Mormon Temples are Sacred

If this had been the full extent of the Deseret News headline, I would have agreed. Mormons hold their temples (and what goes on inside) to be sacred. That is, “regarded with the same respect and reverence accorded holy things; venerated; hallowed” (Webster’s New World Dictionary). But the February 9 (2012) headline didn’t stop there. In fact, the headline read, “Helping others understand how temples are sacred, not secret.” With this I cannot agree.

The earliest use of the “sacred, not secret” mantra used by Mormons I was able to find (admittedly, after only an afternoon of research) was from then-Apostle Harold B. Lee. In 1968 he said, “Temple ordinances are sacred, not secret…Some wonder why all this so-called secrecy, and we always answer by saying it is not ‘secret’ but ‘sacred’” (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 576. John Widtsoe made a similar distinction before his death in 1952, but did not employ the shorthand expression that is so popular today). Apostle Boyd Packer repeated the “secret/sacred” phrase at the April 1971 General Conference, and both David O. McKay and ElRay Christiansen included it in Ensign articles in January 1972. “Sacred, not secret” has been commonplace among Mormons ever since.

But Mormon temple ceremonies are more properly understood to be both sacred (to Mormons) and secret. The LDS Young Women Manual states, “The ordinances of the temple are so sacred that they are not open to the view of the public” (Lesson 17: Preparing to Attend the Temple). That is, they are so sacred that they are kept secret.

In the April 1920 Conference Report Andrew Jensen spoke of the imprisonment of Daniel H. Wells in 1879 for contempt of court. “The offense consisted in his refusal to disclose the secrets of the Endowment House,” he said (76).

Perhaps the best source for the sacred and secret (sometimes expressed only as secret) nature of Mormon temple ceremonies comes from the endowment ceremony itself. From available records we find:

  • 1847: “We are also sworn by a solemn oath that we will never divulge what we here see, and do, and agree to, &c. in this Holy Temple. The penalty is, if we do, we agree to let them take our lives, and the manner of taking them is described: Our bowels are to be taken out, throats cut across, tongues taken out by the roots, &c.” (Increase McGee Van Deusen, The Mormon Endowment)
  • 1882: “The penalty for revealing this grip and oath is that you will have your throat cut from ear to ear, and your tongue torn from your mouth…” (Hand-Book on Mormonism. This is a narrative account of the penalty, not a direct quote of the temple ceremony.)
  • 1931: “And you will not forget that the utmost secrecy is to be observed with respect to these proceedings.” “We, and each of us, covenant and promise that we will not reveal any of the secrets of this…” (Temple Mormonism)
  • 1969: “They are most sacred and are guarded by solemn covenants and obligations of secrecy…” (Tanner, Mormonism – Shadow or Reality)
  • 1984: “They are most sacred and are guarded by solemn covenants and obligations of secrecy…” (Tanner, Evolution of the Mormon Temple Ceremony: 1842-1990)
  • 1990: “They are most sacred and are guarded by solemn covenants and obligations made in the presence of God…” (Tanner, Evolution of the Mormon Temple Ceremony: 1842-1990)

Throughout most of its history the explicit idea of secrecy was present in the temple endowment ceremony. In 1990, the wording connected to guarding the temple ceremony under “obligations of secrecy” was changed, but participants continue to vow that they will “never reveal” the things they learn in the temple. With or without the accompaniment of the explanatory word “secrecy,” temple participants swear to exactly the same vow.

Many things in addition to temple ceremonies are deemed sacred in Mormonism. The scriptures are considered sacred; they are not only open for all to see, but Mormons encourage all people to read and study them. On Fast and Testimony Sundays an LDS Church service is filled with people standing up and telling the congregation about their own “sacred” experiences. Boyd Packer said, “How like the sacred experience in the temple becomes our personal testimony. It is sacred,” yet Mormons are taught to share their testimonies openly and often (“The Spirit Beareth Record,” Ensign, May 1971).

A secret, according to the dictionary, is something “not known or seen or not meant to be known or seen by others.” Secrecy is “the action of keeping something secret or the state of being kept secret.” This describes Mormon temple ceremonies very well. The reason they are kept secret may very well include the idea that they are held sacred, but they are secret nonetheless.

To insist the temple is “sacred, not secret” is a convenient sound bite, but it isn’t the truth.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.

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15 Responses to Mormon Temples are Sacred

  1. Rick B says:

    One problem I have with the whole mormon temple issue is this.
    Mormons claims that these temples to some degree are proof that what they believe is true, the Church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints is real and from God because these temples exist.
    Yet the problems are many. Read the OT and see who was allowed in the temple, when, why, what took place etc.

