The Pharisees come in for a lot of criticism in the New Testament and, picking up on this, Christians down the generations have come to use the name as a byword for someone who is overzealous and legalistic. This is a correct application and you can see why.
“When he [John the Baptist] saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them; 'You brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.'” (Mt.3:7-8)
Pronouncing seven woes on Pharisees and experts in the law Jesus said:
“ And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Lk.11:46)
Pharisees tried very hard to be good and keep the law, hedging it about with ever more petty rules to ensure no one transgresses, “you give a tenth of your spices – mint and dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.” (Mt.23:23)
The result of all this was an increasingly weighty body of rules to cover every aspect of life and ensure obedience in everything but to the neglect, as Jesus pointed out, of the weightier parts of the law. Jesus referred to Pharisees who “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Mt.23:24) This is a reference to fastidiousness about dietary law that caused Pharisees to strain their wine through their teeth in order to “strain out a gnat” and avoid eating something forbidden but to turn a blind eye to more serious issues.
If you want to get a feeling for what it is to live under such a regime you need look no further than the Mormon rules on temple marriages.
Last time we looked at how Mormon temples divide families and how controlling the Mormon Church is, even dictating who can and can't, should and shouldn't be invited to a temple wedding. This control extends to even the formal dress worn by the bride, groom and guests, with wedding dresses being “white, long-sleeved, modest in design and fabric and free of elaborate ornamentation” - and without a train. “Tuxedos, dinner jackets, cummerbunds, formal head-wear, and boutonnières and other flowers are not appropriate...” (Church Handbook of Instructions, book 1, p.71) The exchanging of rings and vows are also prohibited during the temple marriage ceremony.
“Unworthy” relatives and friends may be invited to a special meeting that “provides an opportunity for those who cannot enter the temple to feel included in the marriage.” How included they might feel is questionable since “no ceremony is performed, and no vows are exchanged” during this meeting. Given the distance most Mormons must travel to get to a temple it hardly seems worth the journey for “unworthy” members and non-members to sit in a room waiting to be told the bride and groom are now married and to possibly hear “a prayer and special music, followed by the remarks of a priesthood leader” because that is all they will hear. What will he say? They are now married – honest? The ceremony was beautiful, you should have been there?
There are countries, such as here in the UK, where secret wedding ceremonies are not recognised in law. But this brings into play a host of other rules. Here a civil ceremony may be conducted in the usual way followed, after one year, by a temple ceremony. However, the one year waiting period is waived provided one or more of a number of conditions are met. Conditions including legal requirements, the availability of a temple, unchaperoned travel by an already civilly married couple requiring one or more overnight stops (yes, ironically, sex between a faithfully married couple not already sealed in the temple disqualifies the candidates)
Then there are the “special circumstances” that may arise prompting the question, “can a couple be married in the temple if...?” Just the kind of question the Pharisees and teachers of the law would have relished. “Ooh, that's a good one. What happens if a man marries a woman who was already previously sealed to a husband who is now dead AND if the proposed new husband was previously divorced from the woman who was sealed to him?”
Well, this is what happens. The couple may marry in the temple for time only and she may petition the First Presidency for a cancellation of the previous sealing (her poor dead husband having apparently no say in the matter. Imagine that, coveting the wife of a man who is beyond the grave. Is that Celestial adultery? Even Joseph Smith didn't do that) and he may receive a sealing clearance from the same source. Then they may, on presentation of the appropriate paperwork at the temple, be sealed together for time and eternity. She has a new husband and he another wife - of which more presently.
But what if there are children from these previous relationships? Children born to temple-married parents are said to be “born in the covenant” but where will your kids go if a previously entered into sealing is revoked? What about children born out of wedlock? Foster children, adopted children? Children conceived by artificial insemination? What happens if two people who previously committed adultery now want to make their relationship legitimate? It gets complicated and, frankly, silly but it is all covered in the Mormon Handbook of Instructions. The oddest one however is “deceased couples who were divorced.”
“Deceased couples who were divorced may be sealed by proxy. These sealings often provide the only way for children of such couples to be sealed to parents.” (Church Handbook, book 1, p.74) It happens - Elisabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. But really now. Is it likely that two people who couldn't abide the thought of a lifetime together would seriously consider a relationship for eternity?
The surprising and revealing thing is, however, the practice of polygamy in Mormon temples. Ask a Mormon about polygamy and they will likely raise their eyes to the skies and patiently explain, “We don't practice polygamy. It has been banned since 1890.” But this is a disingenuous answer because, in Mormon temples, members may enter into polygamous marriages.
In the example given above a man's wife has died and he is entering into a marriage with another woman. They may be sealed for time and eternity, leaving him with two wives as far as the Mormon Church is concerned and they will both be his after the resurrection. Note in the example that the only requirements are that his first wife is dead and he gets a “sealing clearance”, a certificate allowing him to take another.
The church leadership is effectively saying, 'Yes, you may take a second wife.' Further, the handbook says, “A deceased man may have sealed to him all women to whom he was legally married during his life if they are deceased or if they are living and not sealed to another man” (ibid. p.73) This is polygamy – isn't it?
Especially noteworthy however is the fact that, “A deceased woman may be sealed to all men to whom she was legally married during her life. However, if she was sealed to a husband during her life, all her husbands must be deceased before she can be sealed to a husband to whom she was not sealed during life” (ibid) Note the words, “sealed to all men to whom she was legally married.” This is polyandry, the practice of one woman taking more than one husband – isn't it.
Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? (Jer.13:23)