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Honest in your dealings…a look at the temple recommend question

April 11, 2012

Little White LiesWhen I saw the title of Aaron R.’s latest post at By Common Consent, I got hyped. I thought it would be about something it ultimately turned out not to be about. But with a title like “White lies and the Temple Recommend Interview,” after I explain, I think you’ll be less likely to hold it against me.

Ultimately, this is what the post is actually about:

The story [of Little White Lies] follows a Parisian group after a particular tragedy. As the narrative proceeds a series of deceptions emerge work to simultaneously include and exclude other members of their group.  These are not outwardly bad people and their deceptions are quite reasonable.  Their lies are primarily concerned with seemingly small or potentially hurtful parts of their lives. It is here that Canet illuminates something profound about our relationships with each other; we deceive with good intentions. And yet, we still deceive. We manage information based on certain assumptions about what others need to know about us…

This film, more than anything else, has allowed me think differently about that temple recommend question: ‘Are we honest in our dealings with our fellowmen?’  For me, this question now is not so much about whether we lie about the skills on our CV or about paying our taxes.  Although it includes these clear forms of deceit it is not only about this.  This question now forces me to think about my relationship with those whom I share deep ties.

Am I honest in my dealings with my fellows? No, I am not. There is no getting around it and my life is poorer for it.

And this is a solid message. For sure, but let me try to ramp up the controversy.

A few months ago at Mormon Matters, the podcast featured an episode on Matters of Integrity. This episode was designed to answer a question that I think a lot of Mormons undergoing faith crises or faith transitions have: how do I negotiate the faith crisis while maintaining integrity and honesty?

See, unfortunately for the community of people who form the Open Stories/Mormon Stories/Mormon Matters universe, the reputation of these groups is not the greatest. On either side of the aisle. Especially with the founder and ringleader John Dehlin, people just don’t know where he stands on many issues. Ex-Mormons think: how can the guy stay in knowing what he knows? Faithful Mormons think: this guy is leading people to “apostasy lite.” And it doesn’t help when, in documents (that he has tried to distance himself away from over time) like the classic How to Stay in the LDS Church after a Faith Crisis, and even in current dialog on the subject there *still* remain these questionable sections about how to navigate things like the temple recommend interview questions:

Before we address some of the specific temple recommend questions, we must begin this section by emphasizing something very clearly. We do not encourage or condone lying or deception of any sort during the temple recommend interview. If you do not feel like you can answer the questions with integrity, then you should not in any way try to deceive your ecclesiastical leadership.

The following section is merely an attempt to acknowledge and explore both the existence of uncertainty and the diversity of views that clearly dwell within the broad LDS community with respect to doctrine and theology. We would hate for folks to unnecessarily exclude themselves from the blessings of temple worship based on rigid or incorrect perceptions that are more cultural than gospel based.

  • God:
    When they ask about belief in God, they don’t ask if you believe in an anthropomorphic God. At a minimum, perhaps you believe in some divine power, force, and sense of meaning or purpose in this life. If so, you could be honest in using the label “God” to describe that indescribable power. If you are comfortable with that, then perhaps you could answer this question in the affirmative. It is something to consider.

    Also, it would be silly to deny the possibility of an anthropomorphic God. Who really knows, in the end, what is out there? We might even be surprised. This is what we call “faith” or “hope,” and certainly it meets Christ’s bar of worthiness (as mentioned above).

(That’s just a snippet. The section is really long.) The one thing I would note is that there is even a line to say that they do not encourage or condone lying or deception…but what is the criteria for lying/deception: whether you (the speaker) feel you can answer the question with integrity.

(Nevertheless, to be fair, I’ve come across the perspective that the temple recommend interview is really just a self-evaluation facilitated by a Bishop or Stake President…so all that really matters is what the person being interviewed feels about his or her answers — not what his/her Bishop or SP might feel.)

The thing to consider is that over and over, various representatives of the uncorrelated movement have to return to the question of honesty in the uncorrelated/open/middle way path. And generally, the panelists respond either that truth must be told in a sensitive way, or that when different truths clash, one has to pick which truth to tell.

An example of the latter answer first: “It may be true that I don’t believe in Joseph Smith as a prophet, but it’s also true that I love my family and my community, and do not want to hurt them because I know they would not understand my belief. So, for the sake of honesty, shouldn’t I do whatever I can to avoid the issue of Joseph and focus on maintaining relationships?”

I would summarize the former approach, but it turns out that I can turn back to Aaron’s post for a good summary:

…We manage information based on certain assumptions about what others need to know about us…

Impression management.

The problem is that you’re not going to be able to argue very effectively that impression management is a bad thing. It’s ubiquitous.

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3 Comments
  1. “…I’ve come across the perspective that the temple recommend interview is really just a self-evaluation facilitated by a Bishop or Stake President.”

    I believe this to be the correct interpretation, and even my current Bishop acknowledged such.

    With respect to the question, “Are you honest in your dealings with your fellow men?” I believe we must define what constitutes “my dealings” with my fellow men. There are many things that are no one’s business but mine, and for whatever reason, be it because I’m worried about how I’m perceived by others or because I want to communicate a certain message, it’s up to me to choose what to share with others. “Do these jeans make my ass look fat?” Who wants to be honest about that? 😉

    Would I like to live in a world where I can share my most intimate thoughts with others? Perhaps. But I don’t live in that world right now. People can’t seem to take true honesty, just as Billy Joel observed in his song of that name.

    http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/billyjoel/honesty.html

    Perhaps if more us could handle honesty, more of us would be honest. Honesty in the face of judgment is difficult.

  2. Jason,

    Even though this post is pretty old, it’s still timely. Thanks for commenting.

    But I was intrigued by a few lines you wrote:

    Would I like to live in a world where I can share my most intimate thoughts with others? Perhaps. But I don’t live in that world right now. People can’t seem to take true honesty, just as Billy Joel observed in his song of that name.

    Perhaps if more us could handle honesty, more of us would be honest. Honesty in the face of judgment is difficult.

    It seems like this is still an admission or a concession of being dishonest. That you’re justifying it by saying, “People can’t handle honesty” (“true” honesty), but still, the end result seems to be dishonesty.

  3. “seems like this is still an admission or a concession of being dishonest”

    Seems? No, it’s pretty obvious. 😉

    Don’t be mistaken, I still tell people exactly what I think when needed, I just keep a lot to myself, as is my right. And that, my friend, is the honest truth. 🙂

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