire life. (Not from my parents, to be clear, from LDS culture as I saw it.) But neither was true. The experience was odd and disconcerting and interesting and mystical. There were similarities to rituals I’d experienced in other religions and some that I had never imagined. Mostly, the temple confused me. But I knew any concerns should be worked out internally with prayer and much repetition.

Surprisingly. the sexism in both the endowment and sealing ceremony largely escaped me initially. I did notice some differences, but having grown up not only in a sexist society, but in a church that had enormous gender disparity, not only did it not bother me much, but I expected it to be there. (As noted, one reason the initiatory disturbed me was that it never occurred to me that women could possibly perform ordinances.)

It was only as time went on that the sexism in the temple became more obvious — and more painful — for me to deal with. As I saw it more clearly in the outside world (and say changes being made to alleviate it), I also saw it more clearly in the church — and the temple. It is now profoundly evident to me. As I watch younger women — those who have been raised in a general culture with much less sexism than I did — attend the temple, I am often struck by how difficult it is for them to see the issue so clearly, all at once, from the very start. In some ways, easing into it was probably easier for me.

The “new” endowment films in 1990 were very different and, in my opinion, a huge improvement from those I first saw. Not only were the most relatable for the current culture, but less sexist as well. This made me hopeful that there would/could at least be incremental movement toward more gender equality, consistency, and, most of all, reasonability as time went on.

The newest set of films introduced last year sadly have identical scripts but do make Eve less of an automaton and slightly more human, thoughtful, and involved. In the first of these films Adam looks at Eve for confirmation at a particular point and, while she says nothing, she slightly nods her approval. (In the past films I’d seen, she wasn’t part of the equation at all.) The first time I saw this, I burst into tears. Every time since I have cried with joy. Yes, I understand how problematic it is that Eve’s tiny bit of involvement is still so unusual as to put me over the edge. But I do cling to such inclusion with the understanding that large institutions serving wildly diverse cultures — particularly those lead almost exclusively by men who are (still) a generation or two older that I am —  will not move as quickly as I would like toward a gender norm I am comfortable with.

Garment Experience

I was endowed nearly 30 years ago. Sometimes I don’t love my garments. Most of the time, I’m completely neutral about them at this point, but sometimes (nursing, pregnancy, periods, clothing choices (and, no I don’t mean tying to be “immodest” — that has never been my thing)) garments have frustrated me just as any other clothing issues can be frustrating. Sometimes more because I am required to wear them, when other problematic clothing could be discarded.

In spite of the new church video‘s claims, women’s garments are not remotely “similar in design to ordinary, modest underclothing.” Given that, it would be helpful if we were honest about this (as if it isn’t patently obvious) and if we would help ease the transition from real ordinary underwear to garments.

Rather than demand that “faithful” people gush about how comfy cozy and perfectly enthralling garments are, let’s just deal with the fact that they are sometimes comfortable and sometimes restrictive. The fit (or lack thereof) can make regular bodily functions hard to deal with. The required layering can make one excessively hot and/or sweaty and/or bulky. (I had three of my pregnancies in subtropical South Florida. I thought I would die.) The various fabrics have different cuts and fits and you have to buy them to figure it all out.

Personally, I would love it if our “outward expression of an inward commitment” were just about anything other than underwear. First, underwear isn’t very “outward.” Second, underwear just cries out to be mocked. Third, I’m not sure the pros outweigh the cons for many, many members as it now stands.

It’s OK Not to Be Ecstatic About Every Church Policy and Practice

We can’t conflate discomfort with particular policies and practices with unfaithfulness or even of something we have to help someone overcome. It’s just part of life. Some things “fit” us (no pun intended) and some things are more difficult for us to deal with.

I loved being the Relief Society president, Gospel Doctrine teacher (three of the four times!), Relief Society  teacher, Relief Society counselor, Young Women advisor, and stake choir director. Just about in that order. I do not like anything in Primary, ward/stake camp director (shoot me!), and if I ever get called into scouts you will find me crying on the bathroom floor. Or calling in sick every week for a couple of years. Or something drastic.

