Madwoman Out of the Attic

a feminist trudging forward in a patriarchal world

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What is it about the temple rec interview?

It’s been six years since I last had that interview. Ever since my difficult experience with the temple, I haven’t been able to bring myself to get a temple rec, even though I, in good peace of mind, could probably answer all the questions well enough to get one.

There would be some tricky questions, of course. Particularly that one about living up to my temple covenants. How does a woman who absolutely rejects the idea of hearkening unto a husband get past that one? I think I would honestly respond that I’m not perfect but that I’m trying to be a good person. And that I don’t understand or support the idea of a woman hearkening unto her husband. I’m relatively sure that most bishops/counselors would just nod sympathetically and move on to the next question. Another question that might give me pause is the sustaining my leaders question. But I know that I can answer yes to that one. After all, someone’s got to do the job, and sustaining them doesn’t mean I always have to agree with them.

So given that I doubt I would be rejected, I often ask myself why I just can’t make myself go into that office. I’ve come up with a few reasons why:

1. There’s something terribly intimate about discussing your deepest personal beliefs (and underwear wearing habits) with a man who you barely know. That makes me uncomfortable.
2. Confiding in someone, truly opening oneself up to someone else, gives the listener power. I haven’t exactly figured out what I mean by that, but I sense that this is true. And I don’t know if I like the idea of giving a stranger man that kind of intimate power over me. My confidence, my concerns, my fears, my faith are gifts I want to discriminately bestow.
3. The male over female power structure. The fact this it’s always a man who decides whether or not I’m worthy to enter the Lord’s house. This really bothers me. While I’d still have concerns about discussing my intimate issues with a stranger woman, I sure would love to have that option. (Temple rec interviews with RS President? Would anyone like that as an option?)
4. The isolated and possibly intimidating environment of the interview. There’s something starkly authoritarian about someone sitting behind that big brown desk in a power suit. Possible solution: make it known that people can bring a trusted friend into the interview with them. I think this would help some women who have been abused by men to feel more comfortable.
5.The focus on practice AND beliefs. I haven’t thought this one out too clearly, but I think I might be more comfortable with a focus on practice. After all, beliefs are so fluid. And if a person is acting like a good person, trying to practice Christianity, treating others well…. That just seems like it might be a better way to judge someone than on whether or not they know for sure that all the church leaders have been called by God. (But I'm sure there are tons of people out there who can come up with great reasons why an emphasis on beliefs and practice are important.)

I realize that there are also reasons to like the interview. I have a friend who sees it as a valuable way to mentally assess herself and see where she is with her faith. I’m sure others like the chance to talk one on one with their local leaders. But for me, at this point in my life, there's just something a little bit creepy about that interview.

19 Comments:

Blogger amelia said...

just a little devil's advocate...

how does a woman who absolutely rejects the idea of hearkening unto a husband get past that one? (that one being the temple covenants matter.) by remembering the qualifier in that sentence, rather than ignoring it. and also by explaining that it's not that you refuse to hearken to your husband; it's that you think it should be a two-way street. if i remember correctly, you're okay with it (or more so) if he is also hearkening to you, right? so explain that to your bishop. that it's hard for you to understand that practice without it being understood that your husband also hearkens to you--listens to your advice and follows it when it's sound.

1. honestly, you can answer the questions without delving into too much intimate detail. and underwear wearing habits? yeah. i wear them. the end. pretty much everyone you know knows you wear underwear. what's so intimate about putting it into words?

2. i agree that confiding in someone gives them power. but again, there's really only so much you have to confide. if you are comfortable with your life, if you feel you are doing your best to live the way you should, you don't really have to confide all that much in a bishop during a temple interview. you only have to confide extensively if you have broken covenants or commandments.

3. technically, it's not a man who decides whether you're worthy to enter the temple. you do. if you believe you're worthy, you have nothing to confess. you answer the questions straightforwardly and he signs the recommend. while there are situations in which a bishop does act as a "judge in israel" he only does so when you ask him to do so by confessing something that you know needs to be resolved through priesthood authority. and the word "judge" is a little inaccurate, in my opinion. i think "advocate" is a better word.

