If you start with a very literal testimony of the gospel and move through this paradigm, it’s easy to doubt yourself and whether you are doing the right thing.  You might wonder if you can still honestly answer the temple recommend questions.

 

Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost?

Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Christ and of His role as Savior and Redeemer?

Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel in these the latter days?

These are yes/no questions. Bishops and stake presidents are instructed to accept a “yes” answer and not ask clarifying questions. They are meant to be between the individual and the Lord.

I believe a person should struggle in prayer and thoughtfully consider the answers to these questions, either yes or no. And then in the temple recommend interview, provide one word answers.

I have heard an argument that someone with a nuanced testimony of these things should provide long, detailed answers to the questions and let the priesthood authority make the determination. Or that if one gives an answer that is based on assumptions or meanings that differ from the priesthood leader, then it is not done with integrity. I strongly disagree. There are 30,000 wards and 10,000 stakes, that makes 120,000 priesthood leaders conducting temple recommends. No doubt, there is a wide spectrum of viewpoints among these 120,000 leaders about what type of testimony is acceptable. This is not how the brethren want the interview process to work. They have set it up for the individual to have personal responsibility over whether or one qualifies for a temple recommend on these questions.

Further, notice the word belief is not used. The words faith and testimony are used.

Belief is very important in our church in our culture. But I’d like to help shift that. In a religious setting, I believe faith is more important than belief.

Belief is not a choice. Humans exercise belief at a subconscious level that’s impossible to control. Faith can be defined purely and synonymously as belief. But another definition is one more of a loyalty or a trust. Faith can exist outside of belief. It’s what Alma is talking about with his experiment. Suspend belief for a moment in order to test a hypothesis. Faith is something we can choose.

We choose to have faith in God when we worship him and keep his commandments.

We choose to have faith in the restoration when we attend church and serve in our callings.

 

Do you sustain the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet, seer, and revelator; and do you recognize him as the only person on the earth authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?  Do you sustain the other General Authorities and the local authorities of the Church?

Terryl Givens said this about what it means to sustain.

The word sustain only appears in the scriptures once, so I think it is a pretty important moment to infer its exact meaning. D&C 134.5, admonishes us to “sustain and uphold” the respective governments in which we reside. Now notice that we don’t have to like or agree with a great deal that our governments do. But I take “sustain” in that case to mean we support the general framework, share its common purposes, and work for its betterment. To sustain the elected leaders of a government would similarly mean to recognize their legitimately derived authority, and not work to undermine that authority, even if we voted for the other guy (or woman).  So adapting this scriptural usage to the sustaining of our own leaders, I take the same cues. We recognize their legitimately derived authority. (This is made explicit in the temple interview questions. We affirm that they have the priesthood keys to administer in their office.) We pray for them and share their common purpose of building the kingdom, although we may not agree with or embrace their particular course of action at any given moment. But by recognizing their authority, and working within the parameters of kingdom governance to exert our influence on the church’s course in righteous ways, we can be faithful to our covenants even if dubious about particulars, and be true to our consciences at the same time.

 

It may seem circular, but  of course the LDS prophet and priesthood authorities are the only ones with the authority to administer LDS priesthood keys. Who else would?

Words like prophet, authority, priesthood, and keys are all words that have a wide range of meaning.  The church has never claimed that prophets are infallible.  The question is not framed to demand the interviewee to believe the LDS Church has exclusive access to the power of God. I have no doubt that the view of prophets, priesthood, and authority within the framework of the emerging paradigm safely fits within the big tent of Mormonism.

I have heard people say something like, “I had to turn in my temple recommend, because I no longer believe the LDS prophet walks and talks with God.” What? This is a completely unnecessary threshold.

 

Do you affiliate 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, or do you sympathize with the precepts of any such group or individual?

This question was originally introduced to stop people that belonged to or supported financially polygamy splinter groups.

I have heard someone say they had to say yes, because they supported gay marriage. Again, I say that is an unnecessarily high threshold.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, in interview with Daniel Woodruff March 13,2015.  This is the one I think is most pertinent.  It’s recent.  It was given by an apostle in a formal setting.  It was specifically addressing this issue and defining the boundaries of what’s OK and not OK.

Daniel Woodruff:
“I know that in one of the temple recommend interview questions it asks, “do you agree with elements that are against the church?” and I guess, I mean, could it be interpreted that if people supported gay marriage that would be agreeing with something that was against the church?”

Elder Christofferson:
“Well, it’s not do you agree with a person’s position or an organization’s position, it is are you supporting, are you supporting organizations that promote opposition, or positions in opposition to the church.”

Daniel Woodruff:
“So would supporting gay marriage threaten somebody’s membership in the church? If they went out, say, on Facebook or Twitter and actively advocated for it?”

Elder Christofferson:
“No. That’s not an organized, you know, effort to attack our effort or attack our functioning as a church, if you will.”

Daniel Woodruff:
“So members can hold those beliefs even though they’re different from what you teach at the pulpit?”

Elder Christofferson:
“Yes and we, you know, our approach in all of this, as Joseph Smith said, is persuasion. You can’t, He said you can’t use the priesthood and the authority of the church to dictate– you can’t compel, you can’t coerce– it has to be gentleness, persuasion, love unfeigned, as the words are in the scripture.”

 

The brethren have defined pretty well what consists of disagreement which is OK and opposition which is not OK.

OK: disagree with brethren, voicing opposing positions on Facebook and social media, doubting, questions

Not OK: organized effort to attack the church’s functioning, attempt to embarrass or manipulate the church into action, harsh criticism of leaders, protesting

 

I believe holding a temple recommend is a spiritual blessing, regardless of whether your testimony is more literally or metaphorically based. I believe God wants those with nuanced testimonies to be invited to the temple.

 

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf:

If you could see into our hearts, you would probably find that you fit in better than you suppose. You might be surprised to find that we have yearnings and struggles and hopes similar to yours. Your background or upbringing might seem different from what you perceive in many Latter-day Saints, but that could be a blessing. Brothers and sisters, dear friends, we need your unique talents and perspectives. The diversity of persons and peoples all around the globe is a strength of this Church.