23 Comments

Women and Temples

It’s amazing what you can learn on the Bloggernacle.  Layne at Feminist Mormon Housewives expressed concern about a policy at a temple she attended.  As Young Women’s advisor, she took the young women in her ward to perform baptisms for the dead.  Apparently the unnamed temple she attended had a policy that women currently experiencing their period would not be allowed to participate in baptisms, but would be allowed to participate in confirmations.  Rebecca at By Common Consent noted that some temples have the policy, and some don’t.  According to Rebecca,

There is no rational basis for this policy. It needs to go. Period.

(Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

Being a guy, such an issue had never crossed my mind–apparently it hadn’t crossed some women’s minds either.  They have started a Google Docs spreadsheet to track the issue and see if the issue can be resolved.  I can understand that a young woman would be mortified to find she couldn’t participate if she hadn’t known the policy and was informed of the policy at the temple.  If you read the comments, there are several stories of women driving hours to a temple and then being informed of the policy.  (Don’t read the comments if you are squeamish–there are quite a few tales of the facts of life women deal with on a monthly basis.)  Some have wondered if there was any sort of a basis scripturally.

Well, I’ve been watching a documentary from National Geographic called “The Real Mary Magdalene.”  It’s a fantastic video, part of a 3 DVD set of Science of the Bible (it’s on disk 3).  Ancient Judaism had some interesting practices relating to menstruation and the temple.  Quoting from the DVD,

Jewish society in the first century forced a sharp division between men and women.  The division began at the temple in Jerusalem.  Women could not enter the Court of the Priests where the sacrifices took place.  Instead, they had to stay in the court of the women.  Ritual purity was vital in the temple.  Priests had to immerse in a special pool called a mikvah every day in order to be holy.

Rabbi Lawrence Schiffman, New York University, “Men and women are segregated in the temple because the way access works to the temple.  People gain closer and closer access based on the higher potentials of ritual purity.”

Menstrual blood made women impure every month. They had to bathe in the mikvah before they could have sexual contact with their husbands.  These ritual differences between men and women in the temple were reflected in life.

A Mikvah is very similar to the more modern practice of baptism, and it appears that Christian baptism evolved from the practice of mikvah.  I talked about Mikvah and baptism previously.  Anyway, I am not here to promote or defend temple issues here (I’ll defer to the women that say there is no problem performing baptisms even if having a period), but I will say that menstrual bleeding was considered unclean in ancient Judaism.  Without the modern feminine hygiene products we have now, I’d be surprised if ancient Christians would have allowed women to perform baptisms while menstruating.

The Salt Lake Tribune the Tribune article. For those you don’t want to click the link, here’s the official statement:
If temple workers are excluding young women from doing baptismal work while having their periods, church spokesman Scott Trotter said, they are not following LDS policy.

“Performing baptisms in church temples is a sacred ordinance open to all members who are at least 12 years of age and who meet the standards of the church,” Trotter said in a statement. “The decision of whether or not to participate in baptisms during a menstrual cycle is personal and left up to the individual.”

I just thought I would give an update of the Google Docs sheet as of the last time I checked.

  • 15 temples are NOT following church policy.
  • 27 temples are in compliance (no restrictions)
  • There are 31 temples require tampons or have other restrictions.
  • There are 77 temples are unknown status (because either closed, or nobody has asked yet.

So, of the 73 temples with known status, only 37% are within compliance of church guidelines. I think a memo needs to go out.  Do you think the Church should make the official policy more clear? What do you make of this issue?

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23 comments on “Women and Temples

  1. I’d say it’s common courtesy. If you’re on your period, stay away from communal bodies of water. Why is this even an issue? If I was bleeding from somewhere, I would stay out of a communal body of water, too. *facepalm? yea*

  2. Skyler, I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read the comments at FMH or BCC, but there are some really strident feelings out there about the issue. In the case of young women, some of the commenters felt that the bleeding is so slight that it really wouldn’t matter. I’m no expert, so I’ll defer to them on this. But I completely get what you’re saying. I know the state health departments have to check pools; I wonder if they have a position.

  3. @Mormon Heretic, we shouldn’t need a policy because young women on their period should have the decency to stay out of the font. I’m very surprised that this is even a “controversy”. Don’t these feminists have bigger battles to win?

  4. @Mormon Heretic, that and I’m afraid to click-through to the OP. Wailing and gnashing of teeth over temporary, monthly menstruation? Nothankyou.

  5. I know the state health departments have to check pools; I wonder if they have a position.

    The sisters at FMH called the various temples to find out their policies on the matter, but did not think to call state health departments. Perhaps the complete absence of signs at public swimming pools restricting their use by menstruating women made the good sisters think that the states’ positions were obvious.