That’s OK! We are all unique with different temperaments, opinions, etc. Helping her understand the importance of garments is a good idea, but she still might not love (or even like them). That’s OK. I will probably never like scouts and will still keep hoping the church stops officially sanctioning it. Until that becomes a temple recommend question, I’m not going to worry about that!

A couple of points:

Garments are a policy item and part of our current religious ritual experience. Ritual is very important in binding communities and garments are probably one of the most significant in this regard because they are so peculiar. Still the specifics of garments have changed markedly since the restoration and probably will continue to do so. The specifics aren’t doctrinal and we have not (to my knowledge) ever been told how much about them is changeable. Whether or not we love the particular implementation of garment wearing that is in force today is neither here nor there.

It is the very frustration from members that was voiced that gave rise to the changes in style, fabric, and even policy about how we wear them (such as being allowed to wear bras under garments instead of over due to problems for women with prosthesis). When my husband went on his mission, all garments were one-piece. When I was married there were few fabrics that were tolerable in, say, tropical climates. Military garments (which are khaki colored and have the marks silkscreened inside so they don’t show (only currently available for men last time I checked) are relatively new.

My hope is that your friend is shown love and compassion as she adjusts to the new things she will be experiencing. It’s a lifelong journey for all of us.

Best wishes on  your mission, Emily! Sister power!

{ 30 comments… add one }
  • Anonymous December 16, 2014, 9:28 am

    Tracy, for the most part, I agreed that we all make the same covenants in the temple. However, there are aspects of the endowment where men and women make different covenants. I cannot speak to covenants in the initiatory because I don’t sit in with the men. I have been attending the temple for many, many years and I still haven’t reconciled those differences in ways that make me feel uplifted and valued, and not for lack of trying. Despite some things that trouble me and make me struggle, I find the temple a very holy place that I aspire to know and understand better.

    I think it is really important to understand that the temple experience is incredibly personal. I find it very telling that we don’t actually instruct people about what they should think, learn, or even feel about the actual ceremony, which suggests to me that we all get out of it what we put into it. Ultimately, it is up to each individual to spend the time attending the temple, studying the scriptures, and perhaps most importantly, spending time meditating and pondering–allowing the Spirit to speak. It can be awfully hard to turn off all the internal dialogue that we all seem to carry inside ourselves. I don’t think we all have to have the exact same feelings/reactions to the temple–negative OR positive. God make speak to us through the Holy Ghost, but that works differently for all of us.

    I also think it is important to be very careful not to let other’s negative experiences affect one’s own feelings/perceptions/experiences with the temple. For that reason, I choose not to go into my own struggles with others–not even privately, because I don’t want to hurt someone’s else perception or feelings about the temple.

    I think in this case, this young woman’s roommate is allowing the very vocal opinions of others influence and dictate her own experiences and responses to the temple.This is actually a very grave mistake because she is closing off avenues of peace and revelation with her negativity that have the potential to deeply impact her relationship with her future spouse and with the church. We all have concerns and struggles–which are valid. Those struggles should push us to resolve them in prayerful ways. Hanging onto the negativity without real effort to gain insight from God indicates an unwillingness to attend the temple. Perhaps she simply isn’t ready.

    As for the garments. . . they aren’t always comfortable or practical, but I believe they are deeply important. One doesn’t wear garments during sex. I agree completely with Tracy’s statements, “Sure, women like to “sexy up” for their husbands in the bedroom—and certainly, garments weren’t designed to be “sexy.” But wearing garments doesn’t prevent anyone from donning a negligee when wanting to be intimate. When she wants to have a romantic evening with her husband, she can just take her garments off, put on her pink nightie and bat her eyes to her heart’s content. Why should what her underwear looks like when she’s not being intimate, matter? ”

    I also appreciate Allison’s remarks very, very much.

