The Package Deal

Washington_D.C._Temple_At_DuskIf families couldn’t be together forever, the church could likely avoid many of the controversies concerning its history and contemporary practices. It would be one thing to merely assert that families are forever, much like the Book of Abraham posits Kolob as the star nearest to God’s residence, as something that may be true but is entirely abstract and otherworldly in significance. But the church almost from its beginning has exerted considerable effort to make eternal marriage a doctrine with real consequences, to render it visible and comprehensible to the society in which the church finds itself. We might say that this is the practical difference between a doctrine and a mere teaching: as a core doctrine, the eternal family has reordered everything it comes into contact with, whether theology, liturgy, or policy. As an abstract principle, eternal marriage sounds nice; when it is rendered into concrete practice and articulated in policy, the results have been controversial. For example:

Polygamy. The doctrine of eternal marriage shares the same scriptural foundation in D&C 132 as plural marriage. Even beyond that, in a nineteenth-century society with high mortality rates and frequently incommensurate life spans of spouses, a doctrine of eternal marriage all but required polygamy as a post-life possibility in order not to render the idea of eternal marriage nonsensical. Even as a formerly lived practice, polygamy makes the duration of marriage beyond the death of one spouse (and into the remaining life-span of the surviving spouse, which might involve remarriage) highly visible. Due to the connections between polygamy and eternal marriage, I don’t see the church disavowing plural marriage as a mistake until it closes down its temples.

Racial restrictions on temple and priesthood participation. The gospel and its doctrine of eternal marriage, including the Nauvoo-era expansive view of sealing, was restored in a white America that held deep-seated racial animosity and a widespread abhorrence of interracial marriage that persisted into the late twentieth century. Where marriage and priesthood were intrinsically connected, racial bans on temple and priesthood activity anchored eternal marriage to the here-and-now reality of white Americans; the few black members of the church were forced to bear the cost for articulating the doctrine within a culture of racial animosity.

Modern sealing practice. The church continues to treat eternal sealings not as mystical entities that God will deal with in his inscrutable wisdom, but as a real fact with practical consequences. When sealed couples divorce, sealings are not automatically dissolved. When children have been sealed to parents who later divorce and remarry, there is the possibility for difficult situations where not everyone will be happy.

Part-member families and temple marriages. Mormonism has elevated marriage to its highest sacrament, while also having a very definite idea of sacred space. Today it’s inconceivable that an eternal marriage would not be performed in the temple. The spatial sacrality of the temple is constructed by limiting access, leading to the hurt feelings of younger siblings and nonmember parents. The church could avoid this by lessening the sacralized separateness of the temple, or by diminishing the notion that eternal marriage should have real consequences.

Proxy ordinances. Everyone likes the idea of family history and the notion that families will be together in the afterlife, but enacting that belief through ritual in Mormon sacred space has been a source of constant controversy. Mormon ways of seeking solace at the death of others are naturally based on Mormon teachings about the afterlife and the possibility of eternal connection, which find concrete expression in temple ritual and a massive program of recording and analyzing family records from around the world. But when the Mormon way of grappling with death collides with a celebrity culture that invites fan participation in the star’s life including its end, or with the imperative not to let the victims of the Holocaust be forgotten, controversies arise that will never be possible to prevent entirely.

This list is not exhaustive. There are probably other controversial issues that arise from Mormon teachings about marriage. Someone who didn’t find the prospect of eternal family relationships appealing might decide that the cost wasn’t worth it, but many members of the church cite eternal marriage as a doctrine that is especially important to them. There is a cost to reducing controversy, if by so doing one makes a vital doctrine less real. As much as I wish the controversies could all be avoided, and that some of the particular historical paths taken could have been skirted, we don’t get to choose between hypotheticals. Instead we only get the choice between a doctrine within Mormonism that is expressed in concrete ways with stubborn historical consequences, and, outside of Mormonism, at most, a vague feel-good hope with no scriptural foundation, no ritual expression, and no practical consequences.

Knowing the costs and considering the alternatives, I’ll take the package deal.

45 comments for “The Package Deal

  1. This list is not exhaustive. There are probably other controversial issues that arise from Mormon teachings about marriage.

    You mean, like the elephant in the room–or, I should say, int he Supreme Court chambers.

