I suppose we all have a general idea of how a wedding is arranged. Two people who epitomise the triumph of hope over experience propose to be married. They may plan a civil ceremony, or they might go for a church wedding but, either way, certain legal requirements must be met.
That done the venue is booked – a registry office or a church – and arrangements are made. If a church wedding the Christian minister/pastor/priest counsels the couple on the serious, covenant nature of the promises they are about to make and there is a reminder that they make these vows before God.
Guest lists are “negotiated”, giving the happy couple their first real row perhaps, with the realisation that they might have been naïve in thinking they were simply marrying each other
A celebratory feast is planned, the reception at which the happy couple receive their guests formally, and during which key people whose usual conversation is football, cars and work, stumble over effusive praise and admiration for the bride/groom. Mother cries, father is manly, young brothers embarrassed, sisters jealous and altogether a sense of having done something special as a community prevails.
Marriage is public and societal
The above may strike you as a rather jaded description and it is. I wrote it that way deliberately to make this point. However modest or grand, easy or difficult the day. However embarrassing some relatives and friends, however noble and wonderful the way others rise to the occasion. However stirred we may be on the day, or blunted may be our enthusiasm for these customs in light of their subsequent problems and failings a marriage is something a community agrees to together
It is a public declaration before witnesses and before God of two people's intention to live in relation to that community in a new relationship with that community and with each other and it is a serious, and inclusive, business.
The happy couple are reminded of “the solemn and binding character of the vows you are about to make.” They and all those present are reminded that marriage is the union of one man with one woman voluntarily entered into for life to the exclusion of all others. So the community know “he/she is mine”, understand the exclusive nature of this new relationship and their role towards it.
The bride and groom are, respectively, asked searching questions about their intentions. “Will you love, honour and respect..?” and are invited to “solemnly declare that there is no reason why” they should not be married. They then “call upon the people here present to witness” to these things. When you witness a wedding you are a witness to a wedding and a participant in the establishment of a new arrangement. In this way the community is invited to recognise the relationship and do all it can to help make it work.
Something is said along the lines of, “In the presence of family and friends (groom and bride) have given their consent and made their marriage vows to each other. They have declared their love by the joining of hands and by the giving and receiving of a ring.”
Then, on behalf of the gathered community the officiating officer says - “I therefore declare that we (the community) see them now as husband and wife.” Note “In the presence of family and friends” and “we see them now as husband and wife.”
Throughout history such vows have been essential to the cementing of communities, vital to the building of civilisation. The solemn and public recognition of the roles played by different members of the community brings order and understanding, builds trust and strength as we relate daily to the people who mean most to us, and with whom we identify. We recognise, we promise, we covenant before and with our community.
Mormon Marriage is Secret and Exclusive
To a Mormon, especially for a young Mormon woman, a temple marriage is the great goal; to be worthy to attend the temple and to marry in the temple. A Mormon temple wedding, unlike any other, is not just for life but “for time and all eternity” and these vows are taken very seriously. So you might expect that a young couple would want everyone who is important to them to attend and witness this special day.
According to the Mormon Church Handbook of Instructions, “Only members who have valid recommends and received their endowments may attend a temple marriage.” (Church Handbook p.71)
For those not familiar with the role and purpose of Mormon temples let me explain that, unlike biblical temples, Mormon temples can only be attended by Mormons in good standing with the church, worthy and shown to be worthy after rigorous and probing interviews with church leaders who issue passes into the temple called recommends. Only a third of Mormons are meaningfully involved in the church and only half of those are considered worthy and so even Mormon family and friends may not attend a Mormon temple wedding.
Even then, there are limits to who may attend. The Handbook goes on to dictate, “ Couples should invite only family members and close friends to be present for a temple marriage” (ibid) Where couples usually discuss whether their wedding should be a small affair or a grand day, for the Mormon couple the decision is made.
Only temple worthy Mormons may attend and, even then, only a select few. Anyone who has been inside a Mormon temple sealing room will readily understand the logistical problem of seating a large party of guests into a space no bigger than a small hotel room. But imagine telling family and friends they can't come to your wedding because they are not worthy, or not close enough to be included.
Mormon Temples Divide Families
The church that insists “Families are Forever” and declares that, “the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of his children” (Proclamation on the Family) divides families at the very point where families should be most involved. The covenant traditionally made before and with the community that means most to us are now entered into before a select group of “worthy” witnesses whose involvement is controlled by the Mormon Church.
What arrangements can be made to include the unworthy and “distant” friends and relations? The Handbook explains:
“A couple may arrange with their bishop to hold a special meeting for relatives and friends who do not have temple recommends. This meeting provides an opportunity for those who cannot enter the temple to feel included in the marriage and to learn something of the eternal nature of the marriage covenant. The meeting may include a prayer and special music, followed by the remarks of a priesthood leader. No ceremony is performed, and no vows are exchanged.
No other marriage ceremony should be performed following a temple marriage.” (p.71)
So “unworthy”dad won't walk his daughter down the aisle; “unworthy” mum won't be involved in preparing her daughter for the big day, won't give her reassuring looks, won't shed a tear as her daughter's hand is given; “unworthy” family and friends will not witness a ceremony, will not be invited “I call upon these people here present”, will be excluded from the very covenant ceremony of which they are among the most important celebrants. I call upon these people here absent?
It is about control, power and control, and nothing is so important to the Mormon Church as that level of control in members' lives that allows it to dictate their lives in every respect. The church doesn't celebrate the family, rather, where the family should be most involved and embraced, it seeks to replace the family. The family that can only be included if it surrenders control to the Mormon Church.