By Eric Johnson
In the closing talk at the October 2019 General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson—the architect of a number of changes during his run of his presidency beginning in 2018—announced that there would be revisions to most of the temple interview questions asked of those who are applying for admittance into the more than 160 temples around the world.
Every member who wants to get the recommend must be interviewed every two years; unless the ecclesiastical leader feels the person being interviewed is qualified for admittance, incorrect answers could keep a person from being allowed to do work for him/herself and any relatives. Also, a parent who is denied a recommend would result in the prohibition of being allowed to attend a child’s wedding ceremony taking place in the temple.
Three of the fifteen questions were unchanged, but changes—some minor, some major—were made to the rest.
Using the information provided in an article titled “What the new LDS temple recommend questions say” authored by Salt Lake Tribune religion editor Peggy Fletcher Stack (Salt Lake Tribune, October 7, 2019, p. A4), let’s take a closer look at the questions the Mormon can expect to be asked by their bishop, stake president, or other representatives of the church.
Question 1: Do you have faith in and a testimony of God, the Eternal Father; his Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost?
Commentary: It doesn’t get more basic than what this question is asking. Of course, the Latter-day Saint could answer affirmatively without getting into a lot of discussion about their actual definition of God. I have even spoken with Latter-day Saints who pray to Heavenly Mother every day and still regularly attend the temple. One woman told me she goes into the celestial room and prays to her “mother in heaven.” And, depending on how you define God—monotheistic or tritheisic —you should have no trouble getting past this question and moving the interview on.
Question 2: Do you have a testimony of the atonement of Jesus Christ and of his role as your Savior and Redeemer?
Old question: It didn’t have “your.”
Commentary: The “your” in front of “Savior” ought to have been assumed in this question, but were there some Latter-day Saints who were answering “yes” to this question because they could justify “others” as claiming him as their Savior? As mentioned in Question 1, a person who really wants to redefine the question and still answer “yes” to keep the interview moving can justify their positive response while denying the church’s teaching on this issue.
Question 3: Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Old: Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel in these the latter days?
Commentary: By eliminating “in these latter days,” this could be taken to mean that the Mormon’s testimony is not only in Joseph Smith’s “restored” gospel but also in the gospel of the original apostles. A person could, at face value, even have a biblical world view and answer affirmatively to this new question, but the former question certainly shows that only a Mormon world view is adequate to pass this question’s test. There is no “gospel of Jesus Christ” according to Mormonism without Joseph Smith.
Question 4: 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 authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?
Do you sustain the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers and revelators?
Do you sustain the other general authorities and local leaders of the church?
Old: 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?
Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators?
Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the church?
Commentary: In the first question, the words “who possesses” were taken out. Perhaps the church leadership thought this was redundant. The second question is unchanged with the exception of “the” being added in front of “members.” In the third question, “general authorities” is no longer capitalized and “authorities” in front of “local” were replaced by “leaders.” The “other general authorities” in this question is obviously a reference to the Seventies. To not confuse the issue as to who is a general authority, apparently “leaders” are not wanting the member to become confused.
Question 5: The Lord has said that all things are to be “done in cleanliness” before him (Doctrine and Covenants 42:41). Do you strive for moral cleanliness in your thoughts and behavior? Do you obey the law of chastity?
Old: Asked only “do you live the law of chastity?”
Commentary: How many Latter-day Saints could answer “yes” to the old question by rationalizing, “I don’t have sex with other women, so indeed I do live the law of chastity”? No Latter-day Saint in the old days would have answered, “No, bishop, I look at online pornography and I masturbate, so I don’t qualify.” For a person to be qualified as “worthy” to enter the LDS temples, the church is wanting to poke their proverbial head into the business of their members and determine just how “worthy” they really are.
Notice carefully in the second question how the phrase “strive [try] for moral cleanliness” has been included. This could almost be interpreted as saying, “Hey, are you trying your best to be clean? That’s good enough for us.” But is it? As Spencer W. Kimball once wrote, trying is an admission of failure and not doing what each person is capable of doing (keeping commandments, as 1 Nephi 3:7 says). He explained in his book The Miracle of Forgiveness, “Trying is not sufficient. Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin . . . To try is weak. To do the best you can is not strong. You must always do better than you can. This is true in every walk of life” (pp. 163-164).
