This post is about ritual, not doctrine, so it is about the form of worship, not its theology. I will use the word ‘ritual’ for all formalized forms of worship, Mormon and other, even if we use ‘ordinances’ in our own ‘Mormonese’, but ‘ritual’ is the generally accepted term. Rituals are important since as symbols in action they are ‘sticks to lean on in worship’. In the Mormon church we have quite some rituals, like the sacrament, prayers, testimony bearing, baptism, laying on of hands, administering, and of course the temple is a house full of rituals.
My thesis in this first blog on wedding and marriage is that in our LDS ritual repertoire, large as it may be, we are missing one ritual, the wedding. Now, let me be clear: I use ‘wedding’ for the ritual (or ceremony, but that is the same category) by which a couple is married. Marriage is the institution, wedding the specific form this festive occasion takes, a form which depends on culture and tradition. And on the Church. All cultures know the institution of marriage, but not all cultures have weddings; sometimes the joining of a man and a woman occurs very gradually. But anyway, when a man and woman are married, they form a new group in society: they have gone from their ‘family of orientation (living with mon and dad) to their ‘family of procreation’, and henceforth the children of the wife will have her husband as father (more or less the definition of marriage).
Now the wedding is the ritual that accompanies this formation of the new group, a married couple. Being a shift in group allegiance, in the wedding ritual the families of both partners normally come to the fore. In Africa (my stamping ground) this may be through the payment of a bride price (I will come back to this in another blog), in Anglo-Saxon weddings we have other symbols, that are well-known: the bride’s father walking his daughter through the isle of the church, while near the officiator the groom is waiting in front of the audience with a kinsman. In the admiring audience families and friends of both bride and groom strain their necks to see the bride. Other symbols are well known as well: the unveiling of the bride, the formula by which the officiator initiates the ceremony, the call for those opposing the new union ‘or forever hold your tongue’, the vows, exchange of rings, the ‘I now pronounce you …’ , and of course the crucial ritual of the kiss, the first married kiss. The final walk through the isle of the new couple shows them to be married now, the bride unveiled on her husbands arm, and so they leave the building.
This is just one cultural form, but in weddings throughout the world we see similar dynamics. The role of both families, the public proclamation, symbols of marital unity, representation of the society as a whole and of religious authority are almost ubiquitous. Since a wedding is a rite of passage accompanying the change of status change of the participants, bride and groom are marked by special clothing with a high symbolic content (something old and something new …) and usually spend some time ‘out of society and out of time’, the honeymoon.
The paradox is that we as LDS are heavily ‘into marriage’, and yet we do not have such a wedding ritual. Eternal marriage, the new and everlasting covenant, temple marriage, those terms are on the forefront of our theology, but our ritual does not match our theology. Yes, we do marry in the temple, and call that ‘temple marriage’, sometimes even ‘temple wedding’, but that ritual in the temple is completely different: it is a sealing. To seal is to make temporary things eternal, a typical priesthood function. The sealing ritual itself is simple and straightforward: kneeling at an altar the couple makes a verbal covenant between them and God, led by an officiator. Family may be present, but not necessarily so. There is no exchange of rings or vows, no public call for opposition, not special witnesses for bride and groom, not even special clothing, and the whole ritual takes a quarter of an hour. Of course, it can be an inspiring moment, and yes of course the covenant with the Divine is highly important, the theology is clear, but that is not my point. As a ritual the sealing comes right after the endowment and is considered the crowning moment of that ritual, this sealing is the end of an initiation, a symbolic journey into the mysteries of the Divine. Thus, qua ritual type the sealing is completely different from a wedding. The sealing, as it stands, is more geared at eternalizing an existing marital union, than producing a new couple. So we have a paradox: in a Church for which marriage is of crucial importance, the wedding ritual is absent. We marry before God, but we do not marry for this world, at least not ritually.
Now why would this absent ritual be a problem? In principle 1. because the temple is not a public place, and people may be excluded from participating in the marital union of close kin., and 2. because the temple sealing functions also as civil marriage, at least in the USA. The actual problem is well-known: parents of convert youngsters who anxiously wait on the steps of the Salt Lake City temple, till their son or daughter emerges from the building after a marriage ceremony they could not attend. Public relations-wise this is a nightmare, surely for a Church battling the image of being a sect.
In the USA the sealing can count as civil marriage as well, meaning that a couple sealed in the temple is considered married by ‘America’; for the Church this is the normal situation, the one to be aspired. For couples with fully LDS families, this is hardly a problem, but in an internationalizing church that will be less and less the case. What aggravates the situation, at least for couples of ‘mixed provenance’, is that in the USA the Church does not give couples the choice to marry civilly first; if they opt to do so, they have to wait for a year before being allowed to the temple; outside the USA this is not the case.
When civil weddings are performed by bishops in the USA, they are discouraged from rendering the ceremony too much ‘like a wedding’: no wedding march, no walk through the isle, no exchange of rings. The Church not only has no wedding ritual, but leaders prevent the members from fabricating one themselves.
In my view this is a problem that will not go away, since at its basis lies exactly this missing ritual: it is the absence of a wedding ritual that creates the quandary. Three ways to solve the problem present themselves. One is that the leadership comes up with a Mormon wedding ritual, to be performed before the sealing. Joseph Smith seems to have been pondering such a ritual, but his untimely death put an end to that.
