Development of LDS Temple Worship

I received a wonderful surprise in the mail a few weeks ago.  I received an advance copy of The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary History from Signature Books.  It will be released on March 24, and I just added it to my Books and Movies page.  If you pre-order, Amazon is offering it for 34% off.  I haven’t been through the whole book yet, but I wanted to offer some initial impressions.

It’s always hard for active Mormons to talk about the temple except in very general terms.  For example, when I reviewed The Mysteries of Godliness, it made me very uncomfortable, because I felt that David John Buerger went too far in discussing temple ceremonies.  From what I’ve read so far, this book seems to have avoided crossing any lines of confidentiality, and so far has been very interesting to read.

This is a very different book than I am used to reading because it is organized strictly chronologically.  I would say that it’s a book primarily designed for researchers, though it has some fascinating nuggets about temple practices, procedures, and information that discusses ancillary issues to the temple. Rather than giving a narration linking similar topics together, the book is a collection of diary entries, meeting notes, official or semi-official pronouncements from various leaders, given in a strictly chronological order.  As such, each entry may have nothing to do with a previous entry.  It took me a little while to get used to that.  It doesn’t seem to be the type of book that one would normally read from cover to cover.  I found myself flipping pages until I found something that looked interesting, and there are plenty of interesting things to be found.  For example, there were very specific instructions on how to handle burial for deceased members.  Pages 415-417 give the minutes from a Temple Clothing Program meeting from Oct 3, 1975 in the form of a question and answer.  Here is an example:

8.  Question:  May individuals be buried in their regular temple clothing that has been worn to the temple?

Answer: Yes, with the exception of the shoes.  A special moccasin is used in place of the regular temple-wear shoe.

There are lots in interesting tidbits.  When I was single, I remember dating a widow.  She had been sealed in the Salt Lake Temple.  After 7 years of marriage, her husband had been killed in an avalanche.  I remember that she was bothered by the fact that the church would not allow her to be sealed to another man, and had even spoken to an apostle about the problem.  While the church still forbids a living woman from being sealed to more than one man, President Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson sent a circular letter from Dec 8, 1988 (found on page 456) stating

  • A deceased woman sealed in life to one husband may also be sealed to another man with whom she lived as a wife.

Prior to that sentence, the letter states

In considering ordinances for the deceased, we need not attempt to determine individual worthiness, whether an ordinance will be accepted, or the probable feelings of other deceased individuals affected by the proposed ordinance.  In order to be binding in eternity, any ordinance in behalf of the dead must be accepted by the individuals involved, merited by individual worthiness, and sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.  These determinations must, of necessity, be made beyond the veil.

While I know this policy didn’t satisfy this particular widow, I think it is an interesting policy nonetheless that women can be sealed to more than one man.

Going further back in time, there was a very interesting suggestion about a Temple Ship.  Greg Prince had mentioned this in his David O. McKay biography, and it was nice to see something official from David O McKay’s diary dated Oct 11, 1968.  From page 375,

For nearly one hour the brethren from the Building Committee made a presentation suggesting the purchase of an ocean-going vessel which vessel was to be equipped for Temple Ordinance work and then sail to the various points strategically located throughout the earth where Latter-day Saints, principally in remote places, would have access to the Temple Endowment.  It was reported that this project would cost approximately two million dollars and could be maintained throughout the year at a cost of about $500,000 per year[,] that crews could be recruited by simply calling various members of the Church to a 12 or 18-month mission, and that the members of the crew on the boat would not be the same as those that would be called to officiate in these Temple Ordinances for people throughout the earth.


It is obvious that this would satisfy a need for the far away, remote places where members of the Church would not have access to the Temple Endowment, but in order for it to be successful it would have to also reach the heavier populated ares in America as well as in South America.  Otherwise it would be unfeasible as to cost.  The proposition thus submitted is without question worthy of consideration and this is precisely the status that it was left in.  There were no decisions made.  However a great many comments were made which consisted of the following:

1.  President Smith raised the question that Temples were to be constructed according to the revelation in Stakes of Zion.

2.  I raised the question as to the cursing that has been place upon the waters in the last days, as to whether it would be proper in the light of that statement by the Prophet to construct a Temple to sail on the waters.

3.  I also raised the question as to the worthiness of the members in far away places or as to whether their association in the church was sufficiently experienced to have the Temple work performed for them at this time.  The building committee stated that there were 50,000 men who held the Melchizedek Priesthood in these far away places who would have access to the Temple.  I pointed out that even here in Zion only 40% of them were worthy of going to the Temple and it would be probably much less in these far away places.  Then if they were permitted to go[,] with the ship being anchored in a nearby harbor, that it would offend them.

