Don’t ask a Mormon, “Do you have a temple recommend?”

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Mitch Mayne

Mitch Mayne

A guest post by Mitch Mayne

As an openly gay Mormon, one of the things I strive to do is help others within my Mormon faith better understand and respond to LGBT individuals—especially our LGBT youth. A few days ago, I got a short note from a woman in Utah who wanted advice on how to deal with a young man in her ward who was likely gay. We spoke by phone, and I shared my own thoughts and passed on some resources—and then she asked a really awkward and personal question:

“Do you have a temple recommend?”

Suddenly I felt like I was sitting on the witness stand being questioned by a prosecuting attorney—like everything I’d said before would either be invalidated or accepted based on how I answered this one question. Because really, what she was asking me was, “Do you have any value?”

As Mormons, we often don’t have the best boundaries when it comes to prying personal information from others (or sharing it, once we’ve learned it). But that’s a broader topic for another day. In this instance, I was faced with an opportunity to respond gently to someone who genuinely wanted to know more about me, but had approached it in an inappropriate way.

The dozen questions we answer in a temple recommend interview are highly personal in nature, and include deep information about our testimony, among other things. For most of us, these things are between us and our Savior—no one else. But in the Mormon world, knowing whether someone holds a temple recommend has become shorthand for knowing whether that person is a “good” Mormon—and there are many ways to be a good Mormon.

Knowing whether or not I had a recommend might give this woman some insight into certain facts about me, specifically the questions asked in the interview process. But there are several other things she wouldn’t know about me—things that were pretty critical to what she was trying to uncover.

She wouldn’t learn:

“Do you have a kind heart and good intent?”

“Are you knowledgeable about the subject at hand?”

Or my personal favorite, “Are you sane and capable of solid logic and good decision making?”

My point being, that even if I responded to her question with a “yes,” it still wouldn’t have given her the information she actually sought. A much better (and certainly more appropriate) approach would have been to get to know me a bit more, read some of the essays I’ve written about our paths as LGBT Mormons, and better understand my personal experience—and thus, my heart.

Not many of us possess the gall to directly ask one of our fellows, “Do you have any worth?” Most of us would recognize that it’s not only impolite, it’s actually disrespectful—especially in light of the fact that Mormons understand that each of us (regardless of where we are in our personal lives) has eternal potential and great worth in the eyes of our Savior. But we don’t seem to hesitate to want a shortcut to getting to know another’s heart, and code our question in the form of, “Do you have a temple recommend?”

True, our Savior wants us to discern the good from the bad. That’s part of the plan here: to inquire, to grow, to expand our knowledge through experience and learning. But there’s no shortcut to accomplishing that. Just like we don’t get a Cliff’s Notes version of what’s good out in the world, we can’t know another’s worth by knowing the answer to one simple question.

So the next time you enter a conversation with a new friend, resist the urge to take the rather offensive shortcut and ask whether they hold a temple recommend. It’s likely not going to give you the answers you seek, and it’s an intrusive question not everyone welcomes.

And if you’re the one who’s being asked, recognize you have a chance to be graceful and gentle with your response—and still hold your boundaries. A simple response in a kind tone — “Well, our temple recommends are kind of between us and our Savior, aren’t they?” — will often signal that you are finished providing information on the topic.

Yes, we seem to live in an age of “no secrets.” Whether on reality TV, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, we’re often privy to the smallest details of everyone’s lives. Still, we should be slow to ask someone about their temple status—and understand there is a big difference between what people choose to share and what they want to be asked to share.

About the only time it’s appropriate for you to ask someone whether they have a temple recommend is if you’re working the desk and they’re walking in the front door.

Mitch Mayne is an openly gay, active Latter-day Saint, and recently served as the executive secretary in the bishopric of his home ward in San Francisco, California. Mitch is a national voice on Mormon LGBT issues, and promotes the health, mental health, and well being of Mormon LGBT young people in the context of their faith. Mitch works directly with LGBT Mormons, their families, and Mormon leadership, counseling them on preventing risk for suicide, homelessness and other major health risks and on healthy approaches to understanding and responding to LGBT youth and young people.

  • TomW

    Mitch, thanks for your post. For what it’s worth, the intent I gathered from the question wasn’t so much, “Do you have any value?” or “Do you have any worth?” but rather, “Will your thoughts on this topic be received by this young man and/or others in my ward as credible.” What I think she may have been looking for is confirmation that you are likely to approach this issue from a foundation of faithful discipleship – a believing Latter-day Saint – and that was probably her awkward way of trying to get there. As you know, there are many with the church who offer their views on this difficult matter, who do not exactly accept the legitimacy of the church’s claim on prophetic leadership and who renounce the church’s position on it. Such people absolutely have value and worth, but their views may not garner the credibility the woman on the phone is looking for. Just my take. All the best to you.

  • A Happy Hubby

    Mitch – I enjoyed this post. But I am commenting more to say that I really admire the work you are doing. You are a true force for good.