The second way is to always have a civil wedding before the temple sealing; that is what happens in many countries in Europe in which a civil union is mandatory before any religious solemnization. The Netherlands are one. You first have your civil marriage, and then go to the temple. Non-LDS kin attends the first ceremony and then their exclusion from the temple is not felt as a problem; often the temple is far away. The non-LDS consider the temple ritual in such a case as a personal solemnization of the marriage before God; curiously enough, they are completely right, for that is exactly what the ritual is geared at, eternalize an existing union. Our European experience shows that this civil marriage in no way detracts from the holiness of the temple and its ritual; on the contrary, for the couple it increases the focus on the temple as the crowning element of a wedding trajectory.
The minimal solution is that the year penalty disappears, offering the couples who wish so, to have a civil marriage in front of their non-LDS kinsmen. Some years ago a petition asked the General Authorities to do away with this penalty – which does create also inequality between members – but nothing came of it. At least not yet.
We are not in a Church were the leaders ask for advice from the members, so the following advice is completely unsolicited. Yet, it might be a good idea to either (in ascending desirability)
1.Do away with the year penalty for couples who have a civil marriage first.
2.Make civil marriages mandatory before entering the temple.
3.Design a wedding ritual for LDS.
Just an idea to ponder on.
Walter van Beek
I love the OP, especially a non-Utah, non-US point-of-view. Welcome to America, the new Rome, but a constitutional republic still emerging from Constantinian Christianity as a defacto state religion.
It may be the Lord is waiting for his servants in the U.S. to be ready for church and state to be separate, just as he waited for his servants to be ready, particularly in the U.S., for black males to receive the priesthood.
In my eyes, the Lord patiently waits to prepare his servants to accept change, as he knows humans are innately afraid of change.
This was confirmed to me by the opening remarks by Elder Holland during the last general conference speaking to the changes announced then.
“Some of us have weak hearts,” he said somewhat jokingly. Indeed, we who would be the Lord’s servants do have weak hearts when it comes to accepting the Lord’s revelations.
I know that I’ve heard stats in church about LDS non-temple marriages which then don’t end up being sealed; and this is used to “scare” youth into only accepting temple marriages. I suspect it also scares leadership into every accept removing the one year penalty. The problem is that it’s really poor statistics. It’d be much better if the church would take temple ready couples, and had them do a civil ceremony first and then see if they still go through the effort to have their marriage sealed.
I think that splitting getting married and having your marriage sealed is a great idea.
I’m surprised by the statement that the sealing has no special clothing. And I’m puzzled by the idea that a marriage/sealing doesn’t count as a wedding ritual, if a wedding is defined as “the ritual…by which a couple is married.”
Aside from the sealing, Mormon weddings have a whole variety of possible rituals, some institutionalized, some not: the LDS civil marriage ceremony, ring ceremonies, cultural hall receptions, fathers’ blessings for the bride and groom, white wedding dresses, gift giving, kissing after the ceremony, dancing at the reception, cutting the cake, making vows, the groom acting on behalf of the Lord in drawing the bride through the veil, bridal showers, honeymoons, best man and bridesmaids, photographs. Some of these are widely shared with non-LDS traditions, and some are not. I’m puzzled as to why a wedding march and a call for objections are required to make a wedding ritual. Isn’t kneeling at an alter or standing in the front of the Relief Society room as much a ritual as walking down the aisle?
I agree with many of your points, but I think Mormons are entitled to have their own set of wedding rituals that may or may not parallel practices of non-LDS weddings.
Left Field, excellent counterpoints. I hope the conversation may continue in this respectful manner.
I appreciate this formulation around “ritual,” despite the awkwardness of importing a word for it’s right use into a culture that uses it in a different way.
My own thinking on the subject revolves around the word “public,” which intentionally challenges the temple sealing practice, and the bared-to-essentials justice of the peace wedding, and (at the risk of controversy) secret plural marriages. Adding up my own marriage, and siblings and children and friends in many different patterns, and the marriages where I have officiated, I have developed a strong opinion that a proper marriage is a public event. It is–or should be–an open and public declaration to all the world that henceforth we are one, that we are to each other as no other relationship anywhere. There are all manner of appurtenances–clothing and music and marches and rice and etc.–but to me the key element is public.
Some excellent points, Walter. By separating the idea of wedding ceremonies from sealing ceremonies we not only avoid many problems, such as using priesthood power to act on behalf of the State in sacred temples, and the difficulties of explaining to non-member family and friends that they cannot witness this crowning ordinance of matrimony, but we teach some correct principles in the process. Think of how we can help the couple focus on the Lord’s covenants after having made public covenants. This would be more effective in solemnizing the temple experience as an eternal aspect, rather than a temporal party. As a gospel teacher and priesthood leader separating the meaning of the two ceremonies would make my work much lighter.
I agree with Left Field. There are plenty of opportunities to have an inclusive wedding experience within the context of the current policy. Most of my family and almost all of my wife and my friends (including all of our “wedding party”—e.g., bridesmaids and groomsmen) were not able to attend the sealing. But we had several wedding-related events for everyone. My wife and I did a ring exchange the night before the wedding at our “rehearsal dinner.” This included an exchange of our favorite love poems that we read to each other. Family and close friends came to the temlpe grounds for pictures. That evening we had a nice reception with food and dancing. It checked almost all of the boxes that Walter is talking about (no chance to publicly oppose, but not sure why that’s critical) and it fit squarely within the existing policy. I’m not necessarily opposed to Walter’s proposal in the abstract, but I question whether it’s necessary to achieve the ends he wants.
