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Rhetorical Questions

By Linda Hoffman Kimball

Questions to ruminate over

Have you cut your hay where you had no right to or turned your animals into another person’s grain or field, without his knowledge or consent?

Have you branded an animal that you did not know to be your own?

Do you wash your body and have your family do so as often as health and cleanliness require and circumstances will permit?

During the Mormon Reformation era of 1856-57, church leaders devised a catechism of questions asked of apostles, bishops, missionaries and regular church members to discover areas of personal attitudes and behavior that could use improvement. These were among the questions asked. These soul-searching questions and others designed to measure spiritual and behavioral commitment to the church had an influence on our contemporary temple recommend interviews.

I renewed my temple recommend this past week, and the experience caused me some useful introspection.

In part because I had to scurry off to Primary to my CTR-B kidlets, I kept to straightforward answers. I could go on (and have in the past) enthusiastically about my testimony of God, the Gospel, the Restoration. I could have mused over some of the intriguing dichotomies of life as a member of the church. However, even without Sharing Time waiting, I have learned that short and to the point is my most satisfying strategy.

But, given this opportunity on Segullah, I’ll share some of my post-interview thoughts with you. This time the question that captured my attention was this one:

Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

I am married to a lawyer. Loving a lawyer may itself be a reason to make me quake when asked that particular question, but that’s not why I bring it up. Between living with a lawyer and spending much of my own time writing, I have learned that words mean things. Sometimes they mean things that a surface reading of the words doesn’t intend. I wonder if a lawyer phrased that question for the interview.

So what’s the “correct” answer? I know it’s supposed to be “no.”

On the other hand, if you locked Justice and Mercy in a room, who would take who in the fight?

When I read Paul Peterson’s article about the Mormon Reformation era, I found the subtitle fascinating: The Rhetoric and the Reality. He makes scholarly points appropriate to his topic, but I think the phrase is apropos in this circumstance as well.

While I answered with the rhetoric of “no,” here are some of my realities. Perhaps you have similar ones.

I enjoy meals at restaurants where serving liquor to those who want it is a practice of the establishment.

I participate in our area’s Interfaith Organization which hosts, among other activities, non-denominational services at Thanksgiving. One such gathering was held in our stake center. At that event two Muslim boys read from the Koran – one in English, one in Arabic. A rabbi said the opening prayer. Our Stake President gave a talk.

I am aware and grateful that the police are entitled to lie to suspects to get confessions. I support the need for undercover law enforcement officers and others who work in this challenging field. (One member of our former stake presidency, an FBI agent, was called out of a meeting when a criminal he had been pursuing was finally arrested. He spoke to her in her jail cell. Her response to him was, “You’re the first person who has been kind to me in my entire life.”)

Of course I love and “affiliate with” my straight friends who have lived together for years and my gay brothers and sisters. Jesus says love everyone. Treat them kindly, too.

And, while I may not like it, I approve of my rigidly evangelical friend’s right to think I abandoned God when I joined the Mormon Church. That doesn’t mean that I think he’s correct, but I support and agree with his right to believe what he believes. My job is to keep loving and to build harmony where it’s possible.

I don’t feel the need to repent or refrain from any of these situations, but I was glad to have to chew on the words a bit.

I’m also glad I shower regularly, even if no one’s asking.

About Linda Hoffman Kimball

Linda Hoffman Kimball is an artist, writer, photographer, and poet who grew up as a faithful Christian near Chicago, & joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1971 while at Wellesley College near Boston. Early on she assumed that all Latter-day Saints were articulate, inquisitive, faithful, and socially engaged since her role models in the University wards in Cambridge, MA., were. Her husband says she is “fluent, but not native” in Mormon-ese. She is a founding member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

15 thoughts on “Rhetorical Questions”

  1. That question has caused me a great deal of introspection over the years as well, Linda. It is so poorly and generally worded that individual interpretations could include all of the examples you noted and many more. And I'm afraid that those who take it very literally may be discouraged from productive friendships and interactions because of it.

