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The Sacred/Secret Temple

The Brigham City Temple

I had the pleasure of attending the closed-circuit dedication of the Brigham City Temple this afternoon.  My family was able to walk through the temple a few weeks ago.  While the architecture seems somewhat reminiscent of the Salt Lake Temple, it is one of the newer, much smaller temples that the church now builds.  Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presided over the dedicatory service.

Elder Packer grew up on Brigham City, so it is a hometown temple for him.  Speakers noted that Brigham City was named after Brigham Young, and the temple was the only temples to hold a painting of both Brigham Young and Lorenzo Snow.  Snow was stake president in Brigham City, and was known as the Brigham City apostle.  Elder Packer could be known with the same title now.

Elder Packer repeated the phrase that temples are sacred, but not secret.  That phrase stuck out to me, because I was able to attend Brad Kramer’s presentation at Utah Valley University on Wednesday of this week.  Kramer discussed the taboos associated with LDS temples in a presentation was titled “Keeping the Sacred: Silence, Taboo, and Power in LDS Discourse”, and he specifically addressed this phrase that Packer used.  Kramer noted that LDS temples are an open secret.  Anyone with any curiosity can do a quick google search and actually watch the LDS temple ceremony if they are so inclined.

Elder Boyd K. Packer

Kramer noted 3 categories for discussing the temple.  (1)  There are about five parts of the temple ceremony in which patrons are absolutely prohibited from discussing outside the temple.  (2)  Other parts of the temple are considered fair game to talk about.  Elder Packer produced a short book about the temple (you can read it at lds.org) that is often used in temple preparation classes.

Then there is a third category that is neither absolutely prohibited, nor is it really fair game to talk about.  There can be some latitude for talking about the temple ceremonies.  Kramer noted that in the past, it was acceptable to talk about the temple while inside the temple.  However, newer regulations require that temple workers can no longer answer questions about the temple, and workers have been directed that if asked a specific question, then patrons should be referred to the temple president for answers.  It has been my experience that the president is often not available to answer these questions.  Kramer said that temple presidents often don’t answer questions when asked, but simply stonewall about the questions.  Kramer noted that this has been a source of frustration among some BYU faculty who remember a more openness about temple questions inside the temple.  Because of the increased official silence, Kramer noted that younger people, frustrated by the lack of candor about the temple, are more likely to talk openly about the temple ceremonies than older generations.

He also noted that the secrecy of the temple is part of the holiness of the temple.  We are told that this secrecy in temple ordinances is “more sacred than scripture.”  Inside the temple, patrons are asked for almost absolute silence, and that we should speak only when necessary; when we do speak, we are to use our “temple voices” (whispers)  as a sign of reverence.  Patrons are told that they should contemplate, rather than discuss the temple while serving there.  The concept of holiness is something done collaborative with God and other people, and it depends on secrecy.

Non-members and non-endowed members often feel outside of the conversation when members talk about the temple.  One teenager said that when endowed members discuss the temple, it is like an “inside joke” in which only certain people understand what is happening.  Kramer used the example of this photograph, which has been widely circulated among Mormons on the internet.  Nine Moons said it was distributed with the caption, “Don’t forget Stake Temple Day is February 29th! All day long!!” While some people would recognize Michael Ballam (on the right), most people would not understand what the photo has to do with the temple.  This is an example of the “inside joke”.

Those who have been to the temple understand the photo.  Inside the temple, patrons watch a film about the creation of the earth.  There are two versions of the film presentation for the temple endowment, and both men play a version of Satan in one of the two versions of the film.  Without that inside knowledge, it really is an unremarkable photo.

Kramer noted that Mormons sometimes quote the temple ceremony without attribution, so that “he that can hear, let him hear”.  Kramer noted that apostles do quote the ceremony quite frequently such as Elders Packer and Holland, but they have also counseled against members doing this.  Members have been able to quote the ceremony without attribution in a way that might be analogous to “fair use” in copyright law.  For active Mormons, it seems to be a gray area when discussing the temple, and Kramer noted 4 rules for proper etiquette when referencing of the temple ceremony.