I find this article to make some valuable comments on how this is seen by cultures other than “American, Utah”. As a convert to the church, we had a “ring ceremony” which at least provided my family some semblance of a wedding ritual but I think for life-long LDS immersed in the culture, there is no issue whatsoever. They do not need nor expect a public marriage ceremony. And more and more as the prevailing culture moves away from marriage, preferring simply living together without a marriage, those who convert will probably end up having a civil ceremony and then waiting the year to be sealed anyway. And there is the possibility that the church will no longer being allowed to perform legal marriages because it will not of course perform same sex sealings. Like it or not, I think the steps mentioned here are fairly inevitable as the church becomes more international, and more relevant to the realities of end-time culture even here in the US.
“There is no exchange of rings or vows, no public call for opposition, not special witnesses for bride and groom, not even special clothing.”
No public call for opposition, is the only accurate part.
Interestingly, JS called for the use of wine in pre-Nauvoo marriage ritual.
Oh, come on, jpv. There is clearly no clothing that is special to a wedding ritual, it is the same clothing used in the endowment ritual, unless the bride comes up with a white enough dress that passes muster with the temple staff and then covers it up with other stuff. There is no exchange of rings as part of the ceremony. Some U.S. sealers allow a ring exchange in the sealing room after the sealing ritual is over; ome do not. In any case, it is not part of the “wedding”. I don’t have any idea what the sealers and temple staff permit in the European temples that isn’t part of the sealing ritual. Do you?
Walter, I enjoyed your article and feel your points are well-taken. I am sealed to my husband, but was very glad at the time, and continue to be glad in retrospect, that I was married first and sealed a few years later. It was a joyous, celebration with all our family and friends, most of whom were non-LDS. The alternative would have been a sealing in Washington, DC (the closest temple at the time), which would have been attended by only my husband and myself. How lonely and sombre that would have been!
Two of my children were married in the temple, and, to me, it was not something that could be enjoyed unless a person was very, very spiritual. I was happy for them, but glad that it wasn’t my marriage experience. I really enjoyed the sunshine (we were married in a garden), music, the clapping and the kissing that were part of my wedding. A solemn wedding is just something that I cannot appreciate, and IMHO does not reflect the light-hearted joyfulness at the core of a wedding ceremony.
My understanding is that the Church began to more strongly encourage temple-only marriage in the 1960s, when sexual morés were changing. The fear was that if couples “settled” for a wedding that didn’t require a temple recommend, they would not adhere to the law of chastity before marriage. A temple wedding serves to incentivize “purity”.
There have been various non-temple marriage liturgies since JS. Some are quite remarkable. I think I have half a dozen in my files. I keep thinking I might do something with them.
Excellent observations, Wouter, especially for a religion that aspires to be truly global in more than a technical sense. Three decades ago, one of my sons married a recent convert, none of whose relatives would have been able to attend a sealing. Both the son and the fiancée had temple recommends, lived near a temple, and had been attending the temple regularly before marriage. Despite dire warnings and much cluck-clucking from some of their YSA friends and Church leaders, the couple had a marvelous and heartwarming wedding (their bishop officiating) in a rented chapel, and then gladly waited the required year for their sealing, meanwhile continuing their regular temple attendance as a couple — much to the surprise of certain gossiping friends, who had assumed that the one-year wait for the sealing must have been a consequence of some premarital transgression! This example suggests a means by which a faithful couple can use their own agency to achieve a non-stigmatized alternative to the current official ecclesiastical expectation.
Left Field, there are quasi-rituals common in (using Walter’s terminology) Wasatch Front Mormon weddings. I don’t know how common they are in related areas like Phoenix or south east Idaho. However even in the Wasatch Front not everyone follows them. Move outside the Mormon corridor and you tend not to see them as common. Thus it’s debatable whether we should call them a Mormon wedding ritual. (Again using Walter’s sense of wedding)
Perhaps they could become such if more formalized. However outside of the debate about rings in the sealing I don’t see a strong need for such things. Maybe it’s just me, but outside of Church I absolutely hate ritual. I didn’t go to my graduation ceremony (and like many at BYU who skipped out, made quips about robes of a false priesthood). I am very much a minimalist about such things. Even our “after sealing wedding” was very low key – far less formal than the typical Wasatch Front “line in the cultural hall thing.” I was glad we did it that way.
So my turn around question for Walter might be, why have formalized rituals at all? Without speaking of things we shouldn’t, one thing I liked about the temple sealing was how low key it actually was. While there was ritual, it was overall pretty minimal in many ways. (At least compared to say the eastern Orthodox weddings I’ve participated in even though theologically they have a lot in common with Mormon sealings)
In terms of ritual, Gentile weddings are all over the map. A silent Quaker ceremony with no officiator is very different from what is standard in other faiths. Some couples pull out all the stops. Some opt for just signing documents at the courthouse while wearing cutoffs and T-shirts. All weddings, Mormon included, are public in the sense that the marriage license and the marriage are matters of public record. If we’re talking about a specific ceremony, Mormons are certainly not the only people who have a ceremony open only to invited guests, or perhaps even just the couple themselves. I acknowledge that excluding family is problematic but again, Gentiles may elope and exclude families as well, and I don’t know why we wouldn’t regard their wedding as a ritual. I am certainly in favor of having the option of splitting the secular and temple portions of the ceremony, but that is an entirely separate question from whether the sealing itself counts as a wedding ritual. I don’t know why there’s any question about that. Of course it does. And so does the Quaker couple silently signing documents, or the eloping couple signing documents at the courthouse.
