Sunday, January 4, 2015

My Last Temple Recommend Interview

I had a pleasant visit today with a member of my bishopric.  He is a really good man, and I think he did a beautiful job magnifying his calling as a counselor.  I don't know him very well, but my limited interactions speak well of him.

About three weeks ago, he alerted me that I would be released from my calling at the start of the new year (today, hallelujah), and then extended a calling as an assistant ward organist.  He also asked if we could renew my temple recommend, which was set to expire at the end of December.  We set up an appointment for the next week.

I warned him as we got into the interview that it might not be his average interview.  He was already filling out my new recommend and I figured fair warning would be kind.  I said I have a few concerns.  Had he not called me in for the interview, I would have just let it lapse, knowing that it would very likely not be renewed.

So the questions began.

Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost?  Yes, absolutely.     

Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Christ and of His role as Savior and Redeemer?  Yes, absolutely.

Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel in these the latter days? Yes, (nod).   

Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Here we go. As of October, this has become a fully loaded question. I'm concerned that my response won't be what you are expecting here. May we discuss this?

First, the word "sustain". I have always believed sustain means to support. I eat food to support my body in having energy, stamina, and life. I can't think of many other places where we use the word sustain. I'm actually quite a bit perplexed here, because Elder Nelson, in the last General Conference, as a "living oracle" effectively shape-shifted how the church interprets that word, and I cannot agree to it if that is what the word means. In fact, I quite object to it. He said,

"Our sustaining is an oath-like indication that we recognize their calling as a prophet to be legitimate and binding upon us."
Something about this talk just felt all wrong.  It caused an argument between my mom and I before Elder Nelson had even finished speaking.  The internet was ablaze with those who objected to these words.  In essence, and put briefly, I do not feel comfortable making such an oath.  And why should I have to?  In sincere honesty, it feels, looks, and smells Satanic.

Sustaining the prophet or leaders is not an ordinance.  It is not something of eternal significance, and if you believe it is, you are guilty of idolatry.  Idolatry is when we insert someone or something between ourselves and God.  I can follow a prophet's counsel insofar as he speaks the word of God.  Does that mean I must sustain him?

Are there any accounts in the scriptures, the Old or New Testament, the Book of Mormon, or Pearl of Great Price, where prophets insisted that membership of the church sustain them?  The one account I can think of which remotely includes the word sustain was when Alma was teaching and at times the people offered food and supplies for the sustenance of the men preaching.  It was to sustain life.  There was no need for any "oath-like indication that [his] calling as a prophet [was] legitimate and binding upon [them]."  In fact, I would assert that Alma would have shrieked in terror at the thought of making such an oath.

It is one thing to raise the arm in agreement, as in a vote.  It is completely another beast to not mean that you are making a promise.  A "Heil Hitler".  A salute to Mao.  I won't do it.

But do I pray for these men?  Do I hope for them to lead this people righteously?  Do I hope they will learn from the City Creek debacle and not continue to build malls which people are begging on the street for dispursements?  Absolutely.  Do I go to church and attempt to magnify my callings?  Do I support the other people called and try not to complain about how they do things?  Yes.

As other questions followed, they were more of the same "sustaining" questions.  My counselor was not familiar with Elder Nelson's talk, so we agreed to reconvene two weeks later, which landed us on today.  I also had some questions regarding why we do not honor the Word of Wisdom as it is written.  He requested I email him a copy of a document which put my previous beliefs in question, and I forwarded him this.

I shared personal testimony about the importance of NOT making oaths to humans, outside of ordinances, and that they are only to be done when approved by God.  I learned the folly of it in my own life, and I take it very seriously.  He seemed to understand, and we adjourned until today.

Today, this sweet brother shared several stories and examples today of his personal testimony of the prophet.  I didn't mind this, but in truth my issue is not whether or not Thomas S. Monson is a prophet or not.  He could be, and in all honesty it does not matter to me.  Because I don't worship him.  It is God who saves, and it will never, ever be a mortal man.  To indicate that I recognize his counsel as "binding" upon me means that somehow I know the future, and can predict that whatever he says, I will follow.  I won't do it, because I can't predict the future.  If we fall back to sustaining, pre-October 2014, then we have another discussion at hand.  But we don't.  And we know – at least I do – that this new phraseology will be regurgitated over and over again in conferences to come.

