Is Temple Prep Really Preparation?

I’ve thought a little about this in the past but I was reminded of it again when I ran across a couple in our ward who had gone through the temple for the first time and when I asked how it went they remarked, “Temple prep sure didn’t help.”

There is obviously a gap between what we are preparing new inductees for and what they experience. Now, I don’t necessarily have many numbers to support such a statement, but having gone through it myself, taught it, and then watched many others go through it themselves, I can’t help but notice there is a problem.

So, three questions:
1. Is this problem real, or is it just me?
2. If it is real, where does the problem come from?
3. What can be done to solve it?

27 Replies to “Is Temple Prep Really Preparation?”

  1. I think the typical temple prep class is next to useless for actually preparing most people to take out their own endowments, for the obvious reason that you can’t actually discuss the endowment itself. The endowment is so alien to most all other forms of religious expression in the church that it can really be a shock when first experienced, unless someone talks you through it ahead of time and really prepares you for it. In the temple waiting room I explained it all to my wife, in detail, before she first went through, and she says that made an enormous difference. No one did that for me, and I came out of the temple shocked and reeling that first time. I know one brother who came out after his own endowment, when home, took off his garments, and went immediately and permanently inactive. That is an avoidable tragedy.I’m in a bishopric and we simply use the class to get people to go to temple, either for the first time or to get them temple-worthy again. It’s a good class for that, at least.

  2. Temple Preparation doesn’t have to be useless. It largely depends on teh teacher. Stake Presidents have recently been charged by President Hinckley to make sure first-timers are prepared for the ritual aspects. Stake Presidents will presumably vary in how much they discuss and how. And, of course, there’s lots of good stuff to read, if one knows where to find it.

  3. I know that it was a shocker somewhat for me when i took the class and then went through. My wife still thinks the temple is strange and doesn’t like going, which has greatly hampered our paying tithing drive.The next time the class was offered I went to the class and tried to explain how things are, especially in the plan of salvation of how instead of being assigned a glorious kingdom after judgment, in temple we are taught that the kingdoms are the earth in different times of it’s existance and that we start in the telestial and progress on up to the celestial.Problem was though, no one believed me anyway!

  4. I think this also depends a lot on who the teachers are. We had a really nice older couple who were temple workers for many years.I was really scared about what was going to happen in the temple. Don’t ask me why, I just was. However, many of my fears were laid to rest in that class.The other really cool thing, one of the temple workers there that evening was from my ward. Man did that make me feel better; a face I knew. In the end, though they did get one thing right in my class. When it is all done and you are in the Celestial room you will have time to look back at what you just went through and for many people this is the time they really get the spiritual growth from the work they do. Man they were soooo right (for me anyway). I love that time, it helps me focus and just find a quiet moment to share with the Lord.

  5. Monk, Thanks for the sources. I think the typical temple prep class is next to useless for actually preparing most people to take out their own endowments, for the obvious reason that you can’t actually discuss the endowment itself. But I think that’s actually what the problem is, we aren’t clear on what we can and cannot talk about, so in the end we don’t talk about any of it. Personally, I think there are only a handful of specific things we promise to disclose specifically within the temple. Everything else, IMO, depends on the setting in which they are discussed. It would seem that a temple prep class would be just such a setting.Generallly speaking the entire experience could be improved if we talked about what settings were appropriate for a more indepth discussion.