Gentile weddings range from a Royal State Wedding with all the bells and whistles, costing millions of dollars, to a couple quietly eloping at the courthouse. It seems to me that Mormon wedding rituals fall somewhere in the middle of that continuum, and are not some bizarre outlier that doesn’t even count as a ritual. And for that matter, as Clark pointed out, among Mormon weddings, there’s also a fair range in the amount of ritual involved.
I’m still confused about the “special wedding clothing” thing. Non-LDS weddings may or may not have any special clothing. If the “special clothing” is a white wedding dress, Mormons do that too. If it’s the “something old something new…” custom, then Mormons can observe that custom or not, as they choose. Just like everyone else. And if temple robes don’t count as special wedding clothing because they are sometimes worn on other occasions, then a tuxedo doesn’t count as special wedding clothing either. Again, why is not having “special wedding clothing” supposed to be a disqualifier for Mormons when it (apparently) is okay for anyone else who happens to elect not to wear a traditional wedding dress or have something borrowed or blue?
It broke my non Mormon mothers heart to not see me get married. I was her only daughter, My non endowed younger children although young adult and teenagers and faithful in the church, couldn’t see my oldest daughter get married in the temple. This is absurd, divisive and must change.
Thank you all for your comments, Always a learning experience. I am very curious to the set of wedding liturgies (Stapley). Yes, weddings are almost per definition public rituals; also they tend to be multi-tiered rituals, rites of passage almost always are.
The consensus seems to be that a separation of ‘wedding’ and ‘sealing’ would be wise, though for some not overly relevant. As for the European situation: in most of Europe one has to have a civil wedding first, and there the couple can put in rings, vows etc, even a walk through the isle (depending on the venue) if they want so. Someone asked what is so special about wedding marches, vows and ring exchanges, but that is explicitly frowned upon by the Church. Some restraining on enormous expenses for marriages is wise as well, I agree there. The marriage is more important than the wedding. But the exclusion issue is one that will not go away, and returns ever and ever again.
Clark Goble does not like rituals other than the church’s, a nicely puritan view one might say: just the essence, not the frills. Nevertheless, rituals are important, especially among a community of believers. And some rituals are wonderful public events to gather with all the beloved in a major festive event. Rituals can be feasts, often should be, and that is where the exclusion policy is the largest affront.
“Someone asked what is so special about wedding marches, vows and ring exchanges, but that is explicitly frowned upon by the Church.”
The temple sealing includes vows. So does the prescribed LDS ceremony for marriages outside the temple. Ring exchanges are not only permitted by the church, but are almost universal in my experience, both in temple weddings and LDS non-temple weddings. I don’t think I’ve ever attended one that didn’t include a ring exchange.
But the question wasn’t whether the church permits or approves of these practices. The question is why is one version of Protestant wedding traditions (that not even all Protestants feel obligated to follow) being put forward as requirement for all weddings? You seem to be saying that we don’t have ANY wedding rituals (that count) unless we use THESE wedding rituals. And THESE wedding rituals are not universally used outside the church either.
There is at least two other ideas to ponder, and some have hinted at:
4. Get married in the Temple and THEN have/get a civil marriage.
5. Treat Temple marriage as an elopement and invite no one, but have it open to whoever is worthy to attend.
I already consider marriage permission required by the State to be intrusive and irrelevant to the union.
Given all of the laws around marriage, and the legal implications of getting married, or divorced, it’s religion that’s intrusive into the union. The State absolutely needs to be involved.
If you want the State not involved in marriage, you need to get rid of every law which gives any special treatment to spouses. But that’s undesirable, because there are good laws to assist abused spouses.
Left Field, I’m a little confused about this statement you made:
“Mormons are certainly not the only people who have a ceremony open only to invited guests, or perhaps even just the couple themselves”
I’m not aware of any other groups, religious or otherwise, that exclude people based on a set of criteria. I realize that couples are free to invite whomever they wish to the wedding and showing up to a wedding uninvited is a major social faux paus. But I’m not aware of any other situation where the decision of whom to allow or exclude is made at the institutional level.
Religion is what made marriage in the first place. What you are describing is a civil union. I still don’t think, using the modern logic, the State should decide who can and cannot love.
“who can and cannot love who are of legal age”
Besides, none of the rituals as described above are required for a State Union anyway. All two people have to do is go in front of a judge, sign a paper, and leave. It can be just as unceremonious as the description of a Temple sealing. Almost always those ceremonies and rituals are of a religious atmosphere.
Marriage is important in any society, and always has a clear social core; after all a new group is made that will perpetuate society. So marriage never can be ‘just religious’, and since we live in state formations, the state has to be involved. Thus, wedding rituals are highly public functions, that is the basis of my observations. Sealings are not. No, it is not the absence of a specific Protestant wedding that I am noting, but of any type of wedding ritual. I simply use the protestant one as an example. And in fact most adaptations LDS make in the way they fabricate their own weddings take elements from that protestant wedding.