6.  Finally, while this project appears to have great merit on first thought, the more it is thought about the more problems would seem to arise.  However, the matter was left for further consideration by President McKay and the First Presidency.  [The footnote states, ‘Two weeks later, McKay wrote to an inquiring individual that “as far as I am concerned[,] we are not considering this proposition,” and further discussion of the matter apparently ceased.  See Prince and Wright, David O. McKay, 275]

Since I’m curious about the time period relating to the Manifesto, I had to look for information around 1890.  Some of these quotes are hard to understand without the footnotes.  For example, here is the quote from a letter from President Wilford Woodruff to William H. Seegmiller, Sept 26, 1890 that left me scratching my head until I read the footnote.

Elder H. S. Palmer of Freemont [Utah] writes to us that you have refused to give him a recommend to the House of the Lord because at his late trial he promised to obey the law.

The footnote states,

Apparently Seegmiller thought LDS people should stand firm in violating the law against polygamy.  Notice that President Woodruff doesn’t support Palmer’s decision to obey the law; rather he finds the sin of obedience in this case to be venial rather than fatal.

Continuing with the quote from the letter,

If this is the only reason you have for withholding his recommend, and if he is otherwise in good standing in the Church, and were it not for this action of his you could freely recommend him, we do not think it advisable for that reason alone to withhold from him the privileges of the temple.

Official Declaration 1 was released just 2 days before this letter.  Wilford Woodruff had a vision on Sept 23, 1891.  The following day, the press release was drafted and printed in our current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.

President Lorenzo Snow offered the following:

“I move that, recognizing Wilford Woodruff as the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the only man on the earth at the present time who holds the keys of the sealing ordinances, we consider him fully authorized by virtue of his position to issue the Manifesto which has been read in our hearing, and which is dated September 24th, 1890, and that as a Church in General Conference assembled, we accept his declaration concerning plural marriages as authoritative and binding.”

The vote to sustain the foregoing motion was unanimous.

Salt Lake City, Utah, October 6, 1890.

These are just a few of the tidbits in this book–it’s really fascinating.  As you can see, it addresses a wide range of topics.  Is there anything you’d like to know more about?


11 comments on “Development of LDS Temple Worship

  1. Cool! Sounds really interesting… I’d love to hear more about anything surrounding the changes to the endowment in the 90’s (or any other time, for that matter). History is so interesting – when stuff happens in the present day it doesn’t seem like a big deal compared to historical events…

  2. A temple boat! Am I the only one absolutely fascinated by this?!

  3. Adam, I did a quick scan from 1985-1996 and didn’t see anything referencing the changes to the endowment that happened in 1990. I did note a lot of information about how important it is to wear the authorized garment. There was a surprising reference that women were supposed to have long sleeves for their wedding gowns–my wife had short sleeves at our wedding (though long sleeves for the actual sealing.) I didn’t know that was even an issue.

  4. Carla, you’re not the only one!!! I meant to talk about that when I discussed the Mckay biography, but when I saw it here again, I had to include it!

  5. MH, I had never heard of the temple ship, but there are some interesting similarities to <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_Org"Scientology's Sea Org , especially the year (1968). Maybe someone in the Building Committee was inspired by Hubbard? 🙂

  6. FD, you’ve been a stranger for much too long! I hope things are well with you! Welcome!

    I decided to go back to the David O McKay biography, and discovered that Mark Garff was the head of the Building Committee, tasked with providing a recommendation for new temples. His first proposal occurred in 1967, so perhaps the Scientologists borrowed the idea from Garff. He visited Alaska, Hong Kong, Phillippines, New Zealand, and Australia prior to his suggestion for the Temple Ship. On Oct 1968, they gave their official presentation to the First Presidency. Prince notes that (from page 274 of the Prince book)

    Although McKay earlier had responded favorably to the idea, reaction from his three counselors present (Tanner, Dyer, and Joseph Fielding Smith) was less that enthusiastic.

    Prince goes on to describe many items in the entry I quoted in the OP. Prince tells that Fred Baker was the person McKay was referring to above (two weeks after the First Pres meeting.) Baker found a vessel in Europe “at an extremely advantageous price.” As we know, McKay said they weren’t considering the proposition, and it was never discussed again.

  7. […] Blog posts: The Political Surf Flunking Sainthood Mormon Heritic […]

  8. Holy Toledo! Such interesting information….I had never heard of a temple boat. Thanks so much for sharing!

  9. […] Prince describes the proposal under President David O. McKay to build a temple ship to help give remote saints access to the Endowment.  While I was familiar with the story, I expect […]

  10. […] Prince describes the proposal under President David O. McKay to build a temple ship to help give remote saints access to the Endowment.  While I was familiar with the story, I expect […]

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