    But sticking to the content of the post… I’m willing to buy your assertion that “a doctrine of eternal marriage all but required polygamy as a post-life possibility in order not to render the idea of eternal marriage nonsensical,” (although I suspect I am in the minority), but I don’t buy that racial restrictions on temple and priesthood participation can in any way be laid at the feet of the doctrine of eternal marriage. Sustaining the doctrine in the absence of such restrictions is easy. You are quite correct, however, that “fixing” the other problems would seriously weaken the doctrine.

  2. Your first point is a good point, but only really makes sense if you mean polygamy and not polygyny-only, and of course polygyny-only is the type of plural marriage that the church practiced (except for a handful of early polyandrous exceptions) and still practices through sealings of widowed/divorced men to additional wives, but not widowed/divorced women to additional husbands. I have no real problem with polygamy, largely because of the reason you state–I am drawn to the eternal families teaching and see no way around polygamy in the afterlife in the case of happy first marriages followed by happy remarriages–but am not such a big fan of polygyny-but-not-polyandry-even-in-the-eternities. I suspect that if the church ever moves to “fix” things on the practice of polygamous sealings in the eternities without shutting down the temples (which I agree is not likely to happen), it will be to introduce polyandrous sealings to match our current polygynous sealing policies for subsequent marriages–not to do away with plural spouse sealings altogether.

  3. When my wife married me she quickly learned that I have many regrettable and unwholesome traits. She chose to say married to me, but for some odd reason doesn’t view me as a package deal. She expects that over time I will shed these traits. Is there any reason we can’t treat church teachings in the same manner? We only accept the Bible as far as it is translated correctly. Why not accept modern revelation only as far it was received correctly?

  4. I also thought the first point was a good one. Hadn’t heard that one before and maybe there is some potential apologetics in it.

  5. I think it was Apostle George Cannon who said the moment one introduced the notion of eternal families, plurality must come into the discussion. Am I the only one that finds the sealing policy that allows the sealing of deceased women to all husbands they’ve had in mortality, with no limiting language in the handbooks, a door open to eternal polyandry? You would have thought leaders, if they believed otherwise, would have simply thrown in some verbiage along the lines of “Even though a woman may be sealed to more than one husband, she will only have one husband in the eternities.”

  6. Eternal marriage, temples and tithing are integral to the church financially. So, whatever the complications practically speaking, its here to stay. Looking at this from an outside perspective, promising the eternities even though it doesn’t make sense on a practical level is the incentive to sacrifice time and money. This is why tithing payment is and always will be tied to temple recommends. Also, its part of the investment fallacy in that a psychological feedback loop is created – promise of the eternities is only had in the temple, must pay to get there, payment then justifies belief because its too hard to admit to yourself that maybe those in charge are simply guessing at what lies beyond the grave.

  7. The church could avoid this by lessening the sacralized separateness of the temple, or by diminishing the notion that eternal marriage should have real consequences.

    Or the leaders could change the policy that allows brides and grooms in the US to not have to wait a year to get sealed if they opt to marry civilly so that non-member parents, family, and friends can attend. In countries where temple sealings are not recognized as marriages, temple recommend-holding marrying couples don’t have to wait a year after they marry civilly to get sealed in the temple. I don’t see how making this slight policy change would make eternal marriage less central of a doctrine. And why should the “real consequences” of temple marriage have to be the exclusion of non-temple recommend holding members from weddings? If anything, this potentially has the effect of turning people away from the LDS church.

    As for racial restrictions from the priesthood and the old taboo of interracial marriage, marriages between whites and Native Americans was also considered taboo, but technically worthy Native American males were always allowed to hold the priesthood, and if they found a white (or even a black female, since females can’t hold the priesthood) partner to marry, they technically according to LDS doctrine could have been sealed in the temple to them. I cannot see that there is any link between the primacy of the doctrine of eternal marriage and racial restrictions on temple and priesthood participation.

    What I particularly don’t like about this post is that it almost feels like an attempt to justify polygamy and the ban on black males holding the priesthood because that was really the only way to make the doctrine of eternal marriage central. I really think that there were and are a lot of other ways to make the eternal family doctrine central in Mormonism without stirring up the controversy of polygamy and racial restrictions.

