Mormonism and temples/Endowment/Penalties
Why were "penalties" removed from the Endowment?
Critics point out that a former version of the endowment used to contain mention of various "penalties" associated with the breaking of the temple covenants. They use this fact to claim that the temple encouraged violence or vengeance against those who violated its covenants, or that the Church sought to use fear to motivate members to keep their covenants. One critic even proposes asking the following question of Mormon politicians as a religious test for those who are running for office,
"Before 1990, the endowment ceremony required members to take an oath of secrecy not to reveal anything that happened in the temple under penalty of death. Did you take that oath?"
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
Temple penalties involved promising to resist even extreme efforts to cause us to break temple covenants. They never contemplated or advocated inflicting such penalties on others, or the threat of having them inflicted upon us. Only the wicked would inflict such penalties; the endowed member simply covenanted to resist all such efforts.
Critics misrepresent this part of the temple ceremony, which is relatively easy to do since members endowed since April 1990 will have had no direct experience with the penalties mentioned.
Contrary to the critics' representation, the ceremony said nothing about what would happen to people if they revealed that which they had covenanted to keep secret. Nor did the ceremony encourage anyone to inflict penalties on another.
Rather, the person making the covenant indicated what they would prefer to have done to themselves rather than reveal sacred things. (The penalties also had symbolic implications that are rooted in the Old Testament, which are beyond the scope of this article). So, the temple ceremony did not involve descriptions of what God (or others) would do to someone if they failed to keep their covenants, but instead illustrated the seriousness with which the participant should make the temple covenants.
The penalties served, among other things, to teach us how determined we should be to resist those who would encourage us to violate covenants. The endowment said nothing about the consequences of violating covenants save that one would be judged by God for doing so. Such judgment of necessity remains always in the hands of God alone. (The Church might, of course, discipline a member for violation of covenants via excommunication, but this is the extent of the penalty which the Church can apply; see DC 134:10.)
This important distinction was sometimes not well understood by some members, and this is likely one reason that penalties were removed from the current ceremony. The penalties confused people more than it helped them, in our era, and the presentation of the endowment has changed (and will likely continue to change) when necessary to administer the ordinances and associated doctrinal teaching in the most effective way.
Still today, our common vernacular is laced with mentions of penalties. Solemn claims are often followed with, for instance, "cross my heart, hope to die" or "may Heaven strike me dead". Obviously, such penalties are not to be taken seriously, but rather to convey the veracity of a claim or the seriousness with which claims are made.