  • Marie Thatcher December 16, 2014, 10:53 am

    I had generally very positive feelings about the temple, though it was different than I expected it to be. Perhaps I liked it better than most because my mom had studied a lot about temple symbolism (lots of Nibley and FARMS and articles about freemasonry lying around the house) and shared appropriate information with me over the years, and I enjoyed the Old Testament, so the presence of ritual and symbolic elements was not alarming to me.

    I also had listened to a Truman Madsen tape on the temple that my mom had given me a few weeks beforehand, which included a story told by David O. McKay to a meeting of stake presidents. His niece had been initiated into a sorority and had received her endowments in the same week. She bluntly confessed that she’d thought the sorority initiation was more meaningful. After Pres. McKay’s audience of church leaders gasped disapprovingly, he said to them, “Brothers and sisters, she was disappointed in the temple. Brothers and sisters, I was disappointed in the temple. And so were you.”

    I did not dislike the temple–I found it intriguing and wanted to go back and listen more carefully and think about what was there. But it would be a lie to say that I was not at all disappointed at how some parts had compared to my imagination (while others exceeded my imagination). Having heard that Pres. McKay story beforehand made it okay to be a bit (or more than a bit) disappointed–I knew I wasn’t the only one, and that if others, including a prophet, could grow from disappointment to epiphany, I could as well.

  • amphigory December 16, 2014, 11:00 am

    Wow, what a post! Touching so many issues, difficult as they are.
    I just want to touch on one aspect of your post—the temple rites. I have been a member most of my life, have served in a variety of callings (Bishop included), and thought I pretty much understood this stuff.
    But last year I had the honor of helping a young man, Chris, who was interested in the gospel to learn more. He enthusiastically embraced the gospel and was baptized. Within weeks he had been admitted into BYU’s Jerusalem Center program. He decided he wanted to serve a mission, and we were thrilled. Chris received his call just six months from his baptism.
    He asked me to be his escort through the temple for his endowment. I had concerns about this young man who had come so far so quickly. I worried about his spiritual maturity and his ability to absorb and understand it.
    We sat down with a member of the temple presidency for the pre-endowment visit. He gingerly began to explain what lay ahead and answer his concerns. I was shocked at what happened. This young man Chris was delighted! His learning at Jerusalem had inspired him to study. Chris instantly recognized the rich symbols with regard to the Old Testament temple and eternal principles. Each detail, each symbol that was broached stimulated more discussion and a joyful, spiritual experience. We spent a full hour in that room and I learned a few things—from a brand new member! We went through the endowment and he excitedly pointed things out and smiled unabashedly the whole time.
    I was reminded that temple is an integral part—an extension– of the original gospel, not just a symbolic nod to the past or ritual for its own sake.
    I’m reminded of my visits to the Masonic temple and discussion with a good friend who is a top leader in that organization. He claimed to know far more than we LDS do about our own temple rites. He was right. Though they don’t have God’s authority, they truly know the temple. They understand the symbols, they love and embrace it and we would do well to emulate that.
    Shouldn’t we also be experts on the temple? We should continue to educate ourselves, not just go there. We should truly love it as Chris does. We would do well to reacquaint ourselves with our beautiful temples. After all, isn’t this God’s own church?
    Our temples are truly more beautiful inside than outside.

  • Esther too December 16, 2014, 11:47 am

    Thank you Angie and Allison. I found some good here but so many implications that those who are troubled are just less spiritual or less educated is harmful and just flat wrong. I have a PhD in ancient religious studies. Is that enough for you?

    Both the sealing and the endowment have incredible gender disparity, as do all scripture. To deny that is disengenuous. And the utter absense of a Heavenly Mother, even in a creation epic, boggles the mind.

  • Katie December 16, 2014, 12:13 pm

    I haven’t followed your blog that long and am not familiar with the Circle of Sisters. Are Angie and Tracy real people, or characters for your blog?

