Friday, December 09, 2011

Mormon Temples: Who Can Enter a Temple?

(This is part of a series of posts on Mormon temples)
The first building that Mormons ever built was a temple in Kirtland Ohio:

(Photo by Russ Peterson)

In the dedicatory prayer of this temple, Mormons are given this injunction: “no unclean thing shall be permitted to come into [the temple].” What this means is that once a temple is dedicated, there is a worthiness standard applied to those who desire to enter it. The standard is: to believe in God, keep the commandments, and live our lives in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ. In practical terms, this means that a person who desires to enter a temple must be a baptized member of the LDS church in good standing, attending church regularly, being chaste, paying tithing, and generally doing their best to live an honest, moral life. Worthiness is determined by way of an interview with ecclesiastical leaders, after which a certificate is issued (a “temple recommend”) which the member may use to enter the temple.
As a rule, Mormons take the worthiness interview very seriously. The interview itself is somewhat of a ritual- it must be repeated every two years and it follows a standard format. Mormons who carry a temple recommend are considered active and devoted members of the church. Roughly a quarter of adult members of the church hold current temple recommends. Members commonly speak about going to the temple as a transformative experience. The preparation often involves the challenging process of leaving behind of old habits such as smoking or drinking and adopting new habits such as paying tithing or becoming fully integrated in the church community.
There is no special invitation required to receive a recommend and go to the temple. Everyone and anyone is invited, so long as they are willing to live according to the standards required for the temple. There is however, an age requirement (over 18) and a person must have been a member at least one year. The reason for those requirements is that the spiritual commitment that goes with attending the temple is serious, and it is important that a person is ready to keep their commitment once it is made. In typical practice, Mormons attend the temple for the first time right before their missions (many Mormons serve two-year missions between the ages of 19 and 25) or right before their marriage if they have not been a missionary.
The worthiness standard has some important implications in a Mormon marriage. One in particular is that attendance at a Mormon wedding ceremony is extremely limited. If family members are not members of the church and/or do not meet the worthiness standard, they cannot attend the ceremony. Typical wedding parties are composed of close family and a few very close friends. This is a sensitive situation, especially for non-members who don’t have the background to understand the beliefs surrounding the temple and the Mormon’s concept of Eternal Marriage. Mormon youth are taught from a young age to anticipate and strive for a marriage in the temple. Youth standards of behavior, spirituality, and dating are crafted around keeping young people worthy to enter the temple. These standards are taught and emphasized continually.
A temple is staffed by a fairly large number of volunteers, or “temple workers.” Temple workers are lay members of the church and have no special qualifications other than that they regularly attend the temple themselves. Workers usually work one full day each week in the temple, and they are not paid. (There are some paid positions for people who work in the temple, but these are non-religious in nature such as a someone who works in the laundry or as a Janitor.) Many workers in the temple are older, retired Mormons. When a person becomes a temple worker, they are specially set apart by the laying on hands so that they will have the authority to do the work in the temple.
In my next post, I will talk about what people do in the temple. As always, please feel free to send me questions about Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and I will try to put up some thoughtful answers in my blog.

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