Why the temple ceremony was changed in 1990

Why the temple ceremony was changed in 1990

from an internet bulletin board:

Background surrounding the 1990 changes to the Mormon temple ceremony

As noted on page 218 of their recent book Mormon America, Richard and Joan Ostling point out that the main source of Mormon converts comes from people already familiar with some sort of Christian background or belief system:

“Mormonism succeeds by building on a preexisting Christian culture and by being seen as an add-on, drawing converts through a form of syncretism. Mormonism flourishes best in settings with some prior Christianization.”

Syncretism means “the combination of different forms of belief or practice” and also “to unite and harmonize especially without critical examination or logical unity.”

Since most Mormon converts in the 1970’s and 1980’s were coming from a Christian background, it was becoming apparent to LDS leaders in the 1980’s that ridiculing the Protestant minister in the temple film was offensive to many new converts. There were even some reports of converts attending the temple once, and vowing to never return — sometimes even refusing to return to any LDS meetings.

In 1987, David John Buerger (an active but liberal Mormon), published an article in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, a liberal Mormon publication which is not controlled by the LDS church. In the article, Buerger suggested that LDS church leaders needed to seriously consider making changes in the temple endowment ceremony to counter declining rates of attendance.

Although possibly just a coincidence, the Mormon Church issued a survey to about 3,400 members in Canada and the U.S. to determine members’ opinions concerning temple work and various other topics only a few months after the 1987 Buerger article.

Soon after the 1988 survey, plans were underway to change the endowment ceremony again (the ceremony had been modified many times since its introduction in Nauvoo, Illinois in the early 1840’s). In 1990, the revised ceremony became effective, and the Protestant minister was eliminated from the film.

Some of the key changes were:
1. Protestant minister paid by Lucifer to preach false doctrine was eliminated.
2. All penalties (and gestures like throat slashing, chest slashing and bowel slashing) were eliminated.
3. Women’s promise to be obedient to husbands was modified.
4. The intimate position at the veil (foot to foot, knee to knee, breast to breast, hand on shoulder and mouth to ear) was eliminated.
5. The strange words “Pay Lay Ale” (meaning “Oh God hear the words of my mouth”) were eliminated.

Without question, most faithful Mormons would stand firm in their faith that any decision to change temple ceremonies would have to come by direct revelation from God. It’s likely that few LDS members are even aware of the 1987 Dialogue article or the 1988 survey. Many endowed members first attended the temple after 1990 and have no idea about the old version of the ceremony. I’ve even heard reliable reports of members refusing to believe that older versions included the ridicule of a Protestant minister and bloody oaths. Of course, these people would avoid any information about older versions of the ceremonies in books or on the internet.

Critics and skeptical members might speculate that the 1987 article was one catalyst for the 1988 survey which was a catalyst for the 1990 changes. It’s probable that the survey results indicated that a significant number of people were offended by various parts of the ceremony. In particular, many converts with a Christian background were highly offended by the part of the minister accepting employment from Satan (“Lucifer”), not to mention the bloody oaths and other things.

Quotes from David John Buerger’s 1987 article:

Buerger acknowledged that there were “strong indications that Joseph Smith drew on the Masonic rites in shaping the temple endowment, and specifically borrowed the tokens, signs, and penalties.”

“The number of operating temples has increased dramatically… An analysis of ordinance data, however, suggests that rates of temple work have remained relatively constant over the last fifteen years…. Members of my own stake made 2,671 visits to the Oakland Temple in 1985, versus 3,340 visits in 1984 – a 20 percent drop in activity…. Without comparing the policies of stakes in other temple districts, it is impossible to say how characteristic my stake might be.”

“These declining rates suggest that many Latter-day Saints apparently do not participate extensively in either vicarious or living endowments. The need for reevaluation can at least be discussed. As the history of the endowment shows, specific content and procedural alterations were made in 1845, 1877, 1883, 1893, 1919-27, the early 1960s, and 1968-72�”

“The feelings contemporary Saints have for the temple certainly merit a careful quantitative analysis by professional social scientists. I have heard a number of themes from people who feel discomfort in one degree or another with elements of the temple ceremony…. Probably in no other settings except college organizations, with their attendant associations of youthfulness and possibly immaturity, do most Mormons encounter ‘secret’ ceremonies with code handshakes, clothing that has particular significance, and, perhaps most disturbing to some, the implied violence of the penalties. Various individuals have commented on their difficulty in seeing these elements as ‘religious’ or ‘inspirational,’ originating in the desires of a loving Father for his children…. some are also uncomfortable at the portrayal of a Christian minister as the hireling of Satan…”

“Sixth, the endowment ceremony still depicts women as subservient to men, not as equals in relating to God. For example, women covenant to obey their husbands in righteousness, while he is the one who acts as intermediary to God… Some find the temple irrelevant to the deeper currents of their Christian service and worship of God. Some admit to boredom. Others describe their motivations for continued and regular temple attendance as feelings of hope and patience – the faith that by continuing to participate they will develop more positive feelings… Often they feel unworthy or guilty because of these feelings since the temple is so unanimously presented as the pinnacle of spiritual experience for sincere Latter-day Saints…. The endowment has changed a great deal in response to community needs over time. Obviously it has the capability of changing still further if the need arises…. From a strictly functional perspective, the amount of time required to complete a vicarious endowment seems excessive.” (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Winter 1987)

Survey of Adult Members in the United States and Canada

Instructions: “…we have developed this survey to help us understand your thoughts, feelings, and experiences relating to temple and genealogy activities…. along with you, approximately 3,400 other members in the United States and Canada are being asked to participate in this project…. We hope that you will feel you can be candid and open in your answers…. what you write will be anonymous. We will not be able to associate your name with the questionnaire you complete�This survey should be returned in the mail by March 30th, 1988�”

Survey question 28:
For a person who had been through the endowment ritual, “did you feel spiritually uplifted by the experience?” and “was the experience unpleasant?” and “were you confused by what happened?”

Survey question 29:
“Briefly describe how you felt after receiving your own endowment.”

Survey question 37-k:
“Did you find it hard to go to the temple?”

Survey question 39-b:
“have you ever fallen asleep during sessions?”

Survey questions 70-a and 70-b:
“Do you believe the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a prophet of God?”
“Do you believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church on the earth?”

Survey question 77-g:
“Do you have any doubts about specific LDS doctrines and teachings?”

A page at the end of the Survey was left blank in case the person had “any additional things to write about your feelings or activities in temple or genealogical work…”