Two Degrees off Center: The Price of Admission
November 18, 2019
“Two Degrees off Center” is a monthly blog by Rich Keys about the personal struggles, issues, and topics that speak to the LDS/LGBT experience. Sometimes it will be serious, sometimes humorous, but will always approach things from a slightly different perspective.
by Rich Keys
Is it just me, or has the message of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the world done a complete 180? Throughout my life, the world has known this church by the guys in the white shirts and ties, riding in pairs on bicycles. If you ever saw two guys wearing white shirts and bike helmets anywhere in the world, the odds were 99:1 they were Mormon missionaries. That image triggered whatever ideas or stereotypes people had about the Church, and it was the missionaries’ job to clarify and correct that image and “bring souls to Christ” and baptisms to the Church.
But in recent years, the missionary work seems to have taken a back burner both in and out of the Church. While it certainly isn’t going away and the message is still being proclaimed, it’s being done in more subtle ways. Service projects are the new door-to-door tracting. White shirts are being replaced by yellow vests, and bicycle helmets by hard hats, as missionaries clean up the remains of the latest hurricane, wildfire, or serve at a nearby homeless shelter. The missionaries’ role of “proclaiming the gospel” seems to have peaked, and prepared the way for the next wave, the new message of the 21st century that’s not directed to non-members but to those who’ve already joined the Church—temples and covenants.
The announcement of a new temple at general conference is no longer a surprise. We don’t wonder if. We wonder where and how many. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are office pools in Utah that rival March Madness. Last month’s conference was another example, and with the announcement comes talks galore. Temple, temple, temple. Go to the temple and keep going back. Keep your covenants to get there. If you haven’t kept your covenants, take the next step and then the next until you can. Temple, temple, temple. For further proof of the change, open any issue of the weekly LDS Church News. While it used to feature missionary and convert stories, now it’s a virtual diary of President Nelson and the other leaders hopscotching around the globe, meeting with members far and wide, often where a temple is located or one is coming soon. The message is the same: temple, temple, temple.
For an LGBTQ member or former member of the Church, this can grate like nails on a chalkboard. This nonstop message to go where many of us are not allowed to go is more like bullying and kicking us when we’re down. It’s not enough to fight the good fight. Now they’re circling the wagons and we’re not invited.
I came out to my bishop and stake president during the renewal interview for my temple recommend shortly after I realized I was gay. I planned in advance how I was going to explain it, but it wasn’t under the question of chastity. When they got to the question of whether I’m honest in all my dealings, I said “yes, but let’s come back to that.” That got their attention, but they continued all the questions on the list. At the end, I explained something happened in my life since my last interview and I want to be honest between my public life and my private life, so they should know that I now realize I’m gay. Both of them accepted that without any follow-up question or comment, and I got my recommend.
I’ve thought about those questions a lot since then, even more now as I try to live my authentic self in both tribes and being personally guided by a very wise and loving Father in heaven, especially during the current cry of “temple temple temple.” The worthiness questions to enter the temple have changed quite a bit over the years. In fact, the temple was at one point “by invitation only,” with no questions or even an interview, but by your leader’s observation and assessment of your worthiness. He’d send a recommendation to the prophet, and once approved, the leader would let you know you’ve been approved. Then in the mid-1850s, all members were expected to be re-baptized and re-commit to the church with the introduction of a worthiness interview. Early questions included a member’s belief in plurality (plural marriage), even if you didn’t practice it. Speaking evil of church authorities didn’t get you invited to the party. Have you murdered anyone in cold blood? Branded someone else’s cattle? Do you and your family wash and bathe as regularly as possible? I have to keep reminding myself that taking a bath was a worthiness issue, on the same list as cold-blooded murder.
My point is we sometimes think of the worthiness questions as rigid as the Ten Commandments, written on granite to endure throughout the eternities. But they’re constantly evolving, based on the current needs and issues of the day, adding a question, dropping another, and tweaking still another, adapting and putting out the fires that come along. And the various Handbook guidelines over the years are such a hodge-podge, one would think it would drive any leader to his knees for divine intervention, but it usually has the opposite effect of increasing bishop roulette, fed by ignorance and lack of training, and the blanks are filled in with biases masquerading as inspiration. Adding to the confusion are the words in general authority talks that seem to speak louder than the conflicting guidelines in the Handbook. For example, Spencer W. Kimball “encouraged” abandonment of “the habit” of masturbation before going to the temple. Encouraged? That’s like your boss “encouraging” you to improve your work before your next performance appraisal. And what if masturbation is only a hobby, and it hasn’t become a habit yet? And since the interviewer can’t ask anything unless you bring it up, I guess a hobby is okay as long as it doesn’t become a habit.
So if history shows that the worthiness questions change, evolve, and adapt to the current needs of the day, may I suggest a few questions to add to the list, or even replace some of them, based on the needs of our day:
- How do you love your fellow man?
- Who’s your enemy in your personal life? How do you show love for them?
- Give three examples of how you minister to total strangers.
- How many people in your close circle of friends are of a different race?
Different religion? Different political party? Different sexual orientation?
- When was the last time you went to a different church, or even a non-Christian church, and broke bread with them? What did you learn from them?
- What would you do if your son or daughter came out to you as gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, or transgender? With the Church’s renewed emphasis on home and the family, how would your love and support for them change? Would they still be a valued part of the family? If they dated or even got married, would their same-sex partner be welcome in your home and a part of your family? What would you personally do to that end?
Hardly any yes or no questions. A much higher standard, more personal, more reflective, more teachable by the Spirit. How many members would be worthy to enter the temple under those questions? Would the interview process continue to be a simple “one and done” checklist, or would it evolve once again? And, like the person being interviewed, how would the interviewer’s love and support for that member change? Would they still be a valued part of the ward? If they dated or even married a same-sex companion, or a different race, or different church, or different anything, would they and their companion or partner be welcome in your ward and an active part of it? What would you personally do to that end?
If our worthiness is measured by sustaining the general authorities of the church, then surely it should also be measured by how we sustain our fellow man, and how we love our enemies, regardless of who they are, what they believe, how they vote, or who they love. The Good Samaritan didn’t conduct a worthiness interview first before helping his enemy, and neither should we. Instead of worrying about losing our way, maybe we would actually find it.
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out all posts in the Two Degrees off Center blog series.