Ring exchanges are restricted by the leadership: indeed most couple improvise their ring exchange. Vows are discouraged, since the sealing already has its proper vows.
Steve, I didn’t address that because I wasn’t referencing anything about who makes a decision of who is excluded. I was responding to the idea that weddings must be open to the public. Lots of weddings are by invitation only and by definition not open to the public.
I already said that I would support having a marriage outside the temple followed soon by a temple sealing. The way temple weddings are done in the US often causes problems and I think there are ways to address that.
But I reject the notion that Mormon wedding practices must be measured against what anyone else does, and if we do it differently, we’re wrong and have to change. I’m not the expert on the world’s various cultural wedding rituals. Heck, I’m not even an expert on US or Mormon wedding customs. But I would be surprised if there are no other cultures in which part of the wedding occurs in the presence of only a specified group. But that’s not the point, either. Are we also policing the wedding practices of Hindus, Native Americans, Muslims, Australian Natives, and Catholics so we can tell them that nobody else does what they do, so they must be doing it wrong?
It can be very much stateless. Just look at all the people living together without getting married. Sure the state will put its nose into the couple’s lives, but that doesn’t mean their declaration of love is legally required to announce the union. Again, there is no legal required rituals to marriage. Not even vows are needed. Only a signature from the two participating and a judge. Religion and social expectations are the only reason for a ceremony.
Walter, “restricted” is different from “frowned upon,” but “restricted” isn’t really true either. The only “restriction” is that if couples have a separate ring ceremony for people who didn’t go to the temple, it’s not supposed to mimic a wedding ceremony. A ring exchange is not required, but in any LDS wedding I’ve been involved with it’s almost an expectation that you will exchange rings immediately after the ceremony, at the reception, or in a special “ring ceremony.” It may be true that most LDS couples improvise the form of their ring exchange, but I don’t see what that has to do with a purported church restriction. I think in every LDS wedding I’ve attended, in or out of the temple, the officiator routinely invites the couple to exchange rings (unless they have other plans). He’d probably be surprised if they weren’t gong to do it at all. That doesn’t sound like it’s discouraged or restricted to me.
You are correct that the sealing include vows. So I don’t know why you’ve been saying that the sealing doesn’t include vows, and that it’s somehow deficient as a ritual because it doesn’t. Even in the same sentence when you say that vows are discouraged, you also say that vows are already included.
But to the larger point, I remain astounded that you continue to maintain that the sealing and other LDS wedding events don’t include “any type of wedding ritual” or that the rituals we do have don’t really happen, or don’t count for some reason, or are frowned upon when they’re not. That the sealing and other aspects of LDS weddings include ritual seems obvious on its face, even by your stated definition. Especially by your stated definition.
I think the point I was making was more that for ritual to be publicly meaningful it has to be shared among the group. Formal religious ritual is like that. Yet the wedding ritual ( vs sealing) simply isn’t. There’s too much diversity even along the Wasatch front.
Now if someone personally likes a performance they can do it. It’s just that it doesn’t seem like ritual but is more on par with what colors the bride chooses for the reception (in one common but hardly universal practice)
When I was preparing to get married, I somewhere happened across some list of things to do to prepare for an LDS wedding. One of the first things on the list, something like 12 months in advance was “choose colors for the wedding.”
My response: “Weddings have colors?????”
Wow, Walter, you created quite a good stir.
There seems to me an “elephant in the room” in this conversation, but Walter included this “elephant” in his OP, he just didn’t label it in a way for others to see easily: society.
Ritual is social, thus not exclusively religious, but tribes depend on rituals to enforce “in-group cohesion,” to reference chris g from other conversations.
Marriage may be “ordained of God,” but on earth it’s a human social recognition of a new sub-group, which I believe Walter said in his OP. As a new union within a tribe, it needs social recognition with a social ritual.
As Clark Goble has said in previous conversations, the LDS church is part doctrine, including performances and ordinances, and part social. Even the Sunday meeting block was part ordinance (sacrament), part religious training through social participation (classes).
I personally think the ordinances are the most relevant, so I’d agree with Mr. Goble the Sealing ordinance is the key in any LDS marriage.
However, as I was reminded by my then fiance’s aunt as we complained about complicated wedding preparations, the preparations weren’t for us, nor was the celebration; it was for the families and friends
And, as Jonathan Green (got his name right this time) reminded me in another conversation, church is about more than just worship, it’s about a community.
So this OP seems entirely relevant to me, particularly, as Armand Mauss mentioned, for a global church.
I believe a wedding ritual would have developed if not for the death of Joseph Smith and the uptake of polygamy. Brigham Young moved the marriage ceremony out of the public and into secret to minimize the visibility of polygamy.
@J. Stapley, yes I agree with Walter, very interested to see the set of wedding liturgies from our history. Any way you could post that info somewhere and link?
If one or more of my children converted to another religion and a consequence of that decision was that I could not attend my child’s wedding, I would be very upset, and I would not look kindly on that religion (even if I were invited to the other wedding-related activities). But that is just me.
