A conveniently placed street sign that sits directly west of the Oquirrh Mountain Temple in South Jordan, Utah.
Thursday afternoon I logged onto my computer and perused through my usual list of websites. It’s a ten minute sweep to usually cover all of the new Church happenings posted online, gloss over the major media headlines about us crazy Mormons, and make sure Facebook is still there and Apple is making money. I stopped cold in my tracks though as I checked my usual database for Mormon headlines. In my clicking I saw a headline from a prominent newspaper entitled “A Look At the Mormon Endowment Ceremony”, and my stomach turned over. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought to myself as I clicked the link and discovered my fears to be true.
A reputable news organization had not only wrote in detail about the holy Endowment ceremony, but they posted links to the entire text of the ceremony, and also posted links to illegally made audio recordings of the ceremony. I was mortified that a supposedly unbiased and professional paper would stoop to such a level to simply draw in readership. The brief article’s writer began by saying,
“I was talking with my ex-Mormon friend about Mitt Romney’s presidential nomination. He shared with me a copy of the Endowment Ceremony which members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), including Romney, take part in once they are deemed worthy to enter the temple.”
That right there should be a warning sign to any and all readers of the rest of the article. However, most will gloss over the “Ex” part and simply assume that this ex-Mormon wised up and cut himself free from such a group of weirdos.
The article then went on to share the links I told you about, and summarily making Latter-day Saints sound like a secret society of whackjobs. The author ended the article by saying,
“The Endowment Ceremony is interesting and concerning to me as a citizen. The more I learn about Mormonism the more strangely fascinating it is and the crazier it sounds.”
I am sure that to outsiders it does seem crazy. But I would like to share just a few short thoughts on the subject, which I am sure will not due the subject full honor, but may help in putting the thoughts of this article’s author into perspective.
That the Endowment ceremony can be found online by anyone at any time is not a big secret. It’s not like like a quick Google search won’t turn up exactly what people are looking for. What bothered me most about the article though was the lack of respect for the sacred. And, if not for respect for what other people at least believe is sacred, at least not publicly mocking it and calling it crazy.
I don’t believe in the tenets of Islam. However, I don’t go around calling Muslims crazy because they believe Allah spoke to Mohammed. That’d be kind of a jerk move. I like to be respectful. And, as a practitioner of the Golden Rule, I sometimes think that all people should abide likewise. Sure, write about my sacred stuff, but don’t call it crazy.
As to the temple ceremony being found online, it brings just one thought to mind: Milk before meat.
The Apostle Paul said,
1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
1 Corinthians 3:1-3
Why do the things which we do in the temple seem odd to most of the world? Because they don’t understand it. It is a symbolic teaching experience, a true endowment and gift from God, not to be understood by any except they are pure in heart and desirous of His will.
In June of 2003, just a month before entering the MTC, I was in Utah visiting some of my family there for the final time before leaving for my mission. One evening my family packed together and we drove to Manti to attend the annual Mormon Miracle Pageant performed on the temple hillside there. As is usual for the event, there were protesters and “real Christians” in abundance shouting the Good News of Christ and the follies of Mormonism. There was even a group of young teenage girls dressed in pioneer costumes walking around telling everyone about how they were married to Ol’ Joe Smith. – Real classy stuff.
As I herded my mom and dad (a less-active Mormon and a non-believer) carefully through the crowds one man stood out among the rest of protesters. Standing directly in the center of the intersection in front of the pageant was a loud preacher condemning the ceremonies of the temple. Shoving his pamphlets into people’s hands, I flatly rejected it as we brushed past his pavement pulpit. Because seating for the event is limited to the first 20,000 or so, we had gotten there hours early to make sure we got good seats. We eventually found good seats in the middle of the field of chairs. As the hours passed and I repeatedly passed by the loudest of the protesters in my travels, I found it harder and harder to not step forth and share my own feelings. As the sun set lower in the west and the time for the pageant to begin grew closer, our born again friend only grew louder. Thousands of people streamed by him eyeing his towering erect figure as he waved his arms in the street. But nobody stopped to challenge his tenacious tirade against the holy.