  1. the reference must be very short
  2. you must stick to the melodrama part of the ceremony
  3. you can’t make it explicit (don’t use quote marks).  You can’t say “oh that’s in the temple ceremony”.
  4. you can sometimes blame it on independent or academic sources

This “insider speak” is done by men more than women, and is often used to bolster one’s personal authority.  Because of the silence associated with the temple, the temple experience becomes a profoundly spiritual experience.  Without the silence associated with the ceremony, Kramer said that it might be considered off-putting or strange.  He noted that the ceremony is very patriarchal, and women enjoy temple worship less than men.

What are your thoughts about the temple?  Do you agree that the temple is not secret?  What were your experiences in attending a temple dedication?

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5 comments on “The Sacred/Secret Temple

  1. To my way of looking at it, it’s a mistake to think of the endowment as including “watching a film.” It is true that in all but two of the temples, a portion of the drama is depicted on film, but that has the unfortunate effect of making it appear that what is happening on film is distinct from what happens in the temple, and that the film is something that we “watch” rather than something we participate in.

    The endowment consists of temple workers (as Adam, Eve, Lucifer, etc.) and temple patrons (as the posterity of Adam and Eve) enacting the ritual together on the same stage. There really is no audience, no fourth wall; everyone involved is an actor. The characters on the screen and the characters in the endowment room acknowledge and address each other as if they are on stage together. In adapting the live endowment to film, the intent is that the film is a ritual extension of the endowment room. In the filmed endowment, some characters actually move back and forth several times between the film and the endowment room stage. That can be rather jarring, but not nearly so jarring as trying to make sense of the ritual while imagining that we are “watching” the film rather than acting it it.

  2. I’ve been known to toss in phrases like “What is wanted?” and “We will go down” in casual conversation with other LDS…partly with friends as an inside joke, but also as a sort of litmus-test to see gauge how comfortable someone might be with my take on Mormonism :). Anyway, given how we are implored to attend the temple regularly, it can be a little frustrating how little substantive discussion of its ceremonies actually occurs. My wife and I sometimes sit in the Celestial room batting around, in whispered tones, possible interpretations of the endowment’s various events, and as fun as that can be it demonstrates the paucity of meaningful LDS discourse about the temple. It doesn’t help that the limited resources that do exist often rely in prooftexted and misinterpreted scriptures (i.e. Isaiah 22 and the “nail in a sure place”). I wish there was more space for open discussion of the endowment, which I think could be done without violating the few things we are specifically forbidden to discuss (none of which carry any particular spiritual significance for me anyway). On the other hand, I appreciate that the symbolic nature of the temple shouldn’t be reduced to simplistic 1:1 explanations of its symbols, and that our refusal to discuss things openly probably inspires many members to construct elaborate and faith-promoting interpretations far richer than the cold, prescriptive (dare I say, correlated) symbolism we experience elsewhere in the church (Everything is symbolic of purity, the end). I’m convinced that there is no single “correct” interpretation, but I’d love to hear others’ thoughts expressed more candidly. If the temple is the Lord’s University, as has been sometimes claimed, our current system is like setting a Freshman loose in a campus library while forbidding her to attend classes or speak with the librarians or fellow students.

  3. Left Field, you’re exactly right. I have always felt that it is difficult to portray the endowment accurately because of the secrecy issue.

    Casey, I agree with you as well. I too would love to hear more candid discussions, and it seems a shame that we can’t even talk about it in the temple anymore.

  4. I would really like to read/see/listen Brad’s presentation. Any chance there is a link to it somewhere?

  5. I don’t think UVU filmed it, and Brad didn’t offer it to the audience. You might want to try to leave him a comment at the By Common Consent blog. He blogs over there, and that’s where I found out about his presentation.

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