  8. Wow…so, the ONLY way we could have had eternal family doctrine is to have polygamy and racism? Ok…so I can MAYBE see the polygamy thing. I mean, it doesn’t work for polygamy in this life, but if you were sealed to two people because one died, then yeah ok…polygamy in the eternities MAY happen due to that. But that doesn’t mean the church had the right to go marry every girl they fancied. So…that doesn’t work at all for me. And it definitely didn’t mean JS got to marry 14 year old girls, or other men’s wives. Utah actually had the highest divorce rate in the USA when it was practicing polygamy. So…polygamy and eternal families don’t seem all that compatible, do they?

    But how does the racism work in this? Eternal families can be had with all races. The truth is, the church was racist then and so they let that go into their doctrines (no blacks get the priesthood, so yeah, no blacks get eternal families). That doesn’t mean that you HAVE to have that racism in order to have eternal families. If God had really run the church, he would have said, “Hey, shutup. These are my children too. I love them no matter the color of their skin and you should too.”

    And as for discriminating against part member families. Ok…yeah, I won’t get to go in the temple with my kids (cause I don’t want). But they can (and should) get married somewhere else FIRST and then go get sealed. Other countries have to do that by law, so the USA can get on board with that too.

    Basically, you seem to be saying that because these things were realities, they were necessary in order to have the doctrines we have now. Nope…sorry, you could have eternal families and still not have discriminated against a lot of people.

  9. Chelsea, your frustrations are understandable, but I think you’re making a lot of assumptions about God’s parenting style and Jesus’ leadership style. Did you tell your daughter to shut up or have her perfect from childhood? Why would we expect God to do so? Congrats on your daughter’s marriage. Try attending a temple open house some time, your feelings might change. There are a few this year.

  10. Nice discussion of a tough set of linked doctrines, Jonathan. By adding detail to the general principle of eternal families and spelling out the “practical consequences,” the Church (or really the individual members, depending on their views and circumstances) does end up with doctrinal difficulties. And today, halfway through the second decade of the 21st century, I’m afraid the package deal is just not as attractive to many Latter-day Saints as it once was. The pesky difficulties of the practical consequences are, in some cases and for some people, beginning to overshadow the appeal of the central doctrine.

    One interesting observation you did not draw: by noting that, when the culture changed, the ban on interracial marriage was dropped and temple privileges were opened up, you are making an implicit argument that if culture continues to change, other of the linked doctrines might change as well. In other words, it’s not really a package deal. That is the most hopeful (if unstated) part of your argument. And that view is consistent with the LDS view of continuous revelation and with our odd but insistent position that LDS doctrine never changes, unless it changes.

  11. This may be an interesting post about the nature and importance of eternal family doctrines in Mormonism, but I can’t see it flying as an apologetic defense of polygamy. Nobody was going to lose 38 monogamous wives in a row on Earth and then have to have them all polygamously in eternity.

    Maybe only Mormons talk a lot about ‘eternal families’, but I think most Christians of any kind expect to continue their relationships with loved ones in the world to come. Some Christians lose spouses, and remarry; they love the new spouse, yet do not stop loving the dead spouse. Nobody talks about this explicitly much, but I think most people must expect some kind of polygamous eternal relationship, in cases like that.

    Jesus actually did talk about this explicitly once, in answer to a hypothetical question about a woman who married seven brothers in succession, in accordance with an old law, and then died herself. In the Resurrection, the Sadducees asked Jesus, whose wife will she be? Jesus answered that in the Resurrection there would be no marrying, because everyone would be like angels. What that meant is unclear. Perhaps it meant that marriage will not exist at all in eternity, or perhaps it only meant that legalistic relationships, like the obligatory marriage of a dead brother’s wife, will be irrelevant.

    Either way, it was no ringing endorsement of eternal polygamy in any sense straightforward enough to justify polygamy on Earth. We will all be changed, in the Resurrection. Perhaps time itself will be different, if it even exists at all, and relationships that would be impossible on Earth will be no problem. So although I think most Christians do believe in eternal families, for non-Mormons this belief involves faith in future things unseen, and does not support earthly polygamy.

  12. Is the OP saying that the Church will never disavow polygamy (polygyny) because the logical inferences are such that post-mortal polygamy is required “in order not to render the idea of eternal marriage nonsensical”? If so, two qualms.

    First, I agree with previous posts that the logical inferences do nothing to justify polygamy in mortality.