  6. diahman,Great questions, all, and thanks for bringing it up. Here are my attempts at an answer:1. Temple prep is not preparation. The problem is real and, as far as I can tell, ubiquitous. What they teach in temple prep class, in my experience: a. It’s VERY, VERY sacred. b. You might think it’s weird, but it’s really not.2. The problem comes from two sources, I think: a. a “hedge about the law” that prevents us from talking about the temple, even where no covenant constrains it. This is such a strong feeling that people are even reluctant to read scriptures that contain temple language. A close friend of mine was teaching his own sons about the meaning (in his opinion) of some of the signs, tokens, covenants, etc. while in the celestial room of a temple and a nearby worker came over and stopped him, saying these things are simply not discussed. Period. I don’t know where this comes from. But I never made promises not to discuss the temple, its rites, etc. I made a promise not to divulge certain things, and I don’t. Everything else, if you ask me, is fair game.b. The second cause is related to the first: most people don’t understand the temple themselves. Probably because no one teaches about it and no one talks about it! I don’t think it’s rocket science, but if we can’t transmit knowledge about it, well, you know the rest…3. The most immediate solution is to try to change the culture of discourse. This can be done at a very local level. The temple is sacred, so should be treated as such. But that doesn’t mean secret. Something so different from our normal social context cries out for explanation, discussion, teaching. The books that are available through LDS sources are not helpful for temple preparation. They do a good job at giving a high-level, general overview of what LDS people should think about the Temple as an institution, but don’t prepare people adequately. I’m not sure they should or even intend to do this, but often these publications are handed out as if one could read it and be prepared for the experience, which in my experience is never the case. Maybe I’m missing some First-Presidency directive, but I see no reason not to talk about it openly, save those very few things we promise not to. As it is, people with real concerns and detailed questions have nowhere to go, so often they elect to stay home rather than to feel socially or spiritually uncomfortable in the House of the Lord. This is a tragedy.

  7. Doh, I dittoed some of diahman’s thoughts, almost at the same time. Amen and amen, diahman.I should also thank The_Monk for the link and for the note about Pres Hinckley. I hope it’s true!

  8. JC,Thanks for the comments. I’ve always looked at the temple as a house of learning, but I think we often assume that either a different style of learning takes place in the temple (be it through symbols-semiotics or revelation received mainly through affective means), or that we have no space to talk about our experience. Does any one know of initiatives taken by temple presidents to “educate” the members about the temple? Is there something stopping them from having a discussion about it, in the temple?On two tangential notes, I wonder if temple presidents would even be capable of responding to most inquiries. I also can’t help but wonder if our reliance on revelation in the temple through primarily affective means doesn’t also contribute to a preponderence to over-privleage the emotions as a source of revelation.

  9. diahman,Good thoughts. Do you think the reliance upon affectedness or symbols/semiotics generates or is generated by the moratorium on plain discourse? And you make an interesting connection between this mode and the privileging of emotion in revelation. Have to think about it.About temple presidents, I think you’re absolutely right. I think of temple presidents more as administrators than as experts on the temple. A temple president I know freely admitted this, and told a high councilor in our stake not to send people to him with questions, because he didn’t have answers for them.If anyone has documentary evidence for where the injunction against speaking about the temple ceremonies comes from, please inform. Does it go all the way back to the exclusive nature of the Nauvoo endowments?

  10. Kurt,Thanks for the document. I think it represents a great way to work with current attitudes about not discussing the temple ceremonies and yet providing a way through scripture to get a glimpse at what goes on. It reminded me of when I went through the temple for the first time and a friend gave me Nibley’s “Egyptian Endowment”. I think it provides a similar way of learning.I wonder if the trend to not discuss the temple is generational. If it is it certainly extends through at least the past few, with Nibley being an exception (or is he, does anyone know of other figures?).In thinking about material for temple prep, such as the book that’s usually given out (that small white one, what’s it called? “House of the Lord” or something?), there is actually very little about what goes on in the temple. I wonder if that’s reflective of current attitudes about the temple or if it has shaped the current attitudes about the temple. In any case I think even if we get clear on what can and cannot be spoken about, there will still be a general feeling against putting anything into writing. And perhaps that’s for the best, given the public nature of writing. But I think this also points out an interesting tension in our tradition (and probably extant in other traditions as well) between the written word and the oral word. We normally take the written word to be the sacred word of God; but then we have the orality of the temple which we don’t put into writing because of its sacredness. An interesting argument could probably be built here about visual versus audio means of learning, and in our case receiving revelation. Maybe Derrida was right about the privileging of the spoke word over the written.