4. i sympathize with women (or men) who have been abused by a man, especially one in a position of authority, having to sit alone in an office with a man. i think in such situations they should be able to bring someone with them. but i really can't sympathize with the argument that a man in a suit sitting behind a desk is intimidating for those of us who haven't been abused. it's just a suit. it's just a desk. get over it.

5. gene england once wrote against distinguishing the church from its people. i think it's as difficult (if not more so) to distinguish belief and practice. how do you talk about practice without also talking about belief? (and vice versa) and isn't belief a mitigating factor when considering practice? doesn't the fact that you believe and want to do better help mitigate our failures of practice? and, on the other hand, doesn't our practice--our efforts to live good christian lives--help demonstrate our desire to believe in spite of whatever doubts we experience? they seem far too intertwined to try to separate them. and each seems to help elicit mercy for the other.


just a few thoughts. cause i think your questions are important and valid and should be addressed. thanks for making me think about them.

8/30/2007 1:20 AM  
Blogger john.white said...

"but i really can't sympathize with the argument that a man in a suit sitting behind a desk is intimidating for those of us who haven't been abused. it's just a suit. it's just a desk. get over it."

Yikes. Sounds like you can't empathize either.

8/30/2007 10:38 AM  
Blogger amelia said...

since empathy requires identifying with and understanding someone else's feelings, no i can't. i neither identify with nor understand being intimidated by someone else's clothing. not to the extent that it actually becomes a barrier.

i recognize that there's a certain power in appearance and dress and setting. but i think part of the point of this life is to get past how those things can manipulate us into feeling--to not let such superficial things interfere with human connection.

we all agree that it's a good thing to get past clothing and appearance when it's an appearance of destitution or despair. none of us would say, "oh, that homeless man's ragged dirty clothing scares you? okay. that's fine. you don't need to try to understand him as a human being. just go right on seeing him as less than human." so why is it okay for us to say, "oh, that bishop's suit and desk scares you? okay, it's fine for you to refuse to recognize him as a human being. you can just see him as a power-hungry man bent on hurting you." that perception of another human being makes them less than human just as much as seeing someone as dirty and disgusting does.

they're clothes. they mean essentially nothing. they mean only what we allow them to mean. so don't let them mean fear or intimidation or anything else that's going to interfere with your own spirituality. instead take a moment and think what they mean to the person who put them on. in most church leaders' cases, i think that suit probably means deference to god, not power-mongering. it's meant to generate trust, not fear. while intention may not be everything, it can't just be tossed out with no consideration.

8/30/2007 10:50 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

"they're clothes. they mean essentially nothing. they mean only what we allow them to mean."

But clothes are a signal. A strong signal. Otherwise there wouldn't be such emphasis on what Mormon's should look like. White shirts, suits for men, modest clothes for women, etc.

I agree that it's good to try to see past the clothes. But I don't think most people can ignore what those clothes signal. and they signal to me worldly power and corporate America.

8/30/2007 11:59 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Dang! I wrote the hugest, longest response to your first comment, Amy, and it got lost. Bummer!

Anyway, I'll respond to you in person sometime.

ok, I'll try to reconstruct some of what I was saying.

I do reject the covenant - as it is currently constructed. If it ever became reciprocal, I would not reject it, but I would still wonder why we can't just promise to obey God. Seems much kinder to non married people.

1 and 2. You can avoid going into details if you are living and believing in a very orthodox way. I don't. I don't want to have to explain to some stranger man that I don't wear my garments when I'm hugely pregant because I can't stand the pressure around my waist, or post partum/breastfeeding because of the mess and inconvenience. Ugh. The very thought of discussing that with some stranger man turns my stomach.

3. That's a good way to think of it. I decide. I like that. Also may mean there's no need to go into the dirty details of what I'm really doing and believing.

4. Amy you're not intimidated by anything. But others are. I have been in the past. Now I just find the whole environment/interview process offputting.

