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After performing a ring ceremony for a beautiful, newly married couple, I posted a photo of the event on social media, and a few days later, someone commented to me that something was missing from the photo. They gestured to the bride’s shoulder, inferring a “missing” temple garment sleeve.
That led me to write a Facebook post titled, “Is she wearing her temple garment in that wedding photo?” I talked at length about the need to not judge others. The response far surpassed anything I have ever posted by a hundredfold. It went viral with more than 5,100 comments, 22,000 likes, and 19,000 shares. The post was also shared by LDS Living. I say this not to bring attention to myself but to show that clearly this subject struck a nerve, with Latter-day Saints discussing how to apply the principle of non-judgment in a practical way.
In that post, I explained that as a YSA bishop, I officiated at many ring ceremonies that took place after temple sealings. The purpose of a ring ceremony is to bring families and friends together in celebration of a couple making commitments and covenants with each other. After posting a photo of a ring ceremony, I received questions like, “Did you notice what was missing in that photo?” and “What was missing below her shoulder straps?” It was disappointing that this was the focus that some chose to discuss, rather than the goodness and beauty of that wonderful couple. It gave me a better understanding of why some in our church feel marginalized and withdraw.
I reflected on that ring ceremony. I never noticed that her garment may have been missing—it never entered my mind. All I saw was the beauty of that young couple coming together to be married, her tender-hearted father walking her down the aisle to join her new husband. Was she possibly wearing her own mother’s wedding dress? Could they be new converts and their families were not members? Could this wonderful woman be a recent convert without a lifetime of instruction on and preparation for this issue?
The garment represents a covenant between the individual and Heavenly Father. But that personal covenant is not to be used as a measuring stick to judge others’ commitment to their personal covenants. Some people may need time to figure out wearing the garment, and each will come to their own conclusions with their Heavenly Parents about what is right for them. Deciding what is right for me does not give me permission to project my choice onto other people.
In saying this, I am not endorsing a casual approach to temple commitments or wearing the garment. My garment reminds me of the Savior, His sacrifice for me, and my temple covenants. There is power in those covenants that gives me great spiritual strength.
But this is not about the temple garment! Rather, it illustrates a broader challenge in the Church: the culture of judging based on appearance and sometimes shaming others. As I meet with so many on the fringes of the Church, I learn that it is often this culture—not the doctrine or the commandments—that causes them to withdraw. They feel judged. Instead of coming to church to enjoy the Savior’s healing touch where everyone is loved and accepted, with friends walking with them as they move forward in life, they feel critical eyes and judgmental attitudes.
Do we have thoughts like these?
That skirt is too short.
Is that a double pierced ear?
Why are they home from their mission early?
Why are they in that political party?
Are they acting on their same-sex attraction?
Why didn’t they take the sacrament?
Why aren’t they dating anyone?
Why didn’t their marriage work?
I’m not sure about her working outside the home.
Why is he not wearing a white shirt?
Why do they have tattoos? Don’t they know their body is a
I heard they messed up at school.
Why haven’t they submitted their mission papers yet?
Why didn’t they serve a mission?
Why did they march for that cause?
I wonder why they go skiing (play sports, eat in restaurants) on Sunday.
Why haven’t they had kids yet?
Do we ask newly engaged couples which temple they will be sealed in, partly as a way to assess their worthiness? Do we do the same when reading a wedding invitation?
We sometimes extend this type of seeing to social media posts. Do we see that outdoor activity photo collage and notice that it was posted on a Sunday? Do we look at that glass in a restaurant photo and wonder what is in it? Do we notice that swimsuit and rate its modesty based on our own family rules?
Does this focus on appearance and behaviors actually add to our own mental load and increase the burden to fit in and be the “perfect” Latter-day Saint ourselves? By enumerating the ways that others fall short, is our inner voice turning to criticism of ourselves as well?
I don’t want to be too negative, as many individuals and congregations are doing a great job with welcoming all, but there is room for improvement.
I invite everyone to keep the commandments and enjoy the blessings that follow. One of the most important commandments was named by the Savior: to love one another (see John 13:34). We need to retrain our brains and eyes to stop focusing on others’ possible shortcomings. After meeting with so many on the margins and hearing their stories, I now “see” how our church culture looks through their eyes, and it has changed my heart and feelings toward these good people. I now try to understand everyone as my equal—a daughter or son of loving Heavenly Parents, trying to do their best as they move forward in life, measured by their own yardstick and not my yardstick for them. I look for their Christlike attributes, talents, the way they are contributing to society, and what I can learn from them. I seek to see them the way I believe our Heavenly Parents see them. I accept them where they are and extend my love, understanding and encouragement.
The following was taken from the book, Listen, Learn, and Love: Improving Latter-day Saint Culture by Richard Ostler, currently on sale at Cedarfort.com.