    I have heard that it was introduced many, many years ago in order to ferret out any who were still practicing polygamy (or "affiliating with" splinter groups who did), but I don't have any authoritative reference on that. If anyone has more detail on its inclusion in the recommend interview I'd love to see it.

  2. I'm a lawyer, and even I sometimes joke that this particular question must have been drafted by an attorney. Words do mean something, but the words "support, affiliate with, or agree with" mostly suggest an alignment of thought and belief. And, while the standard answer is "No," I would be okay with a "Yes, and here's how and why." Then, we would take the conversation from there. My guess is that hardly anyone trying to get a recommend really supports, affiliates with or agrees with" groups or individuals whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the church. And if so, that still might be okay. There is nothing in the handbook that actually says what the answers to any of the temple recommend questions should be. They stand on their own merit. While the question may have been originally designed to address polygamist sects, we've been a world wide church for a long time, where none of that is even a faint worry. Therefore, I think the question is what it is. A chance for member, who feels like they support or agree or affiliate with a group or individual contrary to church positions to speak their mind and explain why. Depending on the issue, I might ask someone to explain how they sustain the prophet as PS&R and at the same time answer "yes." The most obvious points of disagreement probably center around SSM and abortion. But it would always be a case by case situation.

  3. I too had a recommend interview this past week & the interviewer, who happens to be an administrator at the university where I'm faculty, stopped at this question, said, "This sounds like it was written by a lawyer, doesn't it?" and asked me what I, a professor of English, thought of it as a question–not, notice, what my answer was (right then). I thought about organizations I've given money to. I thought about organizations whose meetings I've attended. And I certainly thought about a number of individuals I know and yea, even love, whose lifestyles and thoughts are contrary to and quietly, peacefully oppositional to those of the Church. Like Linda, I knew the "right" answer to the question, and answered with it, but I wish I'd responded to the interviewer's other question (what did I think about it as a question) the way the lawyer described it: as an opportunity to speak my mind, to say that the varieties of worldview and the great richness of diversity in the world make it almost inevitable that a thinking person, a reading person, a person who travels and interacts with the world will in some way support, affiliate with, and agree with those whose practices are not those of the Church. I would hope they would! Yet because I assume they're asking if I support those organizations or individuals MORE than I support the Church, or IN LIEU of the Church, or AS A WAY TO UNDERMINE the Church, I can easily say "no." I also don't support, affiliate with, or agree with them in a way that discounts or ignores the Church or my membership in it. I wonder–how might we recommend that the question be rephrased?

  4. Don't want this to be a threadjack, but to me, the other tough question is "Is there anything in your conduct relating to members of your family that is not in harmony with the teachings of the church?" Youth are dumb founded when this question is asked, so usually I re-phrase it and ask if they are abusive to any family members. The usual response is "no," with a smattering of "sometimes I'm mean to my sibling." I'm not sure what the question is looking for. When's the last time someone with verbal, physical, mental or sexual abuse issues admitted to them? Or, for that matter, recognized that they are in fact abusive? And is the question really just geared towards abuse, or is it broad enough to encompass other ways we treat family members? Again, where possible, temple recommend interviews are wonderful opportunities to discuss and ponder our lives, the gospel, and so forth. But people have to be willing to open up and speak their minds. Otherwise, teaching and learning moments are quickly lost.

  5. Emig –

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I have the same fear you have: "that those who take it very literally may be discouraged from productive friendships and interactions because of it." I wish there were a "suggestion box" sometimes. But wouldn't some literally minded folks consider that "Steadying the ark?"

  6. Julie –
    Wonderful thoughts! I suppose asking people outright "Are you actively engaged in the destruction of the church?" wouldn't fly.

