This is an archived copy of a post written by Conflict Of Justice (conflictofjustice.com). Used with permission: Conflict Of Justice may not agree with any alterations made.
As Latter-day Saints prepare for their big wedding day, one frequent concern is the feelings of loved ones who are not invited to the wedding because it will occur inside the sacred temple. A non-member friend once told me of his disappointment when he showed up to the temple for a buddy’s wedding and was not allowed inside. Isn’t it wrong to exclude loved ones? How is it “that a religion that makes so much of uniting families forever in the temples has caused unnecessary divisions here on earth?” complains an Antimormon. What can we tell family and friends who want to be there?
Be Accommodating – If there is one thing that drives people crazy it is planning for a wedding. It inevitably becomes an emotional stressful mess, and for the sake of our sanity we cross things off the list of things to worry about. So we might simply overlook friends and family who are unaware or don’t understand the temple policy. This is an important issue that should be prioritized, however, as it leads to profound negative feelings. Simply taking a few minutes to explain the reasons for the policy preserve important relationships and people’s impression of the church, and may even an opportunity to share the gospel.
Do not leave your friends out in the cold waiting hours for the temple ceremony to wrap up so that they can stand blinking in the hot sun for photos. It is incredibly rude and leaves people feeling like props for photo ops instead of being part of something special. Like it or not, when you invite people to a marriage it is to delight and accommodate them, not so they can give you presents and provide smiling faces in the background of your photos. Be a good host. If you don’t want to deal with the stress of hosting an event then don’t invite them.
A Separate Civil Marriage Ceremony Vs. Ring Exchange – The church recently changed its policy so that members can get married in a civil ceremony that anyone can attend and then immediately get sealed in the temple ceremony afterward. This is an option for those who feel pressured to include non-member loved ones in the wedding. If you suspect any family or close friends may feel hurt about being excluded from the temple, I think such a solution should seriously be considered. But instead, my advice is to hold a “ring ceremony” where vows and rings are exchanged and the bishop or some civil servant declares you “man and wife.” Legally, the moment of marriage is when you sign the contract and pay the fee at the county office, after all, and any wedding ceremony outside the temple is effectively the same thing as a ring ceremony. So what’s the difference? Keeping focus on the temple ceremony as the moment of marriage as far as you are concerned is crucial, and this can be done while accommodating non-members by holding the ring ceremony instead of a formal non-temple wedding ceremony. It is beautiful to exchange vows, after all, and it means a lot to people. For those who do choose a civil wedding before a temple wedding I don’t think there should be a taboo about it.
I don’t know why anyone would be offended by the temple sealing if a civil ceremony or ring ceremony is provided–unless that person is simply contemptuous toward our religion. If they don’t believe the temple sealing ceremony is what it purports to be and if they are included in a civil marriage or ring exchange event why should they care? Don’t let Antimormons ruin your important day or make you the outlet for their intolerance. You can only do so much.
Different Definition Of Marriage
The moral dilemma is that we have a different definition of marriage than the standard American culture’s. It would be convenient to just say this is our day and we will do it our way, but marriage implicitly involves responsibilities toward the family and community, and them taking part in the marriage events is one of those expected responsibilities. We are on the side of Western culture that thinks marriage is attached to social responsibilities for community health and needs structural guidelines as such, and so we should do the best we can to accommodate.
Church history is marked by our efforts to fit in to Western society’s responsibilities while maintaining the holiness of our ordinances. It started in 1830 when the church formally declared Latter-day Saint marriage should be done “according to the custom of all civilized nations… regulated by laws and ceremonies.” Polygamy and other temporary policies have come and gone according to the circumstances of time, and while the U.S. government’s intolerance of polygamy manifest in a very extreme backlash, I think cultural intolerance of our eternal temple sealings are still quite significant today, and there will always be a backlash from mainstream culture as long as we practice some form of the immutable principle of marriage. We just do the best we can and not compromise on what’s most important.
