Members rejoice over changes to Temple Ceremony

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Members reported excitement over Wednesday’s changes to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint temple ceremonies, saying that they remove some disparity between men and women in the Church. 

The Church has explained through videos on their website that the purpose of the temple is to help members make covenants to God. April Young Bennett is a contributor the the Exponent II online magazine and explained, “The covenants that we make in the temple used to be different for men and women and they weren’t as affirming for women as they were for men. I’m very excited to find out that we will be making the same covenants that men make going forward.”

She also explained that an integral part of that ceremony is a depiction of Adam and Eve from Genesis. “Within our faith, Eve is something of a hero, we see her as the person that made a very difficult choice that  made it possible for human kind to exist. Unfortunately the temple ceremony reflected other traditions and thoughts of her as the one who caused original sin. It’s disappointing after learning your entire life that eve was such a hero, to go to the temple and see women portrayed in this way.”

The Church made no explanation for this change, but it is not historically unprecedented. Large changes were made in the 70s and again in the 90s–some believe after members petitioned the leadership for changes. 

Young Bennett explained how women’s roles in the Church leadership has changed over time as well, “For a very long time the Executive Council over temples was comprised of only men. There were only men on the Council, so only men were making decisions about what the temple would be like. Fortunately about five years ago Sister Rosemary Wixom (then the General Primary President) became the first  woman to be admitted onto the Temple Executive Council and I really think that including women has made a big difference.”

Professor of Mormon Studies Kathleen Flake is one of the leading scholars on women within the Church. She explained that temple worship is different than any other kid of worship for members of the faith, “As a ritual it’s meant to function differently than for example a sermon or a Sunday school lesson. Because it is an oral tradition, it is able to seamlessly change over time and it has.” She emphasized that only in the last few years have members and non-members conversed about changes widely because of the internet and social media. 

Flake continued, “I don’t think that this is for immediate political advantage, I think this is a sober examination, many people will say too long in coming, but in their words kind of a seeking out what God’s will is. It’s happened in many many other areas of latter day saint life; one way to see this day is it’s finally reached the temple.”

Young Bennett said, “It gives us a lot of hope to see that something that was so important to us has been recognized, that our prayers have been answered.”

Many more members of the faith have reached out with their reaction to the news; one women wishing to remain anonymous said: 

I expected that some kind of change was coming, because there was so much whispering about it in the online LDS communities, so I was somewhat emotionally prepared already.  But I never expected it to be so comprehensive, so seismic. I felt shock:  Can this even be real?  But I also felt relief, joy, and yes, even some vindication, for the years of prayers and tears that had appeared to fall on deaf ears.  For my own self, those muted hopes and sharp disappointments melted into a moment of relief, but I’m still struggling with how to switch gears.  Why had we been told so many times not to question or express doubt over the temple, only to learn that our concerns were valid? I’m still grappling with that. Mostly I felt and feel joy for my daughter, who I have wondered and dreaded how I would ever prepare for the temple.  But that dread turned into a kind of release, that she won’t have to experience what I did.

Benjamin E. Park is an Assistant Professor of History at Sam Houston State University. He said in part: 

My initial reaction to the ritual changes was one of surprise—changes to this extent are exceptionally rare, and these particular adaptations are perhaps the most drastic since the early 1990s. Most members of the LDS faith see the temple rituals as something out of time, distinct from everyday practices and unmoved over the centuries. Some believe they are the same rituals as those practiced by biblical prophets like Abraham, with only slight tinkering over the centuries. To the faithful, these rituals serve as an anchor midst a world of change.
However, the temple rituals have a distinct context of origin: they were introduced by Joseph Smith during the Mormon sojourn in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1842, and codified by Brigham Young a few years later. In many ways, they reflected current debates of the day, particularly the role of women and the wife’s duty to obey their husband. The rituals, in other words, buttressed a profoundly patriarchal order.
In the century and a half since then, though, much of LDS discourse concerning gender roles and the nature of marital relationships have evolved as their surrounding society changed. Today, most Mormons embrace a companionate model of marriage common in an era that triumphs gender equality. Yet the temple—because it is sacredly segregated from the rest of Mormon practice—retained these old ideas, which highlighted a chasm between the two worlds. These changes, then, help bring the temple up to date with contemporary Mormon discourse concerning women.
Though the church’s leaders and defenders will always deny it, changes like this often happen in response to local agitation. Women over the years have pled for change, written their opinions, and, in some cases, expressed their dissatisfaction with the gender differences in the temple. Some were excommunicated as a result. And even if their role is not acknowledged, they stoked the fire that raised the heat in LDS headquarters, which in turn brought the changes.
The LDS Church, like many religious institutions, has to balance two competing anxieties: they have to adapt to the times as society evolves in order to remain relevant to participants, while simultaneously convincing believers that they remain a constant pillar while the world around them crumbles. With regard to these rituals, then, they have to react to the agitation of the many brave women who have fought for changes over the years, while also denying that they had any effect at all. The temple must remain separate from the world, even if it can only exist within it.

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