“Oakland Temple” by Nila Jane Autry
What is Everyone Going On About?
There is a good chance that if you are a Latter-day Saint or frequent conversations about the faith you have heard something about changes that have recently occurred in the temple. Starting January 1, 2019, social media posts have suggested that the temple experience is now different.
The next day, the First Presidency released a statement on temples. While they didn’t confirm any changes, it did say “Over these many centuries, details associated with temple work have been adjusted periodically. . . . Prophets have taught that there will be no end to such adjustments.” The statement appears to be an effort to contextualize adjustments that have not been publicly announced.
Were Changes Made at the Temple?
Reports from individuals who have attended the temple have been consistent that there have been adjustments made to the length and wording of initiatories, endowments, and sealings, three ordinances that take place in the temple. While there are some broad themes which are consistent in reports of those adjustments, the details often differ.
The Church has not confirmed or made any comments about any changes.
What Should We Talk About?
Talking about the temple is sometimes viewed as off-limits by Latter-day Saints. In general, I believe we talk about the temple less in public than necessary. There are only a few items in the temple that we promise not to speak about.
Many details of the temple experience which church members often view as off-limits have actually been discussed in public videos, books, and articles published by the Church.
This case, however, may be different. Many people have reported that there is a statement from the First Presidency at the beginning of the endowment asking those there to not discuss the changes publicly. Most faithful Latter-day Saints would be interested in following the request of church leadership in being circumspect about discussing any adjustments.
What Are People Talking About?
Despite these requests, much has been written about on social media about temple changes. There are two main changes which have garnered most of the attention.
The first is that the endowment is shorter. People have reported the endowment being anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five minutes shorter than it was previously.
The second is that changes have been made to the amount of participation by Eve and the words she says. These changes have been widely described as making the temple ceremony more egalitarian.
Does This Mean That There Was Something Wrong Before?
One concern among some members is that changing the temple ceremony means there was something wrong about it before. Or that it must mean prior prophets hadn’t gotten it quite right.
The reason why Latter-day Saints feel so strongly for the need for a modern prophet is that circumstances continue to change. For example, drinking wine was clearly not problematic in New Testament times. Today Latter-day Saints won’t drink it for religious reasons. Did the old prophets get it wrong? No, the safety of drinking water has improved considerably.
In this way, religion is of necessity in a constant interplay with society and culture. Faith doesn’t need to follow culture, but it does need to respond to it.
As the First Presidency’s message suggested, temple work is also adjusted periodically.
For example, in my own temple-going life a change was made to how the initiatory is presented. Previously consecrated oil would be placed directly on different portions of the body. While it was appropriate, the first time I went through the temple this made me uncomfortable. As social mores changed over time, being touched in this way was no longer conducive to the feeling of peace and comfort that should exist in the temple and changes were made. Today the oil is placed in a way that is much more in keeping with contemporary comfort levels
Is the Church Giving Into Feminist Demands?
Since one of the major themes discussed has been new egalitarian language, some have criticized the Church for making changes to appease “feminists,” “liberals,” “the pc crowd,” or “millennials” depending on who is doing the criticizing.
This seems like an odd criticism to me. The temple experience is intended to be a learning and growing experience in an environment that is spiritual. If cultural changes have made it so that specific language no longer fits with the needs or comfort level of faithful church members, it is not unreasonable that the Lord would have a reason to make adjustments. If no one was uncomfortable then the reason for the change wouldn’t exist.
Feminist agitation crested between 2012 and 2014. And while Latter-day Saint feminists obviously still exist and speak out, they receive little of the attention and media coverage they did then. There are many faithful Latter-day Saint feminists and certainly, the Lord cares about their feelings and needs. But this hardly appears to be a case of caving in to pressure.
Is this All Too Little Too Late?
Still others, particularly disaffected members, are desperate to paint these changes as too little too late. They want people who previously felt uncomfortable in the temple to remain angry about their previous experience and not pay attention to the fact they may have better experiences now.
Unlike them, I’m in no position to tell others how they need to feel about their experience in the Church.
The temple invites very strong emotional responses, and for some people who have struggled with the temple in the past, these changes may do nothing to change that.
But if the Church stopped living and growing just because there was someone who would never return, it would have been very boring since the time of Cain.
These changes may be helpful for the many who want to reap the blessings of the temple and may now feel better able to do so. In fact, the response from many who had previously felt uncomfortable has been rapturous.
My suggestion is that if you are curious about all the hullabaloo, do what you need to do to get to the temple. I’m anxiously looking for a babysitter myself.