  11. diahman: The church Handbook of Instruction says under “Preparing to Receive Temple Ordinances”: “Temple ordinances and covenants are sacred. Members who enter a temple should be worthy and should understand the purposes and eternal significance of temples. They also should understand the solemn and sacred responsibilities they assume as they participate in temple ordinances and make covenants.”This is exactly what the class curriculum focuses on, not on the ceremony itself, and I imagine very few bishops would allow a teacher to stray from the curriculum into specific discussion of the ceremony. Aside from the prohibition given the ceremony itself, which I think is fairly clear (used to be even more clear, and dire, before the Revision), I think the tradition of the church is clearly that one may only rehearse particulars about the ceremony that have appeared previously in print from official sources. That’s why the brethren recycle Brigham Young, etc., when discussing it rather than simply use their own words.monk: I’d love to know where precisely “Stake Presidents have recently been charged by President Hinckley to make sure first-timers are prepared for the ritual aspects.” In any case, this would presumably be done in the recommend interview, not in a class which SPs don’t teach and aren’t in.

  12. JC,I not sure if there is a causal connection between reliance on affective capacities as a source for revelation/confirmation and the assumed ban on talking about the temple; but I think they are mutually reinforcing. In a sense if revelation comes from encounters with the spirit that affect my emotions, what need is there to disect/analyze/discuss the temple ordinances?Anon., This is exactly what the class curriculum focuses on, not on the ceremony itself… Huh? I thought the ceremony itself was the means by which we “understand the purposes and eternal significance of temples”. How are we able to “understand the solemn and sacred responsibilites” of “mak[ing] covenants” in the temple without talking about how we do that? Are you asserting a distinction between what goes on in the temple and what the temple represents? I understand that what we act out may be inaccurate and only a mere shadow of the true reality of heaven, but I don’t think one can say that the new patron can understand the things mentioned in the handbook without the ceremony. In a very real sense the temple is the ceremony.

  13. diahman: I was summarizing the (stated) goals of the curriculum. If that is not what the curriculum focuses on, in your opinion, what then is its focus? Anyway, our class does in fact spend weeks talking about these very things, so I would demure that something can be said within the prescribed limits. How substantive and meaningful that instruction can be is debatable, but the class has at least been a success in meeting our modest goals for it: it’s getting families sealed and getting couples back to the temple. And I think that is what the curriculum is in fact designed to do.If you are just saying these topics cannot truly be understood apart from the experience of the ceremony, I entirely agree, as I expect most people would. And if you are saying that a temple prep class is in that respect pointless, I agree with that as well. As I said to begin with, “I think the typical temple prep class is next to useless for actually preparing most people to take out their own endowments, for the obvious reason that you can’t actually discuss the endowment itself.”

  14. Anon.,My appologies, I could have been a little more clear in the last response.My point is that the handbook could be interpreted multiple ways. One way is to say that understanding the temple has to be done by broad generalities because it is too sacred to talk about, all we can say is that it’s about covenants, symbols, marriages, baptisms, Jesus Christ, gaining the presence of God, and feeling really good when getting to see everyone in the celestial room. This is pretty much the way we currently interpret it. IMO this prepares someone for the temple about as much as an interview with a bishop and stake president do. Good, necessary and important, but it leaves a huge gap between what people expect and what actually happens. I think the handbook could also be interpreted to mean, understanding participation in temple can be done by knowing more about what goes on in the ceremonies. This means at some point in the curriculum we should have an overview of what happens in the ceremonies.I think there’s room for both interpretations, the result of the first however, may be that people are sealed and “go through” the temple, but do they really enjoy it? Is it a sacred experience, or a sacredly ackward experience? If you think “going to the temple” is “success” enough, then I would say cultivating a sense of desiring to actually go beyond the reasons of “it’s really sacred” and “important” is success at a higher level. One I think we are capable of, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this post.

  15. diahman: I agree with all this. I would suspect that the brethren wish more could be said about the ceremony outside the temple in these settings, but the prohibition against such, especially in the pre-Revision ceremony, is so pointed and ominous that liberalization will come slowly, if at all. Ironic that with five minutes on Google anyone can read the whole thing, so that only those who respect the sacredness of it the most end up knowing nothing about it, until they actually go through.