    Listening to a podcast you did a while back moved me from someone sitting on the fence to someone that is actively trying to help local LGBT youth. You have motivated me and I consider you a person I hold in high regard. I hope you don’t let the nay-sayers get you down.

  • Eric Facer

    My mother taught me at an early age that when a member of the church asks you an impertinent question—and they certainly do ask them—to respond by saying: “I’ll forgive you for asking that question if you’ll forgive me for not answering it.”

    Nice post, Mitch.

  • Mitch Mayne

    Your mom sounds quite wise…and I may borrow that response in the future. Tell her thanks, from me!

  • Mitch Mayne

    Thanks, Tom. And yes, you make some valid points–I know exactly what she was seeking: additional credibility. Which is fine, I think she *should* do that. But maintain that asking that particular question wasn’t the way to uncover what she needed.

  • Mitch Mayne

    Thanks, HH. I appreciate your kindness. I’ve kind of come to believe that where this is concerned–and when I’m lucky–the voice might be mine, but the words belong to my Savior.

    And I’ve got a pretty thick skin. Heck, I’m an active gay Mormon. Most days I cant be gay enough for the LGBT community, and I can’t be Mormon enough for my LDS friends and family. If I were hyper sensitive I’d have left the playing field a long time ago. 🙂

  • Mitch, I am a 76 year old father of 8, a convert since 1975 and I hold a temple recommend. My point being: is my opinion of any value to you? It is very hard for youth in this world to decide whether to accept the “gay Option” (to come out) as real or the teaching of their church that the Gay Life Style is a sin. I have a gay son. When I found out his “came out” and professed to be a gay man I was, initially, shocked. But then I remembered something that helped in my conversion. That God, the God I was searching for, the God who I could follow, loves me “unconditionally”. Yet I am sure that He is not happy or pleased with some of the things I do. So, if I believe in Agency, how can I be any different then my God. I told my son, I don’t agree with your decision, but I love you unconditionally. Today, we have a great relationship and understanding and I have invited his partner to be call my son, too. FYI

  • Mitch Mayne

    Alfie, thanks for your response and for sharing some of your story. Sounds like you definitely have a grasp of unconditional love. And on behalf of a lot of us LGBT Mormons out here, thank you for that–and thanks for being a good Dad.

  • Old Guy

    Use the Southern method. “None of your business…. bless your heart.”

  • Mitch Mayne

    Like!

  • W

    Haven’t had a current recommend in about 15 years, so this is a topic near to my heart. 🙂

    I’ve definitely felt uncomfortable being the one that can’t attend wedding ceremonies, or say yes to calls to help out with proxy work–and sometimes the sting of the shallow proxy judgment I think you’re talking about here.

    As uncomfortable as the question can be, though… I’ve also learned to hear other things in this question besides judgments about my value, including:

    * “I want to know if you value the same observances I do, and the spiritual guidance I’ve found by engaging with them.”
    * “Can I trust you as a committed and engaged member of the church community?”
    * “I want to know if you’re seeking direction from God in one of the places we hold closest to his spirit.”
    * “I’m concerned about you & wish you were living inside guidelines I see as safe.”

    I don’t know the motives of your questioners; just that there can be more than one, like there can be more…

  • W

    … than one way to have value.

    (Not sure I like these new character limits.)

    It’s true that the temple recommend is a limited proxy to help answer these questions (I’d contest the idea that it’s a *useless* proxy, but it’s an unreliable heuristic at best). But at least for me, as I’ve learned to hear these other questions behind “Do you have a recommend?”, it’s been easier for me to find some way to offer the assurance the people are really looking for and orient them on that.

  • Brock Lee

    “Here, come and understand me better so I can convince you…”

    Wowza, dude. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that kinda what our Savior said? I think it was the other guy who didn’t want us to listen.

    Oh, and glad you spent the time saved reading the rest of the (very good) article to leave your snarky comment. Yeah, I’m sure that one has all the heavens applauding.

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  • Mitch Mayne

    W, thanks for the comments–and I agree. It’s definitely got some value, and it’s also very personal for a lot of us. Is it useless? Not at all. Unreliable? Likely. Private? For some, most definitely.

    Your alternate questions are good ones. Wouldn’t it be great if someone simply asked, “Are you a committed member of our Church community?” Now there’s a question I could get behind–with enthusiasm! 🙂

  • Barry

    One can only speculate what the woman’s motivation was when she asked you if you currently hold a temple recommend. From your “Called to Serve” open letter on your blog site you have stated clearly, “I am committing to adhere to the same standard of behavior that we require of any single, heterosexual man in a priesthood leadership position.” Thank you for taking a stand and for teaching by example that having same sex attraction is not synonymous with breaking the law of chastity. Coming out and announcing to family and friends that one is identifying with the LGBT movement includes that possibility – that one has rejected the closely held belief that any sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and a woman is forbidden by the Lord.

