About a year and a half ago my parents came for a visit and we really had a great time visiting the sites and just spending time together. Then one afternoon we were sitting around the table chit chatting when my father felt it necessary to remind me that I would not be with my husband forever because we had not been married in the temple. For those not familiar with the Mormon faith, the temple is considered more sacred than an ordinary church building and it is where special ceremonies are performed. In the case of a temple marriage ceremony, it is meant to bind a husband and wife together beyond death thus it is called an eternal marriage.
The concept of being with your family forever is really wonderful (ok maybe not for someone who had a really bad family but imagine a very loving family here). Because I love my husband deeply, I want nothing more than to have an assurance that our association and love will continue beyond death.
I didn't appreciate my father's reminder. To me it was obvious he was trying to manipulate my emotions to make me feel guilty about my choice not to get married in the temple. I tried to explain why I made the choice but a subsequent letter from my mother after they had returned home confirmed that they really hadn't heard me.
Going to the temple to get married isn't like showing up for church on Sunday morning. You have to get a temple recommend which is a certification that you are living a life worthy of entrance into the temple. What is considered worthy? Well, you can't be smoking, drinking or having sex outside of marriage. There are also questions asked about whether or not you support church leaders and if you belong to groups that oppose church doctrines.
It's this last bit that I struggle with. I don't have a problem supporting leaders even if I don't always agree with them as long as I feel that they are sincerely seeking the best for those they are leading. Just because someone is denoted as a leader doesn't mean they are immediately perfect and I understand that I can't hold minor imperfections against people in leadership positions. In many cases, they are simply doing the best that they know how. However, I am very concerned when it is expected that my "support" be more like blind following. Often I do not feel free to question something a church leader has said or done. I'm not talking about questioning in a critical way but questioning in an "I'm trying to understand" way. Blind following is what leads hundreds of people to drink poisoned lemonade and I don't want to be part of anything like that.
I also struggle with the fact that I do disagree with some purported church doctrines. I have for years distinguished between the church and the gospel. The gospel is what Christ taught in the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon. It is simple and easy to understand. The church is an organization of men and women who are trying to live the gospel and they have developed programs and meetings and anything else that they can think of to help people live the gospel. However, all the various aids are not the gospel. While they may help some they are not what is important. Sometimes, I feel that the church and everything that goes with it are the things that are made to be important and the simple, easy to understand gospel is forgotten.
To me the gospel of Christ is captured in just two commandments which I quote from the New Testament in Matthew Chapter 22:
"Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
I believe that any doctrine must comply with these two commandments.
Some of the things that the church has done and continues to support do not really comply with these two commandments. For example, while the church doesn't currently practice polygamy, they did when the church first started. That practice caused so much heartache and pain for so many women and some men that it doesn't fit with the "love thy neighbor as thyself". Additionally, the mentality that women are subject to men is not completely gone from the church. In my family, this subjugation was cast in the light that men were to be responsible and care for their wives and daughters. It was OK for women to defer to men because the men were heroic and noble protectors of women. Of course the men would never do anything to harm a woman! Well the reality of this situation in my experience was that I felt like a second-class citizen in my own family. While my brothers were encouraged, I was restricted. When my brothers got jobs in high-school they were industrious. When I asked permission to get a job (other than babysitting) I apparently was inferring that my father was unable to take care of me which was an insult. Keeping women from holding the priesthood and most leadership positions seems to reinforce the sense of entitlement that many men have and unfortunately abuse of women in varying degrees. Again it just doesn't fit with the "love thy neighbor as thyself".
While my concerns about how women fit into the church culture are the most significant cause for my doubt in the validity of the church, there are other doctrines that also cause me concern. It is however, the doubt which I feel that keeps me away from the promised eternal marriage with my husband. If I doubt that some aspects of the church are true and sanctioned by God, then how can I be sure that the temple marriage ceremony will indeed guarantee that I will be with my husband after death?
The temptation is to go through the ceremony, just in case it is what it purports to be. However, it's not as simple as that. In parts of the temple ceremony, participants are asked to make commitments to live God's commandments and of course it is implied that God's commandments are the doctrines of the church. Because the temple ceremonies are considered sacred, participants are also asked to keep the proceedings secret. What is disturbing to me is that the promise to keep the secret is something like "I'd rather disembowel myself than reveal the sacred ceremonies" (I am paraphrasing what I heard from others who have gone to the temple.) It just feels a little too much like "drink the poisoned lemonade". I take my commitments seriously and I would feel like a hypocrite going through the motions and making commitments when I'm not entirely sure that there is any truth to the promises of the temple.
This is really very hard for me, particularly now as my husband and I prepare for the birth of our baby. Of course I want that reassurance that we will still be a family even after death. That death will not separate us. But I don't know if the temple ceremonies can actually provide this. Many people believe it will, but honestly no one living knows this. Do I sacrifice my integrity and pretend to agree with things just to go through this temple ceremony? How can God expect me to follow through on a commitment to keep his commandments if I trade in my integrity on this? So much about God is speculation anyway; maybe God doesn't require ceremonies to bind a family together. Maybe it's the love that we feel for one another that binds us. To me the love is much more real than any ceremony.