The Final Recommend
(Hm...comment notification doesn't seem to be working for some reason. I've opted in my settings to get e-mail notification when someone comments in my blog, but apparently it's not happening reliably; it was before, so I'd been assuming nobody had commented lately, but I just found out there were two comments on Tuesday I didn't get notified about. Huh. Anyway, moving on...)
My sister is planning to get married in the spring.
This came as a complete surprise to me. She's only a few years younger than I am, and is, well, very old for a Mormon to not be married (though not so much so outside the church), and I honestly wasn't sure it was ever going to happen. But apparently, she finally met someone she fell in love with, and she's decided to take that step.
Although my mother has certainly been hoping for years that my sister would get married, now that it's finally happening she thinks it's too sudden. My sister and her fiancé (whom I have yet to meet) have only known each other for a month or so, and, more to the point (according to my mother), marrying right now would be a big mistake financially. He's planning on going back to school, and his income is low enough that he'd be eligible for grants, but if he and my sister married, their combined income would be enough to rule that out, and they'd have to find a way of paying for his schooling on their own. It would be better, my mother thinks, for him to go back to school first, and then get married afterward; as glad as she is that my sister is finally getting married, she thinks there's reason to not rush into things.
For my part, though, while my mother may have a point (or she may not--I don't think she's really as conversant with the workings of academic financial aid as she thinks she is), I do have reason to kind of hope they do get married this spring. The reason being, I'd kind of like to be able to attend the wedding.
It is, of course, going to be an LDS marriage, the ceremony, the "marriage for time and eternity", taking place in an LDS temple. And to get into an LDS temple, you need a temple recommend. I have one. But a temple recommend is only good for two years (it used to be only one, until recently) before it expires and you have to get it renewed. Mine expires in August. And when it does expire, I don't think I'm getting a new one.
To get a temple recommend, you see, you have to have an interview with your bishop and your stake president. They ask various questions to verify your worthiness (there are two separate interviews, but the same questions are asked in both). And...well, I already feel uncomfortable enough lying by omission by going to church and pretending to be a faithful Mormon without coming clean about my atheism. I really don't feel comfortable with the idea of deceitfully answering direct questions about my beliefs and activities, just so I can get a little slip of paper that's going to allow me to enter a building.
And to get my temple recommend renewed, I would have to lie in my answers to most of those questions. Starting with the very first question: "Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost?" No, obviously, I don't. Next question: "Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Christ and of His role as Savior and Redeemer?" Nope. "Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel in these the latter days?" Nyet. "Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church?" Uh...no.
"Do you support, affiliate with, or agree 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?" Yes, that's really one of the questions. Guess I bombed that one, huh?
Now, once it gets to the questions about lifestyle and behavior, I'm on somewhat better ground. "Is there anything in your conduct relating to members of your family that is not in harmony with the teachings of the Church?" No, I really don't think so, though not because of the Church's teachings--only because, as far as the intent of this question goes, the teachings of the Church happen to coincide with, well, basic human decency. (What the question is intended to get at--as I've heard clarified by some church leaders--is whether or not the interviewee is in any sort of abusive relationship.) "Are you a full-tithe payer?" At the moment, actually, yes, though mostly to avoid raising questions (and anyway, my income is low enough that the amount I'm contributing to the church's coffers is utterly negligible). Though after August I guess I may as well stop paying tithing, since my not getting my recommend renewed is going to raise those questions anyway. "Do you have financial or other oblgations to a former spouse or children? If yes, are you current in meeting those obligations?" The answer to the first part of the question is no, which makes the second part moot. "Do your keep the Word of Wisdom?" As well as most Mormons do, I think--very few pay any attention to the part about "the flesh...of beasts and of the fowls of the air" being used "only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine." But I don't use drugs or drink coffee or alcohol, and that's the only part most Mormons worry about anyway.
"Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen?" Well...in general, I think, yes, outside of the whole part of pretending to be a faithful Mormon. Does that count?
All in all, of the fifteen questions in the temple recommend interview, I think there are nine to which I could give the answers they want to hear--though some of those are iffy. But to the other six, the only way I could tell the bishop and the stake president what they want to hear is to out-and-out lie. And I'm not going to do that. As I said, I'm already sort of lying by omission by going to church and not speaking out about my disbelief, and I already feel uncomfortable enough with that. I'm not going to compound the issue by lying to church leaders' faces, just so I can go to the temple.
I mentioned some of this during my visit to the CFI, and some of the others there were surprised by the whole idea of the temple recommend interview. They'd come from religious backgrounds too, but from other Christian denominations, and in the churches they'd grown up in it was easy to just keep silent about one's disbelief; church leaders never directly tested you to make sure you still believed. I'd never really thought of the temple recommend interviews in that light--I guess I was used to the idea, so I'd just taken them for granted. But really, that is what they are, I guess. They're a chance for the church leaders to regularly ask the members directly about their beliefs, and make sure they're staying firm in their convictions.
I'm not sure what's going to happen when I don't get my temple recommend renewed. I know there are records kept of who has current temple recommends and who doesn't, but I don't know how assiduous the bishopric is in checking those records, and following up, and trying to contact those who haven't renewed their temple recommends to find out why not and try to cajole them back into line. I guess I'll find out in August. I'm hoping that nothing comes of it and that it's just allowed to quietly pass, but I'm not counting on that. I suspect that, at the very least, I'm likely to get some phone calls or letters to remind me of my remission. If it goes beyond that, and if more direct questions come up--well, then I guess the issue will be forced, and I'm going to have to come clean about my atheism. We'll see.
But in any case, it's not till August that I have to worry about that. In the meantime, I've still got the recommend, and as far as anyone in the ward knows I'm still a faithful member.
So, again, in a way I'm kind of hoping my sister does get married this spring. Because if she waits till after August, I'm not going to be able to attend the marriage. And beyond the fact that, of course, I want to be there--that's sure to raise questions of why I don't have a current temple recommend, even if the fact that I don't get the recommend renewed gets initially overlooked.
Hm. Well, we'll see what the coming year holds...