From the beginning of my journey the temple was discussed, casually at first, as in, “when you go to the temple,” and later as in, “as you prepre to attend the temple.” It’s an unwritten goal of all good Mormons to become a card carrying member of the church. Mormons believe that temples built by their church are literal houses of God. In these houses ordinances are preformed that they believe are required for both entrance into the “highest level of heaven” (the celestial kingdom, where God and Christ (two separate beings) reside) and inevitably for exhaltation (where man can become a God himself). In order to gain access into these houses, these temples, you must pass a series of worthiness questions first with your Bishop, and second with your Stake president.
- Ward = congregation of about 400-600 members
- Bishop = leader of a ward
- Stake = group of wards
The questions seem benign enough — questions like, “do you deal honestly with your fellow man?” or “do you attend your religious meetings regularly?” and then there’s the question of paying your tithes.
Now, before we dig deeper, I want to go on the record here in saying I believe in paying tithes, in contributing to the well being of my fellow man, of helping those who need a hand up. I believe in doing this as a selfless act. I do not believe in a tit for tat methodology of giving. I do not believe God withholds blessings if I do not send a check into church each week. I also do not believe I owe anyone, other than God, an explanation in my giving, and as we discussed in the end of my last post, I don’t need anyone in between God and I to discuss where my money goes.
One of the questions to gain access to the Mormon temple is, “are you a full tithe payer?”
Now, no one gives you a questionnaire when you join the church or get baptized asking you how much money you make at your job. So, it is left up to you to determine what an “honest” tithe is — but there are all sorts of “guidelines” uttered throughout the church that are presented in an almost sing-songy way that when you’re new to things, maybe even if you’re old to things, serve to build up a sense of guilt. My favorite of these phrases is, “do you want gross or net blessings?” Indicating that paying 10% of your take home pay may not be sufficient, unless you want to pigeon-hold God’s ability to shower you with blessings. Instead, this chant encourages you to tithe on your gross income — income you don’t get to take home because the government gets their cut first. So if you’re making $10,000 a year, and taxes/benefits takes say 30% of that leaving you with $7,000, you would be paying $1,000 of it to the church rather than $700. Ouch.
During my first temple interview, I was asked this question. It made me nervous. I didn’t know why. I paid money to the church, but I also contributed to other resources I deemed worthy in my community, not to mention the time I was giving in my callings, etc., in the church. I felt all of those things combined would equate to an honest tithe. Turns out they don’t. When I shared that’s what made up an honest tithe in my humble opinion, I was educated that tithing was what I gave to the church specifically. We even read a few verses from the Old Testament together, my bishop and I. Again, had I spent more time in the Word, specifically in the Bible, I might have been able to share some insight back. That tithing was an Old Testament command and that if we truly were a Christian church, as they profess to be, we would be held under New Testament teachings. Jesus’ sacrifice and death did away with Old Testament law, including the law of tithing. It’s not to say that giving isn’t good and that God doesn’t bless us in our giving, but to tell me it’s still a requirement to gain higher blessings? That should have caused me to pause for a moment. But you don’t know what you don’t know.
In the end, I was invited to come back in a few months and try again. And for the first time, I felt shame. I felt like I did something wrong.
Internal shame would become a theme throughout my time with this religion. I am by nature an over-achiever. Type A. A bit of a perfectionist. I recognize these qualities in a lot of the folks I came into contact with during my time here. I was surrounded by people pushing to do their best, often times better than their best. Especially with the women. Running their households, caring for their children, being involved in their kids school activities, after school activities, church activities, attending both the women-specific church activities as well as couple or family activities, holding callings, providing meals when called upon for others’ who needed assistance in the Ward, visiting those sisters they were assigned to, the list goes on and on. And though there is definitely good that came out of doing many of these things, I found myself exhausted more often than not. And I felt shame in that, too. I felt like I was grumbling inside about all the unwritten expectations, but no one else seemed to be. Everyone else came to church on Sunday dressed in their best, makeup well appointed with a smile on their faces. What was wrong with me that I felt so stressed? Turns out, I wasn’t alone. I just didn’t know it then.
Fast forward a few months. I’d stopped giving charitably to sources outside of the church because we just didn’t have the finances going for me to do both. But this time during my interview(s) I was able to look my leaders straight in the eye when asked if I was an honest tithe payer and unequivocally say, “Yes, I am.” And with that I was now a card-carrying member of the Mormon church. I was worthy to enter the temple.