In Mormonism the temple is the highest and holiest place on earth. It is the house of the Lord and a place where members go to make sacred covenants with God. Each temple is unique and a special place of learning. The highest goal in the church is to get married in a temple and therefore be with your spouse and children throughout eternity. In the modern church, in order to access the temple a member must receive a recommend from their religious leaders signifying they are members in full standing and agree to all the doctrines of the church. I previously discussed this in Temple Recommend: The Gatekeeper of God. I also previously discussed the ordinances of the temple in A List of Temple Ordinance Changes. I want to now though discuss the history of the temple recommend itself.
In the history of Mormon temples there has never been a more divine manifestation of acceptance than with the Kirtland temple. To my knowledge, there has actually never been any signs of divine acceptance of any temple built, in modern times, except for the Kirtland temple. This is even though temples are being built with record speed today. The Kirtland temple though saw the apostle Peter visiting during the dedicatory prayer, a vision of Adam and Abraham which became D&C 137, and a vision of Christ which became D&C 110. Many members even recorded seeing angels and the temple itself appearing to be engulfed in a pillar of fire. During this entire time not a single member was asked anything similar to the worthiness interviews of today. No one was asked about their secret group affiliations. No one was asked about their loyalty to the church. No one was asked about their meeting attendance. Lastly, no one was asked if they confessed all their sins to their leaders. Everyone there simply wanted to learn more of God and more fully worship him.
The Kirtland temple itself, while not currently controlled by the LDS church, was promised by God to have a glorious part in the future work of God. The original manuscript of D&C 110 describes that the gift of spiritual power will happen again, and that the temple’s fame will spread through the entire world. This language was slightly changed by Brigham Young when he canonized it in 1876. This is likely because the church no longer controlled the property and descriptions of future works in the Kirtland temple were confusing.
Today in order to enter the temple and participate in the ceremonies inside each member must answer a strict set of questions. These questions ensure members doctrinal conformity, loyalty to the leadership, and adherence to the policies of the church. This is of course in stark contrast to the lack of questions and entrance requirements the early church had. They had visions and amazing manifestations without worthiness requirements, and we have worthiness requirements with no visions and amazing manifestations. The current questions have already been discussed in some depth previously as was indicated. However, I think it is very interesting to travel the path of how we as a church went from no requirements and amazing spiritual manifestations to strict requirements and no spiritual manifestations.
* Unless otherwise noted the source is the General Handbook of Instructions for the given year or an official First Presidency message
1845: In December, Brigham Young remarked, “There is no law to prevent any man from obtaining all the blessings of the priesthood if he will walk according to the commandments, pay his tithes and seek after salvation”
1856: In March, after the Endowment house opened leaders were instructed to give candidates a signed recommend and that candidates:
must be those who pray, who pay their tithing from year to year; who live the lives of saints from day to day; setting good examples before their neighbors. Men and women, boys and girls over 16 years of age who are living the lives of saints, believe in [plural marriage], and do not speak evil of the authorities of the Church, and possess true integrity towards their friendsParowan Historical Record, 16 March 1856
1856: In May, leaders were instructed to require candidates to bathe prior to entrance and that they:
pay their tithing from year to year; . . . pray in their families, and do not speak against the authorities of the Church and kingdom of God; nor steal; nor lie; nor interfere with their neighbors’ things; nor their neighbors’ wives or husbands; … attend strictly to meetings and prayer meetings, … pay due respect to their presiding officers, and … do not swear. We shall expect you to pick up the old and infirm, the lame halt and blind and the righteous poor, but not the devil’s poor. We would like to see many … sprightly young persons, who are strict to obey their parents.Journal History, 19 May 1856, LDS Church Archives
1866: In December, Brigham Young clarified cleanliness standards by indicating women should not come to the temple for a week after starting to menstruate and couples should avoid sexual intercourse for “several days” prior to entrance. Wilford Woodruff clarified that there should be a waiting period of 10 days after intercourse.
– Journal History, 31 January 1868, LDS Church Archives
1886: The First Presidency updated the requirements to indicate candidates:
should live in harmony and peace at home, they should settle all their differences before attempting to enter this holy place … pray with their families morning and evening, and not neglect secret prayer; … honestly pay their debts … tithes and offerings, … observe the Word of Wisdom … [It is] inconsistent to carry the smell of whiskey and tobacco into the sacred precincts of the Lord’s House. … [They should] observe to do and keep all God’s holy laws and commandments.Messages of the First Presidency, 3:63
1891: In November, due to the tremendous load of having to personally countersign all recommends, Wilford Woodruff, the President of the church at the time, delegated the responsibility to stake presidents. It was indicated that he personally signed over 3000 recommends that year.