I do give the leadership credit for trying to ferret out the impostors who were not legitimately doing everything they were supposed to do. I think we all know why they didn’t expand this question by continuing “Have you lusted after anyone recently?” (Matthew 5:28) or “Have you looked at pornography on your computer?” or “Have you recently masturbated?” How many Mormons would have to lie just to get past question #5?
Question 6: Do you follow the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ in your private and public behavior with members of your family and others?
Old: Is there anything in your conduct relating to members of your family that is not in harmony with the teachings of the church?
Commentary: By adding the words “in your private and public behavior,” the church leaders are trying to be more specific and possibly eliminate some who could have easily answered affirmatively to the old question. For a person with any morals, the “private behavior” is stating that it’s not just what is done in public that counts but also what is done behind closed doors.
Question 7: Do you support or promote any teachings, practices or doctrine contrary to those of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Old: Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Commentary: To me, this might be the most significant change of all. In this modern age of the Internet where Mormons congregate in chat rooms and Facebook groups, certainly everyone would have at least one “anti-Mormon” in their midst! In my neighborhood over the years, several Latter-day Saints seem to have kept their distance from me in social dealings. Another example I can give where members have felt funny is when current Latter-day Saints who may be thinking about leaving visit the Utah Lighthouse Ministry bookstore (run by Sandra Tanner) in Salt Lake City located across the street from the Bees’ ballpark. As a volunteer, I have watched these folks about to enter the store, looking one way and then the other before coming inside. Perhaps the change in this question can be helpful to those Evangelical Christians who love Latter-day Saints and want the very best for them, as the old question may have caused alienation between the Saints and us. I really like this change. Of course, Latter-day Saints who do not accept the teachings or practices of their church should not be given a recommend. But why was associating with these people cause for not gaining the recommend? Perhaps another change in the future could be listing some of those teachings that a Mormon needs to agree with, including:
- Do you agree that God was once a man and worshiped a God before him?
- Do you believe those from African descent should be allowed the priesthood?
- Do you agree with the church’s stance that a homosexual marriage cannot take place in the temple?
Many other questions like these could be devised, as many Latter-day Saints disagree with their church on a number of social and theological issues. Asking these types of questions would just provide more reasons for the leaders to deny the members access to the temple, which really is not the goal because they ultimately want more of their people qualified to use the temple. There is no doubt that a doctrinal questionnaire would eliminate many who would otherwise consider themselves worthy.
Question 8: Do you strive to keep the Sabbath day holy, both at home and at church; attend your meetings; prepare for and worthily partake of the sacrament; and live your life in harmony with the laws and commandments of the gospel?
Old: Do you strive to keep the covenants you have made, to attend your sacrament and other meetings, and to keep your life in harmony with the laws and commandments of the gospel?
Commentary: More specific questions are being asked. For instance, the issue of keeping the Sabbath Day and is specifically brought up. The previous question did not ask about this specifically. The word “strive” (try) that is added in can still be taken as, “Well, I don’t do very well at attending meetings, and I do watch NFL football on Sundays, but I sure am trying to do better.” How many Latter-day Saints will still be able to answer this question in the affirmative by processing the questions this way?
Question 9: Do you strive to be honest in all that you do?
Old: Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen?
Commentary: I guess the old question sounded a bit too formal. Besides, who uses “fellowmen” anymore? The thirteenth Article of Faith in Mormonism states that this religion believes in being “honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men.” Notice, though, how the word “strive” gets added into these questions for the third time! Apparently, as long as you feel you are trying and doing your best, you can feel good about at least trying to be honest. (Note: When the Latter-day Saint answers the other interview questions the way that the leader expects rather than telling the truth, aren’t they not being “honest in all that” they do? How many Latter-day Saints don’t even think of this question in this way!)
Question 10: Are you a full-tithe payer?
