The Inclusivity of Mormon Weddings: A Prayer for Change
by Michael Barker
I consider myself well-read in regards to Mormon thought, theology, and history. Yet, as embarrassed as I am to say, it was not until last year that I realized that the majority of the countries where our Church is established, the temple sealing is a separate ceremony from a civil wedding ceremony. This of course is different from us in the U.S., Canada and maybe two or more other countries, where the civil wedding ceremony and the temple sealing ceremony have been combined into one ceremony.
As many of you know, in the U.S. and the other few countries where the two ceremonies have been combined, if the couple that is to be married chooses to be married civilly first, so as to include their non-LDS family members, they must wait one year before they can be sealed in the temple. This puts the LDS couple in high tension between their non-LDS families and their Church. Needless to say, there are also some social consequences if the couple does decide to be married civilly first; the assumption will be that they were not deemed worthy to be sealed in the temple because well, they were fooling around too much before they were married.
As American Mormons, we tend to be very ethnocentric in our approach to Mormonism. We often think that the way things run in the U.S. is the best and preferred way that things should occur. Regarding temple sealings and civil wedding ceremonies, I have heard U.S. Mormons explicitly state that having the two ceremonies combined is the way that it should be and that the other countries have the two ceremonies separated only because the law demands that a civil ceremony be done first. I have also heard it said explicitly that separating the two “cheapens” the temple sealing. Not only does this seem a bit ethnocentric, but also egocentric and a bit elitist.
So, I started thinking. Wouldn’t it be cool if we at rationalfaiths.com could find some international LDS members to share their stories of how beautiful and inclusive a thing it is to have the civil wedding ceremony performed first, followed later by the couple’s temple sealing? So I started hunting around for stories. Eventually this idea turned into a series that we published every Sunday for two months. It was quite a popular series. The first post was written by Clara Molina of Madrid, Spain. She shared three different stories of Mormon weddings where a public wedding ceremony was performed, and then later in the week, the sacred temple sealing ceremony was performed. The stories were beautifully inclusive and intimate and quite moving (click here to read her post).
As more and more of the essays were posted, my brothers and I started to realize that nothing was taken away from the temple sealing by being married civilly first, but the opposite happened. Having the civil wedding ceremony first, and then later in the week having the couples sealed in the temple, actually added to the sacredness of the temple sealing. This reminded me of the theological conundrum in the early Christian Church regarding the deity and humanity of Jesus of Nazareth.
The question arose in early Christianity, “If Jesus was God before he became human, then didn’t he have to give up his divinity to become human? If so, didn’t his humanity then take away from his divinity?” Tough questions. These questions led to the development of some theological ideas, such as Monophysite and Dyophysite Christology. There were some early ecumenical Church Councils that wrestled with this problem, including the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451.
The answer to this theological conundrum, I believe, seems to be that Christ’s humanity did not take away from the necessary attributes of his divinity, but instead, his humanity was added to his divinity. The intent of this post is not a religious treatise dealing with Christ’s humanity and divinity, so I’ll just simply say the answer to the question, as I have presented it, somewhat represents a 19th century idea called Kenotic Christolgy or Kenotiscism. Kenosis is from the Greek word for emptiness κένωσις (kénōsis). Theologically, it is the ‘self-emptying’ of one’s own will and becoming entirely receptive to God’s divine will. The idea comes from the apostle Paul and is used by Paul in Philippians 2:5-7:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, [there’s the word for kenosis – he emptied himself] taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Much in the same way that Christ’s divinity was added to by his humanity, so it became clear to me, through the essays written by our non-American Mormon sisters and brothers, that separating the temple sealing ceremony from the civil wedding ceremony does not take away from the divinity of the temple sealing. No, it adds to its divinity.
My brother Paul and I realized that the way things are done right now in the U.S., Canada, and a few other countries, with regards to combining the temple sealing and civil wedding ceremony, is not doctrinal – it is policy. In fact, the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants said this:
“…we believe, that all marriages in this church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, should be solemnized in a public meeting or feast prepared for that purpose…” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:1, 1835 edition)
Seeing the beauty that comes from one’s non-LDS family being able to see the actual wedding, left us envious of our international sisters and brothers.
As the Church continues to grow, the likelihood that an LDS couple will have non-LDS family will certainly increase. With that increase will also come the increased likelihood that a couple will (in which the two ceremonies are combined) have to choose between family and the Church. It just doesn’t seem that it should be a necessary choice. Can’t this policy, that some may even regard as a policy that causes more harm than good, be changed? Why can’t it be a choice to marry civilly first and then go to the temple later for the sealing? This doesn’t mean it has to be this way for everyone – if a couple chooses to have their temple sealing and civil marriage ceremony combined, then by all means they should. But, if the couple decides to have a civil wedding ceremony first, why make them wait the one-year moratorium, if they are temple-worthy?
To this end, rationalfaiths.com has started a new web-site, familyfirstweddings.com. There you will find stories of inclusivity that have come by the couples being allowed to be married civilly first, followed shortly by the temple sealing ceremony. You will also find stories of exclusion, when a parent or sibling could not attend the wedding because the two ceremonies were combined thus excluding the family member that wasn’t LDS. Most importantly, we are asking you to approach the brethren in Salt Lake and ask them to inquire of the Lord if the policy, as it presently exists in the U.S. and Canada, can be changed. Let me be clear. We are not insisting nor demanding that the policy be changed. We are not asking that those who have not made and kept sacred temple covenants, be allowed into our temples.