Just some clarifications. The rings: the Church is quite ambivalent about rings, witness this quote from the lds site: ‘Exchanging rings is not part of the ceremony, and it is not appropriate to exchange rings anywhere else on temple grounds. A couple may exchange rings in locations other than at the temple. […] The exchange should not appear to replicate any part of the marriage ceremony.’
The main point is that for the Church the rituals members generate themselves should be as little wedding-like as possible.
Vows: I should be clearer: there are vows in the sealing, quite essential in fact in the ritual. And there are vows written personally and exchanged between groom and bride; these are not the same. According to the Church the sealing ones should not be upstaged by personal vows . A quote: “It would be inappropriate to exchange vows after you have been married in the temple, where you have already entered into sacred covenants with one another and the Lord.”
Whether this is restriction or frowning upon is for native English speakers to decide.
Yes, some stir. A Dutch writer once said: ‘For some religion is a way out of thinking, for others a way into thinking.’
I would remind everyone that Elder Gong mentioned in his first talk as a seventy that his parents had three weddings: a Chinese ceremony for family, an American ceremony for friends, and a temple sealing.
If he can speak approvingly of that in General Conference, then it possible this might be able to become general church policy at some point.
Something I wrote a decade ago to relish a particular experience:
Summer Morning in the Celestial Room
The Celestial Room of the St. George Temple is a relatively colorful room. Morning light diffuses from three sides, including through the open doors of two small sealing rooms off the south side of the Celestial Room. I stand facing east between two large mirrors, one in front of me and one behind. Then, something unexpected: from the other side of the mirror in front of me, a short, soft burst of laughter. Several seconds later, a door opens and a company dressed in white files out. I position myself in a corner to take this in. First come young women, one several months pregnant, then young men. Older saints come out next. A few of the women tear a little. For a few minutes no one leaves the sealing room, but I know it is not empty. The parents exit, and a minute later, a young couple. She looks full of thought, and his face is glad. Not only do they wear white, like all the others, but they wear priesthood robes, as do I. Close behind them follows their sealer, a man in his sixties or perhaps older, mostly bald and with a robust bearing, the man who initiated that burst of laughter. Contemplating the couple’s robes and the sealer’s priesthood, I at last am overcome taking it all in.
Jared vdH, may it come soon. My wife and I were married in a temple. While I expected some hurt feelings, I didn’t find out until years later how hurt many of my and my wife’s relatives were at being excluded from the marriage ceremony (they were far too kind to ever say anything about it to my face). At the time, I was certain I was doing God’s will. Now, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t, and if I had to do it again, I would have had a civil ceremony and waited the year. I have many friends with the same story.
I have never met you Walter Van Beek, but I wish I had! What I really wish is that you posted more often. Your posts are rare and very occasional. Please post more!!
Walter’s viewpoint certainly addresses something that is debated about a good deal, at least in my experience. I’ve seen multiple different type of ceremonies (my own wedding, my mother’s, my sister’s, my best friend’s, and various others, including Temple weddings and non-temple weddings, and of course non LDS weddings.) While the different social aspects can be fun, I suppose I’ve known the people getting married well enough to note, in most instances, the following general themes (obviously these are anecdotal):
– Most brides I have known are very invested in the planning, activities, customs, and social niceties of the wedding, whether temple or otherwise.
– Most husbands I have known are not very invested in much other than getting married to the woman they love. They usually do whatever their bride desires to make her happy. They usually just want to be married and care less about the actual wedding/reception/parties etc. (This has been universal in my experience, but I know there are certainly exceptions.)
– Most brides I have known get themselves very worked up over the plans for the wedding and activities almost up to the point of not enjoying the day itself very much at all, except for certain moments.
– Most husbands I have known wish that the whole thing would be less complicated and would rather the wedding be about them (bride and groom) rather than everyone else.
– Most mothers of the bride are EXTREMELY invested in the wedding planning and most I have seen insert themselves into the process much more than the bride or groom prefer. Some grandmothers too, for that matter.
– Everyone has an opinion on temple marriage versus non temple marriage, even if all parties involved are LDS. It has become a bit of “a thing” more often than not. It even started to be a thing in my own marriage, before I shut that completely down.
My own views are not representative of anything, necessarily, and owe perhaps quite a bit to my own personal social preferences. I loved my wedding day. It is, to date, the best day of my life (and yes that includes the births of all my children which are juuuust barely behind it). I loved being sealed to my wife in the temple, which I had looked forward to forever, and I was had no patience for anyone who wanted to get between us and that moment. Anyone wanting to participate was welcome; anyone who had an issue was welcome to leave. I was quite firm on that topic (for which my wife later thanked me.) I feel that something of such eternal significance as eternal marriage should be first and foremost between God, the bride, and the groom. I loved having my family and my wife’s family involved, of course, and was pleased for them to share that wonderful experience with their oldest daughter. But it wasn’t ABOUT them, really. And I dislike anything that takes emphasis off of the couple and the ordinance.
To this day, when my wife and I talk about our wedding day, I always talk about how much I enjoyed it and my wife talks about the things she wished “would have gone better” (none of which were central to the sealing or the act of getting actually married itself.) When she thinks of the wedding, she thinks of other people (because she’s better and less selfish than me) and of stuff that did or did not happen optimally (which I consider an awful distraction from what’s most important.) And we kept things pretty minimal to avoid just that issue!