Commentary: Right after the person being interviewed is asked about honesty comes this dinger! A ten percent tithe is what is required. I recently was talking to a former Latter-day Saint who was involved in the military and knew the pay rates for everyone in his military community. As the church interviewer, he said he regularly had members being interviewed tell him they were paying “an honest and full tithe.” They were shocked, he said, when he said they were not telling the truth because he knew exactly (to the penny) how much they made, and their tithes were not even half—gross or net—of what they were supposed to pay to be in compliance with the command. Notice that the word “strive” was not added into this question! Either you’re doing it, or you should go home. No Latter-day Saint can argue, “Bishop, I gave 2% of my income last year, which is 100% more than I did the year before when I gave 1%. My striving to pay a tithe is really paying off!”
Question 11: Do you understand and obey the Word of Wisdom?
Old: Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?
Commentary: There is no parentheses to say if this new question should be asked by the leader with a sarcastic twang. Perhaps better would have been: “Do you keep the Word of Wisdom? Seriously, do you even understand what the Word of Wisdom even entails?” And can you imagine the Mormon saying, “Wait, you’re telling me the Word of Wisdom doesn’t allow for coffee! But, bishop, it doesn’t say coffee in D&C 89. It just says ‘hot drinks.’ I drink my coffee lukewarm”!
To have some fun, perhaps these follow-up questions could be asked:
- “Do you drink Coke or Pepsi?” After the applicant squirms and possibly even lies, the leader could say, “Just kidding, you can drink soda!”
- “Do you drink hot chocolate?” Again, this would make many faithful Latter-day Saints squirm. “Just kidding, hot drinks doesn’t include ‘hot’ chocolate!”
- And finally, “Do you vape?” Of course, all Latter-day Saints know that alcohol and tobacco are prohibited. The rule of vaping might not be understood—some bishops might allow for it, others (including those in Utah) won’t. The result: More squirming. (“Will vaping get me disqualified? My fiancee/wife will kill me if I don’t qualify.)
These follow-up questions could break up the tense atmosphere since the end of the interview is coming close (and yet it must feel like it is taking so long!). This would be especially true since many Mormons had to lie on question 10.
Question 12: Do you have any financial or other obligations to a former spouse or to children? If yes, are you current in meeting those obligations?
Commentary: The word “strive” was not added into this question. It remains black and white. Either a person who owes money to the former wife is current on his obligation, or he is not.
Question 13: Do you keep the covenants that you made in the temple, including wearing the temple garment as instructed in the endowment?
Old: Do you keep the covenants that you made in the temple? Do you wear the garment both night and day as instructed in the endowment and in accordance with the covenant you made in the temple?
Commentary: The question used to ask whether the person was wearing the garment “night and day.” Is the new question allowing freedom to not wear the garments during times involving the pool/beach, showers, and intimacy? It almost appears so. Those too-honest-for-their-own-good Latter-day Saints may have been embarrassing their leaders when they were telling them the times they did not wear their garments.
Question 14: Are there serious sins in your life that need to be resolved with priesthood authorities as part of your repentance?
Old: Have there been any sins or misdeeds in your life that should have been resolved with priesthood authorities but have not been?
Commentary: The word “serious” may have been added into this question because the leaders probably kept complaining how they had to listen to all the mundane, silly confessions of minor sins (“Bishop, another sin of mine is I went 60 miles an hour yesterday when the speed limit clearly said 55!”) of those too-honest members. Basically, the new question is stating, “Forget the minor things and just tell me only serious sins you’ve committed that haven’t come up in this interview.”
Question 15: Do you consider yourself worthy to enter the Lord’s house and participate in temple ordinances?
Commentary: I find this question at the very end to go against the attitude Jesus recommended. To see more on this, I recommend this chapter from a book I coauthored with Bill McKeever. Click here.
At first glance, there were no major revisions of these questions. Generally, that assessment is accurate. Yet the addition of the word “strive” in several of the questions and what appears to be a closing of loopholes used by Mormons in the past by asking more specific questions is obvious. I only wonder if these new questions will help Latter-day Saints become more successful in passing the temple recommend interview or it keeps more of them out. Only time will tell.