Eventually I had enough though. I said a short but sincere prayer, and stepped up to him as calmly as I could as folks continued to pass by. He smiled, obviously glad to have lured in a young Mormon. I extended my hand cordially and casually and said, “Kind of hot out here isn’t it?” He grasped my hand, still smiling, but obviously not expecting that introduction. Still firmly gripping his hand in mine I said, “It’s nice to meet you, I’m Stan.”
Picking up on my slight southern drawl he said, “Nice to meet you Stan.” He then gave me his name. “You’re not from around here, are you?” I laughed and told him that he was correct in his surmise. I told him I was in Utah on vacation with my family. “Oh,” he said. “Then you’re not Mormon then?” His towering erect body frame seemed to ease at his stating this. “I’m glad there’s some Christians here from as far away as Alabama!” he continued in his booming voice. Obviously he felt comfortable among the kinship of a non-Mormon amongst the masses.
I looked deep into his eyes and smiled, waiting a few seconds to see if I might feel the Spirit guide me in where this conversation might go.
“Yep, I’ve been a born again Christian ever since I was baptized Mormon a few years ago,” I said smiling broadly as the sun gleamed in from the west. I said it loudly and noticed that a couple of passerby were now standing still watching our middle-of-the-street-exchange.
My new friend’s smile faded, but quickly reappeared as he realized he’d found someone he could teach “the truth“. I was thinking in the back of my mind that perhaps I had been young and foolish enough to enter a debate I wasn’t prepared for. My silent prayers became quick and feverish as my friend began discussing Romans Chapter Six with me.
What happened next though was surprising and something which I will never forget.
For the next twenty or so minutes my friend would postulate a theological question citing a New Testament scripture. I would answer to his satisfaction and then pose my own question citing only Biblical verses. With each passing question his voice grew louder and higher in pitch. When he tried to pin me into a theological corner from which he thought I could not escape, I would merely use the Savior’s approach and rephrase the question to my advantage towards him. As the minutes passed his smile was faded. The crowd watching our conversation had filled the street. The niceties and politeness of speech he’d originally used were now gone, and the “wives of Joseph Smith” had even come into the peripheral edges to see what was happening. I recognized I was answering questions I did not naturally know the answers to and quoting verses I hadn’t read in some time, but I knew it wasn’t me speaking.
As the conversation grew to its precipice over the subject of baptism for the dead and the Plan of Salvation, and I quoted 1 Corinthians 15 to this gentleman, he finally snapped and went carte blanche in his approach. He was done toying over interpretation of scripture. Lifting his left arm to his side he pointed sharply at the temple on the hill above us. “I know what you do in there! It is not of God! It is not of Christ! You cannot profess to be Christians because of what you do in there!” He was nearly screaming the words as he gritted his teeth. Each syllable came off of his tongue like he was choking on vile vinegar he hadn’t intended to spew forth. The crowd watched, nearly silent in their stares. There was a circle gathered around us, the size of which I hadn’t truly noticed until this point. I looked around and felt the collective prayers of my fellow Saints. And I began to feel nearly as overcome with emotion as the preacher before me. As he panted in hatred I saw the setting sun’s fiery glare burn behind his head, and tears formed in my eyes. I felt complete compassion for this man.
The silence was palpable.
In almost a whisper I asked, “How do you know what happens in there? Have you ever been inside of a temple?” I felt an overwhelming love for this man as our eyes locked with one another, and he lowered his pointing arm.
“No.” His voice had lowered nearly as soft as mine. “But I’ve read every single word of your temple ceremony on the internet, and I know what you do in there.”
