I realize 2010 was going to be the year of no religious blog posts but...
I was reading a post by a friend on Facebook who posted this link about a Catholic woman and how she dealt with her son's conversion to Mormonism and subsequent marriage in an LDS temple. It really caused me to reflect on the process and, in particular, my own experience.
LDS marriage ceremonies are conducted in LDS temples where entrance is only granted to those who are members in good standing. Over the years I have seen similar situations amongst friends and acquaintances. Typically, there are a few types of ways that have been implemented over the years to deal with the differing modern family dynamics and LDS traditions, not by the Church but by the participants themselves.
According to the 1989 General Handbook of Instruction, this is what all local Church leaders were to suggest: “Couples may arrange with their bishops to hold a special meeting for relatives and friends who do not have recommends. This meeting provides an opportunity for those who cannot go to the temple to feel involved 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 should be performed, and no vows should be exchanged.”
This instruction was also widespread: “Though the exchanging of rings is not part of the temple marriage ceremony, rings may appropriately be exchanged at the conclusion of the temple marriage ceremony in the room where that ceremony takes place. To avoid confusion with the marriage ceremony, it is not appropriate to exchange rings at any other time or place in the temple or on the temple grounds.
“A couple may exchange rings in locations other than at the temple. The circumstances should be consistent with the dignity of their temple marriage. The exchange should not appear to replicate any part of the marriage ceremony. For instance, there should be no exchanging of vows on that occasion” (Bulletin, 1989-4, p. 1).
This led to the ever-popular romantic ring exchange during the wedding reception conducted under the raised basketball hoops of the local Church gymnasium. Priceless.
Depending on where you lived determined the varied levels of discouragement you would receive from local ecclesiastical leaders on incorporating "worldly traditions" into your special day. Many were counseled to not to have a ring exchange on temple grounds but to have a simple exchange during the reception. Simultaneously adding the exchanging of vows were generally discouraged since the only vows that mattered were the covenants made at the temple altar. Since the church is run by local leadership, interpretations on what was acceptable would vary and there are myriad of individual stories on what their experiences entailed...all under the umbrella of inspired revelation to the local Priesthood authorities.
Over the years, friends have asked for my advice. Without going into details, most of my responses have been the same. If the groom was a member, with family members who would not be able to attend, I generally told him to 'sack up' and tell them it was his choice and this is how he has decided to get married.
However, when the groom was a member but his soon-to-be wife's family were not members and it was causing them stress, I would tell him that his spouse's happiness and sanity were his #1 priority. Even if they didn't believe in or want a ring ceremony, exchange of vows, etc, I told him he should again just 'sack up' and bite the bullet.
My friend's post today has caused me to think back to my own wedding event. I was less than a year removed from being a missionary, hence more extreme and less moderate in my views and attitude. My wife's family were generational members, no problem there. My side? My mother would be the only attending adult member. What do I tell my father or my four living grand-parents? We had "sacred not secret" talks but truth be told, I was young and selfish and didn't do much more to deal with any possible feelings of exclusion or hurt animosity.
I was the first son. I was the first male grandchild on both sides. I was the first child and grandchild to get married. I am the soon-to-be father of my fourth child. How would I feel as a father to not be able to see my only daughter get married to the man she has chosen as a spouse? My father didn't get to participate. Which is oddly ironic that he has since joined the Church while I have stepped away...
I feel regret and sorrow now. His firstborn son...and he was relegated to sit and wait. My grandparents were excluded. I clearly don't regret my marriage but looking forward, can there be changes implemented that could eliminate future regret?
Knowing that the Church is almost structurally opposed to change, they will NEVER relax the restrictions to allow non-members or "unworthy" groups to enter temples and view the ceremony, so that idea is immediately dismissed.
I propose a few compromises (not that they are keen on those either):
1. Make the temple ceremony simply an "eternal ordinance" and require members to obtain a civil marriage prior to participating in the sealing ordinance. (Admittedly, this is the route I see happening due to the Prop 8 battles. Let couples enter into a civil union for tax and government reasons, then to their churches for religious wedding ceremonies) However, this may be too progressive to implement. If that is the case...
2. Repeal the one year waiting period for those married in civil ceremonies to enter the temple for a sealing ordinance. The LDS social stigma with this route may take a few generations to weed out but then the couples that find themselves in these situations could have a wedding ceremony followed up shortly thereafter with a temple visit.
I really don't see this as much of a serious compromise for the LDS Church, especially considering how they deal with the issue globally. Due to local laws of the land, many countries impose a civil marriage requirement prior to religious marriage ceremonies. In those lands, the LDS Church waives the one year waiting term prior to the temple sealing ceremony. To my knowledge, currently only the United States, Australia, some nations of southern Africa have the one year penalty imposed upon them.
In a Church professing hundreds of thousands of annual convert baptisms, this problem will only get worse before it gets better. Here's to hoping the LDS Church can evolve and progress to a point where families of all varied religions and cultures can jointly experience and celebrate the sanctity of marriage.
Addendum: Upon further reflection, I should also add how upsetting it is now for me that my younger siblings were not able to attend or participate. They were not of appropriate age to even qualify for admission.