So, if it would avoid ruining the sacred and holy ordinance and keep the importance of the act where I feel it belongs, I suppose I would be fine with the “social” marriage happening at a different time. I just think it’s a bit of a shame when people seem to suggest (or imply) that the temple ordinance should be somehow subordinate to the social aspect, which usually is more about other people than the ones who are getting married. People say otherwise, but it’s almost ALWAYS other people who gripe about it, or those with very close family members who can’t (or don’t choose to) attend the temple. I understand their frustration, I truly do. I just wish the focus remained elsewhere.
But I’m an introverted, antisocial curmudgeon so perhaps it’s just me.
I suspect most brides like having the decision of what their performances and parties are outside of the temple so I think that’s an important point. They will be, of course, highly influenced by their peers. But I can’t see formalizing such matters as being well received.
I am conflicted if temple sealings and civil ceremonies should be separated. I loved my marriage/sealing being the same ceremony. But, I do agree that the temple sealing/civil marriage policy should be harmonized across the church. My best compromise is that the option should be given to have a civil ceremony first and then a sealing the same day in all instances, but retaining the option to have them at the same time. In Bolivia when they had no temple in the late 90s, members were required to be married in Bolivia (I do not know the situation now, a temple is located in Cochabamba) and they had 2-3 days, maybe up to a week to get to Lima or Sao Paulo to be sealed without the year-long wait to be invoked.
Does anybody see a problem with the church using the priesthood of God to act on behalf of the State in sacred temples? To me, this would be one of the reasons to seperate civil marriage from temple sealing. If the church acts on behalf of the State, then the State is authorized to dictate how and when this should be done. In the USA I do not see the State using this power. But in many other countries the State would want to get their hands on the ceremonies of religions. This would be avoided if the Church accepts it’s own space in society, that of religions, and if the State accepts its own role in society, that of the law. Keeping them nice and seperate would solve issues globally. To have a policy in one country different then in another country confuses, rather than clarifies.
“One is that the leadership comes up with a Mormon wedding ritual, to be performed before the sealing. Joseph Smith seems to have been pondering such a ritual, but his untimely death put an end to that.”
Walter, do you happen to have a reference for this? Thanks. (Nice post, by the way.)
Aren’t you tired of aggitating for change in every issue? Really, if I cataloged all the various bloggernacle posts suggesting the status quo needs to change (rather than simply we as individuals need to become disciples), I think the best majority of what gets said it some form of complaint.
It’s like I’m listening to my children who can’t help but disagree with one another because, as much as they love each other, they more so take each other for granted and have lost any sense of reverence or respect for each other.
Sigh. I’m sorry that so much is wrong to you and that you just aren’t in charge to dial in just the right policy that will improve all things that you see and and alsoa can’t see.
I agree with your “tough love” comment. As the stoic philosopher Seneca stated “…that man is a weakling and a degenerate who struggles and maligns the order of the universe and would rather reform the gods than reform himself.”
The criticism does seem fair of the bloggernacle generally, seems a little out of place on this well-though-out post though, imo.
….except that the gods have been “wrong” in the past, betimes, and it has only been outside influence that has motivated them to make positive changes.
Man! I missed a fun discussion.
I take a more cynical view. The church certainly has some economic incentive to keep in the United States the wedding and sealing combined. Imagine the countless tithing delinquent members who become worthy to hold a recommend just so they can attend their child’s wedding. Keeping the marriage and sealing combined is a form of extortion.
It has been brought to my understanding something I, and much of this conversation, has been ignoring: the Law of Chastity.
“Legally and lawfully wedded” can be easily overlooked as a redundancy, but what if it is two kinds of law, secular and spiritual?
If “legally” is determined by a given society, and “lawfully” pertains to God’s law, then a temple sealing functions in a way similar to the temple itself, a nexus of temporal and eternal, where a couple become legally married for the sake of society and lawfully married for eternity.
If this is the situation, I understand now why the LDS church would be concerned about how society identifies legal marriage.
Legal divorce becomes problematic, in exactly the ways Jesus describes as recorded in the New Testament.
What is bound on earth let no man put asunder. This speaks to a relationship that cannot be easily severed, and therefore violence or infidelity in such a relationship become the only justifiable reasons for severing eternal ties.
Facing temporal divorce myself may bias me towards this point of view.
Jerry, I recall reading somewhere that the legal doublet “legally and lawfully” was added to the covenant language to reinforce the Church’s early 20th century commitment to monogamy rather than polygamy. Perhaps a historian can confirm whether that thought is accurate or mere speculation. I cannot. However, there is at least some evidence from 1867 that the doublet was already in use by the “president” of the Church in sealing polygamous marriages. See “Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism: Biography of Its Founders and History of Its Church : Personal Remembrances and Historical Collections Hitherto Unwritten” by Pomeroy Tucker, Appleton, 1867, p. 272 — available on books.google.com and elsewhere on the net. If so, it would seem that at least in some 19th century LDS parlance, “legally and lawfully” had little or nothing to do with civil law. The Morill Anti-Bigamy Act had been signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862.
Anon: No, not all is well in Zion. Remember in the BoM what happens when one thinks it is? But it is Zion nevertheless, to be improved upon.
