(This is part of a series of posts on Mormon temples)
In my last post, I talked about what happens in Mormon temples and explained that Mormons go to the temple to participate in sacred rites. There is a standard of worthiness a Mormon must meet to enter the temple because it is so sacred and also because participants in temple rites make very solemn promises to commit their life to God and His ways. As you might imagine, such activity has a lasting effect on the lives of many Mormons. In this article, I will describe the day to day impact that this has on the lives of Mormons.
The Temple Garment
Perhaps the most obvious and physical implication of temple rites is the lifelong commitment to wearing the sacred temple garment. The garment is a simple set of clothing worn underneath regular clothes. It is similar in religious significance to other kinds of religious clothing such as a priest’s vestments or a Jew’s yamaka. In form, the garment typically comes in two pieces – a t-shirt, and a pair of briefs that extend to the knee. Mormons almost always call these pieces of clothing “garments” out of deep respect for what they symbolize. Referring to them as “underwear” would make some Mormons feel uncomfortable because the term detracts from the respect and reverence they have for the garment.
A significant side effect in wearing the garment is an obvious limitation of fashions that Mormons may choose from. Tank tops, short shorts, miniskirts, etc. would reveal the garment, so Mormons don’t wear these types of clothes. The garment is worn all the time, night and day; however it may be removed temporarily for some activities such as bathing, sports, marital intimacy, etc.
More significant, however, is what the garment represents spiritually to a Mormon. As an “outward expression of an inner commitment to follow the Savior Jesus Christ,” the garment is a constant reminder that everything we do has a spiritual component. Some of the things a Mormon might consider on a daily basis are relationships with family, honesty, religious observance, prayer, spiritual pursuits, etc. Additionally, Mormons believe the garment is a “shield and a protection” to a person who keeps all the covenants they make in the temple. The exact meaning of this is open to interpretation, since there is no official doctrine on the matter. Some believe the protection is literal and supernatural, while others believe it is more spiritual and metaphorical. In either case, it represent a real and meaningful blessing for a Mormon committed to living a holy life.
Regular temple attendance is considered a standard of activity for Mormons. The meaning of “regular” varies between people, but typically it’s about once per month. As mentioned earlier, activities in a temple are different than typical Sunday services. The first time a Mormon goes to the temple, it is to receive temple ordinances for themselves. Mormons return to the temple to do “temple work”, which is a form of worship. The same ordinances are performed again and again, but a returning person (called a “Patron”) performs the ordinances in behalf of people who have previous died without them. Mormons believe that one of the primary purposes of temples is to perform the sacred ordinances for all of the people who have lived on the earth so that they might have an equal opportunity to live in heaven as anyone else. In this way, Mormons believe that they are not just recipients of the salvation of God, but that they are also participating with God in the great process of saving His children. This is deeply significant to many Mormons and a strong source of spiritual motivation.
The mode of temple attendance for Mormons is varied and sometimes surprising. For those living in close proximity to a temple, temple attendance is usually blended with regular daily activities. Couples might attend the temple as a Friday “date night” for instance, or someone who has a day job may attend an early morning session on their way to work. During the day, the temple is often attended by Mormons who are retired. For those living far away from a temple, a visit to the temple can be an extreme sacrifice. It is not uncommon for Mormons in poor and remote areas to save for years for a temple trip, then take a week or more to travel and spend a few days at the nearest temple. These trips have some of the spiritual significance of a pilgrimage, but the object is not to visit a spiritual and historical landmark, but rather to receive the specific and necessary rites that are only available in the temple.
Temples are staffed by lay members of the church- there is no school or special training required for consideration, and none of the temple management or ordinance workers receive any pay for their service. Those who serve in the temple view it as an honor and a privilege to do so. The management of a temple is performed by a temple President and his Counselors, who are called by revelation through the general authorities of the church. Ordinance workers are sometimes called through local leadership or they may also volunteer. Anyone performing in these offices must be first set apart by the laying on of hands by someone in the church who has authority to do so. An ordinance worker typically gives one day during the week to serve in the temple. Since it is an all-day commitment, workers are typically retired couples, but young people get involved as well.
In addition to temple workers, temples also have a staff to perform maintenance, janitorial work, laundering, cafeteria work, and other similar duties. These positions are paid and are often integrated with the welfare system of the LDS church, which teaches that work is an important component of receiving welfare. Workers who perform these duties don’t need to be set apart, but they must meet the same worthiness standard as anyone else attending the temple.
Teaching Children About the Temple
The temple is a central topic from the beginning with Mormon children. Very young children are taught about temples as places where families a brought together to become “eternal families”. Pictures of temples are common in Mormon homes, where often the temple depicted is the one where the parents were married, and there are several songs about the temple that children learn to sing. As children mature into youth, the focus of temple teaching emphasizes the worthiness standard and being morally clean as preparation to enter the temple. The church publishes a booklet for young people called For the Strength of Youth that gives significant detail and explanation of the worthiness standards. Youth are taught constantly about honesty, sexual purity, using clean language, dressing modestly, etc.
Youth who live by the worthiness standard have their first opportunity to participate in temple ordinances when they turn 12. “Temple excursions” are a rite of passage and a highlight for Mormon youth. The temple participation on excursions is limited to baptisms for the dead, where the youth act as proxies and are baptized on behalf of people who have passed on. Participation in other ordinances generally happens after the age of 18.
Encouraging Temple Attendance
Although temple attendance is limited to members who live by a certain moral standard, the invitation to come to the temple is not limited and is extended to everyone. One of the primary aims of this teaching is to help people live a code of honesty, chastity, etc. so that they are spiritually prepared to participate in temple rites, and in the long term, be spiritually prepared to return to God. Mormons are often identified by their high moral standards and abstinence from certain substances such as coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco. All of these outward manifestations of faith are directly related to temple worthiness. Mormons live this way for the express purpose of being worthy to enter the “House of God”.
Striving for the Holy Spirit of Promise
Perhaps the most unusual and difficult to accept teaching in the LDS church is that people may have the privilege in this life of meeting God face to face. (This is hard for even Mormons to accept.) As I mentioned in my previous post, the ordinances of the temple are considered necessary to receive the greatest gifts that God has for us, and the highest and most holy ordinance is that of marriage. It is tempting to think that marriage in a temple is a finish line, but in fact is more of a preparatory step. Mormons take literally Jesus Christ’s commandment to be perfected, or completed. This entails a lifelong and concerted effort to live up to all of the promises we make with God. There will come a time for each person when they have endured every trial and passed every test that God has given them, and they will have become pure and developed the character of God. Then the temple ordinances are said to be “sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise”, to be recognized both on earth and in heaven, and the way is opened for that person to then meet God. To a Mormon, this is the highest, purest goal of life, and is the foundation of their curious culture.
This concludes my series of posts on Mormon Temples. It is my hope that this has given you additional insight into the way that Mormons think and believe, with the further hope that such knowledge will bring us closer together through improved understanding.