– Messages of the First Presidency, 3:220
1921: The Word of Wisdom was made a requirement in order to obtain a temple recommend however much leeway was given to individuals.
1922: The first official temple recommends were published by the church. This included twelve statements of instruction, and seven questions for the candidate. I couldn’t find the original set just a discussion that the recommend itself was official at this point with a set of questions.
1928: The handbook was updated so that leaders could “encourage” those seeking a temple recommend to pay a full tithing.
1934: A statement was added requiring that candidates “should sustain without reservation the general and local authorities of the church”. In addition, instructions were given to bishops that candidates for recommends “should not join nor be a member of any secret oath-bound organization”.
1940: The questions were updated to reflect that candidates should be “believing in and living the gospel”. Instructions were also given to bishops that those “adopting or advocating” plural marriage should not receive recommends. Candidates were also required to not “interfere with … their neighbor’s wives or husbands” which at the time was implied to connotate adultery. The Word of Wisdom question was altered to ask whether they had a “willingness to undertake” obedience to the principle. The tithing question was also updated to ask whether individuals were “an honest tithe payer” or they were willing to “undertake to become” one. A question was added to ask whether the individual attended their church meetings. Leaders were instructed to prohibit individuals who used profanity from getting a temple recommend however a specific question was not added.
1957: A question was added to ask whether the candidate has ever been divorced. The divorce must have been finalized before a sealing is granted. An additional question was added to ask whether endowed members continued to wear their temple garments.
1960: Bishops are advised to exclude youth, whose parents are part of apostate groups, from any temple related activities. These youth may not receive temple recommends unless they are “completely free from parental domination in any apostate religious matters”. The law of chastity question was updated to ask about avoidance of “all kinds of immoral practices”. The handbook was also updated to specify that divorced individuals needed First Presidency approval to obtain a temple recommend even if the divorce was prior to their baptism in the church. Language was added in the handbook to indicate the Word of Wisdom meant abstaining from “tea, coffee, tobacco, and liquor”.
1963: The question pertaining to whether the candidate has been divorced was updated to ask whether it was more than a single time. The handbook was also updated to indicate leaders should ask whether individuals lived all the temple covenants if they had already gone through the temple. Leaders were also instructed to ask individuals whether they engaged in “immoral or unchristian like practices”.
1964: The tithing question was simplified to just ask whether they paid a full tithing.
1968: The Word of Wisdom question was changed so that “liquor” was now “alcoholic beverages”. The instructions to ask already endowed members about their adherence to temple covenants was removed.
1969: The First President released a statement indicating that birth control for healthy couples should not be used and couples should seek “inspiration and wisdom” from God. A First Presidency letter clarified that anyone involved with liquor or gambling firsthand should not receive a temple recommend.
1976: The sustain question was updated include the requirement that candidates profess the President is “a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator” in addition he is the only “person on the earth who is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys”. The law of chastity question was updated to indicate the candidate should be “morally clean”, however that same year it was changed to indicate if there was any “transgression relating to the law of chastity”. The question pertaining to whether the candidate was divorced was changed to ask for “the real reason for the divorce” and instructions were given that if it was for infidelity of the other person then First Presidency approval as not required. The handbook was updated so that the prohibition of those involved with liquor from receiving a temple recommend was softened so leaders could exercise “cautious consideration” before extending callings. The language concerning whether endowed members continued to wear their temple garments was updated to indicate it should be worn “night and day”. The question about unchristian like behaviors was removed. A question specifically asking about honesty was added and asked directly whether they were honest with their fellowmen.
1978: An instructional statement was added to state, “But if there shall come into it any unclean thing, my glory shall not be there; and my presence shall not come into it”. The statement continued and indicated if the individual had not repented of “impure, unholy, or unnatural sex acts” they could not receive a temple recommend.
1979: In the August Ensign magazine the First Presidency approved an article stating that birth control measures were between the married couple and God. The instructions to ask already endowed members about their adherence to temple covenants was added back. The general catch all question was updated to ask whether there was “anything amiss” in the individuals life. A general question was added asking the individual if they considered themselves “worthy in every way” to enter the temple.
1982: A First Presidency statement clarified that “impure, unholy, or unnatural sex acts” included oral sex which required leaders to ask members about this practice. Later that year this probing question was changed, due to a backlash by members. The First Presidency clarified that leaders “should never inquire into personal, intimate matters involving marital relations between a man and his wife”. The last of chastity question was removed and covered by the more general question about unresolved sins.