    "What do you think about it as a question?" What a juicy question! I worry that its initial intention has gotten lost along the way. What's a person with a with hyper-scrupulous consciences to do – especially knowing that one's access to the temple is connected to it somehow?

  7. Interviewer –
    Thanks enormously for your perspective and thoughts. I don't think it's thread jacking to extend the ruminations to other recommend questions.I don't think I've ever fastened on the the fact that the recommend isn't dependent on the "correct" answers. I once waxed philosophical with my bishop on a particular topic (tied to the question I wrote about) and he took my recommend back saying he needed to think about this more. I did some further explaining of my point of view and I had the recommend back in my hands within minutes. This was not pleasant. That's why I tend toward the minimalist answers. Having one's recommend held hostage – even momentarily in my case – is terrifying when in your heart of hearts you know you're right with God.

    Love your comments.

  8. The last time I was interviewed we were in the heat of the 2012 election campaign. I responded to this question with: "I'm a registered Democrat. Is that OK?" My interviewer, a counselor in the bishopric whose political leanings are decidedly more conservative than mine, laughed as he replied, "Yes, that's OK."

    I agree that the vague wording of the question is problematic, but I also agree that that may be a good thing, because its very vagueness encourages us to more carefully consider where we stand. However, as a professional editor who eschews ambiguity, I might consider amending the question this way:

    Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices cause you to oppose any teachings or practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

    This is a little more specific, but it still leaves room for reflection.

  9. I've always only given minimalist answers. Even when I was giving the "right" answer. It never occured to me to do anything else.

    I always assumed the question about affiliating with groups had to do with apostate groups. I do think it's a bit of a subjective and tricky question. I can only think of one time in my life when I had to examine myself in relation to this question. I had been a long-time member of an online group for LDS mothers. At some point a couple of new members joined the group who were pretty vocal in their criticisms of the church, and that brought out criticisms from others in the group. The entire vibe of the group quickly changed and became so negative toward the church, and this temple recommend question was definitely in my mind as I pondered what to do. I ended up leaving that group. I'm not saying that would have been the right choice for everyone, and I'm sure there were women who stayed in that group that could very honestly answer that question "correctly" with no problems. But for me, I felt that continuing to keep myself in that environment was indeed "affiliating" with people whose teachings opposed the church.

  10. What's the point of an interview if our answers are rote? We could be given a piece of paper and told to check the boxes. I've discussed my points of view in regards to this question and also discussed challenges I used to have with my relationship with my mother-in-law. The discussions always brought insightful counsel from the life of the Savior. And I was always given a recommend.
    On a side note, I've always cringed at visiting teaching interviews that consist of the checkbox yes and no answers.
    One of the most Christ-like friends I ever had only asked 2 questions when she interviewed visiting teachers when she was a relief society president:
    1) will you please tell me about each sister you visit?
    2) will you please tell me about you?

  11. other questions cause me much more concern than this particular one, as I understand what the question is really trying to ask. however, the one about being completely honest in all your dealings has always been of concern. I want to ask for definitions and examples before I answer. I am concerned however, that the interviewer will not take my interruption of his routine kindly nor be able to understand my concern without getting the impression that I have something serious to confess. I would really like to have a good half hour of personal time with my priesthood leader to explore discuss and ask questions.

  12. Jennifer Rueben–I think you should take that time. That's what they are there for. They should listen to you and be open to discuss issues–otherwise, they aren't doing their job right. If you are truly doing your best to keep your covenants, then they should be willing to discuss, to council (with you–not at you), and to act as a sounding board in your spiritual wanderings. If they wont listen to you flesh out your ideas, and yank a recommend hastily, there is always an option to go above heads, but I have found my priesthood leaders to always be open to discussing thoughts with mercy and openness. My husband does recommend interviews, and he is soooooooo concerned with doing it with the spirit and with mercy. I think that's the norm, rather than the exception.

  13. when ten people are waiting or the meeting they conduct is starting in 5 min. there is a lot of pressure to just keep it


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