    Second, if we’re talking logical inferences, then there are a lot more to think about. For starters, more boys die in infancy than girls, and historically speaking more men have probably died before marriage than women (due to battles or other dangerous things that men have historically been involved in more than women). So, assuming that marriage in heaven is a real and required thing, there are plenty of bachelors up there.

    Another one: Think about Wife who is sealed to Husband 1, has a couple of kids (born in the covenant), and then Husband 1 suddenly dies. Wife 1 remarries to Husband 2, but of course they can only marry “for time.” Wife and Husband 2 have kids of their own (not born in the covenant). Wife and Husband 2 live a long happy life together, maybe 15 or 20 times longer than Wife was married to Husband 1. Death comes to both. So what do we do now with “the same sociality which exists among us here” (D&C 130:2)? Wife must be with Husband 1 and his kids, while Husband 2 and his kids go off with some other woman? Does *that* really make sense? Does Husband 2 fall in love with the other woman? Does that matter? If it doesn’t matter, why does the Church make so much of the idea, rhetorically, of “not being able to imagine being separated from . . . for all eternity,” “heaven wouldn’t be heaven if,” etc.?

    In short, if we’re talking about things that prevent “the idea of eternal marriage” from becoming “nonsensical,” then — depending on your assumptions — it seems to me that polygyny, polyandry, group marriage, randomly assigned mating, and a lot of other things (maybe even same-sex relationships) are equally good candidates. So why do we stop at polygamy (meaning polygyny)?

  13. You say at the end of your piece that you believe the benefits outweigh the costs, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of benefit there. Sure, eternal marriage within the Mormon context is more concrete than in the Protestant Christian context. But even there it suffers from a high degree of “it’ll all be worked out in the next life” vagueness, usually applied when people are choking on some of the concrete costs associated with it. Familial happiness, love, and commitment seem to flourish just fine among non-Mormon communities with a more abstract, other-worldly concepcion of eternal family. And they don’t have to draw all of the exclusionary lines that Mormons do by insisting that there is a prescribed, authoritative way to achieve an eternal family.

  14. The more personal or practical importance of the traditional eternal family has often been difficult for me to understand. I grew up in a part member family and my parents eventually divorced and remarried others. After I returned from my mission, I remained single for almost ten years before I married in the temple. Now, our oldest child, born under the covenant between my wife and her first husband, is not sealed to me although I raise him and he has almost no contact with his biological father. At every one of these stages of my life, the response I am told from priesthood leaders about the eternal outcome of my situation is that God will not withhold any blessings from me or my family so long as we are faithful and that it will all work out in the next life.
    However, if this is the case, what was so vital about eternal marriage now if the Lord will more appropriately settle things later? With such a constant emphasis on eternal marriage and family in the church, members in such marginalized situations are left to feel wanting and must bear a heavy burden of constantly feeling in limbo about status of our most vital relationships in the eternities–something the restoration of the new and everlasting covenant was supposed to ameliorate.

  15. I recently read the novel The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison. It seemed a subtext of the book was how much anguish and confusion the doctrine of eternal families can cause people in real life, messy situations, much as this post points out.

  16. “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”

  17. So many good comments. Strict one-sided polygny on earth or in heaven makes no sense. This is something that really needs to be addressed doctrinally. That’s a huge hurdle with section 132 in the way, but it’s the only way forward.

  18. D&C 132 allows for polyandry, though the very limited mention of it (compared to the many verses on polygyny) leave questions as to whether it is supposed to be practiced on an even more limited basis than polygyny, or if it’s just a topic on which we need more revelation….perhaps God is waiting for a time when women’s social status was improved….now-ish……or not…..?

    As enamored as am of the concept of monogamy, I realize that if earthly family continues to mean something key in the eternities, it’s going to be messy, and we may well find in our more perfected states that we prefer the glorious tangle of multiple celestial bonds over the tidiness of a single link. But not now, Lord. Right now I want tidy.

  19. Joel wisely said, “You say at the end of your piece that you believe the benefits outweigh the costs, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of benefit there. Sure, eternal marriage within the Mormon context is more concrete than in the Protestant Christian context. But even there it suffers from a high degree of “it’ll all be worked out in the next life” vagueness, usually applied when people are choking on some of the concrete costs associated with it. Familial happiness, love, and commitment seem to flourish just fine among non-Mormon communities with a more abstract, other-worldly concepcion of eternal family. And they don’t have to draw all of the exclusionary lines that Mormons do by insisting that there is a prescribed, authoritative way to achieve an eternal family.”