And then, feeling my words guided, I bore my simple testimony. I told the man he had no idea what happened in the temples of God because he had sat alone in a room reading holy words off of a computer monitor. The Spirit of God had not been with him when he had done this because he wasn’t pure enough in heart or pure in his purpose in reading them. Yes, he knew what was said inside of our temples, but he didn’t know what happened there or what the Endowment ceremony was because the Holy Spirit had not taught him like it had taught me. I told him that by the same Spirit that testified to the ancient Apostle Peter that Jesus was the Christ, I knew that Jesus was the Christ. And it was that same Holy Ghost which testified that The Book of Mormon was true, that Joseph Smith was called as a prophet, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was God’s one true church on the earth. I told the man I loved him as a fellow Christian, and that I knew he was only trying to do the right thing, but all he was doing was driving a wedge between fellow Christians over doctrinal differences he hadn’t prayed enough about. I was simple, but bold, and I never looked away from the man’s eyes.
When I finished I wasn’t sure what to say. It was as if there were hundreds of us frozen in some scene from some movie, and none of us knew the next steps to take. After the longest of pauses, he put out his hand to shake mine, and as I stepped forward extending my hand he embraced me. As he pulled me into his large arms he said softly, “Thank you. No one has ever said it like that.”
Our brace lasted for perhaps ten seconds. He then stepped back, picked up his pamphlets from off the ground, and walked out of the north end of the circle of people that had gathered. As if on cue the crowd melted back into a passing mass and a couple of people stepped forward to shake my hand and say kind words.
But I was speechless and the world seemed in a blur. As I stood there pondering what had just happened, I realized that Heavenly Father had taught me perhaps just as much about the temple as He’d taught the preacher whom I’d stepped forth to talk to. In an indelible and new way I knew that the ceremonies of the temple were of God and were the only way by which we might again regain His holy presence.
An “endowment” is defined as a gift, an inheritance, or a continual source from which your needs can be met. I testify that the Endowment ceremony performed in the temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are truly that. However, it is sacred, and cannot be understood unless you are prepared, worthy, and seeking God’s will fully in your life.
As I read the newspaper article on Thursday my heart was saddened. My friend from a street corner many years ago in Manti came to mind. And I felt true compassion for the gentleman who wrote the article. “Of course we sound crazy,” I thought to myself. “You just don’t know the truth.”
If you are reading this, whether endowed Latter Day Saint or curious Christian, I implore you not to take lightly the things of God. Something that is truly sacred, even a pearl of great price, has been placed online for anyone and everyone to read. The Endowment ceremony is more than words on a computer screen though. Reading them in such a manner is treating them as a thing of naught, and when you do so you truly trample upon things which are of of God. The temple ceremonies are not secret, only sacred, and true spiritual meat that cannot be understood if you have not supped long enough upon the milk of the Restored Gospel of Christ.
As the Church comes forth out of obscurity there will doubtlessly be an increasing amount of questions and even attacks against our faith. However, we as Latter Day Saints must stand true to the faith and testify in simple boldness to the truths which we know. We must show the love of Christ and pray for those who revile us and our beliefs.
Thursday I witnessed as a prominent newspaper lost journalistic integrity in my eyes. But all that matters is that I keep my integrity and hold sacred things sacred. I pray that we all might do so.
If you’re a Latter Day Saint and you have not yet been to the temple I would encourage you to do so. Speak with your local priesthood leader and do whatever you must do in your life to be worthy to enter the temple’s doors. There is nothing that’s not worth giving up to be endowed eternally by our Heavenly Father.
If you’re not a Mormon and you’ve stumbled upon this blog post, thank you for reading. But don’t stop here! I encourage you to click here and learn more about my faith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Once you click that link you’ll be guided to countless resources to help you learn more, and you’ll even be able to chat with a real live Mormon if you have any questions. Thanks for stopping by my blog.
The annual Mormon Miracle Pageant draws thousands of viewers each night from across the world each summer. Beginning at dusk, it is one of the longest running pageants within the Church.