    The LDS temples are not even close to the temples of Jewish OT times. This is simply not another restoration of the temple, this is a creation of JS the man.

  2. TJayT says:

    I have to agree with you 100% on this Sharon. If we Mormons really saw the Temple rites as “Sacred not Secret” then we should have no problem with people studying and learning about them so long as they do so respectfully and not simply to find things to mock us about (and for the record that actually is my view). But of course this isn’t true.

    In fact imo speaking the Temple rites as “Sacred not Secret” is disingenuous because evey Lds Sacrament (for lack of a better word) that doesn’t take place in a Temple really is sacred not secret. Baptism, Confirmation, “The Sacrament” (Communion), baby blessings, and administering to the sick just to name a few. As Sharon pointed out “Sacred AND Secret” is a much better way to describe them.

  3. falcon says:

    Mormonism is suppose to be a restoration of “real” Christianity, the gospel that Mormons claim was lost after the death of the apostles. This losing the gospel claim is used to support a supposed restoration by Joseph Smith. The problem with the scenario is that there is no record of anything Mormon in the early church. Among the lost elements I guess, are the early Christian temples and the rituals that Mormons claim were performed there. Mormons have a huge credibility problem with all things Mormon since there doesn’t exit any sort of archeological or written account of what they say was lost.
    So, it seems, the Mormon gospel along with the temples were not only lost but they disappeared all together. That’s a pretty tough trick to pull off. The vastness of the conspiracy that produced this disappearing act must have been immense.
    Are these modern day temples and the rituals sacred? Well to Mormons I guess they are. Beyond that they are useless. They are empty rituals that are useful only in that they serve as indoctrination ceremonies to solidify commitment and try to insure that members will be intimidated into ever leaving the Mormon religion.
    The bottom line is that the rituals and ceremonies are no more “sacred” then those employed by the Free Masons, which was the inspiration for Joseph Smith’s invention. Any religious ceremony can be considered “sacred” I guess, but the real question is, is it effective for anything. Mormon temple ceremonies promise much but deliver nothing.
    The death of Jesus on the cross and the shedding of His blood stands as an event that is both sacred and effective. Through God’s grace we are offered the gift of eternal life through faith by what Jesus did for us. Rituals can add nothing to this.

  4. falcon says:

    I’m trying to think of any Christian religion that doesn’t allow people from outside of the (religion) to observe the rituals. Having been raised Catholic I can remember all sorts of rites, rituals and ceremonies. They were all open for outsiders to attend but those outside the faith couldn’t take part. Communion, for example, is closed to non-Catholics. We had my mother’s funeral last month and I didn’t know what I was going to do about the communion part of the service. The priest settled my dilemma by announcing that only those active practicing Catholics could take communion. I understand why they do this. Catholics believe in transubstantiation which means the elements become the actual body and blood of Christ once consecrated. This is very sacred but it isn’t secret.
    The effect of the exclusionary approach in Mormonism has the effect of setting up an “us versus them” mentality. It also produces a “worthy not worthy” scenario within the religion. I imagine there are more than a few Mormons who lie to get their temple recommend.

  5. TJayT says:

    Falcon

    I’m sorry to hear about your mother. I hope you and your family are doing well and I wish you the best.

  6. falcon says:

    Thanks TJay for your kind words.
    My mother was 95 and had led a full life. She had some health issues which were pretty typical for someone her age.
    I had gotten a call that she was starting to fail and was being transferred to a hospice facility from the assistive living facility she had been living in for the last six months. I left very early in the morning to drive to where she was residing which was a couple hundred miles from where I live.
    I had been on the road for less than a half and hour when my eyes were drawn to the sky where I saw this bright light shooting across it. I thought that it was really bright for a jet and it was moving really fast.
    Suddenly, “poof” the light was gone. I realized it had been a shooting star. As irrational as it may sound, I had this thought that my mother had died. I checked the time and continued to drive. Less than a half-an-hour later my brother called me on my cell phone and told me that the hospice facility had called to inform him that our mother had in fact died.
    I choose to believe that God had sent me a sign regarding my mother’s passing. Why me? I don’t know. But I believe that God does communicate with us in many ways. It was a comfort to me.

  7. Mike R says:

    Falcon, my wife and I want to extend our condolences to you on the passing of your
    Mom.

