It has been the conversation of many lately of what members of the church should and shouldn’t discuss about the LDS temple while outside of the temple. Here are some of my thoughts.
What can we talk about?
There is a lot that we can share with others about the temple. The main doctrines that are taught in the temple are the same doctrines that are taught in the scriptures and in our Sunday School classes and manuals. The Pearl of Great Price is a perfect temple study tool; much of what we learn in the temple can be found in those books of scripture, and we can certainly discuss scripture in a scriptural context. The doctrines of the creation, the fall, the atonement, and our return to the presence of our Heavenly Father are all openly taught. We are also openly taught about chastity, obedience, sacrifice, and consecration. These are doctrines that every member, endowed or not, should understand. The names of the ordinances have also been made publicly known – baptism for the dead, ordination, washings and anointings, endowment, and sealing. Brigham Young has offered,
Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell. (Journal of Discourses, 2:31)
Elder Packer tells us that this is a published definition or description of the endowment, and uses it himself (“The Holy Temple”, 153).
What should we keep sacred?
But we should not directly discuss the “details” of the temple outside of the temple. We do not talk specifically about the “key words, the signs and tokens.” We don’t discuss the details of the garment. We don’t share details about the sacred clothing worn in the temple. We don’t share the temple ceremony wording or language. We don’t discuss the veil. We don’t talk about the particular procedures or methods of the ordinances. There is much more that we are to keep sacred than those things explicitly stated in the ordinance. Elder Packer has said,
Our reluctance to speak of the sacred temple ordinances is not in any way an attempt to make them seem more mysterious or to encourage an improper curiosity about them… They are kept confidential lest they be given to those who are unprepared… There are some blessings which can be bestowed only in the Lord’s temple, and we do not talk of them outside the temple… We are not free to discuss the temple ordinances and ceremonies… Without the spiritual atmosphere of the temple itself, and without the worthiness and preparation required of those who go there, the temple ceremonies would not be quickly understood and might be quite misunderstood… While we cannot discuss in detail the temple ordinances and ceremonies, there is much we can discuss in this book – and we will. (“The Holy Temple”, 27-39)
As Elder Packer says, it is mostly a matter of preparation. We don’t cast our pearls before swine, and neither did the Lord and His apostles when they discussed the “higher knowledge.” It is a sacred knowledge that is not to be given to all people, only to those who are prepared to receive it, which is determined by a temple recommend. But even among endowed temple recommend holders we don’t discuss outside the temple the details of the ordinances and ceremonies. It is not the right environment. The temple has been built, prepared, and dedicated to the Lord and sanctified for the purpose of teaching the details and discussing the details. Following Elder Packer’s admonition, we should “not discuss the sacred ordinances and ceremonies of the temple further than has previously been published about them by the Church” (“The Holy Temple”, 10).
How do we talk about the temple?
Hugh Nibley is an ideal example and has set a precedent of how we can and should talk about the temple. As his biography by Boyd Petersen points out,
Importantly, Hugh has maintained the confidence of General Authorities by writing about the temple in a highly respectful way that also preserves the sacred nature of the subject matter. Hugh’s writings about the temple provide not only new insights and knowledge but also deeper inspiration and motivation. Indeed, with both his words and his deeds, Hugh has inspired both templegoers and a whole generation of scholars to take the temple more seriously… In all of these studies, Hugh has been respectful of the covenants of secrecy safeguarding specific portions of the LDS endowment, usually describing parallels from other cultures without talking specifically about the Mormon ceremony. This approach earned him a great deal of trust from both General Authorities and from Church members… Stressing the value Church leaders placed on Hugh’s temple-related studies and their gratitude for his approach, Elder Dallin H. Oaks later wrote Hugh: ‘It also seems desirable for me to express, in behalf of my brethren, our admiration and appreciation for the sensitive way in which you have done your scholarly work and expressed your views on subjects related to the temple ceremonies.’ Oaks included with that letter ‘The Temple Ceremonies,’ a talk he had recently given to ‘an audience of General Authorities’ in which he addressed the manner and extent to which temple ordinances should be discussed outside the temple. Oaks assured Hugh that ‘nothing in this talk is intended to be a criticism or a discouragement of efforts as sensitive as yours. The talk has some targets, but you aren’t one of them. (“Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life”, 351-356)
In a footnote, Petersen mentions that in Oaks’ “The Temple Ceremonies” talk that “Oaks cited James E. Talmage and Boyd K. Packer as models of what can and cannot be discussed; however, he specifically quotes Hugh’s writings in several places throughout the talk.”
If you want to know what can be freely discussed outside the temple, study these brethren, and other trusted LDS scholars such as those at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU (formerly known as FARMS), or the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR). Volumes of books have been published on the subject of temples from these and others. By reading them, we may come to understand what is appropriate to talk about and what is not. The most common way to study particular details of the LDS temple has been to investigate ancient traditions and temple experiences which parallel our own. This is where it can get tricky, and where a fine line is drawn, because while we can discuss the ancient patterns it is not advisable to compare them with our current practices. Nibley pointed this out when writing his book “The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri”:
But here we run into a strange impasse indeed. For it turns out by the nature of things that the most eminent Egyptologist cannot qualify either to question or test our thesis. The whole purpose of this book is to compare two scenarios, the Egyptian and the Mormon; but the writer has been careful throughout to describe and discuss only one of them, preserving complete silence on the other. Often sorely tempted to point out some really stunning parallels between the two disciplines, he has been restrained both by the admonition of the prophets and the consideration that what is glaringly obvious to him hardly needs to be called to the attention of any adult practicing Latter-day Saint; while to take up and discuss such matters with outsiders would only perplex and confuse them. Thus, our learned critic finds himself in the position of a one-armed violinist, while the writer claims impudent immunity from attack. (intro)
But, as I noted on my About page, sometimes we take our sacred covenants to an extreme point of hiding behind our own ignorance. Hugh Nibley once wrote:
What the Mormons like best about their temples is the obligation of secrecy that exonerates them from ever having to speak, and hence to think, about what they have learned by the ordinances and teachings. So strict are they in observing the confidential nature of those teachings that they, for the most part, scrupulously avoid dropping so much as a hint to outsiders by putting any of them into practice. ((Petersen, Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life, 361))
President Benson spoke similar sentiments:
Because of [the Temple’s] sacredness we are sometimes reluctant to say anything about the Temple to our children and grandchildren. As a consequence, many do not develop a real desire to go to the Temple, or when they go there, they do so without much background to prepare them for the obligations and covenants they enter into. ((President Benson, “What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple,” Ensign, August (1985): 6-10, emphasis added))
This blog will discuss temple theology, history, ritual, symbolism, doctrine, ancient patterns, fragments, apostate forms, apocrypha, and more as it relates to and supports the modern day practice of the LDS temple, but always keeping those things sacred which should be kept sacred. I take my temple covenants very seriously, and will not allow this blog to profane the holy things of God. As such, I will be moderating all the comments on this blog as a screen against publishing those things about the temple which should not be published. Here we are in the business of supporting, building up, and securing a testimony of the truth, not of defaming. There is much that we can talk about the temple while we are on the outside, we just need to learn how to do it to be respectful the sacred nature of the Lord’s house.