5. I like your ideas here. I suppose my suggestion stems from the fact that I can no longer say I "know" things. I can say I hope, I take it on faith, maybe I can even say believe for some. But I don't "know". (But I'm not even sure if that's the language used in the interview.)

8/30/2007 12:23 PM  
Blogger Seymour Glass said...

am i the only one for whom a temple recommend interview is basically me saying yes and no to a series of questions, shaking hands, and getting my recommend? i mean, when it comes right down to it, you're the one evaluating yourself. yes, the authority sits as "a judge in Israel," but when it comes down to determining if you have faith in Jesus, you're the one saying yes or no (and probably yes since you're trying to get a recommend). this isn't to say that i'd encourage people to breeze through the interview if they have problems with something, but i don't feel the need to explain myself and my answers.

i guess i'm just curious because the way you're talking about the interview process, caroline, it seems like some in depth conversation about each point in the interview. i can't say that i've ever had an interview like that. and perhaps you'd feel less uncomfortable about the interview process if you weren't imagining it as some "lay all your concerns and frustrations out on the table" kind of a thing.

when it comes down to it, if you feel that you can honestly answer yes or no in the appropriate places (and i see no reason why you can't answer yes to the temple covenant question even if you're bothered by that little section that bothers so many of us) then you should feel comfortable doing just that, without having to qualify your answers.

8/30/2007 12:46 PM  
Blogger john.white said...

"i neither identify with nor understand being intimidated by someone else's clothing. not to the extent that it actually becomes a barrier."

Right, I understood that. Could we agree that your empathy (or lack thereof) doesn't change how that person feels?

I applaud your ability to look past dress and appearance. Is it reasonable to hold everyone to the high standard you've set?

8/30/2007 1:05 PM  
Blogger Anna Maria Junus said...

Actually I think you have some legitamate concerns.

It is up to us to determine whether we're worthy to enter the temple, however I had an experience with a stake president who decided that I wasn't, even though I had done nothing wrong. He was using his suit and position as one of power. And it prevented me from seeing my daughter get married.

Furthermore, I wasn't supposed to talk about it.

I completely understand your fears. For most people it is a series of yes and no questions, but occasionally a bad experience can really happen.

As it turned out I did get to have someone as my advocate when I finally did get my recommend back. Someone with higher authority than the stake president. And he was in the room with me at the time.

Just go and answer the questions as simply as possible. They don't need to ask for details and they shouldn't.

8/30/2007 7:49 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Seymour, I'm sure your experience with the interview is pretty typical. Yes, no, slam, bam, etc.

But if we truly do have problems with certain things, shouldn't we be open about that? I REJECT that covenant in its current form. I DESPISE that covenant. I don't know if I could just smile and say that yes, I keep my temple covenants when I certainly don't keep that one. That seems to me to me to be a point of integrity. (Or maybe I'm just taking these things too seriously? Is this just a nod and smile situation?)

Anyway, I wouldn't want to dodge that particular bullet. I think it's important to be open about how totally wrong that covenant is. If enough people complain, it will change.

John, you're sweet to defend me. :)

Anna, wow. You've had some crazy experiences with leaders. I'd like to have been a fly on the wall in that second interview.

8/30/2007 8:23 PM  
Blogger amelia said...

john: is it reasonable to expect everyone to already be able to simply look past clothing and its power as a signal? no. probably not. but i do think it's reasonable to expect everyone to work towards doing so.

what i don't understand is, if someone consciously identifies the clothing as the source of the intimidation, why continue allowing it to intimidate you?

and you completely dodged my question. how is it okay to dismiss someone's humanity because they're wearing clothing that symbolizes power if it's not okay to do the same to someone who is wearing clothing that symbolizes nonconformity or distress? i'm quite sure caroline would be horrified if someone said that they were scared by the appearance of someone and so refused to engage with them if that someone happened to look disenfranchised or destitute. so why is it okay to be scared by the appearance of someone and so refuse to engage with them simply because their appearance is the opposite of disenfranchised and destitute?