1983: Adult children of parents who were excommunicated for apostasy cannot receive a temple recommend unless they “repudiate the doctrinal teachings of their parents that caused their parents’ excommunication.” The handbook was updated to include instructions that members that had gender reassignment surgeries could be baptized but were not worthy of a temple recommend. The question pertaining to whether the candidates had been divorced at all was removed. However, stake presidents were instructed to be searching in their interviews. Instructions were added that individuals who failed to pay federal or state taxes “may be ineligible” for a temple recommend.
1985: A question was added to ensure candidates had faith in “God, the Eternal Father, in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” The apostate group affiliation question was updated to indicate members should only indicate whether they sympathized with the precepts of the groups and not the group itself. Many members had indicated they sympathized with the group itself to indicate they felt sorry for them. The law of chastity question was added with simple direct wording, “Do you live the law of chastity”. The First Presidency issued a February letter indicating sexual assault victims bear no responsibility and bishops should not judge their levels of resistance. This was in response to previous statements by church leaders that said, “It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle”. A question was added asking whether the candidate had any financial obligations to a former spouse or children, “Are you presently fulfilling your obligations for support and maintenance of your family?” The question about honesty was removed. The general catch all question was updated to ask about any “sin or misdeed” that need to be taken care of.
1989: Instructions were updated to indicate that candidates were “to be morally clean, a person must refrain from adultery and fornication, from homosexual or lesbian relations, and from every other unholy, unnatural, or impure practice”. The instruction considering gender reassignment surgeries was removed from the handbook. The handbook was updated to indicate that “Surgical sterilization should only be considered where medical conditions seriously jeopardize life or health” and “Church members who abuse their family members … should not … receive a temple recommend”. The handbook was updated to remove all occupational limitations for recommends and church callings however did specify that occupations should be “in harmony with gospel teachings”. The handbook was updated to reflect that individuals should have “sufficient maturity” such as an occupation or a mission call before getting a temple recommend. Historically some members would receive their endowments when as young as 12 or 13. The question about honesty was added back.
1991: A question was added asking whether candidates had any sins or transgressions not already resolved with priesthood authority. The financial obligations question was updated to ask whether they were current with their obligations “specified by court order or in other written, binding commitments?”
1996: The question concerning the godhead was clarified to explicitly ask the candidate, “Do you have faith in and a testimony of”. The affiliation question was updated to indicate whether they did “support, affiliate with, or agree with” any apostate groups. The sustain question was clarified to include not just the President of the church, but “the other General Authorities” of the church. In addition, the Quorum of the Twelve apostles were also “prophets, seers and revelators”. The financial obligations question was simplified to just ask whether they were current with their obligations. The language of the question concerning wearing the temple garment was updated to include that wearing it was “in accordance with the covenant you made in the temple”. The phrase “in every way” was removed from the general worthiness question about temple access.
1998: The handbook was updated to state that “sexual relations within marriage are … for the purpose of procreation, but also as a means of expressing love”.
2002: A First Presidency statements updated the recommend renewal interview to now be every other year instead of every year. This lessened the burden on bishops and stake presidents due to having to interview everyone. Language was added though that if during the time the member was deemed unworthy then the leader “should immediately request that the member return the recommend”.
2017: A First Presidency letter is issued describing the procedures for members who have lost their temple recommend. The guidance describes that a recorder can look up online whether the individual has a valid recommend. Instructions are also given that if the individual is unworthy then leaders should “immediately request the recommend from the member” and change the members status “promptly”.
2019: The law of chastity question was updated to indicate the individual should be striving for moral cleanliness. The question about adherence to the teachings of the church was updated to reflect it should be done in the individual’s private behavior also. The affiliation question was clarified to ask whether the individual supported or promoted the apostate groups in any form. The question pertaining to garment wearing was simplified to be similar to how it was previously. The general catch all question about unresolved sins was updated to include the qualifier “serious”. This may be because members were listing things that were minor.
2021: All temple recommends are now issued using the church’s Leader and Clerk Resources tool to print the recommend. The special limited use recommend is discontinued and instead individuals use a differently designed recommend.
I likely missed something as there were a substantial amount of back-and-forth changes. I can understand an organization having entrance requirements however constant tweaks are excessive and wearisome. Why exactly are the changes needed? Why were certain things okay one day and not the next? Why can’t we just go to commune with God? The questions should really either be eliminated or replaced with an authoritative draconian list of invasive questions.
* Massive help from Journal of Mormon History Vol 24, No 1, 1998, “The History of LDS Temple Admission Standards“