Members of the LDS Church don’t talk much about what happens in the temple. As is often said, we regard these things as sacred. I submit at the time the endowment was introduced there was also a need for secrecy, since it was not known who was true and who was traitor.
The ceremonies of the temple involve preparation to become servants of God. The instructions given and covenants made in the temple are towards this end of preparing individuals for eternal life.
As discussed in the Bible and argued by Jesus in John 10: 34-38, the Jewish law taught that mortals could become gods.[ref]Psalms 82: 6.[/ref] The purpose of the temple would be to allow individuals to enter into those covenants and perform those ordinances that would prepare them to becomes the gods the Bible speaks of, holy beings who serve God, the Father of all. These individuals would, if faithful, reign and minister in God’s heaven.
The instructions form a basis for understanding God’s work and salvation: our existence before mortality, the fall of Adam and Eve, the purpose of our mortal lives, the reality of resurrection after this life, and the possibility of returning to live with God in his kingdom.[ref]See Endowed from On High: Temple Preparation Seminar Teacher’s Manual, Lesson 1: The Temple Teaches about the Great Plan of Salvation, available online at lds.org, retrieved 18 August 2014.[/ref]
Environment in which the Endowment was Introduced
Had Joseph lived in calm times, it seems reasonable that he would have introduced the temple instruction and ritual in advance of the formal opening of the temple, to train those who would be administering the ritual to the rest of the congregants partaking of the rituals.
But Joseph did not live in calm times. He would not live to see completion of the Nauvoo temple, where the endowment would be introduced “openly” to the faithful.
In 1842, Joseph and others were trying to uncover a ring of sexual predators, as discussed in my post Hunt in the City Beautiful. By April several women had been denied entrance into the prestigious Relief Society based on accusations regarding their activities. There is no record of what Emma and Joseph had learned from talking with these women.
On May 4, 1842, Joseph and Hyrum Smith gathered eight trusted men and introduced them to the endowment ceremony. The men were James Adams, William Law, William Marks, George Miller, Brigham Young, Newel K. Whitney, Heber C. Kimball, and Willard Richards.[ref]Devery S. Anderson, The Anointed Quorum in Nauvoo, 1842-45, Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Fall 2003), pp. 137-157.[/ref] If is interesting to note that all three men who had reported to Joseph regarding John C. Bennett’s past are included in this initial group (George Miller, Hyrum Smith, and William Law). The endowment was not to be discussed with outsiders. Specifically, the teachings regarding Christian duty and morality were in stark contrast to the spiritual wifery being taught and practiced in Nauvoo, the illicit sexual liaisons Joseph was attempting to uncover and root out in May 1842.
Three days later, on May 7, 1842, a mock battle was staged. During this battle, John C. Bennett tried to persuade Joseph to take a prominent role. When this failed, John suggested Joseph take a position in the rear without his guard. Joseph again declined and stationed himself in a position of his choosing next to one of his bodyguards. Joseph and others would later report that they believed an attempt on his life had been planned to occur during the mock battle.[ref]History of the Church, 5:4; B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century One, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1930), 2:140–41.[/ref]
Before the month of May had expired, several women came forward and testified before the Nauvoo High Council regarding the men who had seduced them, as discussed in my post Arraigning the Band of Brothers.
Thus the endowment, when first introduced, was not just preparing the participants to become rulers in some future heaven, but was a mechanism to bind participants together in strict loyalty and moral probity in a time when illicit sexuality and murder were afoot.
Fate of the Initial members of the Anointed Quorum
A comparison of the men who were involved in the introduction of the endowment yields interesting insights.
Newel K. Whitney and Heber C. Kimball would both be sealed to their legal spouses before May 1843,[ref]Newel K. Whitney was sealed to his wife, Elizabeth, on August 21, 1842. The date of the sealing between Heber C. Kimball and his wife Vilate is uncertain, but the sealing occurred before May 1843.[/ref] the only two couples to receive this ordinance before Joseph was sealed to his own wife, Emma. In each case, the sealing was predicated on an unusually faithful act related to the introduction of plural marriage.
James Adams would be the first man to be sealed to his legal wife after Emma and Joseph, on the same day as the sealing between Emma and Joseph, on 28 May 1843.
Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, and Willard Richards would each be sealed to their civil wife the following day, 29 May 1843. Brigham Young had been one of Joseph’s early confidants regarding plural marriage, and in 1842 had taken in twenty year old Lucy Ann Decker [Seeley], a mother of three children who had been abandoned by her abusive, alcoholic husband. Willard Richards appears to have been one of Joseph’s confidants regarding plural marriage, based on his care for Marinda Johnson [Hyde] during the initial months of 1842.
William Marks, George Miller, and William Law were not sealed to their civil wives. I suspect these three were not informed in May 1843 that such sealings were possible. I infer Joseph was not certain of the loyalty of these three.
In fall of 1843, Hyrum shared the revelation regarding marriage (and plural marriage) with William Law. It is not possible to determine if Hyrum did this on his own initiative or if he had consulted Joseph first. When William and Jane Law requested the privilege of being sealed to one another, Joseph refused. According to various accounts, Joseph had determined that William was guilty of adultery, and thus was not worthy to receive the blessing of being sealed to his wife. William Law went on to plot Joseph’s death, details of the plot only becoming known because people were willing to risk their lives.[ref]The history of these interactions between Joseph and William Law are documented in my earlier post, Conferring the Mantle. There are conflicting reports regarding what happened between Joseph and William. I choose to believe that only one reality actually occurred, and I choose to believe the accounts of Joseph and his friends and only those other reports consistent with the reality inferred from Joseph and his friends.[/ref]
Any discussion of temple ordinances by active members of the Church will necessarily be curtailed. Those who know of what they speak have taken vows to respect the sacred nature of these things. Any who therefore discuss these sacred things in detail are either uninformed or oath breakers.[ref]The standard for what may and may not appropriately be discussed can be inferred from authorized works by LDS Church authorities, such as Boyd K. Packer’s book, The Holy Temple, or the Church’s temple preparation manual, cited earlier in this post.[/ref]
But it betrays no secrets to explain that members of the LDS Church believe the sealing of a marriage in the temple is an extremely important ordinance. Nor is it betraying sacred mysteries to confirm that sexual relations outside the bounds of a legal marriage are considered inappropriate and sinful.
As I reviewed the teachings regarding marriage and sexual fidelity presented in the temple, I could not help but reflect on the environment in which Joseph introduced these teachings, where high Church leaders such as John C. Bennett and William Smith[ref]The testimony of Catherine Laur Fuller Warren would assert that William had sought to lay with her and had asked her to become his particular spiritual wife. However none of the extant testimony actually documents that William succeeded in practicing spiritual wifery.[/ref] would be found to be involved in the illicit sexuality of spiritual wifery.