    The LDS church strangely believes that its notion of eternal familial bonds is unique, when in fact it is a common assumption that most religious people don’t even need to be formally taught to believe. What is unique about LDS belief is that excludes the continuation of family relationships for some otherwise loving, faithful families or family members, simply because they haven’t participated in certain esoteric rituals or observed certain questionable practices or beliefs.

  20. Many commentators have noted the unusual demographics of Utah and have attributed them to the obvious cause–Mormonism. Ross Douthat, among others, has suggested that a large number of problems we face as a nation would disappear if everyone were Mormon. Several of the comments above on this post have suggested that the doctrine of temples and eternal marriage is of small import, that the idea is more or less as effectively operative in other religions as in Mormonism. Demographic facts on the ground do not support that claim. It is no accident that Utah is the youngest state in the nation, that people marry early, have fewer children out of wedlock, have less premarital sex, have more children, etc.

  21. “Ross Douthat, among others, has suggested that a large number of problems we face as a nation would disappear if everyone were Mormon”

    Well, maybe if everyone lived the Mormon standards. But if everyone converted to Mormonism, it is reasonable to believe that it would be a religion that would be much harder to manage, much like Catholicism and Islam are today, and that we would have a very large group of people who were Mormon in name only, but not belief or practice.

  22. In other religions, indeed, belief in eternal family relationships does not seem to lead to Mormon practices here on Earth, any more than it brings all the other Mormon beliefs into those other religions. But is Mormon practice the only thing that makes a belief count as “effectively operative”? I’m afraid I’d call that a bigoted attitude.

    Moreover, it’s dangerous to argue that social customs in Utah must be derived from Mormon theology, because things like this always cut both ways. It would be just as consistent with the evidence to suspect that Mormon theology has been derived from Mormon customs, so that belief in eternal family has taken its unusually concrete form precisely in order to justify distinctively Mormon practices here on Earth. If a package deal ties B to A, then A is also tied to B.

    Businesses don’t offer package deals for the benefit of the public, after all. They’re usually a marketing trick to get people to take stuff they don’t really want, by tying it to stuff that people do want. Saying that all your doctrines are one unified package is itself just another doctrine, however. People don’t have to accept it. And if they don’t, then they don’t have to just take or leave the whole rest of the package.

  23. It is no accident that Utah is the youngest state in the nation, that people marry early, have fewer children out of wedlock, have less premarital sex, have more children, etc. – Are you actually suggesting that having more children and a rather young population are good things? I thought that Mormon cultures was generally viewed as rather infantilizing, especially for women. The states with the oldest mean populations tend to be places such as Maine and Vermont where people might actually like to live.

  24. Several European countries now offer expensive financial incentives to their citizens to encourage them to have more children. All kinds of problems follow from having a rapidly aging population combined with a birth rate that falls below replacement as is now true in much of the developed world. Most obviously, the dependency ratio inescapably increases as the mean age of the population steadily increases.

    The suggestion that Mormon culture has produced Mormon theology rather than the theology producing the culture seems implausible. Until quite recently, Mormons have joined the Church primarily from the surrounding American and European cultures. Their baseline set of cultural assumptions were similar to those of their neighbors. That is no longer the case. So either the theology changed the behavior or the theology attracted people who had dispositions and beliefs that led to lower levels of out of wedlock birth, fewer abortions, higher marriage rates, greater family cohesion, etc. Douthat who is not Mormon celebrates those attributes as an obvious good and an obvious product of Mormon beliefs and practices. To say that a belief is operative is to say that it has practical consequences. How that constitutes bigotry escapes me.

  25. In response to #27, I should add that it seems odd to claim that Maine, a state which, anomalously, saw zero population growth from 2010 – 2013, the latest available data, is a place “where people might actually want to live.” Vermont’s population growth was also very low, barely above zero. Whatever else it may mean to say that people “really want to live” in a state, the fact that people on net choose to move there or stay there ought to count for something. On that measure, people REALLY want to live in Utah and a number of other states while they have scant enthusiasm for Maine and Vermont.

