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Big Love – the Mormon temple endowment ceremony isn’t what they got wrong


As I said in a recent post, about Big Love, even though I was raised Mormon, I still don’t know what occurs in the temple endowment ceremony. From what I’ve read about Mormon reactions to the “Outer Darkness” episode, people seemed to think that the details were accurate, but the lack of context makes what was depicted meaningless to outsiders. I had thought along similar lines while watching the episode.

I wasn’t disturbed by what was shown in the temple scenes of the episode. However, for the first time since watching the show, my Mormon background positively bristled with the inconsistencies and inaccuracies in this episode. Ultimately, to viewers who care more about the integrity of the story than the integrity of the religious details, these inaccuracies probably don’t matter. However, in the context of the characters and the story, I’d like to set the record straight.

1. I had been almost positive that the show would depict the endowment ceremony as a flashback to when Barb had made these deep covenants in the church. However, in this episode, she begs her mother and sister to let her borrow a temple recommend so she can perform this ceremony the day before she is to face ex-communication.

Wait just a minute.

For one thing, a devout believer would never try to enter the temple on someone else’s recommend, although ostensibly it could be done. As far as I know, the recommends are not yet photo IDs, though they have gone from being little slips of paper when I was a youth to laminated cards now. If Barb entered the temple as her mother, she couldn’t have taken out endowments in her own name, so her vows would be invalid anyway. Also, her mother and sister were with her in the temple; whose recommend did she use to get in?

2. If you were facing ex-communication as a true believer, taking out your endowments would be the LAST thing you would want to do. Those are serious covenants, and they would be repealed with the ex-communication anyway. Everything she did in the temple was undone by her ex-communication. It doesn’t make any sense. Even if it was something she felt she had to experience, she probably wouldn’t play fast and hard with her salvation like that; as she told Bill, she was frightened. As I wrote in my post the other day, I don’t know that I could have left the church if I had already taken out my endowments. For Barb to have done that would have made her ex-communication even more devastating than it was.

3. It’s absolutely inconceivable to me that Barb had not already been through the temple to experience this ceremony. It’s well-known in the series that Bill held a position in his congregation’s governance. He was a faithful member of the church for 15 years; they were married and had children as Latter-Day Saints. Bill joined the church. It is inconceivable that they were not sealed in the temple during this time, which would have been predicated on first taking part in the endowment ceremony. I was able to overcome what I perceived to be inaccuracies; however, I was irritated by them.

4. Bill should have faced ex-communication at the same time. It was his testimony of plural marriage, and technically he is the polygamist. The show has dealt with Bill’s crises of faith, so I am not sure why he didn’t face the court (I have never heard the term “Love Court” before either — anybody know if that’s accurate?) at the same time as Barb. Though, I’m not sure he would have cared, because he does not believe in the Mormon church. However, as a business man with a reputation to consider, that would have been its own kind of blow.

5. Barb wasn’t facing Outer Darkness, despite the name of the episode. Mormons don’t believe in Hell; what Barb faced was not being able to achieve the highest degree of glory in Heaven. Outer darkness (just what it sounds like– no light anywhere, endless darkness) is a fate reserved for people who know the truth about God and turn their backs on it. I mean KNOW as in God told them HIMSELF. It is widely acknowledged that this hardly ever happens. And it certainly wasn’t going to happen to Barb.

And now, I am about to contradict what I said in point 2. Even though rationally, a person might not rush to take out their endowments while facing ex-communication, the thing that made me able to understand, emotionally, what Barb did was the scene in which Bill and Nicki had sex after Bill had told her he wanted to end the marriage. Presumably, after you plan to end your marriage, you don’t turn around and have sex with your spouse. And yet, it happens. It’s confusing and messy, but it happens. And I think the parallel storyline of Bill ending his marriage with Nicki was deliberate; Nicki and Barb are both facing ex-communication and devastation, and both acted desperately because they were desperate.

Despite the inaccuracies, I thought it was a very moving episode. I am not sure who I pity more: Nicki or Barb. Both storylines were excruciating in their own ways. What did you think?

Photo Credit: HBO

7 Responses to “Big Love – the Mormon temple endowment ceremony isn’t what they got wrong”

March 17, 2009 at 10:43 AM

I found Barb very very sincere in her feelings at being ex-communicated from her Church. Nikki- I do not find sincere in the is always “all about Nikki”. She is very much like her brother Alby, they are both very manipulative. How threatened by Nikki was Alby’s wife?? She couldn’t wait to get rid of her, I think she sensed that Alby loves Nikki just a little too much!