  16. I agree that the Temple Prep classes don’t do much preparation. They are more suited for people who have grown up in the church and have been culturally indoctrinated. According to last general conference, ~60% of the church membership are converts and don’t fit into this category. One recent convert in our stake was unaware that she had to wear garments for the rest of her life until the temple ceremony.It is ingrained in our culture to not discuss what goes on in the temple–this perpetuates the idea that the temple contains secrets. In our Gospel Principles class, one recent convert complained to the class that nobody will talk to her about the temple. The teacher responded that she had never asked him. The next week the teacher spent the entire class and taught from the scriptures about the endowment including garments, washings, anointings, Creation drama, symbolism, etc. I think everybody in the room–including long-time members–learned something new. The learning wasn’t necessarily because it was a well crafted lesson, but because it (sadly) is a subject not well understood because we don’t study or teach about it.

  17. I think there are two different Anon. so I’ll simply italicize I would suspect that the brethren wish more could be said about the ceremony outside the temple in these settings, but the prohibition against such, especially in the pre-Revision ceremony, is so pointed and ominous that liberalization will come slowly, if at all. In the endowment (and I think this hold for the pre-revision period as well) the only things we covenant not to disclose are the keywords and tokens. Everything else, to borrow from jupiterschild, is fair game. I think talking about it however depends on the setting. A church meeting (such as sunday school) seems like a pretty fitting venue. Is there anything specific you can think of that would cause us to refrain from talking about it in those circumstances (such as GA quotes etc.)?

  18. Diahman: SP’s sometimes have training from GA’s. My Dad (an SP) and my SP were both participants in this particular training session, and both told me about it. That’s my source. This would indeed be done in the interviews. “I would suspect that the brethren wish more could be said about the ceremony outside the temple in these settings” The brethren aren’t in complete agreement on this issue (how much should be said), and I fully expect the level of detail will change as apostles come and go. I can’t cite my sources on this one publicly, but it’s solid. “The House of the Lord” booklet that goes with the class consists of excerpts from Elder Packer’s The Holy Temple. “the teacher spent the entire class and taught from the scriptures about the endowment including garments, washings, anointings, Creation drama, symbolism, etc. I think everybody in the room–including long-time members–learned something new.”This has been my experience in teaching Temple preparation as well, judging from the comments of endowed members who decided to attend. There’s a ton that can be said from the scriptures in specific, IF one knows where to look. Some of the essays on my Temple Preparation FAQ are essentially written-out lessons from my class. The Bishopric (which occasionally attended) had no objections.

  19. This is a great thread. Thanks to everyone.I still see us talking within boundaries we may feel but that are not articulated anywhere. Anon., thanks for the leadership manual reference. I agree with what was said on that, esp. the point about its interpretation.I have to ask, though, what is really impeding us from talking about the ceremony? Why does it have to be done via scriptures and Egyptians?

  20. I find it a little hard to believe that some of you have never read anywhere that we should not discuss the endowment ceremony outside the temple. (Though I’m certain you were all told that when you were endowed–please speak up if you weren’t.) Anyway, here is one reference, straight from curriculum. From Boyd K. Packer, Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple, the first thing those preparing to take out their endowments are given to read: A careful reading of the scriptures reveals that the Lord did not tell all things to all people. There were some qualifications set that were prerequisite to receiving sacred information. Temple ceremonies fall within this category.We do not discuss the temple ordinances outside the temples. It was never intended that knowledge of these temple ceremonies would be limited to a select few who would be obliged to ensure that others never learn of them. It is quite the opposite, in fact. With great effort we urge every soul to qualify and prepare for the temple experience. Those who have been to the temple have been taught an ideal: Someday every living soul and every soul who has ever lived shall have the opportunity to hear the gospel and to accept or reject what the temple offers. If this opportunity is rejected, the rejection must be on the part of the individual.The ordinances and ceremonies of the temple are simple. They are beautiful. They are sacred. They are kept confidential lest they be given to those who are unprepared. Curiosity is not a preparation. Deep interest itself is not a preparation. Preparation for the ordinances includes preliminary steps: faith, repentance, baptism, confirmation, worthiness, a maturity and dignity worthy of one who comes invited as a guest into the house of the Lord.We must be prepared before we go to the temple. We must be worthy before we go to the temple. There are restrictions and conditions set. They were established by the Lord and not by man. And, the Lord has every right and authority to direct that matters relating to the temple be kept sacred and confidential.All who are worthy and qualify in every way may enter the temple, there to be introduced to the sacred rites and ordinances.I think it is clear enough where the brethren want members “to be introduced to the sacred rites and ordinances,” and it’s not in a Sunday School class. I think thinly-veiled discussions of the endowment employing scriptural passages, the “Egyptian endowment,” etc., as circumlocutions clearly violate the intent of this prohibition, if not the letter.anon2: If the Gospel Essentials teacher in my ward “spent the entire class and taught from the scriptures about the endowment including garments, washings, anointings, Creation drama, symbolism, etc.,” that teacher would receive a stiff corrective from the bishopric. I’ve personally lost a friend investigating the church because of an “Essentials” class like that. Sheesh, milk before meat.

