Is the Temple Ceremony Sacred or Secret?

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By Bill McKeever

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Because those who have participated in the LDS Temple Endowment ceremony make a covenant to not talk about what goes on inside LDS temples, it is often asserted that this is a “secret ceremony.” However, many Mormons become very offended by this connotation, claiming that the ceremony is not “secret” but rather “sacred.” It seems odd that categorizing the ceremony in such a manner would make this subject off limits. There are many areas deemed sacred by Latter-day Saints, yet Mormons seem to have no problem discussing them. For instance, the Book of Mormon is considered by them to be a sacred book, but few Mormons or Mormon missionaries would hesitate to tell their testimony about this book and the message contained within its pages.

Until the ceremony was drastically revised in 1990, the temple ceremony itself contained portions that patrons (those who participate in the ceremony) were told to keep secret. For instance, Mormons must learn three different tokens or handshakes they feel are necessary if they hope to be able to return to their God after death. These include the first and second token of the Aaronic Priesthood and the First Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood or sign of the Nail and the Second Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood or Sure Sign of the Nail. Each token came with an obligation of “secrecy.” After learning the “First Token of the Aaronic Priesthood,” a character portraying the Mormon God “Elohim” tells them, “I will now explain the covenant and obligation of secrecy which are associated with this token….” Patrons then had to “covenant” never to reveal these secret handshakes by promising, “Rather than do so, I would suffer my life to be taken.” The post-1990 ceremony has deleted the words “of secrecy” regarding this and other tokens but patrons are still told to “never reveal” what they have learned. The newer ceremony also no longer requires patrons to repeat the phrase, “Rather than do so, I would suffer my life to be taken.”

While it is true that the temple is sacred to the faithful Latter-day Saint, the fact that what goes on inside is to be kept from public knowledge fits the definition of secret. The fact is, it is both. Respected LDS historian Richard L. Bushman agrees. “While some members will claim that Mormon temples are ‘sacred not secret,’ Bushman said that ‘temples are secret, plain and simple,’ noting that even members ‘don’t speak to each other about it.’” (Richard L. Bushman, “Seek understanding, not converts, Bushman urges Mormons,” Deseret News, March 6, 2008).

Though Mormons are told that their ceremony is representative of the ancient ceremony mentioned in the Bible, there is no evidence to suggest that Jewish worshippers in Bible times were ever threatened with death for merely revealing what went on inside the Jerusalem temple. Nor is there any evidence to suggest that the ancient temple rites were similar to those enjoined by Mormons in their temples.

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