When the Temple Hurts
I was 18, engaged, and excited to go to the temple. I don’t regret marrying young, nor the person I married. If I were ever going to be a mother, I knew this man was going to be the father. After 13 years of marriage, he’s everything I could have hoped for.
I was told since a primary child that the temple was the House of the Lord and there are no greater blessings than that of the temple. I was apprehensive and had my doubts, but I had the desire.
I prepared myself by writing in my “Temple Journal”. It had a hardcover trimmed in gold with a photo of Christ knocking on a wooden door. I would go to the temple grounds with my journal, read my scriptures, and speculate on the beautiful architecture. I wrote my ideas and thoughts about the temple, what I would hear, how I would feel, and my desire to be sealed to my fiancé. It was filled with pages of questions, quotes, song lyrics, and photographs. I took it with me to my temple prep class that I attended at BYU with my fiancé and felt ready for the experience.
I am curious by nature and was eager to get answers to my questions in the temple. I was also told the temple was a House of Learning and I was ready to learn.
Then the big day came.
I was surprised by the initiatory. The old woman with me looked like she had been doing this since the dawn of time. She had crisp white hair that matched her dress and shoes. She smiled unceasingly with rosy cheeks. I liked her warm crackling voice and the way she called me “dear”. It reminded me of my grandma. I didn’t feel ashamed being “immodest” with her. I don’t remember all the exact words she spoke but I felt comfort and strength.
After the initiatory, I was instructed to put on my garments. They didn’t fit and I didn’t care for the way the fabric felt on my skin, but I figured if millions of other Mormons wore them, so could I.
When the endowment session began, I was thankful for the darkness. For some reason I had this illusive feeling that everyone was watching me. I chalked it up to first time jitters. I wanted to sink in my chair and eagerly take in the beautiful knowledge I was promised. I liked the beginning and enjoyed seeing a more religious perspective of the creation despite its inaccuracies, but as the session wore on I had more and more questions with fewer and fewer answers.
So many of the practices and covenants seemed illogical and futile. I had questions, but no one to talk to. Everyone sat there silently, obediently. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting in this house of learning, but it was certainly not this. Questions continued to bombard my mind in the silence.
Was I meant to simply regurgitate information in a systematic pattern? Why was my fiancé making covenants to God, and why was I making promises to “hearken to” my future husband? Am I not worthy to covenant to God directly? When are they going to talk about why men can still be sealed to multiple women? I’m sure there is a reasonable explanation. Why can’t I sit by my fiancé? Why are we segregated? What does a priestess do if she doesn’t hold the Priesthood authority equitably with her husband? Why must I veil my face? I feel like I can hardly breathe under here! What was that last part? Wait, I just promised to give my life to the Church, and not God? Is there going to be a Q&A later where I could ask my questions? Why can’t my fiancé tell me his temple name, but I must tell him mine? Is God sexist or just my religion? When are we going to talk about Heavenly Mother? Surely we will learn more about Her in the temple. If She’s not here in the temple, where is She? Why would God require these rituals for a person’s salvation? How do these performances have any significant impact on saving our ancestors?
With each layer of clothing I donned, I felt imprisoned by promises I was ill-prepared to make. I felt the tangible oppression on my body and wanted to rip it off and burst out of the room. I fantasized that spectacle would be far more bearable than what I was doing.
Amid the screaming in my head there was nothing but silence around me, just the wrestling of white polyester fabrics. I thought I might vomit on the white carpet beneath my slippers.
Then I vividly heard the words “of your own free will and choice” come across the speakers and my screaming mind ceased. Free will? You mean I have a choice? I can leave? But as quickly as the question was asked there was no waiting for my response. I looked up to make eye contact with someone—anyone—but no one looked my way. I supposed the question was rhetorical. It was clear leaving was not a socially acceptable option. I couldn’t bring myself to walk out of the oversized doors at the back of the room, but I also couldn’t bring myself to utter the word “yes.” So I stood there and bowed my head in silence.
I was broken. No chance to ask questions. No room for a doubter. No room for anything but submissive compliance. No room for me.
