Thanks again for your work on Family First Weddings. As I mentioned, this is something I wrestle with, and might have done differently if I had my wedding to do over.
I have a long history with the DC Temple, and my wife and I were married there both civilly and religiously 5 ½ years ago. It was a beautiful setting, our pictures are magnificent, and it was all paid for indirectly through my tithing. (Hard to argue with “free”.) My home teaching companion growing up, the stake patriarch performed our sealing (at my request), which made it extra special. As the sixth of seven kids, and with both sides of our family Mormon, we had a lot of family and a few friends in attendance, probably about 40 in the sealing room.
My wife and I both served as temple workers every week starting a few months after our wedding, which allowed us to go back frequently to the place where we were married, which was also neat. However, they kicked her off the shift a year later after our first child was born (a temple policy that I also find patently unjust and not in line with our new “equal partners” rhetoric) though I continue to serve in the temple, albeit only once a month.
The way that we were married never drove a huge wedge in the family nor caused distress at the time, but looking back, I regret the fact that we excluded a lot of people from one of the most major events in our lives, to wit:
- My oldest brother and my youngest sister have both left the LDS church. Both were good sports and waited outside (knowing full well what to expect when they left the Church they never said a word about it). But looking back I feel bad about it. They’re actually two of the siblings with whom I have spent the most time and feel the most kinship. I don’t begrudge them in the least for leaving the Church, and they may not begrudge having missed my temple wedding either, but I still feel wrong leaving them out.
- All of my & my wife’s siblings flew out with their families, though two of her unendowed siblings, a non-member brother-in-law and all the kids waited outside.
- No one from either of our extended families came, though most are members. My wife, however, begrudges the fact that her maternal grandmother, aunts and uncles in particular didn’t come. They are all Lutheran, although my wife’s mother converted to the LDS Church at age 19. The grandmother, aunts & uncles have traveled to attend the weddings of every one of their nieces/nephews/grandkids (including three of my wife’s siblings who were married civilly), but would not come for our temple wedding since they were excluded from the ceremony.
- Most of my friends growing up were not Mormon, and even though a lot of them were still local, I hardly invited or made a big deal about my wedding to any of them. I know this is mostly my fault and choosing. But subconsciously it was because I knew that they couldn’t participate in the wedding itself and since we were having a smaller reception at our house (without alcohol) I just felt awkward inviting them to something so outside their experience and expectation. Three of my closest high school friends came to the reception (and had a good time, I think), but that was it. There were maybe a dozen non-Mormons in attendance at the reception, and none waiting outside the temple who weren’t family. Again, this is mostly my fault, but the way we got married necessarily excluded them to a great extent, and made it so that I didn’t want to treat my wedding like it was any big deal for them. (I realize some other people may do the exact opposite and go out of their way to overcompensate for the fact that friends were excluded from the ceremony.)
The fact is that out of five weddings in my family, we’ve never had everyone able to witness the ceremony. My dad missed three of his daughter’s weddings during a 7-year period in which he was excommunicated. The younger siblings (like me) missed all of my other siblings’ weddings. In fact, during a tight financial time for us, my parents didn’t even bother to fly the 3 or 4 youngest kids (including me) out to my oldest sister’s wedding – something that could only be justified subconsciously at the time because we weren’t going to be able to attend the sealing ceremony. So we got left at home and had to content ourselves with seeing a few pictures of the reception later. It was even more stark because at that point, I don’t think we’d eve even met our brother-in-law. He was just a guy in a photo that I didn’t know at all except for a few stories I’d heard. (Years later, my parents have said they regretted that decision to leave us home.)
My wife and I both served missions in Europe – her in England and myself in France. She also spent a year studying in France. While there we both attended several weddings and loved the experience of going down to the town hall with everyone, watching the mayor dressed to the nines with his official sash marry the couple and have them sign the registry book together. Everyone would then go back to chapel for the celebration and sometimes also for a short religious service where the couple would talk – often to lots of nonmember friends & family – about how they’d soon be going to the temple to solemnize that union religiously. It was great and we’re honestly a bit jealous.
From the perspective of a temple worker, I also take issue with the combined civil-temple ceremony. The temple is a special place, and it’s meant to be apart from the world. Wedding days are filled with so many other cares and concerns that it’s hard to truly take in the ceremony and appreciate it, especially if one hasn’t been previously endowed or done proxy sealings. My wife and I were both endowed long prior to getting married so had the advantage of being very familiar with the temple already. But having seen and helped take new people through the temple for their own endowment or sealing, I can attest to how overwhelming the experience can be for them – and how little they are able to retain from those ceremonies that we claim are so sacred and important.
I always strongly counsel that those not previously endowed do so as early as possible before their wedding date so that they can be focused on the endowment itself when they go, not the wedding. That also then permits them to taste the sealing as well and look forward to it. I can hardly imagine how anyone who is washed, anointed, clothed, endowed and sealed on the same day as their wedding can possibly be prepared for or focus adequately on the sacred aspects, and not feel overwhelmed to the extent that they miss out on the full enjoyment of both their temple and wedding experiences.