    You also did not note the outcome of the sisters’ efforts. The main conclusion was as follows:

    -First, the majority of temples not only had inclusionary policies but were very clear and strong about it. Many times temples expressed surprise that anyone would think a temple would exclude a woman on her period and often they explained how they went out of their way to try and make any nervous girls feel welcome and comfortable.

    Seems their reaction was the exact opposite of Skyler J. Collins. The effort also elicited a Salt Lake Tribune article containing the following:

    If temple workers are excluding young women from doing baptismal work while having their periods, church spokesman Scott Trotter said, they are not following LDS policy.

    “Performing baptisms in church temples is a sacred ordinance open to all members who are at least 12 years of age and who meet the standards of the church,” Trotter said in a statement. “The decision of whether or not to participate in baptisms during a menstrual cycle is personal and left up to the individual.”

  6. Wow, Skyler. You have quite a virulent opinion for someone who has never had a period himself.

    But I guarantee that if you bled for one fourth of your life, you’d have a bit to say about it, too.

  7. @SilverRain, “virulent”? I don’t mean to come across as “virulent”. Forgive me. This seems like a no brainer. It’s kind of silly, really. I would hope our young women would have the decency and honesty to excuse themselves from this type of activity while menstruating.

  8. Skyler, thank you for the apology. It was coming across as mocking and derogatory.

    You don’t really understand the mechanics of menstruating. I’m happy to explain them to you in more detail if you wish. But, for now, suffice it to say that there is this amazing little invention called a tampon that generally removes the need to excuse oneself from sacred ordinances in the interest of “decency” and “honesty.”

  9. Public pools have rules to prevent the communal water from contaminating anyone. Everyone has to take a “cleansing shower” before getting in. Incontinent persons (such as babies) have to wear swim diapers. I’ve never seen a sign advising menstruating women to wear tampons, but the vast majority of menstruating women would not set foot in a public pool without one, just for their own comfort. The tampon is not an untested, experimental product. It’s been around for a really long time. It’s designed to keep menstrual blood from leaking out of a woman’s body and IT WORKS.

    If this were a doctrinal issue, if Mormons were concerned with this sort of ritual purity the way orthodox Jews are, that would be a whole other ball of wax. But it is not Mormon doctrine that women are impure during their periods. We’re not required to bathe in the mikvah afterward. We don’t have a mikvah. We’re not Jews. The only rationale for this policy (which only exists at a few temples nowadays) is a concern that the font water might be contaminated by menstrual blood, and tampons render this a non-issue (literally).

    If you’re uncomfortable sharing the same body of water with a woman who is menstruating–even if she’s wearing a tampon, which means that you have an irrational fear that can’t be alleviated by mere facts–I recommend that you stay away from any body of water where women are allowed to be, because I guarantee you that at any given time at least *some* of those women will be menstruating. Gross, huh? But that’s the world you live in.

  10. Good point on the tampon, however, I know and have known women that don’t like wearing tampons. In those cases, they should excuse themselves. Common courtesy, right? My .02.

  11. Thanks for the comments everyone, especially from the women. Like I said, I’m absolutely no expert on this topic, so I appreciate hearing from the experts. I was going to ask about public pools–there are certainly lots of signs about making babies were double-diapers, but I had no idea if there were signs in the women’s locker room about menstruating–thanks for the info that it’s not a problem. (I will say that my wife refuses to go in a public pool during her period. Part of the reason is she may not feel well, but I think the other part of the reason is a yuck factor.)

    Rebecca, I know it’s early, but do you think that the temples with the policy will change the policy? Do you think the spreadsheet will help?

  12. @Skyler J. Collins
    More like common sense than courtesy, but that’s a different subject. No one is arguing with a policy that says menstruating women must use tampons. The policy we’re arguing with is that menstruating women must excuse themselves regardless of whether or not they use tampons. That’s just an irrational policy, unless you’re going to argue that menstruating women are ritually unclean, which no one will.

    Women who prefer sanitary napkins to tampons just avoid certain activities during that time of the month. No one has to tell them not to do those things. They know what will happen. I don’t know anyone who goes without any protection just to stick it to The Man.

