Wives No Longer Vow Obedience to Husbands in Mormon Ceremony
May. 01, 1990
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ In a rare revision of Mormon ritual, the church has dropped wording that required women to pledge to obey their husbands and portrayed the clergy of other religions as agents of Satan.
Women must now vow to obey God rather than their husbands in the ''endowment'' ceremony, a ritual the church teaches is necessary to enable members to live with God after death. The ceremony is performed only once for each person, but a member may go through it countless times as a proxy for those who have died.
The revised ritual, which took effect last month in ceremonies performed in the 43 temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is being greeted with enthusiasm by church members who say it reflects greater sensitivity toward women and other religions.
''The temple is an important part of my spiritual life and the changes have allowed me to go to the temple with renewed joy,'' said Lavina Fielding Anderson, editor-elect of the Journal of Mormon History.
Mormons attending temple were read a statement from the governing First Presidency informing them of the changes. The statement said the revisions were unanimously approved by the three-member body and the advisory Council of the Twelve Apostles.
Bruce L. Olsen, managing director of the church's communications office, said church leaders would not comment on the revisions because temple ceremonies are considered too sacred for public discussion.
But some church members praised the changes.
''I think we're gradually moving away from the subjugation of women,'' said Ross Peterson, co-editor of Dialogue, an independent Mormon journal.
''I think (church leaders) are developing a recognition that there are many highly intelligent, independent, capable and educated women in our ranks today who have a great deal to offer.''
Among other changes, a theatrical portion of the ceremony that included a non-Mormon ''preacher'' paid by Satan to spread false doctrine has been excised.
''The general consensus is that it's a breath of fresh air,'' Peterson said. ''You don't put down other churches or imply that they are Satan's children.''
Rebecca England, a member of the planning committee of the independent Mormon Women's Forum, said the changes may boost temple attendance.
''I know quite a number of Mormons who stopped going to the temple because they found it demeaning,'' she said. ''And I think this revised ceremony addresses many of the concerns that they and I, as a feminist Mormon, have had.''
Mormon women cannot become priests. Nor can they serve in the local lay clergy or the church hierarchy.
The Mormon Church, based on revelations that Joseph Smith said were brought to him in the 1820s by heavenly messengers, claims to have 7.3 million members, with the largest concentration of church members in Utah, California and Idaho.
The framework of the endowment ritual, apart from editing to its current length of about 90 minutes and adoption of film to portray part of the ceremony, has remained mostly intact since Smith's day.
The endowment ceremony is considered a prerequisite for Mormons' goal of living with God after death in the ''celestial kingdom,'' the highest stage of glory a church member can achieve.
The ceremony includes instruction - in a theatrical setting - on creation, Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden of Eden and God's plan of redemption.
Members usually go through it at young adulthood, before marriage or prior to embarking on a mission for the church. It also is performed prior to young males receiving the Melchizedek priesthood, the church's highest priesthood, at age 19.
Graphic depictions of penalties for breaking sacred covenants, considered gruesome by some, also were among the recent deletions.
''It's not as harsh,'' Peterson said of the new version. ''It's more uplifting. It's softer and gentler.''