caroline, i understand that suits represent corporate america and worldly power. but to argue that that's all they represent within mormonism is to be a bit obtuse. as a mormon, born and raised in the church, you know that they also represent an acceptance of mormonism on the part of the person wearing one. that, within mormon culture, they're an outward sign of respect. your dislike for that doesn't change the fact.

i think it's your responsibility to recognize that and accept it as such, no matter how much you dislike the other connotations of suit-wearing. those other connotations are real and should be undercut, but not by ignoring the very real devotion many people manifest by accepting and complying with mormon standards for dress.

and, for the record, i expect the same of all the suit-wearing members, too. i'm horrified at the thought of some member of a ward trying to manipulate another member into dressing in some expected manner. they should recognize that what really matters is belief and commitment and that not everyone will manifest that with the same external signs just as much as those of us who reject the corporate image recognize that for many, the corporate image is a representation of reverence.

but my head hurts and i'm not sure if that all makes sense (hope so). and that's all a lot about clothes when there's other, more interesting things here to talk about. but maybe tomorrow...

8/30/2007 10:30 PM  
Blogger Seymour Glass said...

it certainly isn't a wink and a nod sort of thing. but here's the thing, aside from the law of chastity, are we really told how we are to live up to the covenants we make? sure, we're given some guidelines, found in the scriptures, but we're not told that there is a certain way in which we fulfill our covenant obligation. we have to judge if we're doing things as faithfully as we can be.

and a question, do you go out of your way not to hearken to your husband when he has something good or valuable to say? because that's really the only way i can see of rejecting that one. otherwise, you're living up to it as you understand that it should be lived up to (which is reciprocally and equally, even if it's not presented to us that way--and yes it bugs me). or do you feel like God's unhappy with your observance of it?

8/30/2007 11:44 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Seymour, good questions, and good point about the lack of clarity on these things.

I do listen to him. And then we decide together what to do. Or I just do what I think best, whether or not he agrees. I don't in any way hearken to him as he hearkens unto God. That clearly implies obedience and hierarchy.

I think God is as disgusted as I am by the covenant. Do you think so too?

8/31/2007 7:26 AM  
Blogger john.white said...

"...if someone consciously identifies the clothing as the source of the intimidation, why continue allowing it to intimidate you?"

I'd speculate that all of us face pressures to feel certain ways or to want certain things. Could we agree that just recognizing the source of these feelings doesn't always lessen their power?

8/31/2007 9:45 AM  
Blogger amelia said...

caroline, you're reading the "as" in that covenant to mean "like." however, it can just as easily mean "insofar as." while that second interpretation can still imply the need for obedience to one's husband, i think it much more strongly implies that you have to have your own relationship with god and understanding of god's will so that you can evaluate for yourself what your husband says and then determine for yourself whether you accept or reject what he says.

that doesn't do away with the fact that there is no reciprocal covenant (which is a huge problem), but i think it does do away with the idea that there's some kind of hierarchy in which the wife is below the husband (a notion i flatlly reject, yet i'm able to answer very comfortably that i keep my covenants; and i don't think getting married will change that fact).

i also think what you imply about hearkening to god is an accurate interpretation of what that's about. i don't think the point of hearkening to god is to establish hierarchy, but rather to break it down. because god isn't really interested in simple obedience, but rather in fostering our understanding and development so we become like him. which is necessarily a destruction of hierarchy.

plus, there's nothing easy about hearkening to god. there's no way to do it so that there isn't conflicts and ethical dilemmas. most of the commandments--certainly those christ says are most important--are incredibly difficult to obey. and they require us to make complex moral decisions for ourselves. they're not all as simply as 'thou shalt not kill' (and even that one is not all that simple in every circumstance). if that's the case, hearkening to god isn't about simple compliance and taking a lower position in the grand hierarchy; it's about investigation and examination and exertion of one's own moral convictions.

i'd agree that god's as disgusted as you are by your interpretation of the covenant. i'm not so sure your interpretation is the correct one. or that we have a pure enough form of the covenant to believe our interpretations are definitive.