  • Porter

    I am a lawyer in Utah. I am regularly asked by clients and potential clients whether I am LDS, and occasionally whether I have a temple recommend. I was once even asked what my calling is. I understand that is an issue that is important to my clients so they feel they can talk openly about church issues, for whatever reason, but like Mitch said this has absolutely nothing to do with my abilities as a lawyer.

  • I absolutely agree with this. I also think it applies to parents talking with their adult children. They may 100 percent be coming from a place of real love and concern, but it remains not the business of anyone but the member and his or her bishop.

  • Joel

    Indeed, it’s rude to pry. It’s certainly appropriate to keep that private.

    Although, I generally favor destigmatizing not having a recommend. While there are worthiness components, there also are testimony questions that have nothing to do with righteousness. And there is no reason to be ashamed of truly held beliefs, even if they make you temple ineligible.

  • Authenticity

    I am a gay man in a straight marriage with 4 children. My wife knew before we were married (a la Josh Weed) except that I have not chosen to be publicly “out”, meaning my family and close friends are aware, but I don’t make it commonly known at church, work, etc. This decision has been difficult at times, but the blessings have far outweighed the difficulties.

    Every time a calling is issued to me and every time I have a temple recommend interview, I explain that I am gay and a firm supporter/believer. This has never been an issue whether for Young Men’s president (three times), Stake Executive Secretary, and Bishopric 2nd counselor.

    However, since the Scouts came out with their “no gay leaders” position, I have felt sad – sad that I have to choose between being eligible to serve in Young Men vs. choosing to be open/authentic. I think the latter has value for the former.

    I’ve considered being generally more open, but this has me pondering/praying.

    What are your…

  • Debbie Snowcroft

    Whether or not a person has a recommend also also has nothing to do with how ethical or honest they are.

    Half the questions on the temple recommend interview are about obeying/sustaining church leaders and believing in them and the “restoration.” These are irrelevant to the “goodness” of a person.

    The question about the “Word of Wisdom” is equally irrelevant.

    The remaining questions deal only broadly and mostly superficially with common aspects of “goodness” like being honest. But as “temple-worthy” Mormon politicians and business people often demonstrate, a person can qualify for a temple recommend and still be criminally dishonest.

  • If someone asks you if you have a recommend, the real question they are asking you is, “are you worthy to enter the temple?” We all know that the Word of Wisdom isn’t a commandment and shouldn’t be on the list of temple recommend questions. Seeing that we are all ready saved by Christ’s grace regardless of what we do, the real temple recommend questions should be “are you showing you faith by our works? “Are you a better person today than you were yesterday? “Are you striving for exaltation?” Maybe “Where are you in your path to the Second Anointing?” is too personal, but we really, as a Church, should be talking more about that seeing as that is the last step in the temple ritual and the Church is teaching us to avoid it. The tithe question makes sense, as we can’t find the temples without cash or selling off Church owned assets. But it doesn’t prove worthiness. To answer the question you can answer that you are worthy of the recommend, is you are, even if you don’t…

  • Mitch, please stop holding back the “broader topic for another day” and just say what we all know: surveillance is endemic in the Mormon culture and the temple is a primary vector.

  • LDSMan

    Anyone who has a Temple recommend and who is LBGT should hand it voluntarily before a disciplinary committee takes it by force

  • LDSMan

    Anyone who has a Temple recommend and who is LBGT should hand it voluntarily before a disciplinary committee takes it by force –

  • LDSMan

    Perhaps they wanted to do business with people with a Temple Recommendation and is a LDS member. I only do business with people with a Temple Recommendation and who is a LDS member

  • A Happy Hubby

    LDSMan – We are all welcome to have our opinions. Your opinion is not shared by the brethren who have been fairly clear the last 2 years that being gay does not equal a sin. Mitch is a good example of that. He served in a bishopric for years.
    And with that attitude I wonder if you found that you had a son that was gay if you would have a change of heart, or kick your son out of the house (of which Elder Oaks has said that someone that has done this is need of “serious repentance.”).

  • Craig Rollins

    Not necessarily. I don’t know about temple recommends, but a celibate gay person can hold the priesthood and officiate in it’s ordinances. The key word here is ‘celibate’. A straight person who is not celibate cannot hold a temple recommend.

  • Happy Dad & Husband

    Dear Mitch, Thank You for your work. I recently was told your name by a friend. I grew up in the church, served a mission, came out, married a man & have a family now. I find the whole question about the “temple recommend” rude. Growing up my father was physically & mentally abusive to my sister & I, and constantly punched my mother in the face. The sad thing is that he was a bishop and had a temple recommend. On the outside our family looked perfect, on the inside it was agony. Just because one may have a recommend, doesn’t mean much. It’s what’s in ones heart & their relationship with God. Thanks again for your service!-Happy Dad

  • Diana

    “Well, our temple recommends are kind of between us and our Savior, aren’t they?”

    Actually your temple recommend is between you and the Bishop, and Stake President, and person at the desk. Your prayers may be between you and Jesus, but your recommend is not.