  13. @MH
    I think the reason the policy still exists in some places is because it’s the sort of thing people don’t talk about openly, and we’re accustomed to just accepting policies without questioning them, assuming that if a policy exists, there must be a good reason for it. The more people are willing to discuss this policy openly, the more people will realize that there is no good reason for it, and it will go away. To the extent that the spreadsheet makes more people aware of the policy and gets them to think about it and question it, it will certainly help. I don’t think anyone’s setting out to offend women or be sexist. I think there are just some well-meaning people out there who don’t understand how tampons work (or how common their usage is, even among young, unmarried girls) and even more well-meaning people who tend to go along with whatever the temple workers tell them and figure there’s nothing to be done about it. In some cases there isn’t anything to be done (or anything that ought to be done), but in this case there is.

  14. Thanks Rebecca. I will be interested to see if any change results from the spreadsheet. Before I read your post, I was completely unaware of this issue. If I was a temple worker, I would have followed whatever the policy was (or wasn’t) without questioning it at all.

    I do wonder who would have instituted such a policy. From all the comments I’ve read so far, it is only voiced by women, which makes sense because it’s a female issue, but that would seem to imply that some “matronly” woman felt it was the best thing to do. (I can’t imagine a guy thinking this up–but then again Moses issued the Law, and I don’t know how much his wives input was in this ritual purity.) Do you think this is a generational problem, where older women view this as a problem, while younger women feel it’s not a big deal?

  15. Matt, thanks for the link to the Tribune article. For those you don’t want to click the link, here’s the official statement:

    If temple workers are excluding young women from doing baptismal work while having their periods, church spokesman Scott Trotter said, they are not following LDS policy.

    “Performing baptisms in church temples is a sacred ordinance open to all members who are at least 12 years of age and who meet the standards of the church,” Trotter said in a statement. “The decision of whether or not to participate in baptisms during a menstrual cycle is personal and left up to the individual.”

    I just thought I would give an update of the Google Docs sheet as of now.

    Currently, 15 temples are NOT following church policy.
    Adelaide Australia
    Bern Switzerland
    Dallas Texas
    Las Vegas Nevada
    Logan Utah
    London England
    Melbourne Australia
    Orlando Florida
    Portland Oregon
    Preston England
    Sacramento California
    Seattle Washington
    Sydney Australia
    Vernal Utah
    Frankfurt Germany

    27 temples are in compliance (no restrictions)
    Albuquerque New Mexico
    Anchorage Alaska
    Atlanta Georgia
    Baton Rouge Louisiana
    Boston Massachusetts
    Boston Massachusetts
    Brisbane Australia
    Columbia South Carolina
    Detroit Michigan
    Edmonton Alberta
    Frankfurt Germany
    Houston Texas
    Idaho Falls Idaho
    Manhattan New York
    Manti Utah
    Monticello Utah
    Oakland California
    Oklahoma City Oklahoma
    Perth Australia
    Provo Utah
    Reno Nevada
    Rexburg Idaho
    St. Louis Missouri
    San Diego, CA
    Spokane, WA
    Vancouver British Columbia
    Washington D.C.

    These 31 temples require tampons or have other restrictions.
    Cardston Alberta
    Halifax Nova Scotia
    Lima Perú
    Mount Timpanogos Utah
    Albuquerque New Mexico
    Anchorage Alaska
    Atlanta Georgia
    Baton Rouge Louisiana
    Boston Massachusetts
    Boston Massachusetts
    Brisbane Australia
    Columbia South Carolina
    Detroit Michigan
    Edmonton Alberta
    Frankfurt Germany
    Houston Texas
    Idaho Falls Idaho
    Manhattan New York
    Manti Utah
    Monticello Utah
    Oakland California
    Oklahoma City Oklahoma
    Perth Australia
    Provo Utah
    Reno Nevada
    Rexburg Idaho
    St. Louis Missouri
    San Diego, CA
    Spokane, WA
    Vancouver British Columbia
    Washington D.C.

