In light of the excommunication of several LDS Church members recently for apostasy, and one in particular for simply reading a book, I’d like to discuss a couple of the temple recommend questions, which the church makes available on their website. The two questions deal with sustaining our leaders and agreeing with individuals who teach or write what is not found in the official curriculum of the church. In other words, those who go beyond the basics in their writings.
Standard disclaimer: This is all my opinion
Please remember I’m not a scholar, theologian, attorney or an expert at philosophical arguments. I’m just a regular old member of the church who likes to read books and write book reviews. The temple recommend questions I linked to above are from LDS Tech, an official LDS website. Technically, they are the questions on the Melchizedek Priesthood Ordination Record, but are almost exactly the same minus two questions about keeping covenants and wearing garments.
Deviating From Temple Recommend Questions
I know this has been discussed in many forums and websites, notably on the Stay LDS site. I’m not sensing a purge going on, but wonder why more and more of my readers and online friends have written me privately about their discussions with Bishops or Stake Presidents. They are being asked probing questions that go beyond the specific ones that are supposed to be asked in the temple recommend interview. By so doing these leaders are not following the Handbooks.
This is the Kingdom of God on the Earth
It has been standard policy for over thirty years that leaders “…should never deviate from or go beyond the specific questions contained in the temple recommend book…(First Presidency letter, 5 January 1982).” Let’s take the easy question first. I consider it cut and dry because it deals with the kingdom of God on earth, NOT the kingdom of God in heaven. If you keep that distinction in mind, you should have no problem answering yes to the question without any elaboration at all.
This Earthly Kingdom is Only Temporary
“Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?” The church is an earthly institution. According to section 65, the purpose of the church is to prepare us to join with the Kingdom of Heaven. The church is the Kingdom of God on the earth. It is temporary. It will be absorbed into the Kingdom of Heaven.
The LDS Church Has Certain Keys
Therefore, I have no problem affirming that the man we sustain or uphold as the President of the earthly institution holds priesthood keys or authority to preach the gospel, publish scripture, collect tithing, build and maintain temples and meetinghouses and perform, through delegation, a myriad of other tasks and activities that will build the Kingdom of God on the earth. I also affirm that permission or those earthly keys can be and were passed on from the prophet Joseph Smith.
Difference Between Authority and Power
This includes the right to perform ordinances, including the exercise of the sealing power, albeit a limited kind of sealing power, that are invitations to go and get the real thing. Everyone knows this from the prophet and apostles on down. President Packer has taught this repeatedly – there is a world of difference between earthly authority to act in the church and heavenly sealing power. Earthly sealing power is not the same as heavenly sealing power. You and I should know this.
Seek Ratification From Holy Spirit of Promise
Don’t confuse the Kingdom of God on the Earth with the Kingdom of God in Heaven. Don’t forget what we’ve been taught about the Holy Spirit of Promise. Our ordinances are simply not complete until they are ratified by the Holy Spirit of Promise. I’m concerned too many leaders in our church don’t understand or teach this. I know this because so many members don’t get it. We focus way too much on getting people to the temple without teaching them what to do after that.
Keeping the Church Free From Polygamy
I’m going to skip down to the other, more troubling question: “Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?” Everyone knows why this question was placed in the interview process. It was and is still intended to weed out those who practice plural marriage. It was not included to keep us from reading non-LDS books or going to lectures.
Criticized and Disciplined For What One Believes
I wrote previously how deeply troubled I felt upon learning of online friends being harassed by being placed on informal or formal probation or officially disciplined through disfellowshipment and even excommunicated – all for reading a book or going to a lecture. This is crazy. This is wrong. This is not righteous exercise of priesthood authority. It is unrighteousness dominion. No LDS leader has the right to tell a member of his congregation what he should or shouldn’t read (see discussion in comments).
Trying to Control Reading Material is Wrong
In the selected policies of the church, we are encouraged to read the King James version of the Bible as opposed to other editions, to read the church magazines and to read the weekly lesson material assignments in advance. Other than that, I could find nothing in the handbook that says “Though shalt not read anything from Signature Books,” or “Thou shalt only buy and read books from Deseret Book.” It especially does not refer to reading D. Michael Quinn or Denver Snuffer.
We Have the Right to Read What we Choose
So what if they have been excommunicated from the church? Big deal. We’re all adults here. If I want to read what Michael Quinn had to say about our history, then that’s my prerogative. Yes, I know it’s contrary to what we’re taught in the official curriculum, but that’s the beauty of it. I get other viewpoints and additional information to help me understand our history. The same thing goes for reading Denver Snuffer’s Passing the Heavenly Gift. It’s just a man’s different opinion.