    If Tracy is real, she has some explaining to do!
    “There is no “sexism” in the temple. Every person, man, woman . . . all wear the same clothing, make the same covenants, receive the same promised blessings”

    No, no, no, no! This is SO false! I don’t care how you interpret the symbolism of the temple, but no one who has listened to the covenants can say that they are the same or that the blessings are the same. As the endowment starts, in the voiceover intro, you are specifically told (no interpretation required) a blessing that men are promised and the completely different blessing that women are promised.

    I am VERY grateful to Alison for your honest, loving, and faithful approach to these questions. Sometimes I am so close to just throwing it all away, and I love that you show me another possibility.

  • Alison Moore Smith December 16, 2014, 1:09 pm

    Katie, the Circle of Sisters is a big part of how MM got started.

    In 20001 I was invited to co-write a Q&A column at Meridian Magazine with Kathy Green and Jeannie Vincent. (You can still find the pages if you look hard enough.) After some time we became, shall we say, somewhat disenchanted with the experience. I started MM in 2003 as a platform for “the Circle” where I manually blogged before adopting WordPress in its infancy.

    Tracy Keeney and Angie Gardner are real people. Both have written on MM in the past. Tracy was officially part of the Circle when it was still active after Jeannie retired. They aren’t attributed in the byline (yet) because the multi-author plugin I used in the past is broken and I’m having trouble finding a reliable new one. Once that happens (I tried again about three months ago), I have to clean up all the multi-author posts with it.

    I love having different perspectives and the friendships we have developed over many years 🙂 , even though I have not met either in person. 🙁 When I got this question I decided to resurrect the column because getting multiple views would be more helpful than just my own.

    Thank you for the kind words, Katie. I completely understand what Anonymous said above:

    I also think it is important to be very careful not to let other’s negative experiences affect one’s own feelings/perceptions/experiences with the temple. For that reason, I choose not to go into my own struggles with others–not even privately, because I don’t want to hurt someone’s else perception or feelings about the temple.

    On the other hand, I don’t think the utter denial is helpful either. Some people have no negativity with the temple, many have negativity but will not express it due to the culture, others have negativity and speak openly about it. As the song says (for you Broadway buffs), “It’s a fine, fine line” between too little info and too much, particularly since one person’s too little is another person’s too much. In an information age, we have to learn to self-filter our information.

    Sincerely, sometimes I wish I could go back to 1991, just as we were leaving college. I had not yet read Mormon Enigma and the church (history and all) made complete sense in my mind. I was at peace with almost everything. Then my world was blown apart to learn that most of the “anti-Mormon” things I’d heard bits and pieces of over the years were completely true.

    Finding out about difficult things by chance rather than from the source can sometimes be more difficult than being told right up front. Learning that others have difficulty allows us to sometimes console others and sometimes commiserate with others. Both are generally good.

    When Katie says, “Sometimes I am so close to just throwing it all away, and I love that you show me another possibility.” I hope people will recognize how profoundly important that is. When we create a culture in the church that does not require absolute revelry over every jot and tittle, allows us to see leaders (even general leaders) as fallible humans, and provides a loving atmosphere, we all become closer to truth and closer to God.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…No Squeegee, No Wipe, Self Sheeting, Streak Free Window CleanerMy Profile

  • Kristine A December 16, 2014, 1:21 pm

    Allison I really enjoyed your comments, Thank you!

  • Anonymous December 16, 2014, 1:21 pm

    amphigory, I think your comments speak to the difference between the ways men and women experience the temple. I absolutely believe understanding symbolism is incredibly important. But that doesn’t change the difference in covenants and what that actually means for women in their perceptions and feelings of the experience.

    Katie and Esther too,I have a hard time understanding how/why our Heavenly Mother is completely excluded from the creation story. It speaks to a real gap in our understanding. What bothers me more is that very few men recognize that as a lack in the story and fail to see how that can be hard to see for women.

  • Alison Moore Smith December 16, 2014, 3:14 pm

    Marie Thatcher, I love President McKay’s statement. It acknowledges what is probably a near-general truth and gives permission to be honest about it. (Although, darnit all, why do we feel the need to have permission to do this?)