    These 77 temples are unknown status (because either closed, or nobody has asked yet.
    Accra Ghana
    Apia Samoa
    Asunción Paraguay
    Birmingham Alabama
    Bismarck North Dakota
    Bogotá Colombia
    Boise Idaho
    Bountiful Utah
    Buenos Aires Argentina
    Campinas Brazil
    Caracas Venezuela
    Cebu City Philippines
    Chicago Illinois
    Ciudad Juárez
    Cochabamba Bolivia
    Colonia Juárez Chihuahua México
    Columbia River, WA
    Columbus Ohio
    Copenhagen Denmark
    Curitiba Brazil
    Draper Utah (closed for rennovation, will open on Tues, Feb 21)
    Freiberg Germany
    Fresno California
    Fukuoka Japan
    Guadalajara México
    Guatemala City Guatemala
    Guayaquil Ecuador
    The Hague Netherlands
    Hamilton New Zealand
    Helsinki Finland
    Hermosillo Sonora México
    Hong Kong China
    Johannesburg South Africa
    Kona Hawaii
    Kyiv Ukraine
    Laie Hawaii
    Logan Utah
    Louisville Kentucky
    Lubbock Texas
    Madrid Spain
    Manila Philippines
    Memphis Tennessee
    Merida Mexico
    México City México
    Monterrey México
    Montevideo Uruguay
    Montréal Québec
    Nauvoo Illinois
    Newport Beach California
    Nuku’alofa Tonga
    Oaxaca México
    Ogden Utah
    Oquirrh Mountain Utah
    Palmyra New York
    Panamá City Panamá
    Papeete Tahiti
    Porto Alegre Brazil
    Quetzaltenango Guatemala
    Raleigh, NC
    Recife Brazil
    Regina Saskatchewan
    St. George Utah
    San Antonio Texas
    San José Costa Rica
    Santiago Chile
    Santo Domingo Dominican Republic
    São Paulo Brazil
    Seoul Korea
    Snowflake Arizona
    Stockholm Sweden
    Suva Fiji
    Taipei Taiwan
    Tampico México
    Tokyo Japan
    Tuxtla Gutiérrez México
    Veracruz México
    Villahermosa México

    So, of the 73 temples with known status, only 37% are within compliance of church guidelines. I think a memo needs to go out.

    full | partial | none | Total
    15 | 31 | 27 | 73
    21% | 42% | 37% | 100%

  16. As a practicing member all my life, I have participated in baptisms in the temples many times. I do think there could be a very simple clarification, tampons, ok, otherwise, no. I don’t think the ancient tradition has ANYTHING to do with it. It is simply a hygiene issue. I was told once that some pumps, like on a jetted hot tub, are so strong they can pull stuff out that messes up the filters. TMI, maybe, but there it is. Also, remember, lots of the youth that are participating are as young as 12 and don’t have a lot of experience in this area.
    I agree, it should be the same everywhere, just so we know what to expect, but the bottom line is, if this becomes a faith altering issue, there is something wrong with the individuals core beliefs and faith.

  17. Darla, about the pumps, you heard wrong. The filters will be messed up by barrettes, hair ties, and earrings. Not by bodily fluids. If the pumps were strong enough to do what you’re suggesting, people wouldn’t be able to stand up in the font because their feet would be sucked out from under them.

    I find it hard to believe that any girl would purposefully put herself in white clothes that will get wet if she has any doubt that blood would show through. Especially girls who just started menstruating and haven’t gotten the knack of it yet. Get real, folks.

    Besides, even if menstrual blood DID somehow invisibly get into the water, it’s a heck of a lot more hygienic (read absent of contamination) than hair products, deodorant, saliva, or sweat (not to mention the pee-in-the-swimming-pool people.) All of which inevitably contaminate any body of water people enter. That is why they chlorinate. If you’re not going to worry about people not washing their hands in public restrooms, or getting into the font without having properly utilized toilet paper (which helps cause giardial contamination of swimming pools,) there is no reason to worry about menstrual blood.

  18. I think it is a generational thing, and I imagine it was a woman (or women) responsible for the policy, since it’s hard to imagine a man willingly spending more than half a second thinking about it. (Deciding to make a policy takes at least one second, I reckon.)

  19. In the nineteenth century not only were menstruating women asked to stay away from the temple during their periods but also people were supposed to abstain from sexual relations for a certain time prior to coming to the temple (see The Development of LDS Temple Worship by Devery Anderson)

  20. In Australia Tampons were only introduced in the early 1980’s. I remeber on a youth temple trips one of the girls going into hysterics because she was told she could do baptisms because she was having a period. The young women leaders had asked the girls to stay out side while the young men went in and got ready. I asked a friend who knew her what was happening and she told me the whole story.

    So I wasn’t suprised when I saw the Sydney Australia temple on the list.

    I agree with the others who have said that its probably a generational thing.

  21. In the comments in the OP at FMH is this link to the CDC website about blood spills in public pools. http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/pools/vomit-blood-contamination.html

    It states “There is no public health reason to recommend closing the pool after a blood spill. However, some pool staff choose to do so temporarily to satisfy patrons.”

    When I think blood spill, I think of more than 4-6 tablespoons over a 3-7 day period.

    I do not know any young woman that is going to get in the font wearing a pad but there is absolutely nothing wrong with a young woman wearing a tampon while doing baptisms. The amount of blood that could leak past a tampon is miniscule and any disease will not survive long enough to infect another person.

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