Thanks JR for clarifying legally and lawfully. Actually the English language has quite few of those double expression, like kith and kin. Usally one should not read to much into it, other than the double roots English has in two language subfamilies, Germanic and Romanic.
MTodd, the cynical view that some pressure exerted by exclusion from the temple generates a higher tihing faithfulness, is an argument heard before. I do not think it is very strong, at least, not in this fashion. First, I am not sure that it really works that way, viewing the LDS tendency not to attend sealing of kinsmen. Also, I am very dubious whether the statistics to prove the point do not exist, and I doubt whether the brethren have information that may support such a trend. But I am very confident that for the leadership temple worthiness is much more than just a financial question, since the temple is about eternal salvation, the core of the restoration. So the reasoning that a temple sealing may trigger someone to get a temple recomend again, might cross their minds, and might be an argument to let things as they are.
Hans, yes, State and Church relations are complicated. and the more they are entwined the more complicated the become. The USA First Amendment shields churches from state interference, but does not say anything about the reverse.
You may be onto something there, MTodd. I also tend to be cynical regarding various Church policies, but I had never considered that one. Churches (and all organizations, actually) generally adhere to policies that are in their own (the organization’s, not necessarily its members’) best interests.
Speaking of doublets, the old term for common law marriage was marriage by habit and repute.
MTodd and Joy,
Given your admitted cynicism, would either of you condone any prerequisite or demonstration of faithfulness at all for attending an LDS temple wedding? I am quite simply curious about your perspectives, and will not criticize or comment on your responses.
Walter, your responses have been quite respectful and well thought-out. You, Clark Goble, and James Olsen, in particular, show me how to write essays of thought and purpose, and how to respond to comments both favorable and critical in dignity and honor.
I am trying, in quiet desperation, to teach my youngest son this same kind of respect, but the internet keeps getting in the way, and I feel constrained by his free will. Sigh. I love him still.
Best wishes, Jerry. Keep trying. Maybe the passage of time will help — sometimes, wisdom accompanies age.
I have come to believe that we should separate marriage and sealings. Our current practice of having so many young people make eternal covenants before they have any real appreciation of who they are and what they want, coupled with an absolute dearth of reliable and practical information about what marriage really entails, is figuratively leading lambs to the altar. So often, in my observation, the marriage sealing is just another item on a huge checklist of actions that comprise a normal LDS wedding and reception. It appears to me to demean the importance of the temple covenant, which is particularly disturbing when we see so many quick divorces. I believe it would be better to insist on a civil marriage for all to enjoy, and then a one year waiting period to ensure that couples are really ready for such an important step.
Old Man, thank you for your question. I fully support the need for worthiness (as in holding a temple recommend) for those wishing to attend a temple wedding or sealing. These rituals/ordinances are far too sacred and unique for anyone without an understanding and commitment to be able to witness, IMHO. That is why I believe that a wedding open to all, for family and friends to celebrate and enjoy, followed by a sealing (either immediately thereafter or at some future date decided upon by the couple) should be an option.
I agree with the post from johnmuir1. Because the sealing is such a holy and profound ordinance, I feel it is best entered into by those who have a fuller understanding of what they are embarking upon.
Wasatch Front Mormon wedding (associated) rituals now lost. Mostly. I hope.
1. Younger male relatives of the bride kidnap her at the end of the reception and hide her in a barn/ some remote cabin, etc. and force the groom and his relatives to spend the wedding night and maybe the next day hunting for her. This happened to several distant relatives. Remedy: My little sister and her 20 oz canister of pepper spray for bears.
2, Decorate or rather trash the get-a-way car. Smoke bombs, put it on blocks, smash the windows in wintertime, steal the tires etc. One girl broke off her engagement to me and when she married another guy later, crazy mutual friends used fingernail polish to etch a heart on the hood of their car with my name and hers then the word “oops.” They could not afford to have the car repainted and got to look at that. My brother told me he would kill me if I touched his new car after his wedding. I saran wrapped the entire car and then did quite a number on it.
3. Spike the reception punch bowl with “valley tan” ( Mormon bootleg liquor- my grandpa’s favorite)) or ex lax or methylene blue dye which turns the urine blue. Then start up a rumor about the symptoms of a new STD that turns urine blue. Rifampin, a medicine for tuberculosis also works except it turns urine orange. It also interferes with oral birth control pills and may cause “problems” for other reception guests some of whom might not even be married, yet.
3. Cousins of the groom and cousins of the bride “rumble” in the parking lot after the happy couple escapes. Why? Why not.
Anon might consider the progress that we have made as a people. And be grateful that he didn’t marry into my family or community merely a generation or two ago.
Anyone who thinks that Mormons can’t do a big blow-out ceremony has never attended a ring ceremony thrown in Texas or by people with money, after the temple sealing has concluded. (Other places, too – my BIL was married in DC. Half of the family never even went to the temple, and they took no pictures there. The ring ceremony approached 6 figures in cost, and people you’d see on CNN were there.)
As I said elsewhere, as long as the ring ceremony is fake, go big and fake. Don’t invite the bishop to officiate. Don’t do it at the chapel. Have it “officiated” by whoever you want, say what you want, do whatever ring thing you want. There’s a certain sense of freedom in not having the Church have anything to do with the fake ceremony. Except for the tiny detail of the “marriage” being completed in the temple already, you can do a Royal Ring Ceremony that looks like a wedding.