I fully believe that combining temple sealing with civil marriage cheapens both, and makes them each less special. Each experience is important and deserves to stand on its own. If we fear that a civilly married couple will not feel compelled to be sealed quickly if we don’t punish them with a waiting period, then we as a Church have surely done a poor job preparing people for it. Just as rushing converts to baptism is wrong, so is rushing young couples to the temple. Let them have the civil wedding experience and restore marriage to what it has long been: a public acknowledgement of a couple’s commitment to each other. Then, let them go and make their private commitments to the Lord, allowing them to be fully engaged in each.
If we think about the term “sealing” and how it is used elsewhere in the temple, this is in keeping with the original sense. A sealing is not a marriage. I don’t think that it was ever meant to be. It is an additional layer added to a marriage – a higher covenant. It necessarily follows something else, and as the dictionary definition states, is: “to confirm or make secure”.
But you can only confirm or secure something that you’ve done or created previously. You write a letter and sign it. Then you fold it and seal it with wax or in an envelope that protects it from being tampered with. The seal is not the letter, nor the signature. It is an additional layer that confirms & protects both of those.
This exact same model is followed in the temple initiatory ordinances. We wash the prospective endowee and then “seal” the washing as a separate step (highlighted by the fact that a second ordinance worker enters to perform it). We then anoint the person and again “confirm” the anointing (again, with a second worker). During that confirmation we “seal” all the blessings upon them that are pertinent to the ordinance as well. So whey then have we departed from first marrying couples publicly and then sealing that marriage? I believe it is as a result of external social concerns in the mid-to-late 20th century and the desire to reinforce temple covenants as markers of “progression” in and faithfulness to the LDS Church, rather than out of concern for the purity and symbolism of the ordinance.
All the concerns about families being excluded are legitimate and should be taken into account, but even without that we should separate marriage and temple sealing based solely on their own merits. For all of the talk of “traditional” marriage, Mormons must admit that their temple hybrid is anything but. Marriage in most cultures is inherently public. That’s why it is even regulated by the state, and why the laws in many countries reflect this. Marriage is of public concern. Traditionally, the marriage ceremony is something visible to and celebrated by the community, which makes clear to all that these two people have been joined together. And the community has a role in approving the marriage, hence the question if anyone has an objection.
All this is lost in the temple, which is private and where there is no objection solicited. The couple is pronounced “legally and lawfully wedded for time and for all eternity” and then in the same breath has a variety of blessings (mostly enumerated in D&C 132) sealed upon them. Even though the couple had to obtain two marriage licenses/recommends from two different authorities and receives two marriage certificates after a temple sealing, we give the illusion that there is only one marriage and one covenant that has been entered into, that mixes the authority of religion and state.[i]
In doing so, I think that we obscure to a certain degree the purposes for each and certainly denigrate the civil contract, but also to a degree the religious.[ii] And that’s unfortunate, because the role of state and community in our society and marriages should not be downplayed. Nor should we look down on those who are civilly married, both inside and outside the Church. But we do, and it causes us to judge others unrighteously. Changing the Church policy in order to separate civil and religious marriage could help us (and others) appreciate them each better.
I think that such a policy is truly pro-marriage, pro-family and pro-temple. It does greater justice to everything and everyone involved. And I pray that the change will come quickly.
-Spencer W. Clark
[i] The strangeness of this is highlighted when the sealer pronounces the couple married, “by the authority vested in me” but without stating by whom.
This ties into related concern is with religious freedom: When performing combined civil marriages, the sealer becomes an agent of the state, rather than a purely religious official. With the issue of same-sex marriage, there was some fear-mongering used in California and elsewhere that the Church would be required to perform same-sex weddings in chapels and temples. While I think this is impossible given the First Amendment, the fact is that the state can only control the actions of a religion when that religion is performing civil acts. The state is free at any time to change the requirements of how, when and where civil marriages are performed, and the Church would have to choose to either comply or cease acting as an agent of the state. Particular wording could be mandated, for example, which might differ (however slightly) from the text of the sealing. Or perhaps officiants would be required to wear a sash or pin demonstrating that they are authorized by the state. Or, of course, marriages could have to be performed in a public place.
Religious freedom advocates have complained about Catholic adoption or health care agencies being required to comply with laws that some believe violate their religious tenets, but this is only possible because they receive government money and/provide services for the state. The LDS Church does not entangle itself with the state, except in the instance of civil marriage (where permitted), and so is pretty much free to do whatever it wants.
[ii] An unintended consequence of this is that it becomes more difficult to talk about and reconcile things like Joseph Smith’s polyandry. The only way to couch that faithfully, as Brian C. Hales has done, is to assiduously draw the distinction between civil marriage and religious sealing. To wit, some women were married to him in this life (“for time”), and some sealed only “for eternity” but not for this life. Thus Brian can claim that it was okay that the women were still civilly married to other men, while yet sealed to Joseph.