Nothing I read or did prepared me for the endowment session. I have felt many moments of sexism at church as a youth and was told, “It’s the culture, not the Church”, “Well, some priesthood holders don’t exercise their authority righteously”, “You just had one bad experience”, or “We just don’t understand the will of God”. But that’s exactly why I came to the temple—to understand. I did what was asked of me with a sincere heart, with true intent and earnest desire, but there it was in the middle of our most sacred house of worship: sexism.
By the end of the session I was exhausted. We went into the celestial room with family and friends who smiled and congratulated me with enthusiasm. I could only smile and nod. I was still nauseous.
A friend came by and congratulated me. I pulled her aside inconspicuously to ask her a couple of my questions. As I began to speak she quickly shushed me and politely told me I shouldn’t talk like that in the temple. I was extremely confused. I couldn’t understand the boundary between sacred and secret when there was no communication. I honestly meant no harm or disrespect in my questions, but the message was clear—no more questions.
When I went back to the women’s locker room I wished to talk to the old woman from the initiatory, but she wasn’t there.
I kept my head high and went into the changing room. No sooner had I closed the metal door to the tiny stall, I burst into silent sobs. I felt like I was a victim of some archaic initiation ritual. I changed my clothes and left, vowing to never return.
I found my fiancé outside smiling, beaming with joy for his bride to-be. He wrapped his arms around me, but I couldn’t lift my arms to reciprocate his embrace. I was his defeated helpmeet. Being a good man, he noticed my indifference to his affections and wrapped my arms around him for me. I was grateful. I wasn’t upset with him. I was upset all my doubts and concerns from the moment I entered Young Women were confirmed in the temple.
I was ready and wanting to marry him. I just wasn’t ready to marry my religion.
When I got home I opened my “Temple Journal” to the first page where I had written the lyrics of “I Love to See the Temple”. I read the words one last time, ripped out the pages and threw the entire journal into the trash. All my hopeful questions and righteous desires to have a better understanding of my religion were rubbish. I was deceived and heartbroken.
The night before our wedding, I begged my fiancé to elope with me. I didn’t care about being married in the temple anymore—I only cared about marrying him. However, he was an undeniably devout Mormon. He believed it and I didn’t. After hours of discussion, he respectfully listened to my concerns while I explained to him that Mormonism meant something completely different to me than it did to him. I needed him to know if we were ever going to work that religion could never be a wedge that would drive us apart.
My love for him was far stronger than my anger toward my religion and I agreed to a return to the temple for our sealing.
I’ve never regretted my decision to marry him, and I would do it a thousand times over if that’s what it took to be with him.
Roughly four years passed until I would agree to return to the temple. My husband was concerned and wanted me to find peace within the temple. I agreed and we decided to go to the temple at least once a month for an entire year. The closest temple was an hour away, but we committed to do it together.
He patiently answered my questions and tried to help me see a more nuanced interpretation of the endowment session. It was helpful, but there was only so much that could be explained away. Too many symbols insinuated I was secondary to my husband in the eyes of the Mormon God. I know my husband didn’t see it that way, but I did. Too many of the rituals seemed like a pointless exercise to commit myself to a religion that was quickly losing credibility with me. The sexism was too pervasive and I found the absolutist perspective of the temple being the singular path to the Celestial Kingdom so utterly exclusive and prideful. Why would God favor Mormons above any other religion? If I really cared about my dead ancestors, shouldn’t I be working toward a better future for my posterity? If I really wanted to save humanity, shouldn’t I be in the trenches working with them instead of sitting idly in a temple?
My husband noticed the pain, anger, frustration, and suffering the temple caused me. At the end of the year he didn’t ask me to return to the temple. He continued to attend regularly, because it brought him peace and comfort. I was more than willing to support him in his religious beliefs, just as he agreed to support me in mine. I had no intention in condemning or ridiculing a religious ritual that inspired him to be a better human being.
It’s been over five years since I last attended the temple, and for me, healing and reconciliation has come from letting go of the temple. No longer having a temple recommend as been a burden lifted—like brick removed from my wallet. And strangely, it has allowed me to embrace God and Mormonism in ways that I never thought I would.