Thursday, 26 May 2011

Mormon Temple Marriage

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 na├»ve 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.


  1. I really think you profoundly misunderstand a few things. LDS theology is built upon the pillar of agency. Agency is the Prime Directive of the whole Plan, so to speak. It is the opposite of control.

    In the pre-existence Lucifer wanted to destroy agency and force all mankind to do his will -- and the promise was that as a result of this coercion we would all be saved. This plan was rejected for the plan of Jesus (or Jehovah as he was known prior to his birth.) Jesus' plan was agency -- in which we would all have to choose to follow him -- and some of us wouldn't. Jesus knew that we would all make mistakes and so provided us a way to be saved from our sins, though we would still have to choose it.

    Jesus' plan was accepted and Lucifer's plan was rejected. Lucifer rebelled and was cast out. Agency was so important that God was willing to lose some of his precious children so that they might have agency. Besides, without agency there really is no such thing as good and evil. Without agency it is all the same.

    I know that many no-Mos and ex-Mos get a kick out of saying everything is about power (or money) in the LDS Church, but it really doesn't make any sense. There is no coercion involved. There is nothing that one cannot simply walk away from at any time.

    About marriage then: Many societies, though not all, view marriage as a public event. It has become a cultural norm in our society, but so...? A cultural norm has little to do with objective truth. Christians are aghast at many other cultural norms.

    It is interesting to look at how different groups view marriage. In some of our current cultural battles, such as the one currently been fought over gay marriage, marriage is viewed as a government function. It is viewed as political tool undertaken to secure benefits from the government. It is viewed as a contract between a couple and the state. Marriage means political equality.

    Then you have Mormons, who view marriage as a sacred covenant between a couple and God. It is not about the public or obtaining benefits from the government. It is not meant to be a huge material-world affair, though some couples do get carried away with receptions and such. Marriage is the highest sacrament in the LDS faith. It is sacred and holy. It is performed quietly and humbly, kneeling at an altar before God. What it means is binding a family together for now and forever in an eternal priesthood chain.

    Now, any family member and close friend is welcome to attend such a ceremony if they wish to qualify for a temple recommend. Perhaps your question needs to be reframed: Why would a parent choose having a beer over attending the wedding of a beloved daughter...? Which of these is more loved...?

    I think a truly loving non-member or non-temple-worthy parent who took the time to understand the deep eternal significance that temple marriage holds for an LDS son or daughter would choose not to be offended and hostile, even if they were very disappointed.

  2. Carol, I am struck by how many Mormons quote Star Trek when discussing their faith. I wonder what it says about the Mormon, or perhaps the American worldview. I am at a loss to understand why the lecture on pre-existence and agency. What bearing does it have on the subject?

    As to whether I understand the subject well I understand enough to know that there were not two plans in the Mormon council in heaven. Maybe I know that because I was a Mormon for many years and spent much of that time teaching in Sunday School, priesthood, seminary, institute, investigator and Gospel Principles classes.

    You write of the Mormon view of marriage as, "a sacred covenant between a couple and God", going on to say, "It is not about the public or obtaining benefits from the government."

    Much of what you write reflects, it seems, your personal view rather than the subject itself. There is nothing here about contracts with governments and I wonder if your political/ideological outlook has clouded your understanding of what I am saying.

    Further, the understanding of marriage as a covenant is not by any means peculiar to Mormonism, as I think my post demonstrates. There is something in the way you write that suggests the sacred nature of covenant is understood by Mormons alone.

    Nor is the idea of a covenant before God peculiar to Mormonism. Again my post makes this clear. The only question is the involvement of anyone other than God and the couple entering into the covenant relationship. I have explained carefully and demonstrated the community aspect of this covenant and see nothing in what you write to show that this is not the norm.

    A marriage covenant is made between two people, before God and in the company of the community in which that relationship is to be lived out. It is not a convention peculiar to a particular time or place as you suggest but is almost universal and timeless. I am not discussing legal aspects but social and it is normal for community to be involved. And why would they not be?

    Finally, I find nothing in the Bible to disagree with the account I have given of marriage and nothing to endorse the Mormon idea of a covnention that excludes family and community.

  3. Well, basically, the "lecture" I provided on the pre-existence and agency was relevant because the conclusion of your article was this: "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."

    This is basically your fundamental assertion, that nothing is more important to the Mormon Church than controlling the lives of its members. Thus I found it necessary to point out that this personal perception of yours does not gel with the LDS doctrine of agency, which doctrine of agency underlies the LDS view of the purpose of life. Neither does your perception that the LDS Church controls its members lives gel with actual LDS practices. LDS ordinances are easily abandoned by any Mormons who wish to not to be "controlled." If someone does not wish to have a temple marriage then they simply don't. Thus LDS members are not actually "controlled" by the church. Participation in its practices are a matter of volition. They are an exercise of agency, though you may not like the religious practices that Mormons choose.

    It seems to me that you are trying to equate Christain social/cultural practices of marriage into being a matter of biblical doctrine. Since it is a common social/cultual practice of many Christian churches to perform marriages before the community you seem to be trying to make the case that doing otherwise must therefore be wrong -- an act of doctrinal heresy of some sort. What's with that...?

  4. Carol, I now see what you mean. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, "What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say."

    My post illustrates that you may assert all you want that agency is the "Prime Directive" but everything the Mormon Church does speaks so loud - well you get my meaning. The truth is "take it or leave it" is not a true facility of agency, more an expression of control.

    Your attitude to non-Mormon customs of marriage is very casual and dismissive. It is as though everything outside the Mormon view doesn't count somehow, as though now Mormonism is here all that shouldn't matter.

    It is not the case that people "sometimes" get married before the community. The truth is that marriage is a fundamentally social phenomenon both within and outside the Bible involving family and community and you seem not to understand how universal this is. It is not simply a Western/Christian construct.

    It is ironic that you charge me with trying to to equate social/cultural practices of marriage with biblical doctrine. As I have pointed out, the Mormon doctrine on marriage is totally absent from the Bible. People didn't marry in the temple, they married in the community.

    Jewish marriage customs that go back millennia are fundamentally social, and Christian custom has recognised and followed this. You write as though somehow it was all cobbled together from a mixture of superstitions, personal preferences and financial expediencies.

    Marriage is a custom (and don't underestimate that word "custom") - a custom that involves two people making marriage vows that define their new relationship with each other and within their community. They make those vows before that community and that community recognises the new relationship and support it by treating the two as now one.

    The Mormon Church takes people out of that community, replaces it with another, exclusive community, dictates that marriage vows should be made secretly in a temple only accessible to this new community and demands vows of secrecy and loyalty that overtly exclude the original community. If that is not control I don't know what is.

    And to what end? Nothing in the Bible justifies it, nothing in Judeo/Christian history mirrors it and almost universal history and anthropology stand against it.

    The post is not about exposing Mormonism's "false doctrine on marriage" but about illustrating the controlling nature of Mormon temple marriage and asking what justification can there be for cutting people off from they family and community at a moment when that family and community should be most involved.