If memory serves correctly, I went through the temple for the first time on Saturday, August 27, 2000.  I remember coming home and crying because I felt suffocated in the garments, but I quickly adjusted, thank heaven.  Since then, I have been to the temple countless times, both on my own and with family.  In the last 14 years I can guarantee that I have been to the temple more than all of them.  That's not to say I'm holier than anyone; I just had a drive to go.  And for the first time in 13.5 years, I do not possess a current temple recommend.

Not because I don't have a testimony of God, the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, or of the Holy Ghost.

Not because I don't have a testimony of the restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Not because I don't keep the law of chastity.

Not because I don't keep my covenants.

Not because I don't go to church every week.

Not because I have a Word of Wisdom problem (although I do struggle with eating too much meat and sugar, and have lots of questions about why we don't use wine in our holy sacraments.)

Not because I have a problem with any egregious sins.

Not because I struggle to wear the garment.  I have no problem with it.

Not because I beat or abuse my spouse or children, although surely there is a better way to raise them properly.

I do not have a current recommend to attend the temple because I refuse to raise my arm to make an oath-like indication that I recognize the "prophet's" calling to be legitimate and binding upon me.

Some may say I'm being nit-picky.  I'm not.  In fact, I take this very, very seriously.  Probably more seriously than many.

As I left and came home, I felt some sadness around this.  Not because I am attached to the card itself, or because I feel deprived of blessings.  I attended and served enough in the temple to get a good idea of what it's all about.  I have done quite a bit of work for my ancestors, as well as my husband's ancestors.  I do not regret being honest in that interview, and I was completely honest.  We could have talked for hours, but I didn't care to keep him that long.  After all, it was fast Sunday, and I was feeling nauseous and headachy as things went on.

The sadness I felt is the darkness and blindness of the minds, which Joseph Smith warned us about.  We do, quite sincerely, worship a prophet.  Or I should say, a president of an earthly organization which will not endure through the millenium because it will have been done away with.  And we likewise worship the other men in the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.

Today in church the bishop read a letter from one of the missionaries serving from our ward.  This elder wrote that he was in a meeting where Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was entering, and how everyone in the room stood when he entered.  He didn't know who was entering at first, and then imagine his surprise when it was Elder Holland who entered the room!  He was ecstatic!  It was better than "Justin Bieber"!  He even got to shake his hand!  And he joked that he was never going to wash his hand again.

The congregation laughed, and it was all fun and silly, but the severity of this joke set in and it took all I had not to look from the organ where I was sitting, down to my husband in the congregation.  It would have done me in.  We hero worship.  Elder Holland and the apostles could quickly squelch this hero worship by insisting it stop.  Immediately!  A quick scolding over the pulpit would put an end to it in a heartbeat  But we promote it.  The congregation is never scolded.

Apostles are not royalty.  They are not the Savior.  We ought not need to stand to show them respect.

It was not always this way.  When Joseph was alive, he would have struck down such an idea that one would be prohibited from entering the Holy of Holies for this reason.

President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel--said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church--that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls--applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall--that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves, envious towards the innocent, while they afflict the virtuous with their shafts of envy. (Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section 5, p. 237.)
But what does it matter what Joseph thinks.  As my leader rightly reflected, "A living prophet is better than a dead prophet."  So what do the scriptures matter at all?

In 2015, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they don't.  


  1. Jen, don't forget to include some reference to Matt. 5:34-37, where Jesus tells us not to do such ridiculous things. Here's the meme:

    My situation almost perfectly mirrors yours. Almost the same sequence, except in my situation I was asked by the Lord not only not to sustain the Fifteen but to vote in opposition in our ward conference. The primary reason was pretty clear to me: the Brethren's (Elder Nelson's) new definition for sustaining the Brethren that the Church now expects all hand-raising to signify. I can't do it either.

    1. Vaughn,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I'm sorry I didn't respond sooner! I feel like I might be in the realm you're at if or when Elder Nelson were sustained as president. (Would to God it would NOT be so!) I have a sinking feeling regarding September, but my prayers are for what goodness might be left to be salvaged. Intercession where possible.


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