    My “disappointment” was that I was pretty sure the endowment was going to be like going to the top of a mountain and having a guru telling me the meaning of life and the truth of all things. Instead I thought, “Is that it? I already read Moses.” Yes, I’ve learned things since and understand some of the symbolism and nuance (and some of that has been removed since I first attended), but as far as actual eternal knowledge it’s not enormously different today — and in some ways it is more negative.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…SighMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith December 16, 2014, 3:19 pm

    Anonymous and Esther too, the missing mother in the creation epic was something I was also late to see. I was very accustomed to the Biblical story and even though we have a scanty Mother in Heaven doctrine, it didn’t occur to me to expect to see here there.

    Given the myth stating that we don’t talk about Mother in Heaven because she’s “too sacred” and the position about women’s roles being centered on nurturing children, I can now see how natural it is to expect the temple, of all places, to address her role in creation and eternally. But when she’s not so much as mentioned and appears to have nothing to do with creation, it is rather surprising.

    Where was she? What was she doing? Does anyone (with authority to respond for the church) care?
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…7 Christmas Advent CalendarsMy Profile

  • Eliza December 16, 2014, 5:09 pm

    This is such a wonderful feature! I love the idea of presenting multiple perspectives on a question.
    For my part, I have disliked the temple from before I went. I was familiar with the temple clothing because I attended the sealing of my adopted brother. As soon as I saw my mother’s veil and my father’s uncovered face, I realized I may not love the temple. Later, when a dear friend was preparing to marry her husband, she cried as she told me how heartbroken she was by the endowment ceremony and how hurt she was by the veil ceremony and the lack of reciprocity. Again, even without knowing all the details, I feared I would struggle. And oh boy did I struggle. I attended the temple as a young adult, with special permission (required because I was neither getting married nor planning on a mission), and all my fears were confirmed. I didn’t love it. I really, really didn’t love it. Covenant ing to a husband I didn’t have was only the beginning of my struggles. I wished many times that someone had just been honest with me-the temple is sexist. Some deal with that fact without any trouble. They are able to find meaning and beauty despite the troubling aspects (or, the very lucky simake don’t see them as troubling). But I know many, many people for whom the struggle with the temple is a defining feature of theor faith (or lack thereof in many, sad cases). I wish someone who knew me well would have sat me down and told me it was okay to be troubled. The it was okay to not like it. That it was okay to feel burdened rather than uplifted in the temple. Beyond my difficulty with the temple, I found that I immediately hated garments. They are ill fitting on my body; they are bulky, bunchy, too tight in some areas and far too loose in others. I am constantly uncomfortable-adjusting and readusting. Tucking amd retucking. They are impossible to manage while menstrating or pregnant or nursing. The purchasing process is indefensible. And, for more than a decade I dealt with these feelings utterly alone. I thought I was the problem. I though I must be missing something or doing something wrong. I didn’t know anyone who shared even a part of my feelings. And it wore on me. It wears on me still. Now, I have found more support but it would have been so nice to know then that I wasn’t unfaithful or crazy. To have loving support insinstead of isolation or preaching.
    So, my advice? Don’t try to convince your friend of “the truth”-which is really just your truth, based on your experiences. Help her understand that her feelings are common and normal. Tell her you love her even if her experience is vastly different than your own. Tell her her reaction to the temple doesn’t have a thing to do with her faithfulness. Encourage her to study, but don’t pretend to have all the answers she needs. Tell her to give the temple a chance, but if it is painful or a struggle that it is okay to create boundaries around her temple experience to protect her heart and faith. More than anything, rather than trying to change her mind, try to listen.

  • Janine G December 16, 2014, 8:16 pm

    Thank you for the candid answers! I thought I was loosing my mind with all the fawning!

    I have the hardest time with having an intermediary between me and God AND the sealing. I had never been to a sealing before my own and when I heard the lopsided presentation, I honestly thought the officiate had made a mistake. 🙁 Unfortunately not.