    The passive in #27 hides the unspecified agent: “Mormon culture was generally viewed as rather infantilizing.” Who is doing this viewing? While some certainly do, I doubt that the majority of Mormons (who are in most respects best placed to judge) think that their religion infantilizes them. Most regard it as having an exceptionally expansive vision of human potential. After all, the vision is that all who are true to the faith, both women and men, become gods.

  26. About the culture/theology chicken and egg: historically it seems clear that polygamous practice among top Mormon leaders preceded the broad promulgation of the doctrine. Mormon history may not prove that culture drove theology, but it really does make it seem plausible to me. To believe that the practice originally stemmed from sincere belief may perhaps still be reasonable, but to deny that the opposite suspicion has any grounds at all would only be to be willfully blind.

    I’m not sure I understand the argument about Mormon converts coming from ‘baseline’ western cultures. How many Mormons are converts these days, compared to how many were born in the faith? But consider some young convert. Perhaps her baseline American parents had children in their late twenties. She’s drawn to Mormonism by a doctrine of eternal family that is somehow more vivid than the expectation with which she grew up, of someday seeing her grandparents again, and so she starts having children in her early twenties because she’s now convinced it’s the right thing to do, to have a big eternal brood.

    Is that the scenario?

    If so, I don’t deny it could happen. I just suspect there are at least as many cases where the motivations run the other way, and someone takes to Mormon doctrine mainly because she wants something that is at least arguably good, but just not the only good thing, namely to start a big family.

    Bigotry lies in assuming that only specifically Mormon implementations of doctrine, such as having many children young, can be evidence that a doctrine is ‘effectively operative’. It might just as much reflect belief in eternal family to have fewer children later, on the grounds that each child would be an eternal companion, and therefore deserve the kind of maturely concentrated attention one would give to a spouse.

  27. @15-I live in a marginalized situation. I live in a small numerically wise stake. I was married, I fully admit I caved into leader’s pressure to get married ASAP fresh off my mission, i did and later got divorced. Now, I am a single dad an their are literally no women here. I can’t move away and leave my son. So, all I can do is pray that someone moves here which has yet to happen but hey, my PB says i’ll have kids so whatever right?

  28. …a doctrine of eternal marriage all but required polygamy as a post-life possibility in order not to render the idea of eternal marriage nonsensical.

    Why? God can’t create more women/men so that everyone can be paired with someone favorable? That said, the LDS polygamy doctrine created more nonsensical pieces than it fixed, if you ask me.

    Mormon ways of seeking solace at the death of others are naturally based on Mormon teachings about the afterlife and the possibility of eternal connection…

    And, really, it’s an odd thing. We feel better because we talk about being together eternally, but what that looks like is a big blank to all of us and it’s particularly unromantic for all those extra wives.

  29. What exactly do we mean when we talk of “family” in eternity? In this life, a family is not a static thing. It is constantly changing. I was born into one family as a child. I then created my own family through marriage and children. I am now in a third family in which I am a grandparent. Unless eternal families will be constantly changing and evolving as earthly families do, I have to wonder if this all makes any sense.

  30. You just described it Don so it’s pretty simple. Covenant keeping permits an eternal continuation of existing and new family relationships, with your marriage being the core fundamental unit. There is an added sealing between parent and child which we don’t fully understand that draws them together eternally.

  31. There is certainly more to this than what is apparent to us here in mortality:

    Brigham Young stated that Joseph Smith came to him in a vision as the Saints were crossing the plains. He told him, “be sure to tell the people to keep the Spirit of the Lord; and if they will, they will find themselves just as they were organized by our Father in Heaven before they came to this world. Our Father in Heaven organized the human family, but they are all disorganized in great confusion.” Brigham Young Collection, Feb. 17,1847.

    Pres. Ezra Taft Benson, referring to the above as it pertains to the spirit world, said” Righteous spirits are close by us. They are organized according to priesthood order in family organizations as we are here; only there they exist in a more perfect order. This was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith”. Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson,35-36.

    Pres. Jedediah M. Grant marveled at how well families were organized in a vision he saw of the hereafter.
    “I could see every man and woman in their grade and order. I looked to see whether there was any disorder there, but there was none….The people I saw there were organized in family capacities; and when I looked at them, I saw grade after grade, and all were organized in perfect harmony”.Heber C. Kimball,
    Journal of Discourses, 4:135-36.