8/31/2007 10:51 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Actually, I read the "as" as either "like" or "in so far as." Both are plausable and both are revolting to me, though clearly the latter is slightly less revolting.

Amy, can you think of any good reason why women just don't promise obedience to God? One could make mental leaps that it's the woman who decides if the man is right, therefore she has to have a relationship with God, therefore it's not all that degrading, etc. But it still turns my stomach because there is that insertion of an intermediary when the man doesn't have the same.

Amy, this is brilliant. Love this.
"i don't think the point of hearkening to god is to establish hierarchy, but rather to break it down. because god isn't really interested in simple obedience, but rather in fostering our understanding and development so we become like him."

Anyway, I do think God is disgusted by the covenant as it currently stands. Whether it's "like" or "in so far as."

8/31/2007 11:08 AM  
Blogger amelia said...

i can think of a good reason why covenanting obedience is not done only between an individual and god. that covenant is made, multiple times (and women do make those covenants of obedience to god as individuals). but i don't think it's enough, in light of mormon doctrine and teachings about the centrality of marriage, to only have individual covenants of obedience. given those teachings, i think there has to be some kind of covenant that links husband and wife together in obedience. ideally, i think it should be reciprocal--both partners covenanting to hearken to each other in their efforts to comply with god's will.

that's not much of an explanation in the abstract since it's contingent on mormon teachings about marriage. but i think there are more abstract explanations, too. i believe very strongly that this life is about building interpersonal relationships. if the only covenants of obedience to god are individual, we run the risk of isolating ourselves from others. and in doing so seeing things more hierarchically. when we understand that our relationship with god is contingent on our relationships with others--that we cannot have a good, loving interaction with god if we don't also have such with other people--then we lay the groundwork for breaking down hierarchy and in its place establishing community. i see a collective covenant of obedience as a starting point for that.

8/31/2007 11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The words of the temple are very sacred, and shouldn't be displayed the way they are here. Additionally, there is no amount of complaint from any of us that will change the words that the Lord has chosen in the covenants made in the temple. If they are disagreed with, then they are misunderstood. Do you think that following our husbands means that we are a doll in his hands? This is not the case. I sense that you really need to experience the love of the Lord. He doesn't want you to feel the way that you do. He wants you to see that all He asks of you is truly for your benefit. He will not force His love on you, you must desire and accept it. If you feel like there are disagreements that need to be talked about, you can still go to your RS president. She can counsel and help you to understand these covenants. Then, maybe you will be more comfortable speaking to your priesthood leaders. Or, go with your husband and speak together to your priesthood leaders about this. As for the interview, you can always ask that they sit somewhere else. In all my interviews, they have never sat behind the desk. The suits are a sign of their respect and devotion to the Lord. A priesthood leader that is fulfilling his calling is not there for power. They are there as a service to our Lord and to you. Prayer and a willingness to let the Sprit of the Lord comfort you, will ease your discomforts with their dress. But, you must desire this comfort more than you desire to hold to your "corporate" and "power" views.

9/10/2007 2:13 PM  
Anonymous non-hearkener said...

I love your blog and I have never commented before but the last response forced my hand.

"Additionally, there is no amount of complaint from any of us that will change the words that the Lord has chosen in the covenants made in the temple. If they are disagreed with, then they are misunderstood."

Then how do you explain things changing for the blacks holding the priesthood and the words of the temple changing in 1990? The covenant, that we are writing about, used to be worded differently.

I believe these changes occurred because of pleading and/or complaining to the Lord for change. Or perhaps, social pressure (from people speaking up) was the cause.

9/10/2007 2:32 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Anonymous, certain things in the temple are not to be spoken of outside the temple. The covenants are not one of those things.

I agree with non-hearkener. Concerns expressed to leaders and to other members did help lead to the priesthood extension. And it also led to changes in the temple in the early '90s.

When people express concern, it forces leaders to take a good look at their language or their current policy, and often that leads to positive change. Thank goodness for the continuing revelation doctrine. It leaves the door open for change.

9/10/2007 6:50 PM  

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