  • Jeannie December 17, 2014, 1:16 am

    Amen and amen to Allison’s answer. Thank you.

    I see real beauty in the temple, and I do actually love it, but there’s also something there that doesn’t fit with the way we talk about women everywhere else except in the temple. Long before I could put it into words, it bothered me that I covenanted differently than my husband and received different promises as to what we would become. And to say so out loud would have been unthinkable, because the temple was supposed to be the pinnacle of Mormon experience and loving it uncritically the mark of a mature, righteous Mormon woman. Anyone who dared to question “just didn’t understand the true role of women.” What do you say to that?

    So, yes, I have questions and plenty of them. After forty-plus years temple attendance, I hope they are deeper and better questions than I had as a young bride. They certainly are more honest.

  • Cheri December 17, 2014, 8:48 am

    Thank you for this. It gives me some piece of mind.

  • IdRatherNotSay December 17, 2014, 9:28 am

    Allison,

    This is slightly off the topic (slightly) but I have a question for you. This year, after the church essays came out, I (and probably thousands if not millions of other members) learned that much of the “anti-Mormon literature” I knew about in the past actually WAS true. Of course, I’m referring mostly to the essay about polygamy in the early church.

    This has shaken my faith. Not in God, not in Jesus Christ or even in the gospel, but my faith in the human-run church. I won’t say much more about that, however, I’d like to know… how do you still exist in the church knowing these things. I know that it is the most true church on the earth, yet I believe it is flawed. How do you find peace? How do you balance what you know that is wrong with what you know to be true? How do you move forward, especially being so keenly aware of the gender disparity? I don’t see myself ever leaving the church, but I need to find a way to feel comfortable with my place in the church now that I know these new things.

    I kind of wish I could go back to my younger self who didn’t ask questions and felt good about following blindly. I guess I’ve reached a point where I need to follow, but with my eyes open. I sometimes think back to the scripture mastery scripture that states that “when men are learned they think they are wise and they hearken not unto the counsels of the Lord” or something like that. Do I suddenly think I’m too smart to follow blindly but really, I’m just not listening to the Lord so the joke is on me?

    Thanks in advance for any response you might give.

  • Katie December 17, 2014, 10:15 am

    IdRatherNotSay –

    Hopefully Alison will have an amazing answer for us both 🙂

    One piece of the puzzle I’ve put into place is to understand that the people who lead this church are HUMANS — real, actual humans, who are allowed to make huge mistakes, just like all other humans. I believe this can and does include mistakes in leading the church. I used to hold them to a higher standard, almost to the point of infallibility. Like I said, this is only ONE piece of the puzzle. I certainly don’t have all the answers. For example, I don’t know which decisions/policies/doctrines of the church are/were mistakes, and which were not.

  • Marie Thatcher December 17, 2014, 11:22 am

    Perhaps an additional problem is the way we frequently talk about temple worship. We talk about going to the temple to get personal revelation, to feel the spirit–to feed ourselves spiritually–and barely mention that the main reason we go (after our first time) is to serve the dead. I think much of the pressure to love the temple experience and say nothing but good about it comes from this idea that it’s there to be our ongoing place of revelation and supposedly a surefire way of getting the blessings we want. Sort of a Sacrament Meeting plus-plus. If we didn’t talk about it that way–if, as for the ancient Israelites, it was first and foremost a ritual that needed performing–we might feel less guilty if we didn’t understand or even like some of what was going on. Could there have been ancient Israelites who thought the incredible bloodshed in their temple was over the top? Who wondered if it would always be so? Who wished it might be otherwise? Who nonetheless offered up their sacrifices faithfully and were vindicated in the changes that happened long after their deaths? Were they lesser sacrificers because they didn’t feel warm fuzzies in the temple and offered their sacrifices with less than joyful hearts? I don’t think so, provided their sacrifices were evidence of a love for others (fed by those sacrifices) and trust in God. Whatever you may think of the actual words and rituals of the temple ceremonies, the concept of sacrificing time and effort to help save others is incredibly beautiful, and the fact that the ceremonies have changed in the past and likely will change in the future is not alarming to me, but rather gives me hope that we’re–the living and the dead–all coming along together in knowing ourselves and God.