    Bruce R. McConkie, referring to the Millennium wrote, “In that day family units will be perfected according to the plans made in the heavens before the peopling of the earth.” The Millennial Messiah, page 655.

    My patriarchal blessing says that “I accepted the assignment “of being born into a nonmember family understanding that I could be of help to them in finding the restored Gospel. I wonder whether some “assignments” are for this life only?

    Much food for thought but with comfort that it is already “set”, so we needn’t stress over it.

  32. @Cameron N. #10

    Try attending a temple open house some time, your feelings might change.

    why would that make someone feel better about the LDS Church’s exclusionary temple wedding policy?

  33. The spatial sacrality of the temple is constructed by limiting access, leading to the hurt feelings of younger siblings and nonmember parents. The church could avoid this by lessening the sacralized separateness of the temple, or by diminishing the notion that eternal marriage should have real consequences.

    or they could just make an exception to the spatial sacrality like they do for sealings to unendowed children. the same 10 year old kid can enter the temple to be sealed to her parents on a Friday, but be barred from entry on Saturday when her older brother is getting married.

    Jonathan, you’re setting up a false choice here based on the faulty premise that there are universal laws governing sacred space, when it reality “sacred space” is whatever current church leadership says it is. there are no constants in this realm, even just within the LDS tradition.

  34. Regarding the former ban on individuals of color entering the temple, it is instructive to study the three black men whose actions forced the change.

    McCary was the most egregious, having passed himself off as a Lamanite. He had likely learned of the rumors surrounding Mormon ritual and sexuality when living in St. Louis. In short order he had gotten himself set up as leader of a congregation (Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, I forget). There he would conduct sealing ceremonies, keeping women and men strictly segregated. The ceremony for women involved McCary copulating with the woman three times in quick succession in the presence of his white wife.

    The second prominent black convert misbehaving was Joseph Ball. Joseph Ball had the misfortune of being mentored by William Smith, who would be widely known as completely evil if he hadn’t been Joseph Smith’s brother. The rules of William’s polygamy appeared to be “I can have sex with everyone I want, whether or not I am married to them.” Joseph Ball, under William Smith’s tutelage, “has taught [the girls of Lowell, Massachussetts] that it is not wrong to have intercourse with the men what they please & Elder Ball tries to sleep with them when he can.”

    The third black convert who ran afoul of 1850-era sensibilities was Enoch Lewis. Boston had recently legalized inter-racial marriage, and Enoch Lewis took advantage of this fact to marry a Mormon woman who returned his affection. His new wife was white. They had asked a Baptist minister to perform the marriage. When the local presiding Mormon authority, a William Appleby, learned of the inter-racial marriage and the mulatto child that had been born to the couple, Appleby informed Brigham Young of this marriage between a “coloured brother” and his blushing white bride. Appleby’s correspondence was openly bigoted.

    Seeing the options for black members closing down, Walker Lewis (Enoch’s father) tried to get Jane Manning to agree to be sealed to him. But Jane Manning was married to another man and declined to overturn her earthly marriage to collaborate with Walker Lewis in establishing the right of Black members to obtain the highest ordinances of Mormon ritual. Jane later petitioned to be sealed in the temple, but by then it was too late to overturn the decades of stupid, which had been based in part on the unquestionably evil acts of two Black men (McCary and Ball).

  35. In many countries, marriages are performed publicly before a couple goes to the temple to solemnize the eternal sealing. I imagine that if the Church comes under attack in the US for performing marriages that are only available to heterosexual couples, then one possible position of retrenchment is to cease performing legal marriages in temples, making the sealing ordinance explicitly religious and extralegal (therefore not governed by civil laws).

    However before the Church proactively retrenched, I imagine it will strenuously engage in the debate on behalf of members of the wider religious community that wish to retain an ability to solemnize only those marriages which are between opposite-gendered individuals, the class of unions that are capable of producing natural offspring that are related to both parents. Unions between same-gendered individuals cannot produce natural offspring that are related to both parents. Subdividing the class of unions between opposite-gendered individuals into those unions that can produce children (e.g., fertile young people) and those that can’t produce children (couples where the woman is not fertile and/or the man is impotent) would be fraught with nasty, particularly in a world where an intensely impaired individual like Stephen Hawking engendered three children with his first wife.

