Later in my life experiences, learning of other faith belief sets that honored ancestors as part of their spirituality. Putting these together, I don't see the Mormon practice of performing baptisms for the dead as bizarre as it might seem at first glance. Further that the members feel it is with a great degree of a sense of sacredness that this practice is performed and observed. In that regard when I was invited to participate, I did feel it was intended as an invitation to participate in an honored and sacred ritual practice. I would liken it to be invited to participate in a Sweat Lodge ceremony or something along those lines that is a intended as a welcoming gesture to enable a person new to the culture to become more fully part of that culture.
Part of the requirement to enter an LDS temple is an interview with the Ward Bishop in which he has a list of questions to ask and the responses will cause him to make a determination as to whether the person will be given what is called a 'temple recommend'. In this case, he advised me it would be a one day only temple recommend for the purpose of permitting me to be in that part of the temple in which the baptisms for the dead are performed. Our Bishop is a loving, compassionate, caring man, and it is obvious in how he handles various sensitive situations. We moved along through the questions well enough, until he asked me the question about tithing, do I pay a full tithing. No, I answered. No, he said with a bit of surprise, but somehow I rather think he would know either outright or subliminally which members are or are not paying a tithing. He explained that perhaps it was not yet time for me, and that he could not give a temple recommend at this time, that it would be confidential information, and some members might be curious enough to ask him why I was not going to the temple this trip, and that he would indicate that it was just not time yet. I explained to him that I do respect his sense of confidentiality, and that I have respect for the concept, and that in this instance it was not required. That I thought it to be a topic of discussion and conversation among the membership as I was not yet satisfied that I had heard enough reasons to justify the practice which I felt was very damaging to some of the membership who were already struggling with the very basic fundamentals of life - shelter, clothing, food.
I wanted this to be a discussion/conversation with the Bishop, not a justification or explanation of why I wasn't in compliance on my part. He asked if I understood the premise of tithing and I pointed out that I had given a lesson on tithing recently, so my head understands the concept, and my life experiences tell me otherwise. He spent a great deal of time with me after, and I very much liked that he was not moving in a heavy handed direction, rather was very much attempting to find different approaches that might resonate with me, including some personal experiences of his own. It felt it was a productive shared discussion and exploration of this particular topic, and I'm fairly sure it will come up again soon.
I shared some of that conversation with my husband afterwards on our way home, he was quiet and said to me that he was very proud of the way in which I handled myself in this interview, as well as the approach I chose to use. We spent a great deal of the evening later discussing tithing/temple again; we have discussed it often and many times before. To me it feels like an absolute - a non-wavering obstacle in the path for me ahead. It equates one to the other, we don't pay tithing, there will be no temple, and Temple is a Big part of the Mormon/LDS experience. I'm also intuiting that the path the Bishop, Stake President, and membership would like to see me take leads directly to the temple, capital T.
Can one be a practicing Mormon, a participating member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and not participate in the tithing/temple joining experience, I wonder?
The experience in my Ward, in communion among the membership has felt to me to date spiritual enough in it's own right without the temple experiences. As I explained to the Bishop in the ensuing discussion, many other of the religions have beautiful Cathedrals and do not prohibit people from entering that sacred space; this being the only church I know about that has these beautiful sacred building in which people are not permitted to enter without having paid for the privilege via first having a temple recommend, of which tithing is a requirement. I will leave it at that for now. It is a thing to continue to ponder and time, Holy Ghost, spirit of the soul will guide me in this one.