  8. grindael says:

    Falcon… Man, what a blessing your Mom must have been. As for secrets, here is Smith after narrowly escaping with his life from being shot for treason,

    “I would further suggest the impropriety of the organization of bands or companies, by covenant or oath, by penalties or secrecies; but let the time past of our experience and sufferings by the wickedness of Doctor Avard suffice and let our covenant be that of the Everlasting Covenant, as contained in the Holy Writ and the things that God hath revealed to us. Pure friendship always becomes weakened the very moment you undertake to make it stronger by penalty oaths and secrecy.” -“Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” p. 146

    But like the hypocrite he was, less than five years later … secret “oaths” were once again instigated by him in Nauvoo… in direct contradiction to his words above. He dodged the Missouri bullet, by trying to make Avard the scapegoat, but it wasn’t enough to save him from himself in the end.

  9. Dale says:

    The “sacred, not secret” business is just an LDS motto/quick fix to try and hide the fact that it is secret.

    Rather than admit what it is (secret) they try to put another spin on the topic.

    I also know Mormons who say the temple never included penalty oaths. Sometimes I wonder if the history of Mormonism is secret from many good LDS people.

  10. MaM says:

    I know I haven’t been commenting much, but I am still reading.
    Just wanted to say I’m sorry to hear about your mom, falcon. What an awesome life she must’ve led. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

  11. falcon says:

    Thanks Mike and grindael.
    Funny, no matter how old you get your parents are still, well, your parents. My wife’s mother died last May so neither of us have our parents with us any more. My wife and I were talking about it all because we both we’re involved in all of the things you have to do to dispose of the “stuff” and close the program down. My wife says, “Yea you die and then you get erased.”
    My mom was very Catholic so I came across all of this Catholic stuff, some going back to my mother’s parents, my grandparents. I was really kind of stuck with what to do with it. I had two nieces who were thrilled to get the pictures of Jesus, Mary and Crucifixes, one in a “kit” of sorts with candles and other related items. I have a couple of plastic statues left; one of Mary and another a sort of Jesus icon. I really don’t know what to do with them as I remember having given one to my mother for mothers’ day and one to my dad for fathers’ day, way back when I was in grade school.
    The funeral mass was kind of interesting. Not that it was foreign to me having grown up in the church. It’s kind of nice to be at a place where I’m at peace with whatever someone wants to do connected with the expression of their Christian faith without getting all judgmental and emotionally exercised.
    It was kind of funny in that the wife of a cousin of mine, who I went to grade school with, was quizzing me on my lapsed status in the church. That didn’t even bother me. Actually no one else seemed to care either.

  12. spartacus says:

    Falcon,

    I’m sorry for your loss. I know y0u’ll miss her until you see eachother again. I understand your disclaimer about irrationality, though I also had a similar experience with my own mother’s death.

    I didn’t get a sense of when she died, but the thought popped in my head a few minutes before my siblings conferenced called me to let me know about it. I knew they wanted us all to talk together but I didn’t know about what. In fact, I didn’t just suddenly think that she had died but how she did too. Out of respect for your recent loss I will not go into details. But I was aware that she might die a certain way. And the thought that she had actually done so was what popped into my head just a few minutes before they called. So when they told me why they called, I responded (probably to their surprise) “I thought that’s what it was.” (it being, why they called)

    Your family is in my wife’s and my prayers.

  13. TJayT says:

    Falcon

    While I’ve never had an experience like yours or spartacus many in my family have, so it doesn’t sound irrational in the least. It’s amazing how God can reach out to us in times of need.

  14. Mike R says:

    Jesus warned of false prophets that would come . The Church He established by His
    death and resurrection was threatened by false apostles — Matt.7:15; 2Cor 11:13 .
    Since 1830 we have some men claiming to be appointed by Jesus to spread His gospel,
    the same gospel preached by Paul 2000 years ago. These men build temples to
    teach this gospel . They call the Temple rites and rituals sacred ,denying it is
    secret. Yet all along it has been termed secret inside the Temple itself , and no wonder
    it was, come to find out there are parts of this Temple ritual where a secret name and
    handshake is given to each person , then penalties are asigned for the divulging of these
    secrets such as mimicking having your throat slit and your blood spilt ! While this is
    said to be symbolic, still it raised some serious questions, and it cause some attendees
    to experience some very negative emotions. It seems this must have reached the ears
    of the men who created these rites/rituals because in 1990 these were removed . This
    was part of Jesus’ gospel ? It appears that we need to choose which apostles to follow,
    either the ones who claimed Jesus directed them to create these secret rituals and who
    teach that it is only through the door of their temple that eternal life can be attained , or
    the apostles who pointed people to a more solid, trustworthy, door as the only door
    through which eternal life can actually be received : John 10:9

  15. TJayT says:

    A question for those of you that have studies early Christianity. Are there any records of early Christians having “secret meetings” for lack of a better term? I’m sure that during the first centuries that they weren’t exactly advertised because of the persecution, but are there any contemporary writings of Christians allowing outsiders to come and watch there worship services?

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