Friday, October 14, 2011

Tithing/Temple, a barrier - either/or - not much gray here

Well we knew this time was going to come, and we thought it would be when Arthur and I had our one year interview with the Bishop, me the newcomer, him the returnee.  And something came up sooner -- for me.  It had been suggested that it would be time for me to accompany the young people and new converts in the various Wards in our Stake in their trip to the Temple to perform baptisms for the dead.  And it was set up for me to go with them this month, Oct 29.   I've heard and read about this ritual, performing baptisms for the dead, and the reasons for it, and I have to say it has a sound of peculiar to many who are non-mormons, myself included.  So close to Halloween, and the very name of the ritual, and images do float across my mind, even though I know that is not the aim or intent of the practice.  It is though, one of the unique features of this church, as there are not many other Christian based churches that have this kind of a ritual.  I do know when we lived in Japan, in a Japanese village, not on the military base, that I learned of an annual practice required of the families which involved going into the tombs that dotted the hillsides to perform the ritual of washing the bones of their dead ancestors buried in those tombs.

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.

The LDS church has tied Tithing to Temple in a way that affords no or seemingly no wiggle room.  My reaction to it has been strongly in opposition.  My husband's reaction, while somewhat different from mine for different reasons is also strongly in opposition.  While I'm favorable to the concept of generosity, supporting the organization/church/affiliation doing outreach in an effort to help humankind, I'm not comfortable with the monetary amount being identified as an exact amount.  I'm very much not comfortable with tithing being a requirement to enter a temple.  I've had too many years within other faith beliefs, and organizations which also need to be funded and those contributions being both voluntary with the amount being voluntary.  Although, having said all that, I was so very taken and impressed when we visiting the Bishop's tithing house many years ago in Chesterfield, Idaho (a restored and preserved historic town of the Mormon pioneer era).  The building was were food products and such were stored,  intended for use by the community.   It was such a beautiful concept, a concept which lifted my heart and a practice that certainly seemed somewhat lost to this time gone by period in history.  Actually is is not a bygone concept, in historic times, members who could not pay in cash could pay their tithing in kind ie, milk, butter, eggs, produce, meat, grain, hay, etc.  In it's more modernized form, it feels much more industrial and organizational although the generosity underlying the concept remains the same.  Thus is the value of tithing among the membership.

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.

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