  21. I find it a little hard to believe that some of you have never read anywhere that we should not discuss the endowment ceremony outside the temple. It’s called a “selective memory”, Anon., and not that we haven’t read it. I use it all the time with my wife, drives her crazy. In all seriousness though, I taught the temple prep class a few years ago and so it’s been a while since I’ve read through the material. I also do not recall being told not to discuss the ceremony outside the temple, although I very well could have been (that darn selective memory).This is pretty clear, although I guess one could get nit-picky and point out how Packer himself talks about the ceremonies (of course at certain levels of generalities), and even quotes from Widstoe who talks about 4 sections of the endowment. However, I don’t really think that would get my argument very far.Another way to do respond would be to say that we covenant not to disclose certain few words and actions, and are counseled (by Packer) not to discuss the rest. Then we could go out and find other GAs who have not abided by this counsel and justify it that way.But I’m not really satisfied by that either.I guess we at least have a source for the injunction not to discuss things. I wonder historically speaking how far back it goes. It also doesn’t solve the problem of the gap between expectation and reality. In light of that, I may actually be in more support of pulling things from the scriptures and Nibley than I was before. I don’t see this as a “circumlocution” any more than a detailed reading of Packer’s book, who draws on many of the same scriptures and references (although not Nibley of course).

  22. I apologize for doing this anonymously. I just stumbled on your blog today. I may comment again in the future and use a more real name. In any case….I am a sixth generation member of the church. My father has been on the stake high council a number of times. My mom was Relief Society president a few times. My grandparents served a public relations mission. I served as president of my deacons and teachers quorum. I was the priest quorum 1st Assistant to the Bishop and on the Stake Youth Council. I was well versed in the basic doctrine of the church. I knew some of the less than faith promoting details of the churches history, but I had been able to justify them away. I was about as prepared for my endowments as anyone from a background standpoint. Fast forward to my endowment.My grandpa washed and anointed me. My grandparents officiated the endowment. My parents were the witness couple. My uncle sat next to me on the other side and I had family all over the place. My aunt went into the prayer circle with me. My uncles worked the veil when it was my turn. It was as friendly a situation as possible.I was mortified. It was everything that everyone had assured me it wasn’t. I thought the washing and anointing was odd, but it was grandpa so it must be OK. I enjoyed the movie, and then the signs, tokens and clothing bothered me. The prayer circle bothered me. I was in shock, but did my best to hide it.I went twice more before my mission, 5 times in the MTC, once before I got married, and once on the day I was sealed to my wife 10 years ago. I have not been back since. I despise the temple. I don’t pay tithing so I have an excuse not to go. As you might imagine, this puts a lot of strain on my marriage. After my mission, I came to find out a lot more about some of the less flattering details of church history. The temple came to represent to me everything that no one in the church tells you about that you have to find out on your own. It’s a shock and temple prep class did nothing to prepare me. I already knew everything that was brought up in the class.I am active in the church, but unbelieving. I’m trying to rebuild my testimony for my wife’s sake, but it’s difficult. I love my wife so much, but I regret putting her in a situation where she has to put up with me. Let me be a witness to the temple prep class being ineffective and I received a kinder, gentler endowment.

  23. New Anon., I was mortified. It was everything that everyone had assured me it wasn’t. I thought the washing and anointing was odd, but it was grandpa so it must be OK. I enjoyed the movie, and then the signs, tokens and clothing bothered me. The prayer circle bothered me. I was in shock, but did my best to hide it. I only have a minute to write tonight, but I just wanted to ask a question. Without getting into details, why were you mortified and bothered?I think you’d actually find that many people have similar feelings. I knew I personally couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Even now the whole way we discuss and handle it doesn’t make it the (amazing) experience it actually could become.