  36. Jake wrote:

    “Another one: Think about Wife who is sealed to Husband 1, has a couple of kids (born in the covenant), and then Husband 1 suddenly dies. Wife 1 remarries to Husband 2, but of course they can only marry “for time.” Wife and Husband 2 have kids of their own (not born in the covenant). Wife and Husband 2 live a long happy life together, maybe 15 or 20 times longer than Wife was married to Husband 1. Death comes to both. So what do we do now with “the same sociality which exists among us here” (D&C 130:2)? Wife must be with Husband 1 and his kids, while Husband 2 and his kids go off with some other woman? Does *that* really make sense? Does Husband 2 fall in love with the other woman? Does that matter? If it doesn’t matter, why does the Church make so much of the idea, rhetorically, of “not being able to imagine being separated from . . . for all eternity,” “heaven wouldn’t be heaven if,” etc.?”

    Jake, you don’t understand the doctrine, which is similar (if not identical) to the Old Testament practice of levirate marriage (c.f., Tamar and Ruth, both ancestors of Christ). When Tamar was widowed, the next son was supposed to engender children with Tamar to continue the lineage of the first (now dead) husband. Tamar outsmarted the system when Judah and his sons stopped helping her by posing as a prostitute at the side of a road she knew Judah would be travelling. In the case of Ruth, Boaz outsmarted the system by announcing that the Bethlehem property associated with Ruth’s dead husband was now available to the next of kin. When the unnamed next of kin got all excited about his good fortune, Boaz mentioned that Mahlon’s widow came along with the land (speaking of package deals). The next of kin freaked out, and Boaz suggested that he would be willing to take responsibility for Mahlon’s widow and the associated land holdings.

    The business of land holdings was a definition of marriage thing that got altered in the 1050s by the Pope’s impediment of affinity and the subsequent legal changes adopted to accommodate the Pope’s position, starting in countries like Scotland (courtesy of Saint Margaret).

    When a woman is sealed, all her subsequent children are born in the covenant and sealed to that first husband. If she desires to rupture the relationship with the first husband, then her children with that husband are still born in the covenant and on paper remain sealed to the woman and her first husband. Any children she bears after rupturing the sealing with her first husband would not be born in the covenant unless she is sealed again. This is why the Church dislikes terminating sealings, even when the mortal parties are divorced or even excommunicated. Typically termination of sealings is done only when a woman is engaged to a temple-worthy man, though I have heard of cases where the Church will terminate a sealing out of compassion when a woman claims the thought of being sealed to her former husband causes intense psychological pain.

  37. “What exactly do we mean when we talk of “family” in eternity? In this life, a family is not a static thing. It is constantly changing.”

    Good question.

  38. “Regarding the former ban on individuals of color entering the temple, it is instructive to study the three black men whose actions forced the change.”

    How do two misbehaving black Mormons acting just like many of their white fellow Mormons (and one black Mormon contracting a legal marriage with a white Mormon) “force” leaders to change from full spiritual inclusion to partial exclusion for an entire race? Whites were even more heavily involved in the sins of spiritual wifery, and even if they regarded interracial marriage as a sin, half of that sin was committed by a white Mormon woman. I agree that those events likely played an important role in what happened. But there was no “force.” God wasn’t commanding those changes suddenly, based on misbehavior by two members of an entire race. It was an excuse for bigotry.

  39. Meg (39) Regarding the former ban on individuals of color entering the temple, it is instructive to study the three black men whose actions forced the change.

    I’m not sure I’d agree with the term “forced the change.” I think there were plenty of good reasons not to make those decisions. It was made basically out of a culture of racism. (Yes, I know, quibble, but I think that terminology is important and I have to admit your terminology made me quite uncomfortable.)

  40. Ah – think force as in forcing function. I was reacting to the OP’s assertion that the racial bigotry was a natural consequence of the doctrine of eternal marriage. I merely assert that a much larger factor, a more singificant forcing function, was the terrible behavior of the two men and the innocuous (but problematic in a bigoted society) of Enoch Lewis.

    Which goes back to my point that I so dearly wish that Jane Manning had agreed to be sealed to Joseph and Emma as a daughter. Or even that (having agreed to be a daughter), Jane had been sealed to Joseph as a wife with Emma’s full approbation.

    Thus I will always consider that Joseph should have married one more of the amazing women of Nauvoo.

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