If you are not quite sure how to approach our leaders regarding your concern, here are two ways:
- Write a personal, short story of how inclusive your civil wedding ceremony was and the beauty of having your temple sealing separate from your civil wedding ceremony or a short story of the pain of being excluded or having a family member excluded from a temple wedding.
- If you are not sure what to write, please use the form letter that is found at the family first weddings web-site.
After you have done one of the above, please mail or email your letter prior to August 3rd to:
3214 N. University Ave. #311
Provo, UT 84604
We wish to work through official routes, so after we collect your stories and letters, we will deliver them to Church leaders in Salt Lake. Your letters and stories will help formulate an introductory letter explaining what we are asking the brethren to consider and will be included in the delivered package of letters and stories. We ask for your participation. Changing this policy will only bring about good-will and strengthen the Church’s theology of the central and prime importance of the family.
It can’t hurt to ask, right?
For further information on how to help, please visit familyfirstweddings.com
Good points, Paul.
Regarding assumptions made when a couple chooses to be married civilly first. The reverse assumption s also made for every couple married in the temple: that they are worthy and have not fooled around which is also often erroneous. The emphasis on “worthiness” culture is so prevalent that many couples lie in order to be married in the temple. Then a few years later bishops have to deal with the guilt those couples come unload in the office.
I realize my observation is not relevant to to the post of course because if a couple plans on getting sealed a few days after their marriage, the “worthiness test is the same than if the two events are combined.
On the topic though, I have several stories close to me of member parents who lied about WoW issues in order to attend a child’s temple marriage. Had there been a civil marriage option they wouldn’t have felt it necessary to lie in order to attend the “worthy members only sealing.”
I love you Paul and Michael Barker.
This. This is beautiful. Just today one of my fellow YW advisors shared her wedding story in which she had to choose between her parents or the temple. Several years later, the impact and struggle of that choice was evident in her words. I sat there thinking, “it doesn’t have to be that way!” And thanks to the family first weddings initiative, we may actually see that change in our day. Bless you!
Wonderful article Michael, thank you!
I have yet to attend a Mormon family member’s wedding and I hope that before I die I will be able to. And, candidly, they just don’t “get it” – they just don’t understand why the current American system is a problem.
Just one minor, niggling point though, you were in error when you wrote:
‘In fact, Joseph Smith taught:
“…we believe, that all marriages in this church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, should be solemnized in a public meeting or feast prepared for that purpose…”
(Doctrine and Covenants 101:1, 1835 edition)’
In actual fact, the original 1835 D&C 101 was written by W.W. Phelps who read it to the membership of the church and submitted it for canonization. This was done while Joseph Smith was away on a trip and he was not involved in the process.
Here’s a link to the original verbiage (the version that was read by W.W. Phelps to the church) and you will note that Joseph Smith was not a signatory: http://www.mrm.org/1835-dc-101
A minor blemish to be sure on an otherwise wonder and truly beautiful piece!
Thank you again.
Ya, historically you are spot on.
I hope you will share your story with us over on the website.
Need to fix first mention of familfirstweddings.com to familyfirstweddings.com
Love the idea.
Fixed! I think
A suggestion from a critical friend. Labeling this family first suggests family before God. That would be a mental debate that would distract from your goals. This doesn’t have to be about whether couples love God or family more, just as it doesn’t have to be that way in most of the rest of the world. With your wonderful suggestion, couples don’t have to choose between God and family. I’m afraid I don’t have a better catchy phrase. Maybe:
http://www.inthefamilywayweddings.com? [Maybe not.]
So my first suggestion was taken. Remarkably, my third was not 😉
Loving families would have been good!
I have to disagree with you here.
I know a couple who were married civilly, and then sealed 7 months later. Here, in the states.
Your argument lacks something.
Were either of them converts? There are exceptions in this case. Lets say that a convert of 9 months gets married. He can not get married in the temple because he hasn’t been a member for a year. Once he completes his year he can go get sealed even though he just got married civilly just months before.
I think the name of this website is awesome. The way I read it is Family First before a church policy – NOT God.
God doesn’t write the policies.
I watched as my sister made a decision to have a Temple Marriage while my non member mother and inactive father tried to accept the decision. Must say it put a spike through my mothers heart, a moment I could not understand. My mother was alway supporting activities in the Mormon region, although she was a dedicated Lutheran. The experience with my sisters wedding, I believe, was a major issue why she would never understand and join our religion.
Does anyone know how, when or why this policy was made in the first place? I have trouble understanding why LDS Church leaders would enact such a harmful policy without first checking with the Lord. I also find it interesting that pressure from the outside always seems to proceed a “move from God.” It looks to me like the leaders of the LDS Church are following the cue of the people, not the other way around.
this is probably a really old blog essay, so nobody will ever see this, but I believe combining weddings with sealings was done during the polygamy era, to legitimize polygamy and make it more palatable.
And less public. !
It means so much that you’re taking the time to pursue this. I just wanted to say thank you.
i have heard it said that the policy will never change because the U.S. church will lose too much tithing money–too many LDS will stop paying tithing since they will be able to attend their children’s wedding outside the temple…
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