“Why must one who is divorced be cleared by the First Presidency to go back to the temple?” Ensign, Feb. 1976, 34–35
Elder Henry D. Taylor, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve First let me briefly review the policies of the Church with regard to temple recommends in cases of divorce.
While divorce or annulment proceedings are under way, a person may be issued or retain a temple recommend if a careful and searching interview shows that he or she is innocent of any serious wrongdoing in connection with the divorce or annulment and is otherwise worthy. When the divorce or annulment is final, however, a divorce clearance must be obtained from the First Presidency by the parties involved, if they were sealed to each other in the temple, before they may be permitted to continue temple attendance or receive a recommend. This also applies to individuals who have been divorced from a civil marriage if they have been endowed and previously sealed in the temple.
We see, then, that those who are divorced do not automatically lose their temple recommends finally and forever. Recommends are, however, withheld during the time between the final decree of divorce and the issuance of a divorce clearance by the First Presidency. There are good reasons for this.
Eternal marriage is a holy ordinance that is necessary to a man and a woman’s exaltation in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, or in other words, eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God.” (D&C 14:7.) It is the gateway to salvation. The keys of this salvation are centered in Christ, who is the head of the Church; and in each dispensation when the fulness of the gospel has been present on the earth, he has delegated those keys to the one man, or succession of men, whom he raised up to lead his church. These keys of salvation were restored in this dispensation by the prophet Elijah (see D&C 110:13–16), and only one person, the president of the Church, holds the keys of the administration of sealing ordinances for the salvation of all men today (see D&C 132:7, 45–46).
These ordinances are most sacred, and so also are the surroundings in which they are performed. A prophet in our day has taught: “Our temples are the nearest place to heaven of any place here upon the earth.”
In general terms, and this is something that pertains to all of us, it is the Lord’s plan that no unrepentant sinner enter the temple, for the Lord has declared that he will not abide in temples that have been defiled by any unclean thing. (See D&C 97:15–19.) The President of the Church, President Spencer W. Kimball, is directly responsible to the Lord to see that the sacredness of the temples and the ordinances performed therein are maintained. I can assure you that President Kimball takes that stewardship most seriously.
Now, in terms of the divorced, there are many reasons for divorce. Certainly, many divorces do not result from moral or other serious transgressions. But some do. And even in some of these tragedies we know that many persons who take the serious step of divorce are the innocent victims, as it were, of a partner’s actions. So what is the divorce clearance? The divorce clearance procedure is simply the First Presidency’s way of determining the facts in each instance. This they recognize as their solemn duty. Perhaps, then, these considerations will outweigh any inconvenience brought about by a temporary loss of a temple recommend until the full particulars are known.
It is important for you to know that in the review of divorce clearance applications there is no prejudgment or assumption of unworthiness or guilt whatsoever; the circumstances are simply reviewed by those who have stewardship over the sealing power. Where there is no serious wrongdoing on the part of the applicant, and where he or she is otherwise worthy, clearances are granted.
Where, however, there is evidence of unfaithfulness, transgression, or disregard for the sacred character of the eternal marriage covenant, the repentance of those involved must be ensured before recommends can be issued. A prophet has declared that some transgressors cannot truly repent until they have been subjected to an appropriate Church court. (On a ward level this would be a bishops court. On a stake level this would be a high council court called by the stake president.) If disciplinary action is warranted, the penalties invoked should be in effect over a sufficiently long period of time to prove that repentance is genuine. This pattern, however, is a principle applied to all persons who seek entrance into the house of the Lord, not just to the divorced.