  24. Followup:Throughout the church, the covenants you make aren’t really mentioned in the associated ordinance. The baptismal covenants aren’t spelled out in the baptism. Even the oath and the covenant of the priesthood is something you have to study on your own. I don’t believe the average priesthood holder understands the oath and covenant of the priesthood. The temple covenants are very explicit by comparison. I could see where a recent convert could really be taken aback by the actual covenants as well. I did not have a problem with the covenants, having been raised in a good Mormon home. Even though the actual covenants didn’t surprise me, I think the language did.My parents both own temple clothing, but I had never seen it. We are a business attire church on Sundays. I thought temple clothing looked mighty spooky. For some reason, I remember the men’s caps and the women’s veils really sticking out as something I didn’t like. I don’t know why that struck me any more than the rest.The signs and tokens bothered me quite a bit. I do remember going to a temple open house and seeing the protesters. I saw a sign that mentioned “secret handshakes.” I asked the (endowed) youth leader I was with if there were secret handshakes in the temple, and they said absolutely not. Now, you could argue that the tokens aren’t handshakes, but grips, but that is a semantics game to me. I’m glad that I had a post ’91 endowment, or it would have definitely been worse. There just isn’t anything comparable outside of temple worship. I think the thing that bothered me the most was the prayer circle. It was a far cry from the heartfelt prayer of a child that I had always felt was the truest order of prayer.I don’t know how I could have been better prepared for my endowment without being more open about what happens inside. Instead of openness, I always got the “sacred not secret” or “we are not a cult, and nothing we do even resembles…” type answers. Perhaps the current form of the endowment is just the wrong vehicle for me as it created more problems that it answered questions. As I mentioned before, the covenants were not a problem. The delivery was.

  25. (Anon1 rechristens himself bodhi, to avoid further confusion.)Anon3: As I said in my initial post, I too found the temple ceremony very disturbing at first, and MANY people do. Pres. McKay admitted his first experience was not good and, he observed, neither is it for most members. The 1990 revision and the more recent changes to initiatory were both clearly intended to remove elements that modern sensibilities find offensive. The more recent advice to SPs that Monk mentioned is another indication that the brethren realize many people find it a challenge or a shock at first. In time I pushed past that, and now the challenge is just staying awake. I regret I’ve never come to really enjoy the endowment, but not everyone does. I do enjoy baptisms for the dead and enjoy the spirit I always feel in the temple. That’s enough for me. But it’s taken some time.You mention the clothing: When my inlaws got sealed, a second marriage, my father-in-law told his 14yo stepson nothing about what to expect in the sealing ceremony. When his stepson was brought in and saw all of us sitting there in our full robes, his eyes got big and he broke out laughing–and couldn’t stop. Many dirty looks and a few hushed “shut ups” were aimed his way, but hey, he was 14 and it was bizarre. No one should have this stuff just sprung on them and then, all the worse, be told what a profound experience they should be having.Your concerns of course go far beyond the quality and content of the temple prep curriculum. As you probably know, many of us on these blogs have suffered challenges to our faith, especially intellectual challenges. I’ve even seen a post from a bishop who had lost faith but soldiered on in his calling anyway, not knowing what else to do. As someone who has lost and found my faith several times, I empathize with you. But perhaps you and I have different expectations of what faith looks like. You say you are “unbelieving,” and I take that very seriously, but you do not appear to be utterly unbelieving. I suspect you just cannot believe everything that you feel you ought to, or want to, or that other “believers” do. I think most LDS who take both faith and reason seriously are in that same position, but we all deal with it differently. I personally have a high tolerance for cognitive dissonance.Though my faith changes daily, I can truly say I believe. Admittedly, that means something different to me than it does to many others, and it’s been a strange road indeed. I can say, as Madeleine L’Engle did: “Conversion for me was not a Damascus Road experience. I slowly moved into an intellectual acceptance of what my intuition had always known.” Ms. L’Engle also observed, “I do not think that I will ever reach a stage when I will say, ‘This is what I believe. Finished.’ What I believe is alive and open to growth.” Once I found that challenging, but I’ve come to revel in it.

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