the thinker

Sacred or Secret?

Shhh…by Steven DePolo

When historical or doctrinal questions arise in discussions concerning The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes a response of, "It's too sacred to talk about," is given by a member. This response is usually given for one of two reasons: (1) The person giving the response has learned that certain things concerning the Church should not be spoken about or (2) The person giving the response doesn't have an answer (it just seems easier to say "it's sacred" instead of speculating) or the answer or information could cause doubt in the hearer because it may be thought of as "odd" or "weird" by the hearer. In either case, this silences the one with concerns.

"Sacred" simply means "entitled to veneration or religious respect." (sacred. Unabridged. Retrieved May 07, 2015, from website.)

"Secret" means "kept from the knowledge of any but the initiated or privileged." (secret. Unabridged. Retrieved May 07, 2015, from website.)

Should Mormons use the word "sacred" when referring to things they are told they aren't supposed to talk about, or should they use the word "secret"?

Society in general can think of secrets as a bad thing, but within Mormonism, "secret," takes on additional negative connotations because the Book of Mormon strongly condemns secret oaths, secret works, secret societies, secret combinations, etc. (For Book of Mormon references dealing with the negative implications of secrecy, see Ether 8, 2 Nephi 9, 2 Nephi 26, Helaman 6, Alma 37, Mormon 8 and 3 Nephi 4.)

When someone uses the word "secret" it sounds like they have something to hide. And in a religion it can sound cult-like. Some things within the Church labeled sacred instead of secret are the things associated with the temple. For many people who have gone through the washing, anointing and endowment ceremonies, they felt that indeed, it did seem weird, odd, and even cult-like. Instead of talking about these things openly, and have people wonder about the oddness of such things, it is easier to shut down discussion by saying, "It is too sacred to talk about."

To most Christians, including Mormons, the name "God" is sacred, so they choose to obey the commandment that says, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain." (Exodus 20:7) This does not mean they do not speak the names or titles of deity at all, whether it be God, Lord, Elohim, Jesus, Christ, etc., but rather they speak these words with reverence and respect.

Nothing is more sacred in LDS theology than the Atonement of Jesus Christ. However, every detail that is known of that sacred event is discussed openly in the Church. It is written about in the Bible. It is spoken about in classes and talks. It is not avoided. It is not secret. However, if someone within the LDS Church began speculating about the atonement, they may be silenced by another claiming, "It is too sacred to talk about." This brings up another reason to employ the word "sacred."

If there are topics or events in LDS theology or history that don't have an easy answer, or the answer/information could cause doubt, Mormons may label that information as sacred. The purpose for this is to stop the seeker from questioning. Labeling something sacred is an immediate conversation- and thought-stopper.

As mentioned above, discussions with Mormons concerning the temple are very generic because they are labeled "sacred." On the website, in the Youth section, there is an article called, "What happens in your temples, and why are you so secretive about it?" The answer follows:

We don't think of it as secret so much as sacred. In the temple we participate in sacred ordinances and make covenants with Heavenly Father. We learn about His plan of salvation and the role of the Savior Jesus Christ, as well as the glorious promises He makes to us if we are faithful and obedient. Also, the temple is where we are married and sealed together as families for all eternity. There, we can also participate in these ordinances vicariously for our deceased ancestors.

"What happens in your temples, and why are you so secretive about it?" Youth, LDS website. (Emphasis in the original.)

Interestingly, each thing mentioned in the response is actually fully discussed everywhere within the church. Nothing is sacred about any of those items, although the first thing mentioned in the response is "sacred ordinances." This is the part that isn't spoken of because they are actually secret ordinances. To imply that it is not secret is wrong. In fact, previous to 1990 within the "sacred ordinance" itself, it said five times that the participants were under an "obligation of secrecy" regarding those ordinances. Four of those uses of "secrecy" were removed in 1990, but one is still there. (For more information, see our section on "Secret or Sacred?" on The Temple page on MormonThink.)

Another example is when the translation process of the Book of Mormon gets labeled as sacred. But what, exactly, about the translation process would have been more worthy of veneration than the atonement of Jesus Christ which is spoken of openly? But this is the very thing that LDS apologist Stephen D. Ricks gives as a reason why Joseph Smith may not have described the Book of Mormon translation process:

That reticence, I suspect, is the result of some bad experiences that Joseph might have already had when he made known very sacred things to individuals.

"The Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon," Stephen D. Ricks, (1994, Neal A. Maxwell Institute).

Joseph allowed others to talk about the process in a fair amount of detail and were never reprimanded by Joseph for their disclosures. It sounds more likely that Joseph wanted what he knew kept secret. (For more information about this quote by Ricks, see MormonThink's "Joseph's comments" on the Translation of the Book of Mormon page.


Matthew 7:6

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

This scripture is often used as justification that there are some things that "are too sacred to talk about." In this part of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus was teaching the people about judging others. He finishes up His words on judging by telling His disciples to make a judgment call as to who should and should not receive that which is holy—do not give it to dogs or swine, both unclean animals. It's hard to imagine that devout members would consider other devout members as unworthy of hearing about sacred things.

Immediately following the injunction against who not to share holy things with are verses 7-12 which talk about those who ask. In short, Jesus says that for those who ask, you must share. If the swine and the pigs are not brutish, but sincerely ask for that which is holy, should they give that which is asked for?

Faithful members who have questions concerning LDS doctrine or history are neither dogs nor swine, and other faithful members are under obligation to share that which is holy when they are asked. Jesus sums it up nicely when he completes the section on judging and asking when in verse 12 he said,

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

Other scriptures do a better job at providing a response that some things should be left unsaid, such as 2 Cor 12:4 or Alma 12:9. It is understandable that some personal experiences may be kept as just that. But even still, using the phrase with something like the temple ceremony and endowment is silly since there is nothing "sacred" about what goes on—handshakes, covenants and oaths. Why should they be kept secret? We don't keep the sacrament prayer, baptismal prayer and ordinance secret.

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