Multiple Points of View is Healthy
I’ve received private emails from readers who say they have been persecuted for reading Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman, a faithful LDS member and temple sealer. Why are some LDS leaders afraid of opening their minds to other possibilities and interpretations of our LDS history? So what if it differs from the official material we receive in the classrooms on Sunday or in Seminary, Institute and church university religion classes? That just seems so closed-minded.
The Temple Recommend Question is Flawed
Paraphrasing the second temple recommend question we’re discussing, it could be read as “Do you agree with any individual who teaches a different version of the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?” In my opinion this question is wrong and should be changed to simply read, “Do you practice plural marriage?” Strangely enough, the doctrine of plural marriage is still accepted by the church and found in our scriptures. We just don’t teach it.
The Church Has Already Given Guidelines
This is my blog so I’ll express my opinion a little more forcefully as if I were speaking directly to some Bishops and Stake Presidents who have excommunicated some of my readers. I would tell them to seriously back off and stop prying into the personal reading habits of their members. It’s none of their business. That 1982 letter included this line about sex: “you…should never inquire into personal, intimate matters involving marital relations between a man and his wife.”
Let the Members Work Out Their Own Doubts
I wonder if we need another letter from the First Presidency stating, “Do not ask your members what books they are reading or if they are attending lectures that are not put on by the church.” If a member says no to the second question we’re discussing, then leave it alone and go on with the next question, even if you have heard stories that the member is struggling with the standard narrative of the church when it comes to our history. Let them work it out with their own agency.
Not All Members Fit Into the Same Mold
I know these leaders justify their inappropriate questioning in the guise of love, claiming they simply want to help their members, but they do more harm than good when they try to mold all members into their idea of what a good Latter-day Saint should be like as far as what they read. Sure, we can all preach against the evils of porn but are we going to tell our sisters they can’t read romance novels? You would have half the church up in arms over that, including my wife.
Inappropriate Reasons to Deny a Temple Recommend
Just because a person reads Denver Snuffer and happens to agree with some of his viewpoints is no reason to deny them a temple recommend. Reading Denver Snuffer does not make someone an apostate. I’ve written about apostasy previously here on my blog: It’s defined as deliberate and open opposition to the Church or its leaders, teaching as doctrine something that is not Church doctrine or to belong to an apostate sect, such as those that practice plural marriage.
Temple Recommends Not Used in Heaven
A temple recommend is simply an earthly receipt used by the LDS Church to show that you have paid tithing. You’re not going to need a temple recommend in heaven. They’re not used there. Trying to control what a man believes about our history is not righteous behavior. Threatening a man with church discipline because he tells a few friends his opinion of a book and recommends they also read it is simply not right. Leaders who do this are abusing the priesthood of God.
Face it: We Failed the Test in Nauvoo
To say that someone needs to be disciplined because they have a difference of opinion over how to interpret a document is the worst kind of priestcraft. If this really is the Kingdom of God on the earth we will be looking for ways to include more people, not exclude them for what they read or believe. We’ve got to stop being so sensitive about what happened in Nauvoo. We failed the test, didn’t build the temple in time and suffered hardships for the next four generations.
The Gathering of the Elect of God
With the passing of our last patriarch, Eldred G. Smith, those four generations have passed now. The Lord has put forth his hand again and is gathering the elect through the angels. They are ministering to men and women upon the earth, teaching and preparing them to come into the presence of the Lord. There are many members of the LDS Church quietly doing the Lord’s bidding as asked by Him or as assigned by His angels. This is contrary to the traditional hierarchal institution model.
The Angels Are Inviting and Teaching
I’ve written enough. I hope you can tell I’m a little bit passionate about this subject. I simply cannot believe the church I love and have been a member of all my life would persecute its own members for claiming to have received the Lord or assignments from angels. It’s almost as if the church is jealous of its own members who exhibit spiritual gifts that bless and edify others. The hierarchy of the church cannot control who joins the Kingdom of Heaven. The angels do that.
I’m Interested in Your Feedback
What do you think? Is it right for LDS leaders to deviate from the temple recommend questions? Is it OK for them to ask you what kinds of books or authors you read? Should they be allowed to ask you what you believe beyond the first three basic testimony questions? If you would rather share your story privately, feel free to email me at tmalonemcse @ gmail.com. God bless us all.
A few links to articles on the Temple Recommend Interview process:
Wikipedia article on LDS worthiness interviews
An Ensign article on being worthy to enter the temple
Frequently asked questions from lds.org on temple interviews
Excerpt from the 1982 First Presidency letter from Upward Thought Blog
Article from The New Era on Temple Recommend Interview
Lesson from Young Men’s manual on Recommend Interviews
Lesson from Temple Preparation class on Recommend Interviews