  • Alison Moore Smith December 17, 2014, 11:30 am

    Jeannie, this is it:

    And to say so out loud would have been unthinkable, because the temple was supposed to be the pinnacle of Mormon experience and loving it uncritically the mark of a mature, righteous Mormon woman. Anyone who dared to question “just didn’t understand the true role of women.” What do you say to that?

    When I hear people discount the profound differences in the ceremony, I want to say, “You just don’t understand the true role of women.” right back at them. 🙂
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Top 5 Things About the September 2014 General Women’s MeetingMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith December 17, 2014, 11:39 am

    Apparently you think I’m a lot wiser than I am! IdRatherNotSay, your question IS the golden question, isn’t it? I will absolutely try to answer it, but it will have to be a post of its own. Maybe after Christmas. I hope you understand. I don’t remotely have all the answers. Katie gave some pertinent insight and I can tell you what I’ve been doing the past 20+ years. I hope others will add their own insights. It’s a journey. 🙂

    I guess I’ve reached a point where I need to follow, but with my eyes open.

    This is exactly where I am and what I meant by saying, “I’d say that was the day I regained my sanity and started working through the truth rather than putting so many things on my crowded ‘spiritual shelf.'”
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Top 5 Things About the September 2014 General Women’s MeetingMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith December 17, 2014, 11:41 am

    Marie, wonderful insights. Thank you.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…You Never Know: Why the Mormon Message Might Not Mean What You Think It MeansMy Profile

  • Angie Gardner December 17, 2014, 2:30 pm

    Hi, Angie here. I really appreciate all the comments so far. I also want to tell Alison and Tracey that I appreciate their perspectives as well. We didn’t read each other’s responses before they were posted here and it was enlightening for me to see the different views. Alison, I really appreciated your detailed insights, and had no idea how in depth you were going to go. So glad you did, it sounds like it has been very helpful to some of the readers. While I disagree with some of Tracey’s points I appreciate that perspective as well.

    Regarding sexism, I think sometimes your eyes just have to be opened to feminist issues in general before you recognize it in the temple. Once that happens, though, it is undeniable. For me, it was after attending the temple for about 12 years before it finally struck me, and then I was like…wow.

    While I didn’t write at lot about my personal experience in the answer (I was purposefully trying to be more general, not knowing how detailed Alison and Tracey would get), I’d like to share a little of it now, just because I think it is good for those going through for the first time to know that not everyone receives it with open arms.

    I went through when I was 10. It was not in preparation for a mission or marriage, but rather it was after a discussion I had with my bishop. I was living with my inactive grandmother while attending BYU and going to a family ward. He felt like I had the maturity for it and that it would bring added blessings and strength as I lived in an inactive home for the first time in my life.

    There were some fumbles in the initiatory which caused me to completely not focus on what was being said (I was on my period and had no idea I’d be getting naked for anything!…not prepared!… Panic!). Once the session started, everything felt so foreign to me from what I had been raised with. I was used to the noisy, babies crying, bear your testimony even if it’s about your vacation, kind of church. I was not used to ritual other than the Sacrament, so that kind of threw me for a loop. And then, I was just kind of surprised that that was it. Kind of a “hmmm” moment. Overall, I felt mildly uncomfortable with a lot of the first time, but I didn’t tell that to ANYONE because they were all running up afterwards and hugging me and saying, “Isn’t it so wonderful?” and I was just, “Yes! Amazing!” and really just afraid to say anything that disagreed with any of them.

    I thought the answer would be in going to the temple often, so I built it into my schedule almost like a class and went every single week for almost 2 years. I’m glad I did, because it DID help me to become more comfortable. It helped answer some questions for me, and it brought up other questions.

