The current interest in American politics and political figures who are Mormons continues to draw attention to the beliefs and practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The latest example was the 22 April broadcast on PBS’s Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. This segment offered both believer and nonbeliever perspectives of the Church and its doctrines. During his interview in the broadcast, Church apostle Dallin H. Oaks forthrightly said, “We are different — that’s the reason for our existence.”
Dealing sensitively with differences, especially in matters of religious faith, is no easy task. What for one person may be a curiosity is for another a possible intrusion into what is sacred and very personal. The difficulty of dealing with such differences was seen in the treatment of temples and temple worship in Sunday’s broadcast. Curiosity, good taste and accuracy are all factors in the discussion.
Dr. Phil Roberts, president of the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, claimed, for example, that Church members who attend the temple — including Mormon politicians — swear “allegiance to the Mormon president.” This is simply not true. The center of temple worship is a commitment to God and devotion to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In a place of quiet reflection, Church members contemplate and decide how their temple attendance will be reflected in their personal lives.
The official policy of the Church regarding Church members who hold elected office states:
Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated Church position. While the Church may communicate its views to them, as it may to any other elected official, it recognizes that these officials still must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies whom they were elected to represent.
In another portion of the program, temple worship itself was described as “secretive” and “bizarre.” This gets to the very issue of dealing with and discussing differences.
The worship that takes place inside of temples is considered by Latter-day Saints to be a very sacred and personal religious matter. The clothing associated with temple worship is also sacred and holds significant meaning for Church members. The Church’s “newsroom” website explains:
Like members of many religious faiths, Latter-day Saints wear religious clothing. But members of other faiths — typically those involved in permanent pastoral ministries or religious services — usually wear religious garments as outer ceremonial vestments or symbols of recognition. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, garments are worn beneath street clothing as a personal and private reminder of commitments to God.
Garments are considered sacred by Church members and are not regarded as a topic for casual conversation.
There are those who believe matters of private religious observance should be kept from public scrutiny. For example, political and religious commentator Hugh Hewitt wrote some time ago that “there is a sphere of private beliefs about God that is not right to raise or probe, and though the border is hard to find when there are legitimate issues that need to be discussed, heading for the undergarments angle is disgusting and will appear so to most Americans.”
However one feels about reporting and discussing religious differences, one thing is certain. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints want the experience associated with temple worship to be personal and private. They feel that personal and private worship enhances the feeling of being in sacred space and increases the reverent nature they feel toward God.
For Latter-day Saints, temples are one of the things that bind the Church to the Bible and historic Christianity. Temples and temple worship feature prominently in both the Old and New Testaments.
This is an age of seemingly unlimited information. In relation to temple worship and the personal convictions, practices and matters of individual conscience that are essential to any faith, the Church hopes for respect, good taste and sound judgment.