March 17, 2009 at 1:04 PM

In the pity category I think Nikki edges out Barb. Nikki is a prisoner of her upbringing and probably always will be. She should follow the example set by JoJo and I can’t remember the name of Don’s other wife: take the boys and leave. Not back to Juniper Creek mind you as the boys would be kicked out once they reached the age limit, whatever that might be.

I think it is funny that people say with Nikki it is all about her but rarely say that about Bill, who is virtually the same. Ok in this episode Joey did call him on his behavior but it is rarely seen on the blogs.

I wanted to throw something at the screen when he accused her of infidelity when he had sex with Anna before they were sealed.

March 17, 2009 at 7:52 PM

I’m active (Jen gets it:)) and I have never before heard of a “Love Court.” Maybe we could make it a new reality show!?! Thanks for your sincere post.

March 18, 2009 at 11:16 AM

I got the sense that since Barb thinks that the principle IS right, and the mainstream church is out-of-line, that she was getting the endowment from the church before there was no way that she could. The show went to great pains to show that Barb feels that she is in the right, and much of her pain is learning that the church she trusted so much is so willing to compromise the “true” faith. To Barb, the church has failed her, not vice versa. Barb is learning the difference between faith and organized religion. As soon as the organized part becomes more important than the faith, people of true faith begin to struggle. I rejected the Roman Catholic church, but that doesn’t mean that I reject all of the principles that the faith was built on. I just disagree with the hierarchy and politics of the church as an organization. That’s what Barb is having to come to grips with.

and Nikki will never change as much as Barb and Bill want her to. She not only grew up on the compound, but she was the daughter of the prophet. She was completely immersed in that environment. It’s one thing for Bill to initially reject the Principle and then decide that he’s going to live a better plural marriage than what his father role-modeled. While Bill’s ancestor has been alluded to as the real prophet, Bill did not grow up with that sense of power and importance surrounding him like Nikki did.

March 19, 2009 at 9:30 PM

Having dated a conflicted gay Mormon, I never fully understood his angst as he grappled with being ex-communicated from the church. The Endowment ceremony was so powerful – the wording was brilliantly crafted in getting individuals to attach themselves spiritually and emotionally to the church – I finally saw his desperation in Barb as she faced “spiritual death/assassination” at the judging of the church. I never understood how his church could turn their backs on him at a time when he needed them most. The narcissism of the church is more important than the souls of their children. It’s the saddest, meanest thing I’ve ever seen…especially from a “loving God.”

May 22, 2009 at 10:56 PM

I feel that perhaps the way you understood the episode differed from the way that you interpreted it and so many of the issues you saw as inconstitencies weren’t present so i’ll give you my take and you can judge if it makes sense to you;
You said:
For one thing, a devout believer would never try to enter the temple on someone else’s recommend, although ostensibly it could be done.

Barb has already proved that she isn’t a “devout” member by the fact that she is complicit and even “has a testimony” of polygamy. Not only this I actually know a few mormons who no longer attend who still miss and value the experience of the endowment ceremony and I could see them perhaps cheating the rules to get in.

You said:
If Barb entered the temple as her mother, she couldn’t have taken out endowments in her own name, so her vows would be invalid anyway.

As an endowed member I understand that during the endowment ceremony you don’t use your own actual name at any time so this wouldn’t be an issue. Only the first time you go through the endowment is it for yourself every subsequent time is by proxy for the dead. Unlike baptisms or blessings your name isn’t used. I like you wondered how she got in because she didnt use her sister or mothers recommend, it was left unexplained.

On points 2. and 3. I think we understood Barb’s mentality differently.
You said
If you were facing ex-communication as a true believer, taking out your endowments would be the LAST thing you would want to do. Those are serious covenants, and they would be repealed with the ex-communication anyway.