    When I went on my mission almost 2 years after being endowed, I thought I’d try to discuss some of my feelings with my MTC companions on a temple visit. I had a very specific question and I wanted some insight into it, and I asked them and they both stared at me like I was from another planet. I don’t think I ever asked anyone a temple question again. I simply resolved to figure it out for myself.

    All of that was over 20 years ago. I have since married in the temple and gone through phases where I’ve attended often and other phases where I will go a long time between visits. I still have a lot of questions. In the last few years it has become very uncomfortable for me to do a session. Instead, I will do initiatories or sealings, where I feel more comfortable.

    I guess the lesson in my experience is just that even the most active and devout amongst us (I think a lot of people see me this way…I am the bishop’s wife after all) have things we struggle with. Don’t assume that just because it isn’t talked about all is well.

    A few months ago I went through with a young woman who was leaving on a mission. It was very strange for her, and sadly she left on her mission really soon after the endowment so she only had a chance to go a few times. I wish now that I had talked to her a little more about it and told her that I had questions too, then and now. But, I was afraid to do that because of my husband’s calling. I need to be more brave, it would probably help someone!

    Gotta run, but I also just want to say that there is a series of posts on Feminist Mormon Housewives about this very topic. Those who are wanting a feminist perspective on it might want to check that out. A few of the stories have really resonated with me.

  • Angie Gardner December 17, 2014, 3:29 pm

    Haha, I just read my post and I have to correct something (well, probably a lot of things…I was in a big hurry, you see!)

    Just wanted to say I was NOT the youngest ever endowed. I did not go through the temple when I was 10. 🙂

    I was 20.

  • Alison Moore Smith December 17, 2014, 9:55 pm

    Thank you so much, Angie. It’s true, bishop’s wives and Relief Society presidents and other people who actively attend the church can have problems with particular practices. 🙂 I’m starting to think honesty is the best policy in these matters as with most others.

    I’ve recently read the posts Angie refers to. As you would expect, some of them don’t resonate at all with me and others are very familiar and poignant. If you’re interested, you can read the series here: When the Temple Hurts.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Hibernating Disease and Other Reasons I Can Totally Play Wii on Thanksgiving But Not Be Able to Help with DishesMy Profile

  • RET December 19, 2014, 11:52 pm

    Thank you I needed this.

  • Ben December 21, 2014, 11:38 am

    I’m in the “honesty is the best policy” camp. We should be clear about the temple including the sexist elements. The more clear the more likely it will be that non-doctrinal parts will be removed. The sooner the better.

    Like it or not, the current leadership (and their wives) all come from generations that were much more sexist. They (including their wives) see it as normal and acceptable. Until we get leaders who grew up in less sexist societies and whose WIVES grew up in less sexist societies (and aren’t willing to tolerate it), I’m afraid it will be part of the church. They don’t SEE it. Yet. :-0

  • Alison Moore Smith December 22, 2014, 1:19 pm

    Whew!
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  • MonteLBean December 27, 2014, 2:58 am

    I’m with Ben on this that the church leaders are and will remain blind to the sexism in the church because accepting it as normal and appropriate and good is just part of the world as they see it.

    It can’t end soon enough for me because I see the completely unnecessary pain it has caused.

  • Real Blondie January 2, 2015, 4:51 pm

    Sister Smith, I saw a comment you made on the missionary page and came looking for this. You are right that the questions have a lot in common.

    The thing I noticed about the comment on Facebook was that the girl was making an issue about how here garments were so comfortable like wearing big cozy pajamas. I’m an RM and I actually do like most parts of the temple, even though I’m young and pretty independent and kind of feminist. But the first thing I thought of when I read that was, “Well, what if not everyone wants to wear big old cozy PAJAMAS under their clothes every day???”

    Sorry, I just thought it was a really dumb way to try to “defend” garments, as if we have to WANT to wear pajamas to be good Mormons. As usual, though, I didn’t speak up over there because I didn’t want to “get into it.”

    Thanks for the thoughtful column from all three of you. I love to read different perspectives and to see that I don’t have to be some robot clone to fit in the church.

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