Monday, March 29, 2010

LDS Temple Marriage and Those Who Don't Attend

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.


Lisa said...

Yep yep and yep.

That said, I'll resent it a little when the church does change it to allow for civil ceremonies to go along with the temple ceremony (I would think they have to change it) only because they fought me so *#&@^ hard on it, a girl who just wanted her family to have one reason, just one, to like the church.

Instead it created more animosity, confirmed fears of cultish behavior, and years of regret and anger. Truly the church has everything to gain in changing this policy, and I wish it would. The childish part of me wish it would have years ago. I really resented the brick wall I hit trying to make everyone happy. It made for an awkward day, to say the least.

It's a stupid policy, an incentive borne of pride and stubbornness and it's the church, like you said, that needs to "sack up." Not the members.

T.J. Shelby said...

You hit the nail on the head: "Truly the church has everything to gain in changing this policy..." and I would add, they would lose nothing of their 'sacred not secret' tradition.

Scott said...

TJ, your situation and my own were practically identical (except most my grandparents were dead already). A favorite aunt, who had been a big part of my life felt greatly wounded by not being allowed in. Ironically by the time my younger siblings got married everyone had gotten over it, that's the difficulty of being the oldest.

The real problem as I see it is the vagueness and inconsistencies of what can and should take place outside the walls of the temple. We got married in San Diego, and those rooms are really small, so not only could my family not attend, but several members of Emily's family also could not attend. Clear and specific guidelines should be given on what is allowed and what is recommended so that reception/ring ceremonies are not entirely left to the interpretation of local leaders.

All this confusion has lead to a general lack of tradition when it comes to Mormon weddings. Most of my experience with weddings as a kid were Catholic weddings, and those are fun (well the ceremony can be boring, but man those receptions). Having since gone to several Utah Mormon weddings, I can say they are pretty dull. Walk in shake a few hands, admire grandma's quilt or afghan, take a piece of cake and a cup of water and say goodbye. Because the rules seem to change with the change of local leader, nothing substantial as far as reception traditions are ever allowed to take hold.

All this being said, and after all the difficulty that I, and others have had to go through, the church should continue to make temple marriage the ultimate goal, the celestial option, and nothing should be done to discourage this union or the sacredness thereof.

T.J. Shelby said...

Scott, my intent was not to discourage or even take away from the sacredness of "celestial marriage."

(I'm cutting and pasting the following from a recent comment I made to someone on FB because the explanation seems to apply here as well)

The temple marriage is a combination of civil authority and priesthood authority. When an LDS couple is married for "time and all eternity", the officiator acts as a ward of the state and of the Lord.

I was simply suggesting that for those so inclined, or who find themselves in a situation of familial concern over who may or may not be able to attend, this opens the door of opportunity to allow for a civil ceremony (for time) WITHOUT imposing a one year waiting period before going to the temple to participate in the sealing ordinance (for eternity) like the Church does everywhere else in the world, with the exception of the United States, Australia and a few smaller nations.

For those who wish to utilize the LDS sealer for both time and eternity simultaneously, let them continue to do so. To be sealed eternally can still be the main goal and focus.

Trump said...

The following statement might be obvious, but worth saying considering my personal experience, and that is: Everyone IS invited to the temple! Before I left for my full-time mission to Boston, MA, I invited my Grandmother to prepare for and attend my temple wedding that I was sure was going to happen 2 years later. Sure enough, 2 weeks after returning home I was engaged to my high school sweetheart and we were married for time and all eternity in the St. George, UT temple on April 11, 1998. And, guess what? Yes, my Grandmother was there after taking me up on the invitation to "Come to the House of the Lord," having prepared herself to enter and enjoy the day with us. Although I entered with mixed emotions while my sister (13 months older than I) was not able to enter the temple, I remembered that she too had been extended the same invitation and through her own agency had declined. However, the invitation to enter the House of Lord and participate in the same spirit that was present on the day of my wedding and sealing is still there today and always will be with open arms. It is a blessing, and not a curse or shaft, that the requirements to accept the invitation bring the greatest of blessings in this life and the life to come - worlds without number and families without end. The blessings here and hereafter through accepting the invitation of temple attendance magnificently over shine the brief shadow during a brief moment in the brief time we call mortality. In all the times in my life from baptism, church attendance, family prayer, seminary, missionary service and so forth - none compare to the incredible abundance of true, eternal love, peace, comfort and true joy that filled the temple on our special day as we knelt across the alter and joined in marriage for time and eternity. The invitation is always there and the requirements to participate and enjoy those sacred blessings should not be excused or apologized for. I wonder how many souls, like my Grandmother, would not have taken the proper steps to enter the temple and enjoy all the eternal blessings that accompany that decision, if they did not need to do so to participate in a marriage ceremony. The spirit we all felt that day is beyond written or verbal description and any trial, sacrifice or changes required to accept that invitation to be there, were to all, completely and eternally worth it. Perhaps the changes suggested are not implemented by the church to maintain the invitation to accept and live the gospel principles required for temple and temple marriage attendance. If the desire to participate in a temple marriage is so strong that it leads one to investigate and accept the gospel then let’s leave that tool in place. “The worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” Perhaps for every 100 non-member or inactive church members excluded from attending a temple marriage and subsequently disappointed during a brief moment in this brief mortal life, there is the one soul, who through the same invitation, learns, ponders, prays and then accepts and lives the gospel and accepts the invitation open to all to enter the temple, participate in temple marriages, and enjoy the greatest blessings of Eternity. Doesn't seem so thoughtless and cruel to me - in fact, it shows the complete understanding of our nature from the God of Love who created and knows us all. Perhaps what "the Church", that is the Lord God, has to lose is more precious souls that get to enjoy a brief moment of a family wedding, but don't get to enjoy the blessing of worthy temple attendance and its accompanying requirements. Tough love perhaps, but none-the-less, love and knowledge from He who knows and loves all.

T.J. Shelby said...

Hey Tom, I hear what you are saying and appreciate the testimony you've born. However, the theory that excluding the many to inspire the one, is a noble but faulty methodology if the goal is to bring souls to Christ.

What everyone seems to ignore in this is that it is primarily ONLY a rule implemented in the United States. Membership outside of the United States now exceeds domestic membership and is growing at a more rapid rate then within our red, white and blue borders.

My premise is that maybe we shouldn't be so stubborn with tradition and dogma and instead focus on actual doctrine. Less would be offended and more inclined to come to see and understand the inclusionary blessings of embracing the gospel instead of being forced to experience the "tough love" administrational dogma that so many generational and exclusionary Mormons seem to embrace.