You are under the assumption that Barb isn’t already an endowed member, I however didn’t view it this way. In my opinion Barb was already endowed, she wasn’t going to get her endowment for the first time. The temple is meant to be a place of revelation, closest to heaven on earth and a place where members go when we are perhaps making tough decisions and the world is left behind. I think that Barb went there because she was making a tough decision and was seeking the peace and ability to meditate. Not only that the fact that her family was there was showing that she was potentially going to lose them. Alot of times when speaking of the endowment and changes that have been made mormons will say that it’s not the specific actions (which have obviously changed), but the communication of spirit of God that is the endowment. In the endowment it explains more the idea of Adam and Eve with Adam disobeying a commandment ultimately to be with his spouse, Barb’s situation is comparable and I can understand how a member could see the deception needed to get into the temple as doing something bad for a higher purpose deciding whether to change her life and perhaps even leave Bill. There is the possibility that while contemplating in the celestial room she could have changed her mind and chose to leave bill. However it was there that she learnt that the excommunication despite having the appearance of being about polygamy was instigated by her GA’s wife’s sister, she didn’t see polygamy as being the main reason why she was being exed it was actually about the “historical” document.

This leads into point 4. Why not Bill? I agree that this did seem inconsistent because he would usually be the first one to go being the priesthood holder of the family and having held leadership positions.That part seemed to be an error although I guess it could be seen as just a way of getting to Bill and put pressure on him it seems to be an error.
I have never heard of a “love court” i did hear excommunications refered to as a “court of love” the reason for this is because obviously from a mormon viewpoint its seen as a way of stopping the sinner from continuing the sins from the position they are in an example of this is in the Ensign “Simpson, Robert L. Courts of Love. Ensign, July 1972, 48.” I have heard “court of love” used frequently in Church by members and I can understand how a nonmember script writer to save time or make the phrase less lengthy would cut it down making it sound a bit funny

As for point 5. you said
Mormons don’t believe in Hell
Yet Outer Darkness was always equated with Hell as here

It also says concerning the unpardonable sin
The Unpardonable Sin

Matthew 12:32 says that “whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” These are the only people who will go to outer darkness. The unpardonable sin of denying the Holy Ghost can only be committed by those who have become members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, received the Holy Ghost, gained a perfect knowledge of the gospel, and then rejected it.

As Joseph Smith explained, “He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it.” Relatively few people commit the unpardonable sin.
I can see how you could interpret the above to say that the person would have to literally deny Christ after seeing Him. However if interpreted another way speaking against the Holy Ghost, and having eyes open to the truth could be metaphorical, just like in the endowment you are actually required to close and open your eyes. As for perfect knowledge Alma speaks about how we make our knowledge perfect and nowhere does he say it’s through a manifestation of God to the physical senses it’s through the Holy Ghost. I’ll admit that many members dont view it this way but i have heard this being taught in Church. Since the church has no official position of what this really means its open to interpretation and in most cases with people members are charitable in stating their opinion that the person probably won’t go to outer darkness noone really knows.
So Barb or even certain Mormons thinking she would go to outer darkness isn’t unbelieveable it’s just open to speculation. Something I find is that alot of members think their view of mormonism is the only one (which is probably even encouraged in the church).

I also view the complaints about the episode differently. Initially it seemed alot of members were angry about the fact that the ceremony was being portrayed at all. They talked about how it was disrespectful and that they weren’t happy with it. The Church issued a statement about not liking it’s rituals being taken “out of context”. This was before the episode had even aired and none of the people complaining had even seen the episode and therefore had no way of knowing how respectful it was or how it was portrayed within the episode. After watching the episode and having been through the temple I felt that they actually portrayed the ritual accurately, with alot of respect I can’t imagine the cost of producing all the outfits which were accurate the words stated were accurate and they even portrayed it even more beautifully with the way the lighting and music showed what Barb was meant to be feeling. I could have been in the temple while watching that episode. Now after the fact when it seems that it would be very difficult to actually criticize the actual accuracy or respect that was shown with the ritual they just repeat “out of context” without any substance. It’s like saying a baby being baptized in a film, or the baptisms shown in “the otherside of heaven” are out of context because the person watching isn’t actually going through the ceremony. All television and film is in this sense out of context.

I’m glad you actually watched the show and decided for yourself what you thought was consistent. I hope that my explanation of the way I viewed the episode was helpful in explaining most of the things you found inconsistent, but obviously not all. I’m not claiming this necessarily is the way that the writers and directors actually viewed it , but it is another viewpoint.

May 22, 2009 at 11:20 PM

I said
“I feel that perhaps the way you understood the episode differed from the way that you interpreted it ”

I meant
I feel that perhaps the way you understood the episode differed from the way that “I” interpreted it

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