"Why are you breaking the covenants you made in the temple? Even though you may have left the Church, you made sacred promises to God in the temple not to reveal the sacred content of the Endowment! And yet that is what you are doing! Isn't that immoral? Why should I respect a 'covenant-breaker'?"
"I don't understand how you could ever write about the things that you have. If I ever leave the Church I could never talk about the things in the Temple. Even if I were not to believe them, I still have sworn before God not to reveal them. I would be breaking an oath."
A covenant is a contract, based on mutual promises and on the existence of certain facts understood and accepted by both parties. I promise to do this if you promise to do that. Both legally and morally, if one party doesn't keep his part of the bargain, or if it should turn out that the basic facts are not as both parties assumed, the other party is not required to perform. To claim otherwise would be absurd.
The covenants made in the Mormon temple are similar. The Mormon covenants to do certain things (obey, sacrifice, be chaste, give everything to the church if asked, etc.) and to refrain from doing certain things (revealing the secret handshakes, names, and other details of the ritual). The Mormon makes these covenants after having been told that the underlying facts are:
Suppose I tell you that I have a million dollars to give away, and I promise to give you that million if you promise to be my servant for a year. And I want our little bargain to be our secret (I don't want to have to pay Social Security and workers' comp insurance.) You agree, and we shake hands, and call it a "solemn covenant." But after just a week, you learn that I don't have any money at all, let alone a million dollars. Do you feel obligated to continue working for me for the rest of the year? And do you feel obligated (remember: you promised not to tell!) to keep the secret? Or would you feel justified in going to the authorities?
- the "other party" to the covenants is God;
- God wants the Mormon to make these covenants;
- God will bless the Mormon in many wonderful ways if the Mormon makes the covenants and keeps his part of the bargain;
- there is no other way to obtain those blessings from God, other than making those covenants.
Oaths are also made during a marriage ceremony. If the couple later divorces, would you feel that the wife was still morally bound to love, honor and obey, especially if it was acts of the husband that caused the divorce?
If I had been initiated into a voodoo cult, during which I made an oath to the voodoo god Bukuluku, would you feel I had acted immorally if you found I had not kept the oath I made to Bukuluku? Would you feel that it would have been wrong if one of the Gadianton robbers (Helaman 6) decided that he was going to leave the band because it was evil, and violated the oath of secrecy he had made to the robber band?
The covenants made by Mormons in the temple are obtained under false pretenses. God has nothing to do with them. They are no more binding, either legally or morally, than the mumbo-jumbo of fraternity initiation rituals.
And it would certainly be absurd to expect someone who no longer believes in Mormonism, who is convinced that the temple covenants are not from God and that God is not going to do what the Mormons promised he would do, to feel bound by those covenants in any way. (The one exception might be the covenant of chastity, if made at the same time to a spouse.)
It is usually Mormons who are indignant that ex-Mormons have "broken their solemn covenants," usually the covenant of secrecy. Nobody else should care. How absurd it would be to assert that the ex-Mormon was still bound, because of his "solemn covenant," to continue to wear the garments, to obey the church leaders, to devote all his time and assets to the church, after he no longer believes (all of these are "covenants" made by Mormons in the temple). And yet the covenant of secrecy is no different.
Nobody but the Mormons considers the Mormon temple ritual to be so sacred that nobody should talk about it or tell what they know about it. The irony is that it is not secret, and it has not been secret since Nauvoo days. Anybody who wants to find out what goes on in a Mormon temple has been able to get that information for a hundred and fifty years, with just a little digging in libraries (and now, by using the Internet). It is only those faithful Mormons who have not yet been through the temple who are in the dark. That being the case, why should any non-Mormon feel that the subject of Mormon temples is off-limits, just because it is "sacred to Mormons"? Should we feel any obligation not to eat beef, since the Hindus consider the cow to be sacred? Or should we feel it is immoral for an anthropologist in Africa to reveal to the world the sacred rites of an African tribe? Should we feel that a member of the Mafia was being immoral by telling the police the secrets of his famiglia and his capo, because he took an oath not to tell?
And Joseph Smith was certainly a covenant-breaker: 1) he seduced Fanny Alger after marrying Emma and promising to be faithful to her; 2) he joined the Masons (taking their oath of secrecy) and a few weeks later used their secret grips, symbols and oaths to produce the first version of the Mormon endowment ceremony (it is likely that some of the men in the mob that killed him were angry at him because of his breaking of that oath of secrecy). And aren't such oaths of secrecy condemned in the Book of Mormon? (Look up "Secret Combinations" in the index.) In fact, the Book of Mormon prophesies that in the last days "secret things" will be revealed (2 Nephi 30:17), and implies that that is to be desired.
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© 2001 Richard Packham Permission granted to reproduce for non-commercial purposes, provided text is not changed and this copyright notice is included
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"There is nothing which is secret save it shall be revealed; there is no work of darkness save it shall be made manifest in the light; and there is nothing which is sealed upon the earth save it shall be loosed. Wherefore, all things which have been revealed unto the children of men shall at that day be revealed; and Satan shall have power over the hearts of the children of men no more, for a long time."
- Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 30:17-18