True Marriage – Jesus in the New Testament pointed out the difference between civil marriage and eternal sealing when he was asked how Levrite marriage would affect relationships in the resurrection. Jesus replied: “In the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage.” (Matt. 22:30) Jesus was referencing the Book of Enoch in which the prophet had said to the apostate descendants of Adam: “You were formerly spiritual, living the eternal life, and immortal for all generations of the world. And therefore I have not appointed wives for you.” Their sexual misdeeds bumped them down to a telestial state so that their relationships did not last after death. The Levrite vibbum marriages likewise were not celestial relationships that would last after death–not because of adultery but because they were pragmatically arranged for civil reasons. The difference between such earthly relationships and celestial marriage has been made very clear: “Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory. For these angels did not abide my law…” (D&C 132:16)
In D&C, in Matthew 2, and everywhere else in the scriptures the earthly relationships are not even considered marriage. Marriage is consistently restricted to celestial sealings, and I think we should frame it this way in our own minds too. We can call non-temple unions “marriage” out of respect for people, but as far as our religious beliefs are concerned, civil and lawful marriage are very different. I think this is what proposition 8 and the church’s ongoing opposition to same-sex marriage is about–the government’s increasing control over the religious institution of marriage and its increasing departure from the celestial definition. The government’s secular control damages family and community, and our adoption of such a model would bring the same effect upon ourselves. Those who are comfortable with secular governmental control will naturally have contempt for our peculiar model of marriage, but we must not give up our spiritual success for the sake of compromise.
Eternal Vs. Civil Marriage – How can we explain this nicely to non-members? You probably shouldn’t explain it like that. My advice is to avoid making it an issue of equality and certainly do not apologize for the merit of celestial standards. I would avoid that discussion and focus on marriage as a religious sacrament between two people and God. It is not the same thing as a typical Western wedding, because it is all about the religious covenant. Most people should appreciate a private religious ordinance in a modern age where things like weddings have become chichi displays of elevating prestige. The wedding reception, ring exchange, or civil wedding ceremony can each have everything a standard Western wedding has–the temple ceremony is a religious event that is something else.
Antimormons try to make us feel guilty of committing the cardinal sin of “exclusion” by equating the temple sealing with civil marriage. Interestingly, this false equivalence is the same strategy they use to hang polygamy over our heads. They say, for example, Joseph Smith’s sealings to women who were already in civil marriages to other men is evidence of polyandry, which they call hypocritical because polyandry is banned in D&C 132. But those early church issues actually underline the fundamental difference between sealings and civil marriage. Joseph Smith was married for eternity only–not for time–which means the union would not be in effect until the afterlife and did not involve earthly physical relations. Their civil marriages to other men did not involve the afterlife. Therefore, they were different institutions. The more false equivalency we allow into the frame of our understanding of relationships the more ammunition we give Antimormons to attack us in such ways. Those who take seriously the popular mantra “all love is equal” are likely to get tripped up by such issues.
Watering Down Marriage – Mary Ellen Roberton, who calls herself a “Mormon Women’s Studies scholar” told Slate magazine she married outside the temple first because “I didn’t want to start our marriage by shutting out so many loved ones from the celebration.” This is an example of compromising holiness for the sake of equality. Yes, there is a societal obligation attached to marriage but it doesn’t have to dictate how you marry. A separate ring ceremony or well-planned reception event fulfills those obligations of “inclusion” and allows loved ones to celebrate. The wedding reception is the celebration. The marriage as we define it is not the celebration. To make the wedding all about a chintzy celebration indicates where a person’s priorities lie and what the family foundations mean to them. Yes, celebrating is important and must not be overlooked, but the eternal union through covenant with God must come first as that is what is celestial, that union between man, woman, and God. The separation of civil union and temple marriage manifests in the separation between the Latter-day Saint temple wedding and the community/family celebration wedding events.
Many who complain about the temple policy appeal to the typical American dream of having a big wedding with a gorgeous dress and everybody there congratulating them. Our church’s marriage model is less condusive to the glamor of this dream. Well, maybe that’s not a bad thing? I mean, wanting to celebrate and grow closer to family and friends through a community event is good and should be pursused, but imagine if we held lavish events when we performed other ordinances like taking the sacrament. The sacrament is a very important life event that defines who we are–do we turn it into a huge party with pricy customes and ornate displays? Orthodox sects in Europe have kinda turned it into that, and the times I have observed their communion ceremonies I have felt uncomfortable because it may open the door to making it too much about prestige. The most impactful ordinances to me are performed meekly by humble means–kids blessing and passing the trays, heads bowed solemnly, and words spoken personally to God. What about the lavish temple interiors? The beautiful architecture of the temple enhances this solemnity and provides physical representation of the priesthood and heavenly vision involved in the marriage covenants–it is not a palace stage background. The holiness of the space inside the temple facilitates the marriage covenant we construct there, and a rented venue full of marriage decorations and fancy party people does not achieve this. The physical edifice of the temple is needed. It is not about excluding anyone from an important life event, it is about placing the community and family celebration in its proper place and the sacred religious ordinance in its proper place.