Mormon Temple Ritual Changes

James Walker

Recent media attention has verified last month's Expositor report of significant changes in the Mormon temple ritual.

News of the changes in the ceremony was pick up by wire services and received nationwide coverage including a front page story in the New York Times, comments by Paul Harvey, and a report in Time magazine.

Officially, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still refuses comment saying that the ceremonies are "too sacred for us to discuss."

In a telephone interview, the Church's official spokesman, Jerry Cahill, told Watchman Fellowship that during the Church's most recent General Conference, members were again cautioned on speaking about the ceremony. He added, "I have no comment for you about the Temple."

Time magazine noted the Church's "no comment" policy calling the ritual a "supersecret rite" and explaining that "initiates vow to die rather than reveal details of the ceremony," (May 14, 1990 pp. 3, 67).

However some members have been a little more open.


Lavina Fielding Anderson, who will soon become an editor of the Journal of Mormon History, said she "greeted the changes with a great deal of joy," and added, "The temple ceremony in the past has given me a message that could be interpreted as subservient and exclusionary," (New York Times, Thursday, May 3, 1990, p.A1).

"Subservient" may refer to the portion of the ceremony where women swore an oath of "wifely obedience" to their husbands while husbands pledged obedience to God and the Church. "Now women merely join the men in pledging obedience to God." (Time).

"Exclusionary" probably alludes to a scene in the ritual where "Satan hires a non-Mormon `preacher' to spread false teachings." The church has now dropped this portion which was an obvious, "portrayal of non-Mormon clergy as hirelings of Satan," (NY Times, p. A13, A1).

Other changes in the ceremony also "...occurs in a dramatic representation showing a polytheistic Elohim [God the Father] dispatching Jehovah [the Mormon Jesus] and Michael to create the world." (Time).


Included in the changes are revisions that "diminish" a number of "elements resembling the Masonic rituals.... including gestures symbolizing the participant's pledge to undergo a gruesome death rather than reveal the rituals," (Ibid).

This refers to the "signs and penalties of the first and second token of the Aaronic Priesthood" and the "first token of the Melchizedek Priesthood" in which participants would draw their thumbs across their throats and bodies symbolizing having their throats, chests, and abdomens cut open rather than reveal the secrets of the ceremony, (What's Going on in There, p.11, 12).

Other Masonic elements dropped include the prayer "Pay Lay Ale" said while performing hand gestures borrowed from the Masonic "grand hailing sign of distress" and the "five points of fellowship at the vail" also adapted from Free Masonry.

The latter involved a Mormon temple workers representing Elohim [God the Father] embracing participants through openings in the temple vail. The five points were foot to foot, knee to knee, breast to breast, hand to back, and mouth to ear.

Reports have circulated that some Mormon women have felt uncomfortable embracing a man other than their husband in this manner. Some have also complained of the male temple workers initiating more contact than necessary at this point, which may have been one of the reason for dropping this portion.


Time magazine pointed out that earlier revisions have taken place in the history of the ritual. In 1927, an oath to avenge Joseph Smith's death was dropped. Also in the 1930's earlier versions of the "blood-curdling secrecy vows" were re-worded to sound less offensive.

Ritual changes have never received accompanying scriptural "revelations" in which the current Prophet of the Church receives a message from the Lord that then becomes added to Mormon scripture.

Instead participants in the temple were read, "...a statement from the governing First Presidency which says the revisions, were unanimously approved by that three-member body and the advisory Quorum of the Twelve Apostles." The process sounds much more like a corporate decision than divine inspiration. (Salt Lake Tribune, Sunday, April 29, 1990 p. 2B).


While the press have interviewed some Mormons who are greeting the revisions with joy, Watchman Fellowship has received several reports of other Mormons who are not at all happy with the changes.

One Mormon wrote concerning the changes saying, "...Spencer Kimball a few years ago in an issue of the Ensign wrote on Absolute Truth, that it never changes, [but the Church is] ...Consistently In-consistent."

Mormon Church member Ross Peterson, co-editor of Dialogue, an independent Mormon journal, said the changes are "a breath of fresh air.... You don't put down other churches, or imply that they are Satan's children," (Salt Lake Tribune).

But as Time magazine reported, "The Latter-Day Saints still hold theirs to be the only authentic form of Christianity." Removing the "hireling of Satan" reference does not represent a change in doctrine which still teaches all other churches are wrong and all of their creeds an "abomination" to God. (Joseph Smith History)

The New York Times pointed out that "some Mormons see the church as responding, without admitting it, both to critics and the church's growth overseas," (p.13).

Like the recent naming of a black man, Helvecio Martins, as General Authority and the 1976 decision to give black men the priesthood, the new changes in the Temple seem to resemble a public relations move rather than a revelation from God.

For many Mormons these recent changes may raise more problems than they solve.


1. Were Christian pastors:

(A) Never "hirelings of Satan?" If not, why did the temple portray them as such for over 100 years?

(B) "Hirelings of Satan" before April 1990 but not now?" Why else make the change at this time?

(C) Still "hirelings of Satan?" If so, why has this "truth" been removed from the ceremony?

2. Mormons believe that their 42 temples world-wide represent a "restoration" of the practices of Biblical times. If so, which version of the temple ceremony was practiced by the Biblical prophets and apostles:

(A) The pre-April 1990 version.

(B) the post-April 1990 version.

(C) none of the above.

3. For many years Ex-Mormons and other critics have charged that these and other portions of the temple ritual were inappropriate and offensive. Is the Church, in affect, now agreeing with these critics?

4. How were critics able to discern that these portions needed to be eliminated years before the Church received this "revelation?"

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